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Fire at the Sailor's Home

Destruction of the Sailor's Home and loss of life, April 1860

Destruction of the Sailor's Home and loss of life, April 1860

Daily Post

Monday April 30th 1860

Terrific fire in Liverpool

Destruction of the Sailors Home and loss of life.

In brief:-

Early on Sunday morning a fire broke out in the Sailors Home, one of the finest public buildings in Liverpool, and left it a complete ruin. We regret two lives were lost during the course of the conflagration, a police officer and an official connected with the home, while both were rendering assistance. It is also feared some of the inmates may have met with an untimely death, in not being aroused until hemmed in by the flames, and all escape was hopeless.

The foundation stone of the Sailors Home was laid by Prince Albert, amidst great pomp, in July 1816. The building was very spacious, about six storeys high, the style combined many features of the Gothic with the Italian. The interior was of novel character to imitate that of a man-of-war, the sailors department was in the form of an amphitheatre, the ground floor an assembly room, whilst the rows of galleries at every 10 or 12ft were set apart as dormitories, each man having a small room, something like a cabin.

At the west end where spacious rooms for the Local Marine board, the Sailors Bank and shipping offices etc, at the same end on the upper storeys were very large dining and reading rooms. At the east end where apartments for officials also classrooms and examination rooms for training ships officers, The roof was formed of wood and covered in asphalt, might be used as a promenade and was surrounded with a stone balustrade. The stairs and passages were of stone and iron, but the dormitories and floors were of pitched pine.

As to the origin of the fire no two statements agree, Mr BARRATT, Superintendent of the West England Company states the alarm was raised at 12-15 and he was at the spot soon after, when he saw about 25 people on the roof of the building on the Hanover St side, crying out for help to those below. He and others forced the door in the Custom's House arcade and went up with a hose, they found a passage for those on the roof to get down. Residents in the immediate locality state the flames were visible at 12-15 in the centre of the top storey on the arcade side.

Mr WILLIAMS Superintendent of the Sailors Home states the alarm was raised at 10mins to one by the watchman, stationed in the interior who was the first to discover it. His attention drawn by a crackling noise and looking above saw the flames bursting from room 42 on the top gallery, the flames spread rapidly from room to room. Cries of "Murder and Fire" were resounding through the building, the doors of the dormitories flying open as the inmates in a frantic state of excitement, rushed out to ascertain the matter. On finding the flames spreading they attempted to secure their clothes and boxes, almost at the risk of their lives, but most had to rush out without securing anything, many coming out in a state of nudity.

Mr WILLIAMS and other officials got two hoses that belonged to the Sailors Home to a hydrant, but the pressure of the water was too feeble, they were of no use, had there been a strong force of water, it is said, they could have confined the flames to room 42.

The police say the fire was discovered by officer 800, stationed at the east end of the Customs House, facing the Sailors Home at 20 to one he saw flames through the window of the top storey, fronting the arcade near Paradise St and raised the alarm.

A reel from the Salthouse station was on the spot in a few minutes, then followed a reel from Seel St station and the Brigade under Mr Supt HEWITT from Central station, in a short time 25 pipes were at work in all parts of the building. Great daring was manifest by various officers in an attempt to restrain the fire, several gentlemen of the Volunteer Corps came up on the alarm being raised to render assistance, most were drenched through early in the night, but continued at their posts.

Capt LUCKRAFT of HMS. HASTINGS arrived at 1-30am with seamen and marines to render assistance.

Major CREIG was early at the scene as was His Worship the Mayor and Councillor CLINT, chairman of the Watch Committee, Mr J. ANDERSON of the Norwich Union, Mr HODSON the Harbour Master, Mr STONE of the Sun, Mr MOSS, Secretary of the Salvage Department, Divisional Supt QUICK, Divisional Supt RIDE, Supts HAINS, SIDDAL and OBRIEN, Insps VALENTINE, KELSEY, DODD and MADDOCKS.

A gentleman called SMITH called at our office saying he was first to give the alarm to the police, he and two others were passing Canning Place at 18mins to one and saw a bright red light in the 3rd window on the 3rd storey, fronting the arcade, one of the young men rushed to Hatton Garden station, Mr SMITH ran to the bottom of Duke St, calling "Fire" inside the home he heard knocking and shouting but the front door was shut. A reel from the Salthouse Dock was at the scene immediately.

