FIRST SUPERINTENDENT OF THE LONDON FIRE-BRIGADE, AND ASSOCIATE OF THE INSTITUTION OF CIVIL ENGINEERS.
FIRE-PROOF STRUCTURES, FIRE-PROOF SAFES, PUBLIC FIRE BRIGADES, PRIVATE MEANS FOR SUPPRESSING FIRES, FIRE-ENGINES, FIRE ANNIHILATORS, PORTABLE FIRE-ESCAPES, WATER SUPPLY
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS, MEMOIR, AND PORTRAIT OF THE AUTHOR.
LONDON: BELL AND DALDY, 186, FLEET STREET. 1866.
[The right of Translation is reserved.]
Introductory, Early Fires, Fire Engines, and Fire Brigades 5
Mr. Braidwood's birth and education 7
Great Fire of Edinburgh, and appointment as head of Brigade 8
Award of Silver Medal of Society of Arts, London; publication of work on Fire Engines 11
Formation of London Fire Brigade; appointment as Superintendent 13
Testimonials received upon leaving Edinburgh 14
London residence and routine of duty 16
Valuable services of the Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire 17
Statistics of Fires; improvement of Fire Engines 18
Introduction of ladders, hose reel, and hand pump 19
Floating Fire Engines, hand worked and steam; Land Steam Fire Engine 20
Inspection of Government Dockyards and Public Buildings; establishment of a standard hose coupling 21
Admitted an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers; award of Telford Medal; endeavours to restrain the erection of immoderate-sized warehouses 22
His opinion as to the inadequacy of London Fire Brigade; Great Tooley Street Fire 23
Death of Mr. Braidwood 24
Public funeral 25
Public and private character 28
World-wide esteem in which he was held 30
Poem—A True Hero 32
FIRE PREVENTION, INCLUDING FIREPROOF STRUCTURES—CAUSES OF FIRES.
Inattention in the use of fires and lights 33
Advantages of a legal inquiry into the cause of Fires 37
Improper construction of buildings 37
Acts of Parliament for buildings in London 39
Results of improper construction of warehouses in Liverpool 41
Arrangements for the safety of the audience in theatres 42
Danger from furnaces and close fires 43
Danger from pipes conveying products of combustion 44
Spontaneous ignition; use of gas 45
Incendiarism; monomania 46
What is fireproof construction 47
Use of cast and wrought-iron 49
Mr. Fairbairn's experiments 50
Danger to life from use of cast-iron columns 54
Report on warehouses 55
Covering timber with iron 56
Fireproof dwelling-houses 57
Fireproof safes 58
FIRE EXTINCTION, INCLUDING FIRE BRIGADES, FIRE ENGINES, AND WATER SUPPLY—FIRE BRIGADES.
Individual exertions for Fire Extinction 59
Fire Brigades on the Continent of Europe, in England, in America 66
Necessity for the control of arrangements by one individual 67
Proposal for a national system 68
Fire Engines at noblemen's and gentlemen's residences 70
Training and discipline of Firemen 71
General instructions for Firemen, and for the use of Fire Engines 72
Necessity for the water striking the burning materials 74
Inventions for elevating branch pipes considered 76
LONDON FIRE BRIGADE.
General description of men and engines 79
Division of London into districts 81
General regulations 82
Conditions of entrance into the establishment 83
Outline of general duty 85
Duties of Superintendent 88
" Foremen 90
" Engineers 93
" Sub-Engineers and Firemen 94
EDINBURGH FIRE BRIGADE.
Description of men selected 96
Mode of communicating with Firemen at a Fire 97
Dress and drill of Firemen 99
Gymnastic exercises 104
General regulations 106
Duties of Police 107
" Superintendent of Brigade 109
" Head Enginemen 110
" Firemen, and High Constables 111
" Magistrates, and Gas-Light Companies 113
Special regulations for Firemen 114
Means of escape from Fire 118
The application of manual power 123
Engines used by the British Government 124
Description of Brigade Fire Engine 126
Hand Pump; keeping Fire Engines in order 130
Selection of Engine House 132
Apparatus provided with London Brigade Engine 133
Leather hose 134
Hose couplings 140
Suction pipes 143
Jet pipes, proper shape 145
Fire annihilator 149
By pressure, from surface of ground, and by sunk tanks 150
Experiments with jets under a constant pressure 153
Fire plug used in London 155
Canvas cistern and stand-cock used with fire plug 156
Double fire-cock used in the Government Dockyards 158
Double hollow key fire-cock used in the British Museum 159
Supply by Water Companies in London 162
Supplying Fire Engines from fire-cocks, &c. 163
Steam Fire Engines, progress in construction 166
Trials before the Jury of the International Exhibition, 1862 168
Trials at the International Competition, London, 1863 173
Steam Fire Engines in use by Metropolitan Brigade, May, 1866 181
Act of Parliament for Metropolitan Fire Brigade 182
Establishment of Metropolitan Fire Brigade 197
Portrait of Mr. Braidwood on steel by Jeens, from a photograph by Williams Frontispiece.
Longitudinal section of Brigade Fire Engine 124
Transverse section of ditto 125
Old coupling for hose 140
New ditto, ditto 141
Branch and jet pipe 145
Opening in sunk tank for suction pipe 151
Fire plug used in London 155
Fire plug with canvas cistern 156
Fire plug with stand-cock 157
Single fire-cock 158
Double fire-cock used at dockyards 158
Double fire-cock used at British Museum 159
The appearance at the beginning of last year, in the Annual Report of the Institution of Civil Engineers for 1861 and 1862, of a short memoir of Mr. Braidwood, suggested the publication of a more extended account of the life of the late head of the London Fire Brigade, combined with his opinions upon the subject of his profession.
These opinions are comprised in a work on "Fire Engines, and the Training of Firemen," published in Edinburgh in 1830; two papers upon cognate subjects read before the Institution of Civil Engineers, two similar papers read before the Society of Arts, and in a variety of reports upon public buildings, warehouses, &c. While regretting the great loss that the public has sustained, in being deprived by Mr. Braidwood's sudden death of a complete record of his long and varied London experience, it has been considered advisable to republish the above materials arranged in a systematic form, omitting only such parts as the Author's more matured experience rendered desirable, but confining the whole to his own words.
To his work "On the Construction of Fire-Engines and Apparatus; the Training of Firemen; and the Method of Proceeding in cases of Fire," published in Edinburgh, in 1830.
Not having been able to find any work on Fire-Engines in the English language, I have been led to publish the following remarks, in the hope of inducing others to give further information on the subject.
For the style of the work I make no apology; and as I presume no one will read it except for the purpose of gaining information, my aim will be obtained if I shall have succeeded in imparting it, or in directing the public attention to the advantage which may be derived from the systematic training of Firemen.
