From the Dover Express March 1863.
Disastrous Fire at Dover - Three Lives Lost.
Early on Tuesday morning last a disastrous fire broke out in a block of
premises opposite the Museum in Market Square Dover and resulted in the
total destruction of the premises and the loss of three lives. The
premises destroyed are the Alhambra Music Hall and the two houses
adjoining one being occupied by Mr. R. Burrows, pork butcher and the
other by Mr. W. T. Froggatt who also carries on the business of a
butcher. It is almost impossible to state exactly how the fire
originated with various parts of the different houses overlapping each
other but it is believed to have broken out in the central house
occupied by Mr. Burrows children aged respectively nine years and seven
and a servant girl aged seventeen perishing in the flames. The fire was
discovered about a quarter to four o’clock. The first to arrive on the
spot being Police Constable Bowles who was on duty near and some of the
town scavengers who were employed in sweeping the streets in accordance
with the practise recently brought into operation here of street
sweeping at night. At this time all that was seen were wreaths of smoke
issuing from the tiles of the roof and first impression of the constable
being that a chimney had taken fire. A little closer examination however
soon led to a different conclusion and an alarm of fire was at once
raised. This appeal was promptly responded to the headquarters of the
fire brigade (the police station) being but a few yards from the spot.
But such a hold had the fire got upon the premises that before the
arrival of Mr. Superintendent Coram and the fire brigade flames had
burst through the roof of Mr. Burrow’s house and the air was resounding
with the shrieks of the terrified occupants on the right of the burning
In addition to the regular fireman the volunteer fire brigades were
quickly in attendance together with detachments of the military under
the command of officers and having with them the garrison fire engines.
A number of the employee’s of both railway companies were also on the
scene with the south-eastern company’s engine. The fire escape, which was
close at hand, was quickly got out being brought to the spot just in
time to receive a half frantic female servant who had escaped in her
nightdress from the attic of Mr. Froggatt’s house. She was about
precipitating herself from the roof in her terror lest the advancing
flames should reach her. Fortunately her rash design was dissipated by
the timely arrival of the escape and she was got down in safety. While
this was going on Mrs. Froggatt threw herself from the bedroom window
that was on the first floor and was received in the arms of one of the
firemen without injury. A child was also thrown form the window by Mr.
Froggatt who also made his escape in the same way. Meanwhile Mr. Burrows
appeared in the front of his house in an agony of despair. He told the
crowd in a half frenzied manner that his two children were sleeping in a
back room with which connection was cut off by fire and that the only
means of reaching them was from the back of the house. Mr. Coram and
some of his assistants immediately proceeded to the rear of the burning
buildings, which could only be approached through a sort of court
running at the back. Some workshops occupied by the Messrs Joyce and all
the available means were used for the purpose of rendering assistance to
the suffocating victims.
The base of the whole range of premises was at this time on fire. The
persons of the Alhambra had made their escape shortly after the fire was
discovered, Mr. Barker the proprietor being in his bar asleep at the
time and therefore easily aroused. Not many moments had been consumed in
the humans but nearly hopeless endeavour to save the children and the
servant when the floors of the house gave way with a crash and a shout
of horror proclaimed that the unfortunate creatures had perished. The
unhappy father was led away from the scene talking incoherently his
reason having evidently for the time deserted him. Subsequently on the
fire being subdued it was discovered that the hapless victims must have
been conscious of their danger and had approached the window of the room
with the intention of making their escape by that means when the smoke
probably overpowered them. The charred body of one of the children was
found still clinging to the windowsill of the bedroom. The remains of
the other child and the servant were found immediately underneath on the
ground floor a proof that they must have been close to the window when
the floor gave way. The premises that are destroyed were built upon the
ruins of the old church St. Martin one of the walls of which intersects
them. It is partly to this fact that the restriction of the fire to the
above limits may be attributed a portion of the wall forming a barrier
between buildings and a row of new houses adjoining the first occupied
by Mr. Hearn, draper. The greatest praise is due for the efforts brought
to bear in suppressing the flames. The whole of the parties employed
worked with a zeal that could not be surpassed.
The volunteer’s fire brigade in particular behaved themselves in a most
praiseworthy manner and we regret to learn that one of their numbers Mr.