No sooner had the flames burst through the windows on the north side of the top floor than they were arching round the other windows, soon afterwards, rising through the roof, which immediately gave way, with a great crash, the fire raged with greater intensity, illuminating the whole town, the narrow frames of the Gothic windows, were as lurid as if each was a grate of some immense furnace. The appearance, though awful, was picturesque in the extreme. Nothing seemed to restrain the destroyer, it was at such an elevation that the water could hardly reach it.

The spectator could not resist the imagination that the faces of some newly aroused inmates would be peering for help from the lurid casements, for the impression was universal that some poor fellows who had come late after a nights carousal, where too deeply asleep to be raised by the alarm, and consequently had been encircled by the consuming element. This seemed to be the leading idea by the vast crowd, they watched each window with the utmost assiduity. The spectators had been not long at the scene, when five men came to a broken window on the 5th storey, which was in flames, searching in despair for a means of escape.

The seamen got out and stood on the stone ledge, [which looked inches wide from below] at the Hanover St, corner about 60ft from the ground. A long ladder was brought up but was too short, it was, however, put to a large coping stone, and, by means of men standing on this with a shorter ladder, it was hoped the seamen could be saved.

Some let themselves down until they were suspended by their hands from the ledge, finding the ladder with their feet. In one or two cases a man, Fred W. DAVIES of 14 Olive Place, a labourer, held the ladder with one arm while he held the wall with the other, and thus enabled the men to get down. A youth got from the top storey along the ledge for a long distance and continued to ascend with great agility and courage to a lower balcony, until he reached the ladders, a seaman on the top storey let himself down by the stone work at the North West corner, a fearful height, an exploit which nothing but desperation would have prompted. Another youth had to knock through the iron frame of a window on the top storey, in doing so he injured himself considerably and then had to creep out upon the ledge, previously referred to, about 2ft wide. After walking a few yards along this [as only a sailor would do] he reached the ladder in a state of bewilderment.

Considerable anxiety was experienced lest the fire should communicate with the Customs House arcade and other property in the vicinity. With the ascending flames large flakes of red hot matter were being carried a long distance and the heat itself had a perceptible effect on the arcade. In Customs House Lane and Coopers Row there was a complete shower of sparks and some of the windows in the warehouses in Coppers Row were open.

Mr Supt HEWITT and Officer GREY and others exerted themselves at great personal risk, some firemen were engaged in so critical a position in the interior of the building, the burning ruins falling about them, that some gentlemen asked His Worship the Mayor to interfere that they might leave so dangerous a position, but their zeal rendered them insensible to any fear.

Soon after the alarm was given, Mr Wilson BELL who is familiar with the design and construction of the building, offered to turn on the stand pipes situated in the turrets of the building, specially intended as safeguards against fire, he believed in a few moments he could let down a flood of water of 6,000gals. He was prevented however and his suggestion was not adopted.

At about 2am PC. HARDAKER No 384, mounted a long ladder with the object of smashing some of the windows as an inlet for the water on the arcade side of the building. He had no sooner ascended when a crash was heard and a shout of horror. About a foot of the top of the ladder had broken off and the officer was precipitated to the ground, he fell flat on his back on the flags, and was killed on the spot. He was conveyed to the Southern Hospital, it was found his skull was fractured and he had other serious injuries.

Volunteers tried to save books and other property of the Bank, on the basement floor, Capt LUCKRAFT. R.N with his marines and seamen were active in trying to save property of all descriptions.

At about 3am a mass of stone work fell from the north west turret bringing down a mass of debris and the floor of the dining room on the 2nd storey, forcing it to the basement floor, on which is the bank, where so many men were employed in supposed safety. The people in the bank had but with one exception, hair breadth escapes. The force brought most of them off their feet. Capt LUCKRAFT had a marvellous escape, a beam fell close by him and his cap was carried away, Mr HANMER, the secretary likewise was within an inch of being crushed in the ruins. A seaman named CLARKE from the North of Ireland who had for some time been employed as a steward at the Home was not as fortunate, he was forced underneath the staircase and was wedged there from the feet up to his chest, the cries of the poor fellow was heart rendering, for he was not only crushed but, burnt and scalded by the hot water continually falling on him, he appealed to those around him to release him and put an end to his existence at once.