The history of mankind, from the earliest times, has been one of alternate peace and war with fire. The immeasurable value of its obedience, and the fearful consequences of its insubordination, have, in all ages, made its due subjection one of the most important conditions of even human existence itself. As camps and trading stations grew into populous cities, the dangers of fire were both multiplied and aggravated. Its ravages in the ancient capitals of the world are matters of history; and it is established that something like organization was extended to the means then employed for suppressing conflagrations. Even the fire-engine itself, in a practicable, although imperfect form, was described and illustrated by a sectional working drawing, by Hero of Alexandria, in a book written by him more than one hundred years before the Christian era. In its many translations, from the original Greek into Latin and into modern tongues, Hero's book, with its remarkable series of drawings, still occupies a place in the mechanical literature of our own time. But, although the construction of the fire-engine was thus known two thousand years ago, we have no actual evidence of its use until within the last two centuries; and within the whole compass of English history, at least, we know that nothing like discipline and organization, in the modern sense of the terms, were introduced into the management of fire apparatus until a time quite within the recollection of the middle-aged men of our own day. If there be anything apparently improbable in this fact, we need only recollect that many of the grandest triumphs of human genius, with which we are already so familiar, are not yet forty years old. The modern system of English fire brigades belongs wholly to the period of railways, steam navigation, and electric telegraphs, and it owes nearly all to the genius and disciplined heroism of a single individual, James Braidwood, who, but little more than four years ago, fell—as nobly for himself as sadly for others—at his chosen post of duty. What, when he first gave his energies—indeed, his whole heart to it, was but the rough and unskilful employment of the fireman, became under Mr. Braidwood's command and his infusing spirit of order and intelligence, as distinguished from reckless daring, a noble pursuit, almost rising in dignity to a profession, and indeed acknowledged as such by many, and significantly, although indirectly, by Royalty itself.
Until the year 1833, not only the parish engines of the metropolis, numbering, as they did, about three hundred, but the engines also of the Fire Insurance Companies, were comparatively inefficient and often out of order, while they were also under the most diverse, if not irresponsible management. There were no really trained firemen, and those who controlled and worked the engines were oftener in antagonism with each other than acting in concert. The parish engines were in the care of the beadles, and in one case a beadle's widow, Mrs. Smith, for some years commanded one of the city engines. The energies of each band of firemen were commonly reserved for the protection of property only in which their own insurance company or parish was immediately interested. As a rule, whatever water was thrown upon a burning building was dashed against the walls, windows, and roof from the outside only, very little if any really reaching the actual seat of the fire within. As a consequence, fires, which are now quickly "got under," were then left to burn themselves out, the spreading of the fire being prevented either by deluging the contiguous buildings with water, or by pulling them down altogether.
James Braidwood was born in Edinburgh in the year 1800. His father was a well-known upholsterer and builder, who appears to have chosen for his son the profession of a surveyor. To this end he was entered at the High School, then under the rectorship of Mr. (afterwards Professor) Pillans, and here, and subsequently under private masters, the youth received a sound education in the branches most appropriate to his intended pursuit in life. He was for some time engaged in his father's business, and thereby gained an amount of practical knowledge, which was of, perhaps, as much service to him in his subsequent career as a fireman, as it would have been had he adopted the profession originally chosen for him. Young Braidwood was an apt student, a fact, perhaps, sufficiently attested afterwards by his successful authorship, at the age of thirty, of the only English work then extant upon the fire-engine and its proper management. He read much, wrote well, was a good draughtsman, and had a sound knowledge of mechanics. But whether his powers required wider scope than a surveyor's practice could offer, or whether, more than forty years ago, and in Edinburgh, the chances of professional success were very much less than now, James Braidwood soon turned his mind to what became the great work of his life. He was becoming known for activity and a high order of personal courage, and there were those in place and power who saw in him the other elements of character which go to make a successful leader of men. He was soon, and when but twenty-three years of age, made the superintendent of the Edinburgh fire engines, and he almost as soon began to reform their inefficient and vicious system of management. He had held his post but three weeks, however, when the series of fires broke forth which still bear the name of the Great Fire of Edinburgh. Many of the old and lofty houses in the High Street were destroyed, between four and five hundred families were made houseless, ten persons were either killed outright or fatally injured, and for several days nearly the whole of the High Street, if not the larger part of the old town, was threatened with destruction. Never were the consequences of want of organization more conspicuous. There was no real command, for there were none to obey; and while those who might have stopped the flames at the outset, wasted their own energies in random efforts, or, perhaps, fell to quarrelling among themselves, the fearful devastation rolled on. The occasion was sufficient to induce the authorities and insurance companies to listen to and profit by Mr. Braidwood's recommendations. They consented to bear in common the expenses necessary to organize and maintain an efficient brigade. This was soon formed of picked men, who, although daily engaged in their former ordinary occupations, were regularly inspected, trained, and exercised early in one morning of every week. Fires were becoming more and more numerous year by year; but the influence of the improved system was soon felt. The men were taught to improve to the utmost the first few minutes after an alarm was given, and by constant emulation and discipline, a spirit of wonderful readiness was cultivated in them. They were trained to seek out and follow up the source of a fire before it had had time to spread, and to throw the water from the engines directly upon it, instead of wastefully, if not injuriously about. The result was, that while out of forty-eight fires which happened in the first year of the history of the brigade, eleven proved total losses, and twelve "considerable" losses, the number of total losses decreased rapidly, year by year, while the whole number of "calls" was almost as rapidly increasing. Thus in the second year of the brigade there were eighty "calls," of which seven were total, and eighteen considerable losses. In the next three years, with from ninety-four to one hundred and ninety-four "calls" yearly, there was but one total loss in each year, and but from nine to eighteen "considerable" losses.
Mr. Braidwood was meanwhile improving the fire-escapes, and when new engines were added to the force, he procured better workmanship. By his personal influence, also, more than by the mere advantage of official position, Mr. Braidwood secured the constant co-operation of the police in giving the earliest alarms of fire, and in facilitating the labours of the firemen when actually on duty. As has just been shown, the results of method, applied skill, and of a personal devotion cultivated under the high impulse of immediate public observation and approval, were soon manifest. To this vast improvement the Edinburgh Mercury, as representing the opinion of the citizens of the Scottish capital, bore public testimony in its issue of August 14, 1828, when the Fire Brigade of that city had been tested by nearly five years of constant trial, and with conspicuous success. Referring to the excellent organization of the establishment, it was remarked that there were then but few, if any, serious fires in Edinburgh, for when a fire broke out—and the alarms were as frequent as ever—it was speedily checked. Said the writer:—
"Not only is the apparatus constructed on the best possible principles, but the whole system of operations has been changed. The public, however, do not see the same bustle, or hear the same noise as formerly; and hence they seem erroneously to conclude that there is nothing done. The fact is, the spectator sees the preparation for action made, but he sees no more. Where the strength of the men and the supply of water used to be wasted, by being thrown against windows, walls, and roofs, the firemen now seek out the spot where the danger lies, and creeping on hands and feet into a chamber full of flame, or smoke, often at the hazard of suffocation, discover the exact seat of danger; and, by bringing the water in contact with it, obtain immediate mastery over the powerful element with which they have to contend. In this daring and dangerous work men have occasionally fainted from heat, or dropped down from want of respiration, in which cases the next person at hand is always ready to assist his companion, and to release him from his service of danger."