John Prebble received rather a bad flesh wound in one of his legs. The
arrangements for procuring water were the best that could be done. There
was of course some little delay in getting the mains charged from the
reservoir and the water concentrated into one district. But when this
was done the stream brought to bear from half a dozen hoses at once were
such as to render the speedy suppression of the flames a matter of
certainty. The energies of the firemen were directed to checking the
fire on both sides of the central building and this object was
Fortunately there was no wind and this circumstance very much
contributed to keep the flames within the limits they had claimed when
the means for extinguishing them were brought into play. Every possible
kindness and assistance were rendered to the sufferers by the neighbours
living near and the concern expressed in the fate of the unfortunate
children and the poor servant was heart-felt and universal. It so
occurred the Mrs. Burrows left home only on the previous evening on a
visit to Margate taking with her a third child a daughter. Fears were
entertained that the adjoining premises on either side of the three
houses above named would fall prey to the devouring element. Articles
were removed from the houses of Mr. Hearn and the Miss. Penn on the
right and from the house Mr. Attwood on the left. The latter was menaced
to an alarming degree and it was only by saturating the walls with water
and taking other precautions of a similar nature that the building was
preserved. The members of Mr. Atwood’s family were kindly received by
Mr.. Flashman to whose house Mr. Atwood’s books, cash-box and portable
valuables were also conveyed. The strictest order was preserved in the
removal of the goods on either side. We believe no opportunity was
afforded for any of those heartless robbers, which are frequently
perpetrated in the confusion arising from calamities of this sort, and
for this great credit is due to the vigilance of Superintendent Coram
and the constables under his control.
The following is the official report of the superintendent of the
Chief Office 5th March 1863.
Gentlemen, I have to report that at 3-40 a.m. the 3rd inst. the premises
situated in the Market Place and in the occupation of Messrs Burrow’s,
Froggatt and Barker were discovered to be on fire. I immediately
proceeded to the spot and found on my arrival that the inmates of Mr.
Froggatt’s house had escaped by the first floor windows with the
exception of the girl servant who was then on the roof. By the aid of
the fire escape Police Constable Irons brought her down safely. I was
then informed by Mr .Burrow’s that his children were in the rear of the
premises but on proceeding with him to that part of the building the
whole was in flames. The engine and fire apparatus were immediately
brought to the spot and a plentiful supply of water having been obtained
from three hydrants the brigade were enabled to arrest the progress of
the fire. Shortly afterwards arrived the engines of the military
authorities. One only that from the Castle was brought into requisitions
being worked by the Royal Artillery. That of the south Eastern Railway
Company followed this. Both engines obtained water from the river Dour
and materially assisted in extinguishing the fire not however before the
buildings were gutted. The origin of the fire is unknown.
As soon as possible search was made for the missing persons and their
remains on being found proved to be those of William Burrows aged 9
years, Leonard Burrows aged 7 years and Elizabeth Belsey the servant
aged 17 years.
Brigade in attendance Superintendent Coram and 13 firemen together with
17 of the volunteer fire brigade who were soon on the spot and rendered
An accident occurred to Mr. Prebble one of the volunteers in taking the
hose to the first floor window by breaking a ladder that disabled him
The premises were insured in the Sun, Phoenix and Alliance Fire Office
and the stock in those of the Guardian and Alliance.
I am a gentleman
Youre obedient servant
John Coram. Superintendent Fire Brigade.
The Dover Local Board of Health.
W. H. Payn Esq. opened the inquest on the bodies of the unfortunate
people the Borough Coroner at the Walmer Castle Inn on Wednesday at 12
o’clock. Mr. Henry Iggulden was appointed Foreman of the Jury and after
the remains of the deceased persons Leonard Burrows aged 7 years,
William Burrows aged 9 years and Elizabeth Belsey aged 17 years had been
viewed the following evidence was adduced.
William Baker; I am a
fish-seller living in Biggin Street Dover. I knew the deceased children
who were my sister’s and Elizabeth Belsey was Mr. Burrow’s servant. I
was at the house on the night previous to the fire. About half past
eight I was in the shop talking to Mr. Burrows when I heard him tell the
servant to put the two boys to bed. I remained in the house till the
servant came down stairs and said she had done so. I then left. I know
nothing whatever relative to the fire. The eldest of the deceased
children William was nine years of age and the youngest seven. I was
present at the fire at a quarter before four on Tuesday morning but I
know nothing of its origin. At the time of the accident Mrs. Burrows was
away at Margate and she had taken the eldest child a daughter with her.
They left home on Monday afternoon.
By a Juror; it was a frequent occurrence for Mrs. Burrows to be away
from home on business.
Robert Burrows the father of the deceased children who seem to be
labouring under overwhelming grief was then examined. He said; the
deceased children were mine and the girl Elizabeth Belsey was my
servant. On Tuesday morning I found my premises were on fire.