Capt LUCKRAFT sent for two screw jacks thinking they would force the weight pressing on him, but, it was in vain. They next commenced excavating the debris from around him, it took three hours to release the poor man. When the crowds outside heard he had been released they set up a cheer, which will not be forgotten by those who heard it. The poor man was removed in a car to the Southern Hospital and the surgeon Dr DOWNES described him as being in the most lamented condition, he ever saw of a human being. His clothes broke off although he was saturated with water. One eye had been destroyed with the heat, the upper portion of his body was as black as coal, one of his thighs was fractured, one of his toes completely smashed and one of his arms completely scalded. He was unable to speak but made motions for a drink continually, he died within an hour of his admission.

The fire proceeded on until everything above the basement was destroyed. The flag staff at the front was long an object of interest to the slowness at which it burned, and the expectation of it coming down to injure those about the building.

The firemen were unceasing in their exertions till 6am when the flames subsided, at 7am they began to rest from their labours and the building now stands a skeleton of walls.

The building is estimated to have cost 30,000 pounds, including fixtures, and is insured for 13,000 pounds, of this 3,000 pounds in the Sun for fixtures, 4,000 pounds in the Liverpool and London, 4,000 pounds in the Royal, and 2,000 pounds in the Globe.

At the time of the fire there were 100 boarders and 17 employees at the Home, a muster was attempted to see if anyone was missing, but, as those men who made their escape went to any place that offered refuge it would be impossible to find them, there was about 25 men who didn not turn up, but it is expected they will be communicated with today.

As to the cause of the fire nothing but conjecture can be given.

With regard to the unfortunate officer who was killed , he has left a wife and six children completely unprovided for, he resided in Jasper St and was known as an excellent officer.

Personal narratives

Thomas WELSH, aged 19, one of the stewards at the Home, said, he was asleep at the time on the top storey and heard a noise in the street, he looked out of the window and saw a crowd below and a glare of a fire coming through a window. He opened his door and smoke rushed in nearly suffocating him, he closed the door quickly , he saw a a mass of fire in the gallery and shouted for help. He was told there was a ladder but it was too short. He pitched two coats through the window, he felt the impulse to jump, when his presence of mind told him to take the stairs. He rushed out the door with his cap to his face, which on being exposed was immediately burnt. Some firemen using a hose in the gallery poured water on him, else, he is positive he would have been burnt more seriously. He was seen by Dr DOWNES of the Northern Hospital who said he had been scalded from the steam as his eyebrows, eyelashes and hair were uninjured.

Anthony FRYER, aged 19, a seaman on the AFFGHAN, said , he went to bed at 10-30 on the top storey, he had, had, some liquor and was in a deep sleep, he was awoke by a strange uncomfortable feeling of heat, he could not find the door key and went to the window and knocked and knocked at the frame till he knocked it out, cutting his wrist severely. He scrambled through the window and on to the ledge below [2ft wide and 60ft from the ground] he walked along the ledge till he came to the ladder, but it was too short.

DAVIS with heroic courage stood on the ledge and held the ladder with his arm whilst FRYER and four others escaped, two men got on the ladder at once and nearly precipitated DAVIS and themselves to the ground, but DAVIS with great perseverance sustained the weight and all where saved.. DAVIS resides at 14 Olive Place, Duckinfield St, there are few acts that show more courage and deserve more substantial recognition than his.

FRYER on coming along the ledge had to pass the flames and burnt his hands and face, he is now an inmate at the Southern Hospital.

John MC ARDLE a servant at the Home was asleep in the top storey at the north west corner, he was awakened by the crackling of timbers and a strange noise. For a time he was bewildered, and had difficulty unlocking the door, when he eventually opened the door the flames rushed in, they immediately ebbed and he rushed down the stairs. He saw WILLIAMS on the stairs and so exciting was the scene that they never spoke. He saw a youth on the gallery rails looking vacantly at the burning mass, the youth when asked about his inertness said he was bewildered at the time, but when he recovered made the best of his way out.

Many boarding houses and public houses where thrown open with the greatest generosity to those who had escaped, many half clad, who were readily supplied with what they needed.

It estimated that the loss to seamen in clothes amounted to 890 pounds. The Local Marine Board have undertaken to refund this amount and it is hoped the public will liberally subscribe to a benevolent fund.