In a fire which happened while Mr. Braidwood was at the head of the Edinburgh Brigade, he won great admiration by bringing out from the burning building a quantity of gunpowder which was known to be stored there. He would not ask any of his men to undertake this dangerous feat, but, amidst the breathless suspense of thousands of spectators, he coolly searched for and safely carried out, first one, and then a second, cask of this explosive material. Had the fire reached the powder, it was known that the worst consequences of the conflagration would have been immensely increased.
The fame of the Edinburgh Brigade rapidly spread throughout the kingdom, and it gradually became regarded as a model to which all other organizations for the suppression of fires would ultimately be made to conform. As a response to constant inquiries from a distance, Mr. Braidwood, in 1829, forwarded to the Society of Arts, London, a description of his chain-ladder fire-escape. For this invaluable apparatus, which had already effected a considerable saving of life, the Society's Silver Medal was awarded, and, accompanying the award, the Council of the Society extended an invitation to the author to "give a complete account of his mode of drilling firemen, and combining the use of fire-escapes with the ordinary fire-engine service." Responding to this invitation, Mr. Braidwood in the following year published his work "On the Construction of Fire-Engines and Apparatus, the Training of Firemen, and the Method of Proceeding in Cases of Fire." From this work, which may still be regarded as an authority, extensive extracts have been made in the subsequent chapters of the present volume, and it need not, therefore, be further referred to here than to say that it formed a thoroughly original account of an original system, and that its illustrations, which were especially clear, were drawn by the author's own hand. This work attracted much attention from municipal bodies and insurance companies throughout the kingdom, and more than one official deputation visited Edinburgh to learn from Mr. Braidwood himself the details of a system which was already working such important results. In London, especially, three West India warehouses had been burnt in the year 1829, with a loss of 300,000l.; and with the extending use of gas, the increasing frequency of fires, and the conspicuous inefficiency of the parish engines, and the want of unity of action among the insurance companies, it was felt that what had answered so well in Edinburgh would prove still more valuable in the metropolis. The general estimation in which Mr. Braidwood's services were then held may be considered as expressed in the following, among other contemporary reviews of his book:—
"The Edinburgh Fire-engine Establishment is now all but perfect. A unity of system has been accomplished, and a corps of firemen mustered, who, in point of physical vigour and moral intrepidity, are all entitled to be denominated chosen men. At the head of this band stands Mr. Braidwood, an individual who has on several occasions given abundant evidence of promptitude in extremity, and a noble contempt of personal danger, and whose enthusiasm, in what we may call his profession, could not have been more strikingly exemplified than by his illustrating it in the manner we now see before us. It is the only book we are acquainted with that treats of the systematic training of firemen; and from the perspicuity of its details, it must necessarily become the manual of all such institutions, and ought to find a place in every insurance office in the United Kingdom."
It had been from time to time attempted to bring the fire apparatus of the London Insurance Companies under a single management; but it was nearly ten years after the establishment of the Edinburgh Fire Brigade, and only when Mr. Braidwood himself had been invited to come to London, that this was at last effected. As for the parish engines, they were wholly neglected under this arrangement, and, indeed, a great number of them had been already allowed to fall into disuse, as far as could be permitted without incurring the penalties of the Statutes of 1774. On the 1st January, 1833, at the instance of Mr. Ford, of the Sun Fire-office, eight of the insurance companies formed an association of fire-engines and firemen, each company withholding its own distinctive name and badges from the united force. This was known as the London Fire-engine Establishment. It was supported by the companies in common, each in proportion to the premiums received from its business in London, a minimum rate being fixed. Each company contributing to the support of the establishment nominated one member of the committee of management. This association existed for thirty-three years, when on the 1st of January, 1866, the Metropolitan Board of Works took charge of the fire-engines and the general fire establishment of the metropolis. Mr. Braidwood took the command of the London Brigade thus formed at the onset. The Edinburgh Fire-engine Committee, on accepting his resignation, presented him with a gold watch, and a vote of thanks, "for the singularly indefatigable manner in which he had discharged the duties of his important office, not merely by his extraordinary exertions on occasions of emergency, but for the care and attention he had bestowed on the training of the firemen, whereby the establishment had been brought to its present high state of efficiency." He had previously received from the men under him a handsome silver cup, bearing the following inscription:—"Presented to Mr. James Braidwood, by the City of Edinburgh Firemen, as a token of their admiration of him as their leader, and of deep respect for him as a gentleman."
As in Edinburgh, the London Fire Brigade under Mr. Braidwood's superintendence became a new force, and in every respect a remarkable organization. Where the inefficiency of the old firemen could not at once be made to yield to discipline, they were pensioned off; and within a short time a select band of active, hardy, and thoroughly trained men was formed. In 1834, the second year of Mr. Braidwood's superintendence, the Houses of Parliament were burnt; and a most destructive fire occurred also at Mile-end. The first-named fire created general consternation, and there are many persons who can still recollect that also at Mile-end. These great fires stimulated Mr. Braidwood to increased exertions, and the result was soon visible in the lessened proportion of totally destroyed premises to the whole number of fires. The brigade had, of course, no power of prevention, and alarms of fire were becoming more numerous than ever. The use of friction matches and of gas was increasing enormously; manufactures, and the steam-engines and machinery for conducting them, were being rapidly multiplied; and with the vast progress making in the production of cotton goods, the use of cotton curtains and bed-furniture was becoming common in dwellings forming a large proportion of the metropolis, but in which, not long before, such articles were either regarded as luxuries or were altogether unknown. The total number of fires attended by the brigade in the year 1833, exclusive of chimneys on fire, was 458, while in 1851 the number had risen to 928; and although London had been growing all this time, it had not doubled in size to correspond with the increased number of fires. But while the total yearly number of fires, since the formation of the brigade, has shown a large and hardly interrupted increase, the number of cases of total destruction has almost as steadily diminished. Thus, "totally destroyed" was reported of 31 fires in the year 1833, whereas in 1839 there were but 17 cases, and the average for twenty-one years, from 1833 to 1853 inclusive, was but 25-1/2 yearly, while at the present time, with all the vast growth of London, the average, under the continuance of Mr. Braidwood's system, is hardly if at all greater.