The Coroner; what first drew your attention to the fire?
Witness; I heard Mr. Froggatt my neighbour knocking on the wall that
divides his house from mine.
The Coroner; at what time did you go to bed on Monday night?
Witness; at half-past eleven as nearly as I can say.
The Coroner; what did you do immediately you were aroused?
Witness; I got out of bed and ran to the door of my bedroom to see after
my children but when I got to door I was met by a body of flame. I then
ran to the window of my room and raised the alarm, and having put on
part of my clothes I got down by the ledge over my shop window into the
street. The children were sleeping in the back room on the first floor.
The Coroner; what did you then do?
Witness; I went to the back of the premises where there was a small
yard. I got through by means of a court near to Mr. Joyce’s workshops. I
placed steps against the wall so as to get up to the children’s room but
I found that I could not reach the window by that means, some bricks on
which I had placed the steps to make them higher not remaining firm. I
called to the servant by name three times as loud as I could but I
obtained no reply. I then ran round the front of the house again and
called Superintendent Coram who went round with me to the back of the
house. On arriving we found that the bedroom was in flames.
The Coroner; you know nothing of the origin of the fire?
Witness; no sir not the slightest.
The Coroner; were all your fires out previous to you’re going to bed?
Witness; yes my girl went to bed at half past nine and the fire was out.
The Coroner; had you copper on the premises?
Witness; yes but not in the house.
Supt. Coram; the copper is at the back of the house in a part the fire
did not reach.
The Coroner; from the time you were aroused till the back of the house
was in flames how long elapsed?
Witness; about a quarter of an hour.
By the Jury; when I got round to the back of the house the first time
the under part of the premises as well as the servants bedroom was on
fire. The fire must have been first underneath before reaching the
The Coroner; do you think the fire originated in your house?
Witness; no I do not.
By the Jury; the lower part of the Alhambra premises meet mine. The room
underneath the children’s bedroom is my living room. I went into that
room on going home at half past eleven and got a light previous to going
to bed. I struck a Lucifer on the stove. I have had occasion to use my
copper only three or four times since I have been in the house. It was
not used on that night. I went home perfectly sober. Mr. Ray of the Walmer Castle was the last person I spoke to previous to going home.
William Thomas Froggatt; I am a butcher and lived in the house adjoining
that in which the deceased met their death. On Tuesday morning between
three and four o’clock as nearly as I can state I was aroused by my wife
who said she could smell something on fire. I told her that there could
be nothing on fire but she again roused me still more urgently by saying
she was sure something was burning. On that I jumped out of bed and at
the same moment I heard someone in the street say a chimney was on fire.
On opening the window I saw police constable Bowles who said to me “I
think there must be a chimney on fire at the back of your premises.” I
said “that can’t be the fire has been out for hours” but I told him I
would go down stairs and see and left the window for that purpose. On
seeing my bedroom door I was met by a volume of smoke so that I could
not descend. I then went back to the window and told the policeman that
I could see no fire but the house was full of smoke and that he had
better arouse the neighbours. I knocked at Burrows wall and the
policeman went round at the back part of the Alhambra to arouse Mr.
Barker I afterwards lowered my wife and child from the window and they
were received by a policeman and having secured my cash-box I jumped out
myself. My servant was upstairs and I had previously called to her not
to come down but to wait till the fire escape was brought. She did so
and was got down safely.
The Coroner; she could not have got down stairs with safety I suppose?
Witness; oh no sir.
Examination continued, the servant was out upon the roof before she was
rescued and flames were at the back and at the side of her.
By the Jury; the partitions between the two houses were only a wooden
panel on each side and the space between filled with sawdust. I
afterwards ran round to the back of the premises with Burrows to try and
reach his children. The back rooms above and below were both then in
flames. I did not observe that the Alhambra premises were on fire but it
was very difficult from the position of the rear of the houses to know
exactly which were on fire. I know nothing of the origin of the fire but
I am satisfied it did not originate in my house.
By a Juror; my opinion is that the fire either originated either in the
servants bedroom or in the room underneath it at Burrows.
Police Constable George Bowles; early on Tuesday morning I was on duty
near the Market Place. About twenty past or a quarter to four o’clock I
was passing by the premises occupied by the last witness when some one
thought the house was on fire and directed my attention to smoke issuing
the top of the house. I could see but very little smoke and I thought a
chimney only was on fire but on running round to the back of the houses
I saw more smoke coming through the tiles.