Yesterday members of the Local Marine Board, including, Mr GRAVES, Mr TOMLINSON, Mr J. AIKIN, Mr SMITH and His Worship the Mayor, Mr GRANT and other gentlemen were most assiduous in meeting the exigencies of the case. The Customs House Arcade has been taken advantage of temporarily to carry on business as the Sailors Home, in addition to three rooms disposed of by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board.

Yesterday the utmost regret prevailed in Liverpool at a calamity which had deprived the town of so a philanthropic, and had caused the loss of at least two lives.

xxxxx

May 1st 1860

Inquest

In brief:-

An inquest held yesterday before Mr P. F. CURRY, Coroner on the bodies of the two men, Robert HARDIKER and Joseph CLARKE.

Mr James WILLIAMS Department Superintendent was called, "I live on the premises, facing Paradise St, on the 3rd storey, at 11mins to 1, I was called by the night watchman Evans CHRISTIAN, who had found a fire in room number 40 or 42 in the 5th flat. A man named JACKSON slept in one of the rooms an apprentice in the other. At 2-30 I saw PC. Robert HARDIKER go up the ladder with a branch from the hose in his hand, when deceased got to the top the ladder broke in the middle and he fell 40ft to the ground on the flags at my feet and was killed on the spot. The fire continued to rage till 3am. I went with several others to the bank situated under the large dining room. The deceased man Joseph CLARKE went in and while we were trying to to collect books and papers etc the floor of the dining room fell in. CLARKE was crushed between the falling debris and the floor of the bank. He was crying for help and we used jackscrews and everything possible to release him. He was not got out for two hours then was taken to the Southern Hospital."

Coroner, "I suppose it was quite impossible to move him sooner?"

Williams, "Every possible exertion was made 5-6 jackscrews were got to work, every effort was made to free the fellow by the Captain and crew of the HASTINGS, the fire police and others."

Coroner, "Have you got a plan of the building?"

Williams, "I have not"

He describes the layout adding, the men had their own rooms and keys.

Coroner, "A gentleman told me today they were locked in like prisoners."

Williams, "No Sir, the men would not bear that. Smoking was strictly prohibited and rules to that effect are printed in large letters. The first time a seaman was caught smoking he was cautioned, if he offended again he was required to seek other lodgings. As to the origin of the fire my opinion is, it was by smoking in bed and the bed clothes caught fire, but, I have not been able to discover the party. The seaman now present, Charles JACKSON, is the young man who occupied the room where the fire started. To show you his carelessness, this morning when he came to me he had placed his lighted pipe in his pocket, the lining of which caught fire when he approached me."

Coroner, "Did you say anything to him with reference to the fire?"

Williams, " I did, he said he was in bed and smelt fire or burning and thought it was someone in the next room, he covered himself with the clothes."

A Juryman, " Are steps taken to discover if smoking is practised by the sailors?"

Williams, "Yes, the night watchman goes round every hour, I went around myself about 12-15 on Sunday morning and found all safe, I make it a practise before I go to my room."

Evans CHRISTIAN, Night Watchman was called, "I went on duty on Saturday night at 8, at 5 past 12, I closed the gates and turned the gas off all the burners except one, the clock light. I went upstairs to see all the lights were out, there are passages leading to four bedrooms, there is one gas burner in each passage, there is no gas in the bedrooms themselves. All lights were out and I went downstairs and saw Mr WILLIAMS and told him all was right, he then went to his apartments on the 3rd storey. I went downstairs and found two sailors sitting by the fire on the ground floor, I told them it was time for bed, they were sober and not smoking. They went upstairs and I followed them with the lantern, the place was in darkness except for my lantern and the clock light. I examined all the water closets which were empty. When I was on the 4th flat about 20 past 12, I found a man asleep on the rail, I raised him and put him in his room, as I left him I heard the cries of, Murder, from the 5th flat. About number 40, I saw a man go out, I went up and saw number 40 on fire, I then went to Mr WILLIAMS."

William GREY, Police officer 645, "I was on duty at the fire I was on the 3rd storey window when a portion of the roof fell down on the dining room floor, the weight of the debris broke the beams of the dining room floor and they fell down into the bank on their beam ends. I heard an order for our firemen to come down from the ladders. We did so and an alarm was given there was a man buried in the ruins."