Mr. Braidwood from the first exhibited excellent judgment in his choice of men to serve under him. He chose sailors, as a rule, as being accustomed to obedience, and to irregular and prolonged duty, while also they were especially hardy and active; and where there was especial danger which must be met, he was always ready to lead, and his men had soon learned to confide in his quick and sound judgment in emergency, knowing that he would never permit them to incur needless risk. His own iron constitution, and his habits of constant vigilance, served as a high standard and incentive to those about him; and thus it was, by selection, discipline, and example, resting upon a foundation of even paternal kindness, that the men of the London Fire Brigade became conspicuous for their courage, energy, hardihood, and unalterable devotion to duty. The brigade, too, was most popular with the public, and could always count upon any necessary assistance in their labours. The system of rewards given to whoever was the first to bring a call of fire, the liberal gratuity to the policeman who first reached the burning premises, there preventing undue confusion, and by keeping the street-door closed, shutting off a strong draught of air from the flames, and the handsome pay to the ready throng of strong-armed men who worked the engines, secured every co-operation from the public, beyond that naturally springing from a general admiration of so brave and well-trained a body of men.
Mr. Braidwood's residence was at the principal station of the Fire-engine Establishment in Watling-street. To this station came all alarms of fire. He attended in person all calls from leading thoroughfares, public buildings, or localities where a serious conflagration might be expected. In the night a call was announced to him through a speaking-tube reaching to his bedside. The gas in his room was always burning, and he would quickly decide, from the known locality of the fire, and from the report given, whether he need go himself. In any case, his men were awake and quickly away. Rapidity in dressing, and in horseing and mounting the engines, was but a detail of daily drill. The moment the scene of action was reached, nothing was allowed to stand in the way of access to the actual seat of the fire, and nothing either in securing a supply of water. The inmates of the premises, if any, were quickly got out, and wherever an unhappy creature was cut off by the flames, there were always one or more firemen ready, if necessary, to brave an apparently certain death in a heroic attempt at rescue—an attempt, indeed, which but seldom failed. It is but just to say here that the firemen were always nobly seconded, if not indeed anticipated, in these attempts by the officers and men of the Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire—a body which has long rendered priceless services to humanity under most appalling circumstances. The men of the Fire Brigade were taught to prevent, as much as possible, the access of air to the burning materials. What the open door of the ash pit is to the furnace of a steam-boiler the open street door is to the house on fire. In both cases the door gives vital air to the flames. The men of the Brigade were trained to pursue a fire, not yet under full headway, up-stairs and down, in at windows and out through the roof, anywhere, so it could be reached directly by the water from the engines. They were made to regard it as worse than a waste to throw even a gallon of water upon a dead wall or upon a surface of slate or plaster, so long as by any means the branch pipe could be got to bear upon the seat of the fire itself. The statistics of the operations of the London Fire-engine Establishment from 1833 to the present time, show with what success the system originated and so admirably carried out by Mr Braidwood has been pursued. Of the whole number of fires not one in fifty now proceeds to the extent of total destruction of the premises.
Previous to the organization of the Fire-engine Establishment there were no official annual reports of the fires in the metropolis. No one person by himself was indeed in a position to know all of the fires that happened, any more than, but for Lloyds', could we know of all the wrecks which take place around and upon our coasts. It was impossible, under such a state of things, that either the value of insurance to the insured or its risk to the insurer could be rightly known. The general public could only know that, like fevers and certain other classes of disease, fires were always breaking out, but no one could know, even approximately, how great or how little was the real general risk. When, however, a fire establishment was formed, the engines were called to all fires, whether of insured or uninsured property. It was not now difficult to tabulate the number and localities of fires; but Mr. Braidwood went further, and extended his yearly tables to include the various causes of fires, and the classification of the premises, whether residences, shops, warehouses, manufactories, &c., where they occurred, the subdivision of these classes being extended to every variety of occupation and business. Even the hours at which the various fires broke out were carefully tabulated, and thus the particulars of London fires soon became an important branch of statistics, from which the operations of insurance have derived increased certainty, with greater economy to the insured.
Although regarding the training and discipline of firemen as of the first importance in the organization of a fire brigade, Mr. Braidwood gave a large share of attention to the improvement of fire-engines and their kindred appliances. While in Edinburgh, where the steepness of many of the streets, and the roughness of the pavements in the older parts of the town prevented the rapid and easy movement of heavy engines, he recommended and adopted a lighter description, but in London he recognised the necessity for greater power. Mr. Tilley, then a fire-engine maker in the Blackfriars'-road, ably seconded his efforts, and at length the distinctive type known as the London Fire Brigade Engine was produced, and which, weighing about eighteen cwt. when ready for service, would throw eighty-eight gallons of water per minute, and, in short trials, as much as 120 gallons in the same time. This engine was mounted upon springs, and in strength and ease of working presented a marked improvement upon those which had preceded it. Its ordinary working complement of men was twenty-eight, and larger engines, upon the same general design, have since been made, to be worked by from forty-five to sixty men. The steam fire-engine has already, to a certain extent, superseded the brigade engine, but the latter is still likely, for some time at least, to be preferred for a large class of fires, both in London and in the provinces.
Mr. Braidwood at an early date adopted the ordinary military scaling ladders to the purposes of his brigade, two being placed on each engine, and at his recommendation ladders were also placed on a two-wheeled carriage as a convenient fire-escape. He also induced the Admiralty, in 1841, to adopt hose-reels in the various dockyards, these implements having been previously in successful use in New York. In 1848 he was induced, in consequence of the large number of small fires to which his engines were called out, to adopt a small hand-pump as an auxiliary to the fire-engine. This could be rapidly brought to bear, and although worked by but one man, the value of a small quantity of water thrown directly upon the seat of a small fire was found to be greater than that of perhaps twenty times as much when thrown about in the ordinary manner. It was of great importance also in warehouses stored with valuable goods, to throw the least necessary quantity of water upon a fire. These hand-pumps still form an important part of the present apparatus of the brigade, and they have been widely adopted elsewhere.
London, unlike Edinburgh, has a vast water-side property, always exposed to danger from fire. Almost immediately, therefore, after having taken the command of the London Brigade, Mr. Braidwood directed his attention to the construction of improved floating fire-engines, to be moored in the river, where they would be always available for the protection of wharf property. Two were constructed, one being a machine of great power, with pumps made to be worked by 120 men. These machines proved of great value. In 1852, shortly after the memorable fire at Humphrey's warehouses, he persuaded the Fire-engine Committee to allow one of these engines to be altered so as to work by steam, and in 1855 a large self-propelling floating steam fire-engine was made upon a novel construction, and which, having already rendered great service at fires on the river side, still ranks as the most powerful machine in the service of the brigade. With locomotive boilers and large double steam engines, this float can steam nine miles an hour, and when in place at a fire it can throw four streams of water, each from a jet-pipe of 1-1/2 inch in diameter, to a great distance. In the great fire of 1861, this floating engine was worked with but little intermission for upwards of a fortnight. In 1860 Mr. Braidwood obtained the sanction of the Fire-engine Committee for the introduction of a land steam fire-engine, and although he did not live to witness the present remarkable development of these machines, he was enabled to employ the first one in the brigade with much advantage.