The Coroner; could you tell us from which house that was?
Witness; I believe it came from the middle house Mr. Burrows. I then
came round to the front again and raised the alarm and endeavoured to
take a female from Mr. Froggatt’s house. I don’t know whether the female
was Mrs. Froggatt I found that I could not reach her. As soon as I
touched her foot she drew back. I told Mr. Froggatt the fire escape
would soon be on the spot. I then went again to the back part of the
premises to knock up Mr. Barker’s family. On getting round I saw a fire
at the rear of the Alhambra and on knocking at the back door I found
that Mr. Barker was up. He let me in and I then walked through the house
and went out from the front door into the street. I then got the key of
the Market and procured the fire escape with which a female was rescued
from the top of Mr. Froggatt’s premises. Previous to getting to the fire
escape I saw no flames- nothing but smoke.
By the Jury; the smoke was coming out of the tiles of the roof when I
first saw it. There was light in the back room of the public house when
Mr. Barker let me in he was dressed but I can hardly say how. I believe
he was in his shirtsleeves I did not see anyone else in the house when I
passed through it.
Police Constable Richard Jones; about twenty minutes to four o’clock on
Tuesday morning my attention was called to the fire by hearing Mrs. Froggatt crying for help at her bedroom window. I ran across the Market
and found the premises were on fire. The smoke seemed to come from the
back of the shop and the public house. I assisted Mrs Froggatt to get
down from the bedroom window and I also took the baby from the window.
Mr. Froggatt then handed me his cash box and I also helped him get down.
On turning round I saw Mr. Burrows hanging by a ledge of his shop window
and having helped him down also, I ran round to the Police Station to
give the alarm. Assistance having been obtained the fire escape was got
out and a servant rescued from the roof of Mr Froggatt’s house. I then
aided the rest of the constables in extinguishing the fire.
By the Jury; Police Constable Irons was the constable who assisted the
woman from the roof of the hose into the fire escape. When Mr. and Mrs. Froggatt were rescued the servant was on the top of the house and she
wanted to jump off but I said, “For Gods sake don’t do it you will break
your neck wait for the fire escape.” I do not believe she could have got
from her bedroom to the bedroom of Mr. Froggatt.
John Baker; I am landlord of the Alhambra Music Hall which adjoined
Burrow’s. My attention was first called to the fire by a policeman
knocking at my front door. In the hurry of the moment I did not notice
the time but I believe it was about three o’clock. I did not know who
was at the door, I enquired two or three times I at first thought some
drunken fellow was wanting to get admission at the back but immediately
“fire” was called I opened the door and found that the policeman had
been knocking. I had not gone to bed I was asleep at the time in the bar
parlour in the front of the house.
The Coroner; could you tell us why you were up?
Witness; it is very usual for us to be up till three or four in the
morning, but on Monday night it was owing to having a painter at work,
painting the inside of the bar. He was at work at the time of the alarm.
After letting in the policeman I ran up into the concert room. I found
there was nothing the matter there. I then came down and went into the
back yard when I saw that fire and smoke were coming out of the back
attic of Burrows house. I saw Mr. Burrows in the yard and pointing up he
said, “My God, Mr. Barker my poor children are in that room!” I did not
notice any fire coming from the window below but a mass of smoke from
the roof. At that moment Mrs. Barker came running to me in alarm for the
safety of our child who was upstairs asleep. I ran upstairs for the
child and I did not go out into the back yard again.
The Coroner; was your wife up?
Witness; yes she was in the bar washing up some glasses. We had had a
soirée in the Music Hall that night. The soirée finished at half past
eleven. There was no fire in the concert room we never have a fire
there. The concert room ran partly over Mr. Burrow’s house and partly
over Mr. Froggatt’s.
By a Juror; I saw no fire in the room underneath the bedroom. All the
fire I saw was at the top of the house. If there had been fire in the
lower room I must have seen it my attention was directed to the top
room. All the premises are insured. They have been insured by me for Mr. Gorely the owner.
Superintendent Coram; I am Superintendent of the Fire Brigade. Police
Constable Irons rang my bell at twenty minutes to four o’clock on
Tuesday morning the reserve constable at the Station House. I
immediately dressed myself and was at the scene of the fire in five
minutes. The fire escape was then being brought out of the Market Place.
