Remains of the chapel of the Liverpool Workhouse

Illustrated news Sept 1862

Liverpool Albion, 8th September, 1862

Awful fire Liverpool Workhouse, loss of 23 lives

About 2am this morning a fire broke out in the Workhouse and before it was extinguished about 23 lives were lost, principally infants and the church adjoining the building was completely gutted and destroyed

Soon after 2am, Miss KENNAN, the schoolmistress, communicated with Mr CARR, the governor, the fact that dense smoke was issuing from the windows of the childrens dormitory which was situated on the eastern portion of the building, over the drug store of the establishment, and closely adjoining the church. On reaching the spot Mr CARR at once ordered all the hose to be got out and immediately fixed to seven stands pipes, and the water directed onto the interior of the dormitory. Unfortunately the pressure of the water at this time was not great and the fire continued to spread amongst the combustible materials in the apartment, which was filled with its usual inmates.

In a short time after the fire was discovered, the engines from Hatton Garden under the direction of Mr HEWITT, and the West of England fire engine, directed by Mr BARRETT, and their respective staff arrived and immediately rendered such assistance as could be given, but unfortunately was not of such value in saving life or property as was wished.

From the situation of the fire, it was easy to get out all the inmates who occupied the southern portion of the structure by means of the south staircase, but as the fire was raging principally near the centre and around the head of the central stair, no means of escape could be afforded to those who occupied the northern portion. Such was the anxiety to save life that many of those who were employed in the praiseworthy efforts had narrow escapes with their lives.

Miss KENNAN had to be carried away in a state of exhaustion and insensibilty. Mr CARR was several times nearly suffocated, and painful to relate, two adult nurses and a grown up girl fell victim to their exertions for saving the lives of the helpless children. It is still more melancholy to relate that the sacrifice was unavailing, as the whole of the inmates who occupied the northern portion, numbering 20, perished in the flames. While the exertions of all were sedulously and anxiously directed to saving the lives of the children, it was discovered the church was on fire, but as the whole available force of the water was directed to subduing the fire which was raging at such fatal effect in the place where it was discovered, the conflagration in the church made rapid progress, soon after 3am it proved one enormous mass of flame from the floor to the top of the steeple, throwing a lurid glare all over the sky, the extraordinary conflagration presenting a picturesque as well as an appalling spectacle, visible from a great distance.

Shortly before 4am, portions of the steeple supports began to give way, the steeple itself vibrated considerably and in a moment afterwards it reeled a fell with a tremendous crash, carrying with it large portions of the roof and interior timbers including the floor and on the consumable materials within the edifice down to the school rooms underneath. With this the fire gradually declined and was at length extinguished. After the fire had been subdued the ruins presented a ghastly appearance, the dormitory roof was completely destroyed as was a large portion of the floor and central staircase. The portion of the floor which remained was covered with partially burned bedding, and among the wreck the charred and disfigured remains of the unhappy victims of the flames. Some of these were badly mutilated, having been smashed by the falling debris. In the dormitory the bedsteads were all of iron, and in one row of these lay 14 bodies of lifeless children, charred and blackened and partially covered with fragments of roof. The church which used to possess a pleasing feature is completely gutted, its walls burst and torn by the heat and falling timbers Its taper spire consumed and broken. How the fire originated is unknown as at 7.30 pm all was correct.

9th September 1862

An inquest was opened by Mr W. W. DRIFFIELD the deputy borough coroner. The jury proceeded to the workhouse to view the bodies, which presented a very melancholy spectacle, many of them being so charred and mutilated as not to be recognisable.

List of victims, those who suffered by the fire:- Elizabeth GLOVER, aged 5, Margaret HALL, aged 5, Martha HALL, aged 5, Mary HUGHES, aged 6, Harriet ANDERSON, aged 6, Ann SCOTT, aged 4, Winifred GOODYEAR, aged 4, Mary Jane WILSON, aged 5, Ann WILSON, aged 4, Mary BROWN, aged 4, Catherine BURNS, aged 4, Mary LEATHER, aged 5, Hannah M KEOWN, aged 4, Mary DIXON, aged 4, Ann WOLFE, aged 6, Elizabeth ANDREWS, aged 6, Hannah BRANNAN, aged 5, Mary Ann COONEY, aged 4, Bridget KEARNEY, aged 4, Sarah HEWITT, aged 5, Ellen DUGGAN, aged 7, Susan CARROLL [Nurse] aged 47, and Harriet MEACOCK [Nurse] aged 45.

Miss KENNAN, the schoolmistress, was able to identify four, Susan CARROLL [Nurse] aged 47, and Harriet MEACOCK [Nurse] aged 45. Harriet ANDERSON, aged 6, and Ellen DUGGAN, aged 7. Winifred GOODYEAR, aged 4, was identified by her mother.