We may quote here from a brief but excellent memoir of Mr. Braidwood, which appeared in the annual report of the Institution of Civil Engineers for 1861:
"As early as 1841, the Government began to profit by his experience, the Lords of the Admiralty having in that year consulted him on the subject of floating fire-engines for the various dockyards. These were eventually constructed from his designs and under his superintendence. In the following year he inspected all the dockyards, and reported fully on each, with regard to both floating and land fire-engines, the supply of water, the alterations of buildings to prevent spread of fire, and the proper care required in dangerous trades. From this time, although not holding any appointment, he acted as Government consulting engineer on all questions relating to fire prevention and extinction, and he advised from time to time the precautions to be taken for the protection of the royal palaces and various other public buildings. This position enabled him, not without a great deal of opposition, to induce the Government to adopt in all its departments a uniform size of hose-coupling. This is the one which he introduced in Edinburgh, and known as the London Fire Brigade coupling, is now in almost universal use; its application has been found comparatively of as much utility for fire-brigade purposes, as the adoption of the Whitworth gauges of screw-bolts for mechanical engineering.
"Although so fully occupied, he never refused advice on professional matters to all who sought it. The various dock companies, public institutions, country fire brigades, private firms, &c., benefited largely by his experience. The numerous inquiries from foreign countries and the colonies with regard to the best means of extinguishing fires, also made great inroads on his time. In 1833 he became an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers, to which, in 1844, he contributed a valuable paper 'On the means of rendering large supplies of Water available in case of Fire, &c.,' for which he was awarded a Telford Medal; and in 1849 a second paper 'On Fire-Proof Buildings.' In 1856, a paper on 'Fires: the best means of preventing and arresting them; with a few words on Fire-Proof Structures,' was read by him before the Society of Arts.
"He took great interest in the passing of Acts of Parliament for regulating buildings in the metropolis, was consulted by the framers of these Acts, and used his utmost influence to prevent the endangering a whole neighbourhood by the erection of monster warehouses for private profit. He strongly contended for the principle of dividing buildings by party-walls carried through the roof, and restricting these divisions to a moderate cubic content. Writing to Lord Seymour, Commissioner of Woods and Forests, on the 28th June, 1851, he said 'that no preparations for contending with such fires will give anything like the security that judicious arrangements in the size and construction of buildings will do.' The wise provisions introduced through his instrumentality into these Acts of Parliament were continually being evaded, and clusters of warehouses quickly rose which he saw would, if on fire, defy all his means of extinction. In a letter to Sir W. Molesworth, First Commissioner of Public Works, dated 10th February, 1854, on the subject of a proposed warehouse in Tooley-street, he wrote 'The whole building, if once fairly on fire in one floor, will become such a mass of fire that there is now no power in London capable of extinguishing it, or even of restraining its ravages on every side, and on three sides it will be surrounded by property of immense value.' How literally this was realized, and at what cost, was shown by the great warehouse fire in Tooley-street, on the 22nd June, 1861, at which Mr. Braidwood lost his life."
The great fire at Cotton's Wharf; Tooley-street, broke out on Saturday, June 22nd, 1861, and continued to burn for more than a fortnight, consuming Scovell's, and other large warehouses, and, in all, upwards of two millions' worth of property. The fire is believed to have originated in the spontaneous combustion of hemp, of which upwards of 1000 tons were consumed, together with 3000 tons of sugar, 500 tons of saltpetre, nearly 5000 tons of rice, 18,000 bales of cotton, 10,000 casks of tallow, 1100 tons of jute, and an immense quantity of tea, spices, &c., besides many other descriptions of goods. Although discovered in broad daylight, and before the flames had made any considerable headway, the want of a ready supply of water, and the fact that the iron doors in the division walls between the several warehouses had been left open, taken in connexion with the extremely combustible nature of the materials, soon rendered hopeless all chance of saving the buildings and property. Mr. Braidwood was upon the spot very soon after the alarm had been given, and nearly the whole available force of the Fire-engine Establishment was summoned at his command. He appears to have at once foreseen that the fire would be one of no ordinary magnitude, and that the utmost that could be done would be to prevent its extending widely over adjoining property. The floating fire-engines had been got to bear upon the flames, and the men in charge of the branch pipes were, after two hours' work, already suffering greatly from the intense heat, when their chief went to them to give them a word of encouragement. Several minor explosions, as of casks of tallow or of oil, had been heard, but as it was understood that the saltpetre stored at the wharf was in buildings not yet alight, no alarm was then felt as to the walls falling in. At the moment, however, while Mr. Braidwood was discharging this his last act of kindness to his men, a loud report was heard, and the lofty wall behind him toppled and fell, burying him in the ruins. Those of his men who were near him had barely time to escape, and one person at his side, not a fireman, was overwhelmed with him. From the moment when the wall was seen to fall, it was known that whoever was beneath it had been instantly crushed to death. It is needless, and it would, indeed, be out of place, to describe here the further progress of the fire, which had then but fairly begun, and which was still burning more than a fortnight afterwards.
Great as was the general consternation at so terrible a conflagration, it is doubtful if the public were not still more impressed by the dreadful death of Mr. Braidwood, and by a feeling that his loss was a public misfortune. Her Majesty the Queen, with that ready sympathy which she has ever shown for crushed or suffering heroism, commanded the Earl of Stamford to inquire on the spot, on Monday, whether the body had yet been recovered by the firemen, and Her Majesty's sympathies were also conveyed to Mrs. Braidwood. It was not, however, until the following morning, that after almost constant exertions, under the greatest difficulties, the crushed remains were rescued. An inquest was necessary, not merely to ascertain what was already well known, that death had been instantly caused by accident, but to know whether culpable carelessness of any kind had indirectly led to the sorrowful event. None, however, appeared. The remains of the fallen chief were afterwards borne to his late residence in Watling-street. The members of the committee of the London Fire-engine Establishment, formed of representatives from all of the twenty-five insurance companies of London, had already met to express, by a formal resolution, their sincere condolence with Mrs. Braidwood and her family. It was known that the funeral would take place on Saturday, June 29th, and it was widely felt that a general expression of sorrow and respect should be made, in view of the common loss of so valued a public servant, as well as for the noble qualities for which he had been so long and so well known. On the occasion of the funeral this was shown not more by the great length and marked character of the cortege itself than by the general suspension of business in the leading thoroughfares of the city through which it passed, and by the hushed demeanour of the countless multitude who pressed closely upon the procession throughout its entire course. Among the thousands who sadly led the way to the grave were the London Rifle Brigade, about 700 strong (and of which Mr. Braidwood's three sons were members), the Seventh Tower-Hamlets, and other rifle corps, upwards of 1000 constables of the metropolitan police force, besides nearly 400 members of the city police, the superintendents and men of the various water companies, the secretary and conductors and the band of the Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire, a large number of private and local fire-brigades, and the members of the London Fire-engine Establishment. The pall-bearers were six of Mr. Braidwood's engineers and foremen, some of whom were at his side when he fell, and who had barely escaped with their own lives. Following the chief mourners were the Duke of Sutherland, the Earl of Caithness, the Rev. Dr. Cumming, and a large number of relatives and friends of the deceased, and the committee of the London Fire-engine establishment. The procession was nearly one mile and a-half in length, and was about three hours in its progress from Watling-street to Abney Park Cemetery, where the solemn service of the dead was conducted by the Rev. Dr. Cumming, of whose congregation the deceased had long been a member. With the exception of the great bell of St. Paul's, which tolls only on the occasion of the death of a member of the royal family or of a lord-mayor in office, the bells of all the churches in the city were booming slowly through the day, and so evident was the general sorrow that it could be truly said that the heart of the nation mourned.