I saw a female on the top of Mr. Froggatt’s house. She was about
throwing herself off the roof. I entreated her to remain quiet telling
her that if she did she would be saved. The escape was then raised and
at this time the flames were shooting up from behind and in front of
her. Fire also issued from the first floor window and it became
impossible for the female to stand on the parapet. As it was her feet
were scorched. After the fire escape had been raised Police Constable
Irons went up it and got the female down through the canvas. Immediately
she was down Burrows came up to me and said “My God Mr. Coram my
children are there!” I said, “Where are they?” and he pointed to the
back of the premises. On getting round I found the house was a mass of
flames. Burrows exclaimed “it is all over” and I lost him he seemed
distracted. The greater body of the fire was in the lower part of the
premises and I am certain that the fire must have originated there.
Between eight and nine o’clock I employed men to examine the ruins and
after a short time they came to the bodies of two of the deceased, the
servant and one of the children. Both were lying close under the window
although unable to get out. The other little boy was lying on the sill
of the bedroom window.
By the Jury; I don’t think there was longer delay than usual getting
water. The first duty of the police was to save lives of people who were
on the roof and in the front window of Mr. Froggatt’s house. That
occasioned a delay of three or four minutes and the police then ran for
the turncock. In twenty minutes after the fire was discovered the water
was playing on the flames.
The jury thought that even twenty minutes was a considerable delay in a
case of this sort and suggested the desirability of some means of
communication between the Police Station and the Waterworks.
The superintendent said the matter had already been under the
consideration of a committee of the Town Council and he believed that a
telegraph had been suggested.
The Jury unanimously of opinion that a representation should go from the
Coroner to the Council urging the adoption of this or some other
effectual means for obtaining a more speedy supply of water than was to
be had in this case. Superintendent Coram said he should have to make a
formal report to the Local Board on the following day and he would
convey the opinion expressed by the jury.
In reply to Mr. Nazer the Superintendent of the Local Board Mr Hanvey
was upon the scene of the fire very quickly after it broke out and
rendered the greatest assistance in its suppression. A member of the
jury testified from his personal observation at the time of the fire to
the great value of Mr. Hanvey’s assistance.
The Coroner having summed up pointing out the unsatisfactory nature of
the evidence and to the origin of the fire. The Jury returned the
following verdict, that the deceased were accidentally burnt to death in
consequence of the house in which they were living taking fire but how
the fire originated there is no evidence to show. At the close of the
inquest upon the motion of Mr. J. O. Nazer a vote of thanks was
unanimously passed to the fire brigade and volunteer brigade and the
military for their very able and efficient services at the fire.
The Suffering at the Late Fire.
The amount collected for the parents of the poor girl Ann Belsey who
lost her life by the late disastrous fire at Dover and the poor girls
who were living as servants in the adjoining houses and whose clothes
were destroyed is upwards of £18. This had been judiciously awarded to
the several recipients by Mr. S. Philpot of The Royal Oak Hotel the
treasurer of the fund who has taken a most assiduous and benevolent
interest in the fate of the sufferers from the moment of the unfortunate
catastrophe till the present.
The stores of Dickeson and Wood had a narrow escape. The back wall of
the Alhambra Music Hall and if the fire had progressed any further in
that direction the building would have taken fire. Masses of smoke were
driven through the interstices of the wall and on going over the
premises on Thursday we observed the marks left. Had the stores taken
fire the loss would have been great and a new impulse given to the fire
a vast number of casks of butter being stacked on one of the stores.
A very cool proceeding is attributed to one of the persons living near
the house was menaced. It is said that having secured his papers and
other articles of personal value he removed his family and left the
house sending word to the fire agent office in which he was insured that
the fire was expected to reach his premises. It is not stated whether he
followed the example set by him by the owner and left the premises to
take their chances.
In addition to Mr. Prebble, Mr. B. A. Tucker and Mr. Palfrey two other
members of the volunteer fire brigade sustained some slight injury. The
whole however we are happy to learn are progressing favourably.
It had been reported in some London newspapers that the ladder of the
fire escape was broken, this we are happy to say is an error. What was
broken was the ordinary fire ladder the mishap being occasioned by a
great number of firemen than it would bear clustering upon it in their
laudable eagerness to render all assistance in their power.
On Wednesday evening the remains of the unfortunate children were
removed from an out-house in which they had been laid in after being dug
out from the ruins.
We are informed the premises are to be rebuilt immediately.
It was reported on Wednesday evening that the shock sustained by Mr.
Burrows had resulted so seriously that it had been found necessary to
place him under restraint. On making enquiries we find that this is
incorrect and that the unfortunate man although labouring under the most
poignant distress is still with his friends.
Information kindly supplied by Joyce Banks.
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