Robert SIMON, Police officer 563, "I was on duty at the fire and went into the bank to try to save the books and papers, whilst I was there the roof gave way and I was buried in the ruins. I managed to drag myself out, I did not see anyone in the ruins."

Charles H. JACKSON, the seaman referred to by Mr WILLIAMS, "I am a seaman and arrived in Liverpool last Monday week in the ship ELIZABETH YEO of Bristol, and went to the Sailors Home. I went to bed about 11-30 on Saturday in room 40. I smelt burning but thought it was from the fire downstairs, I got into bed and fell asleep, I was quite sober. I awoke at 12-15 and found my room filled with smoke. I went out and found the two next bedrooms on fire. The last time I smoked was between 8 and 9 on Sunday outside the building."

Robert ROBINSON, PC 564, "I was on duty at the fire, I assisted to raise the ladder that broke, it was about 50ft long, I went about half way up with the branch in my hand when the deceased man Robert HARDIKER called me down, saying he was more used to ladders than I, and he would go up. He went up and I stayed at the foot, he came out of the building with the branch hose in his hand and went up the ladder, the ladder slipped at the bottom and then broke off, the deceased fell from the ladder from about 40ft and was killed on the spot."

William SIMPSON, Police officer 608, "I was on duty at the fire and assisted at the bank, I was covered by falling debris from the dining room. Joseph CLARKE was jammed by the legs by one of the falling beams and the stairs. I made every exertion to get him out, I lay on my breast and held his head, he was in that position till 7am when he was taken to hospital."

Superintendent QUICK here mentioned a fact told to him by Robert SIMON [563] that he was on duty at the Sailors Home and saw a box of matches fall from the window of the 3rd storey, opposite Argyle St, which was on the opposite side of the building from where the fire was discovered and this was 2minutes before the fire broke out.

Charles JACKSON was recalled, and swore he never smoked in the building from the time he went in to the time he came out.

Major GREIG, "I examined the ladder, it was 40ft and had snapped one third from the top."

His own impression to the cause of the break was that it had received injury by being placed with too much force against the wall, as its slipping at the bottom would be a gradual process.

PC 564, said the ladder slipped at the bottom it was placed on the hard smooth pavement, it was too heavy for him stop when it slipped.

Mr HEWITT, "I have charge of the fire department under Mr GREIG, I received information of the fire about 5 to 1 and proceeded immediately to the spot with engines and ladders etc, I had 13 to 14 ladders, they varied in size from one to four storeys high and likewise in strength. I did not see the broken ladder erected, on examination I found it was one of the last new ladders made and in new condition, it had been in use for about 6mths and broke about one third from the top in long splinters. Some time ago in placing a ladder against a wall at too great an angle, it broke, this must have been the same as everything is hurried with us."

The Coroner alluded to the great loss to the town in the destruction of such a noble building, which had served as home to many a poor mariner, who had, before its erection been the victim of robbery and imposition. He also referred to the law regarding inquests on fire and hoped something would be done to remedy the present anomalous state, and that a clause would be introduced into the bill of Sir George Cornwall LEWIS at present before parliament, giving the Coroner power to hold an inquest in cases of fire, or that the bill introduced by Mr COBBETT which has a clause to that effect would be passed by the House of Commons. He then summed up the facts of the case regarding the deaths of the two men.

The Jury returned a verdict of "Accidental death" in both cases. They expressed their opinion as to the efficiency of the ladders under the superintendence of Mr HEWITT and regretted that no fire escape had been kept at the Sailors Home.

The Coroner highly eulogised the conduct of Mr HEWITT and expressed the pleasure given him by a visit to his establishment at Hatton Gardens.

Mr STONE of the Liverpool and London Insurance Company spoke in praise of Mr HEWITT'S exertions.

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Inscription on the Police monument Toxteth Park cemetery
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May 8th 1860

The late fire at the Sailor's Home

The young man named CLARKE fatally injured at the fire was not an inmate of the institution, he lodged with Mr GILL of the Sailors House Tavern, Frederick St, and left that place to assist at the fire, which cost him his life. The arrangements for the funeral were attended by Mr GILL and he has received a letter from the young mans friends in Dundee, warmly thanking him for his exertions

Copyright 2002 / To date

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