On Thursday, July 4th, a public meeting was held at the Mansion House, when resolutions were passed for the collection of subscriptions towards a memorial to Mr. Braidwood's long and arduous public services. This memorial, it was felt, should take the form of a permanent provision for his family, for the post of Fire Brigade Superintendent had never been a lucrative one. Before, however, the collection of subscriptions had extended beyond a few hundred pounds, it was made known that the insurance companies had promptly settled upon Mrs. Braidwood the full "value"—speaking in an insurable sense—of her husband's life. Mr. Braidwood had for many years supported two maiden sisters, and the public subscription was applied, therefore, to the purchase of small annuities for each of them.
It will be remembered that the London Fire-engine Establishment was from the first controlled only by the insurance companies, upon whom of course, fell the whole cost of its maintenance. Their interest in the suppression of fires, although direct and unmistakeable, was not the same as that of the public. Thus, it would be to the public advantage that no fires should happen, whereas such a result would be fatal to the insurance companies, since no one in that case would insure. Although the protection of the Establishment was in practice extended alike to both insured and uninsured property, the real object for which it was formed and maintained was undoubtedly that of protecting insured property only. It was the interest of the companies to incur as little expense as would, on the whole, fairly effect this purpose, and it was not their interest to effectually protect the whole of the metropolis from fire. Thus it was that, with all the excellence of the organization and discipline of the Fire-engine Establishment, it was greatly inferior in extent to what was requisite for the proper security of the first city in the world. Mr. Braidwood had long felt this truth, but, acting for a private association, he could only go to the extent of the limited resources at his disposal. It was, more than anything else, the great fire at Cotton's Wharf that first directed public attention to the necessary insufficiency of any private establishment for the general suppression of fires, and that has led to the legislation under which the Fire-engine Establishment was, on the 1st of January last, taken over and extended by the Metropolitan Board of Works. London will now, it is hoped, be better protected from fire, because of the increased extent of the means of protection; but it can hardly be expected that the discipline of the brigade will be improved.
Apart from the public value of Mr. Braidwood's career in increasing the common security against a common foe, there was much in his personal, intellectual, and moral qualities worthy of admiration. He was a man of strong and commanding frame, of inexhaustible energy, and of enduring vitality. The constitutions of but few men could have withstood such long continued wear and tear as fell to his. He braved all weathers, all extremes of heat and cold, could sleep or wake at will, and could work on long after others would have given way. He was always at his post, and in no moment of difficulty or danger did his cool judgment or his steady courage forsake him. It was this, together with his considerate bearing, and on occasions of special trial his almost womanly kindness to his men, that inspired them with unlimited confidence in him and in his plans. Beyond this, he was a man of superior mind, with strong comprehensive and generalising faculties. His various published papers, and a correspondence of which but few could know the extent and importance, as well as his ready, clear, and exact manner in stating his views before committees and before those in authority, who so often consulted him, all attest an order of mind which, in a different sphere, would alone have won distinction for its possessor. His profession was one in which it happens that almost every person thinks himself competent to give advice; yet, without any assumption of authority, Mr. Braidwood could make it felt wherever he pleased that he was a master in the art of extinguishing fire. But he was not on this account the less ready to listen to suggestions, and there are numbers who can bear testimony to the patient, honest, and appreciative manner in which he considered the many and diverse propositions submitted to him as the head of the Fire Brigade of the first city in the world. The soundness of his views and opinions is sufficiently attested by the success of his practice—a success which, but for the Government tax upon fire policies, would have long since made fire insurance in London almost the cheapest of all the forms of protection of property from danger. The London Brigade was insignificant in numbers and tame in display when compared with the eight hundred sapeurs pompiers of Paris, with their parade and all their accessories of effect—insignificant and tame, too, after the glittering apparatus, imposing paraphernalia, and deafening clatter of the "Fire Department" of New York; but Mr. Braidwood's chosen men knew how to do their duty, and considering the differences in the mode of building and of heating, and in the extent of lighting in the three great metropoli just named, it is an easy matter, on reference to statistics, to prove that none others have done better.
Above all, Mr. Braidwood was a gentleman of deep Christian feeling; and those who knew him best had never doubted that, had it been his lot to linger long in pain, knowing the end that was to come, his calm but unwavering faith in a better future would have sustained him through all. Brought up from childhood in the faith of the Scotch church, he was a regular attendant upon the ministrations of the Rev. Dr. Cumming. In his own quiet way he did much good in the poorer districts of London, and he took a special interest in the ragged schools of the metropolis. What he was in his own home may be best inferred from the crushing force with which his dreadful yet noble fate fell upon those who were dearest to him. His family had already too much reason to know the dangers which had always attended his career. A step-son had fallen, five years before, in nearly the same manner, and now lies buried in the same grave. Eleven members, in all, of the brigade, had perished in the discharge of their duty during the time Mr. Braidwood had commanded it: a fact which, taken with daily experience, pointed to other victims to follow. Such consolation, then, as a stricken widow and a mourning family could have, next to an abiding faith in the goodness of God, was in the recollection of the virtues and noble qualities of the husband and father, and in the spontaneous sorrow with which a great people testified their sense of his worth and of their common loss.
To show the universal as well as national esteem in which Mr. Braidwood was held, two extracts are here given from the numerous letters of condolence addressed to his bereaved family, from all parts of the world. Mr. G. H. Allen, Secretary to the Boston (America) Fire Department, writes: "It gives me pleasure to unite with the Board in testimony to the extreme kindness of Mr. Braidwood in the conduct of our correspondence, whereby we have been greatly benefited and received extensive information. Allow me also to extend our sympathy to those who have lost one who will ever be remembered as standing at the head of the most valued arm of the Government, and one that you can hardly expect to be replaced, except by years of experience and great natural ability." Mr. T. J. Bown, Superintendent of the Sydney (Australia) Fire Brigade, in a letter dated 22nd August 1861, says, "On receipt of the sad news, our large fire-bell was tolled, the British ensign hoisted half-mast high, and crape attached to the firemen's uniform, as a token of respect for one of the noblest and most self-denying men that ever lived, who spent and lost his life in the service of his fellow-creatures."
A TRUE HERO.
JAMES BRAIDWOOD.—Died, June 22nd, 1861.
By the Author of
"JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN."
Not at the battle front,— Writ of in story; Not on the blazing wreck, Steering to glory;
Not while in martyr pangs Soul and flesh sever, Died he—this Hero new— Hero for ever.