Mr CARR the workhouse governor stated that at 10pm the inmates in accordance with the rules are locked up in their dormitories by officers, whose duty it is to inform him if anything is wrong, on Sunday night no report was made. He had been walking in front of the house, which commands a full view of the premises in which the fire took place, at that time everything appeared right and tranquil. He went to rest immediately afterwards and about 2am on Monday was awakened by the violent ringing of the night bell of the house. On coming down the stairs he saw Miss KENNAN who called out there was a fire in the girls school dormitory. On getting out of his house he saw dense smoke issuing from the dormitory, and from the grid over the staircase communicating the dormitory and schoolrooms under the church. He gave instructions to get out the hose and ladders belonging to the establishment, the ladders to be taken to the window at the north end of the dormitory and he at once ascended. The smoke was so dense on the window that when opened he could not breathe without stooping his head below the volume, and he could not see. He then went to the south entrance but found it impossible to pass into the dormitory through the intervening apartments. He ordered the men to fix the hose instructing them to play the water into the dormitory through the windows and down the yard through the schoolroom passage. The destruction of the dormitory and of lives had become complete before the arrival of the engines. The roof of the dormitory fell in soon after 3am, the fire then began to slacken, the floor being completely flooded. On looking through the dormitory window the children were seen lying in their cots evidently dead, but the heat was so intense it was impossible to get in, the bodies did not then seem to be much burnt. The seat of the fire seemed originally to be under grid which covered a flagged passage in which there was no fireplace, but from which a wooden stair communicated with the dormitory. In this staircase a small gaslight was allowed to burn all night, but it was completely out of reach of the children. Witness was unable to say how the fire started, there was no fireplace in the dormitory, but there was, gas jets within 60 ft of where the fire originated

William MUIR, police officer who had been on duty within the enclosure containing the workhouse, saw the place between the church and the dormitory filled with dense smoke and at once gave the alarm, he assisted one of the night soil men up the stairs to the southern dormitory where they rescued 4 children.

Morris POWER, superintendent of the vagrant department, spoke distinctly of the fire having proceeded from the schoolroom under the church to the girls dormitory.

Inquest adjourned.

Remains of the children's dormitory, the Graphic Sept 1862

10th September 1865

Inquest was resumed by Mr DRIFFIELD, Mr CURWOOD, Deputy town clerk, appeared to watch the case on behalf of the corporation, and Mr BREMNER, solicitor on behalf of the parish authorities.

Mr CARR the governor of the workhouse was again examined, he spoke as above other than to add that at the time of the fire there was a pile of clothes lying in the infants schoolroom, not far from the passage leading to the dormatories and in the schoolroom was a cupboard full of books and bonnets and a wooden gallery where the children sat, when he first noticed the fire it appeared to be coming from the direction of the cupboard and the pile of clothes.

Miss KENNAN schoolmistress, was examined, she slept near the childrens dormitory and was awakened by a strong smell of smoke in her room. She told some of the children to run through the establishment and shout “Fire!” From the first she thought the fire serious and informed the governor As she crossed the iron grid covering the passage between the church and the dormitory she felt it was warm, and when she returned from the house of the governor the heat had greatly increased, and dense smoke was rising up it. On going upstairs she heard cries, but was unable to advance into the room in consequence of the density of the smoke. Creeping on her hands and knees in the room and feeling the foot of a child she took hold of the child and succeeded in recuing the child Jane MITCHELL. In endeavouring to go into the room again to some one who called her she became insensible and knew nothing more of what had occurred until she found herself lying at the front door below. Witness corroborated Mr CARR as to there being on the school room floor a quantity of clothing and some bonnets and shawls etc, in the cupboard The articles were there the previous afternoon at 4.30pm, when witness was in the room. Candles and matches were not allowed to the inmates.

Maurice POWER superintendent of the parochial vagrant sheds, spoke chiefly as to the position in which 11 of the children were discovered, stating they appear to have been suffocated and then scorched by fire, and they lay as though they were asleep.

A police officer named BUSHBY was next examined as to the steps taken on the discovery of the fire, his evidence however was not material.

Major GREIG head constable of Liverpool who was next examined, said that when he arrived at the scene of the fire about 3am, he found the supply of water from the hydrants was very weak, and in consequence of the low pressure [the building is situated on very high ground [the water could not be thrown direct from the hose as high as the windows of the dormitory.

Mr J. HEWITT, superintendent of the Liverpool Fire Brigade, corroborated this evidence.

The Coroner summed up the evidence after which the jury returned a verdict that the children were accidentally suffocated, and made a further presentment that there was insufficient pressure on the water supply.

Liverpool Mercury, 13th September, 1862

The fatal fire at Liverpool workhouse

A poor, simple hearted woman named Harriet MEACOCK, got safely out herself, but went backwards and forwards many times, bringing out little terrified and almost lifeless children, and at length she herself became suffocated with the smoke. She was got out, but died almost immediately afterwards.


© 2020 All Rights Reserved