No pomp poetic crown'd, No forms enchained him, No friends applauding watched, No foes arraigned him:
Death found him there, without Grandeur or beauty, Only an honest man Doing his duty:
Just a God-fearing man, Simple and lowly, Constant at kirk and hearth, Kindly and holy:
Death found—and touched him with Finger in flying:— So he rose up complete— Hero undying.
Now, all mourn for him, Lovingly raise him Up from his life obscure, Chronicle, praise him;
Tell his last act, done midst Peril appalling, And the last word of cheer From his lips falling;
Follow in multitudes To his grave's portal; Leave him there, buried In honour immortal.
So many a Hero walks Daily beside us, Till comes the supreme stroke Sent to divide us.
Then the Lord calls His own,— Like this man, even, Carried, Elijah-like, Fire-winged, to heaven.
Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. IV., page 294.
To prevent fires it is necessary to consider what are the principal causes of such calamities. These may be classed under several heads:—
1. Inattention in the use of fires and lights.
2. Improper construction of buildings, &c.
3. Furnaces or close fires for heating buildings, or for mechanical purposes.
4. Spontaneous ignition.
As almost all fires arise from inattention in one shape or another, it is of the utmost importance that every master of a house or other establishment should persevere in rigidly enjoining and enforcing on those under him, the necessity of observing the utmost possible care in preventing such calamities, which, in nineteen cases out of twenty, are the result of remissness or inattention. Indeed, if any one will for a moment consider the fearful risk of life and property, which is often incurred from a very slight inattention, the necessity of vigilance and care will at once be apparent. Immense hazard is frequently incurred for the most trifling indulgences, and much property is annually destroyed, and valuable lives often lost, because a few thoughtless individuals cannot deny themselves the gratification of reading in bed with a candle beside them.
Some years ago, upwards of 100,000l. were lost, through the partner of a large establishment lighting gas with a piece of paper, which he threw away, and thus set fire to the premises, although it was a strict rule in the place that gas should only be lighted with tapers, which were provided for that purpose. In one department of a great public institution, it was, and is still, a rule that only covered lights should be carried about, and for that purpose four lanterns were provided; yet, on inquiry some time back, it was found that only one was entire, the other three being broken—one having lost two sides and the top; still they were all used as covered lights.
The opportunities for inattention to fires and lights are so various, that it is impossible to notice the whole.
One of the prevailing causes of fire is to be traced to persons locking their doors, and leaving their houses to the care of children. I believe one-half of the children whose deaths are occasioned by accident suffer from this cause alone: indeed, almost every week the newspapers contain some melancholy confirmation of what I have here stated. Intoxication is also a disgraceful and frequent cause of fire. The number of persons burned to death in this way is really incredible. It is true that it does not always happen that a fire takes place in the house, in either of the above cases, although the unfortunate beings whose clothes take fire, rarely escape with their lives; but the danger to the neighbourhood is at all times considerable, if persons in a state of inebriety are left in a house alone. When there is reason to apprehend that any member of a family will come home at night in that state, some one should always be appointed to receive him, and on no account to leave him till he is put to bed, and the light extinguished.
I do not mean to say that people must be actually drunk before danger is to be apprehended from them. Indeed, a very slight degree of inebriety is dangerous, as it always tends to blunt the perception, and to make a person careless and indifferent. I may also add, that no inconsiderable number of fires are occasioned by the thoughtless practice of throwing spirits into the fire. The dresses of females taking fire adds very much to the list of lives lost by fire, if it does not exceed all the other causes put together.
Another very general cause of fire is that of approaching with lighted candles too near bed or window curtains; these, being generally quite dry, are, from the way in which they are hung, easily set on fire, and, as the flames ascend rapidly, when once touched, they are in a blaze in a moment.
It is really astonishing to find that, with daily examples before their eyes, people should persist (whether insured or not seems to make little difference) in practices which, there is a hundred chances to one, may involve both themselves and the neighbourhood in one common ruin. Of this sort are the practices of looking under a bed with a lighted candle, and placing a screen full of clothes too near the fire.
Houses not unfrequently take fire from cinders falling between the joints of the outer and inner hearths. When smoke is observed to arise from the floor, the cause should be immediately ascertained, and the inmates ought on no account to retire to rest while there is the slightest smell of fire, or any grounds to suspect danger from that cause.
Occasional fires are caused by a very absurd method of extinguishing at night the fires kept in grates during the day. Instead of arranging the embers in the grate in such a way as to prevent their falling off, and thus allowing the fire to die out in its proper place, they are frequently taken off and laid on the hearth, where, should there be wood-work underneath, it becomes scorched, and the slightest spark falling through a joint in the stones sets it on fire.
A very frequent cause of fire in shops and warehouses arises from the carelessness of the person intrusted to lock them up. It is no uncommon practice with those to whom this duty is intrusted, to light themselves out, or to search for any little article which may have been mislaid, with a lighted paper, and then to throw it carelessly on the floor, imagining they have taken every necessary precaution, merely by setting their foot upon it, forgetting that the current of air occasioned by shutting the door frequently rekindles it, and produces the most serious consequences.
In warehouses and manufactories, fires are not unfrequently caused by the workmen being occasionally kept late at work. By the time their task is finished, the men are so tired and sleepy, that the extinguishing of fires and lights is done in a very careless manner. I recollect an instance of this sort, in which the flames were issuing from three upper windows, and observed by the neighbours, while the workmen engaged at their employment in the lower floors knew nothing of the destruction that was going on above.
A very serious annual loss is also caused by want of due care in handing up or removing the goods in linen-drapers' shop windows when the gas is burning. Flues taking fire often result in mischief and it is believed that many serious fires have arisen from this cause, which can hardly be called accidental, as, if flues are properly constructed, kept moderately clean, and fairly used, they cannot take fire.
From what has been said, it will be seen that care and attention may do a very great deal towards the prevention of fire, and consequent loss of life. It is very easy to make good rules, and keep them for a time, after having been alarmed by some serious loss of property or life, but the difficulty is to maintain constant attention to the subject. The most evident plan for effecting this seems to be, for the masters thoroughly to examine and consider the subject at certain stated periods, not too far apart, and to constantly warn their domestics, workmen, or others, of the danger of the improper use of fires and lights.
One of the greatest preventives of carelessness in the use of fires and lights would be a legal inquiry in every case, as it would not only show the faults that had been committed, and thus warn others, but the idea of being exposed in the newspapers would be another motive for increased care. This plan has been adopted in New York, and the reports of the proceedings of Mr. Baker, the "Fire Marshal," show that the inquiries there made have led to most useful results. Mr. Payne, the coroner, held inquests on fires in the City of London some years ago, but the authorities would not allow his expenses, and therefore they were given up, although believed to be highly advantageous in explaining accidental and others causes of fire.
The improper construction of buildings more generally assists the spread than is the original cause of fires, although laying hearths on timber, and placing timber too near flues, are constant causes of fire, and it is believed that many melancholy occurrences have arisen from these and similar sources.
One cause of danger from chimneys arises from the communication which they often have with each other in one gable. The divisions or partitions, being very often found in an imperfect state, the fire communicates to the adjoining chimney, and in this way sometimes wraps a whole tenement in flames. I know a division of a principal street in Edinburgh, in which there is scarcely a single chimney-head that is not more or less in this condition; and I have no doubt that this is not an uncommon case. There is also great danger from the ends of joists, safe-lintels, or other pieces of timber, being allowed to protrude into chimneys. In one instance which came under my notice, a flue passing under the recess of a window had on the upper side no other covering than the wood of the floor; of course, when the chimney took fire the floor was immediately in a blaze: but there are many instances of such carelessness. It is a common practice amongst carpenters to drive small pieces of wood into walls for the purpose of fixing their work, not paying the least attention as to whether the points run into the flues or not.
In the repairs and alterations of old buildings, house-carpenters are, if possible, even more careless in this particular, than in the construction of new.
I know of two different buildings which underwent some alterations. In both of these, safe-lintels had been run into flues, and both of them, after the alterations, took fire; the one in consequence of a foul chimney, which set fire to the lintel; and although the other did not take fire from the same cause, the lintel was nevertheless very much scorched, and obliged to be removed.
Great carelessness is frequently exhibited by builders, when erecting at one time two or three houses connected by mutual gables, by not carrying up the gables, or party-walls, so as to divide the roofs. I have seen more than one instance where the adjoining house would have been quite safe, but for this culpable neglect. It is no uncommon thing, too, to find houses divided only by lath and standard partitions, without a single brick in them. When a fire occurs in houses divided in this manner, the vacuities in the middle of the partitions act like so many funnels to conduct the flame, thereby greatly adding to the danger from the fire, and infinitely increasing the difficulty of extinguishing it.
In London the Building Act forbids all such proceedings, but the District Surveyors do not seem to have sufficient power, or be able to pay sufficient attention to such matters, as they are constantly met with at fires. A very flagrant case of laying a hearth on timber was lately exposed by a fire in the City. Due notice was given of the circumstance, but no farther attention was paid to the matter than to make the proprietor construct the floor properly, although the Act gave power to fine for such neglect. The omission is to be regretted, as there could not have been a better case for warning others; it occurred in a very large establishment, and the work was done by one of the first builders in the City. Had this fire taken place in the night and gained some head, it would have been very difficult to have ascertained the cause. As the premises were situated, a serious loss of life might have occurred, the apartment in which the fire originated being the only means of retreat which ten or twelve female servants had from their bedrooms.
The Metropolitan Building Acts, up to about the year 1825, by insisting upon party-walls and other precautions, were invaluable for the prevention of the spread of fires. By them no warehouse was permitted to exceed a certain area. From the year 1842, the area has been exchanged for a specified number of cubic feet. But since 1825, a class of buildings has arisen of which there are now considerable numbers in the City, called Manchester or piece goods warehouses, which somehow have been exempted from the law restricting the extent of warehouses, on the plea that they are not warehouses, because "bulk is broken" in them, although it is thoroughly understood that the legislature intended by the Act to restrict the amassing such a quantity of goods under one roof as would be dangerous to the neighbourhood.
Manchester and piece goods warehouses have for some time past been built in London of unlimited size, sometimes equal to twenty average houses. This is pretty nearly the same as if that number of houses were built without party-walls, only that it is much worse, for the whole mass generally communicates by well holes and open staircases, and thus takes fire with great rapidity, and, from the quantity of fresh air within the building, the fire makes much greater progress before it is discovered. By this means the risk of fire in the City has been greatly increased, not only to such warehouses themselves, but to the surrounding neighbourhood, for it is impossible to say how far fires of such magnitude may extend their ravages under untoward circumstances, there being at present no preventive power in London capable of controlling them. To provide such a power would be a very costly business.
Such buildings are also against the generally received rule, that a man may burn himself and his own property, but he shall not unduly risk the lives and property of his neighbours.
The new Building Act is likely to repress, to a certain extent, this great evil, unless its meaning be subverted by some such subterfuge as destroyed the efficiency of the last one. But what is to be done with those which are already built? It may seem tedious to dwell so much on this subject, but it appears to be a risk which is not generally much thought of, though it is of the most vital importance to the safety of London. It is very desirable that the metropolis should take warning by the experience of Liverpool, without going through the fiery ordeal which the latter city did.
From 1838 to 1843, 776,762l. were lost in Liverpool by fire, almost entirely in the warehouse risks. The consequence was, that the mercantile rates of insurance gradually rose from about 8s. per cent. to 30s., 40s., and, it is said, in some cases, to 45s. per cent. Such premiums could not be paid on wholesale transactions, therefore the Liverpool people themselves obtained an Act of Parliament, 6 and 7 Vic., cap. 109, by which the size and height of warehouses were restricted, party walls were made imperative, and warehouses were not allowed to be erected within thirty-six feet of any other warehouse, unless the whole of the doors and window-shutters were made of wrought iron, with many similar restrictions. This Act applied to warehouses already built as well as to those to be built, and any tenant was at liberty, after notice to his landlord, to alter his warehouse according to the Act, and to stop his rent till the expense was paid. Another Act, 6 and 7 Vic., cap. 75, was also obtained, for bringing water into Liverpool for the purpose of extinguishing fires and watering the streets only. It is supposed that the works directed, or permitted, by these two Acts, cost the people of Liverpool from 200,000l. to 300,000l. Shortly after these alterations had been made, the mercantile premiums again fell to about 8s. per cent.
There is another very common cause of fire, which seems to come under the head of construction—viz., covering up a fireplace when not in use with wood or paper and canvas, &c. The soot falls into the fireplace, either from the flue itself, or from an adjoining one which communicates with it. A neighbouring chimney takes fire; a spark falls down the blocked-up flue, sets fire to the soot in the fireplace, which smoulders till the covering is burned through, and thus sets fire to the premises.
In theatres, that part of the house which includes the stage and scenery should be carefully divided from that where the spectators assemble by a solid wall carried up to, and through the roof. The opening in this wall for the stage should be arched over, and the other communications secured with iron doors, which would be kept shut while the audience was in the house. By this plan, there would be abundance of time for the spectators to retire, before fire could reach that part of the theatre which they occupy.
The danger from furnaces or close fires, whether for heating, cooking, or manufacturing purposes, is very great, and no flue should be permitted to be so used, unless it is prepared for the purpose. The reason is, that in a close fire the whole of the draught must pass through the fire. It thus becomes so heated that, unless the flue is properly built, it is dangerous throughout its whole course. In one instance of a heating furnace, the heat in the flue was found to be 300 deg., at a distance of from forty to fifty feet from the fire. In open fireplaces, the quantity of cold air carried up with the draught keeps the flue at a moderate heat, from the fire upwards, and, unless the flue is allowed to become foul, and take fire, this is the safest possible mode of heating.
Heating by hot air, steam, and hot water are objectionable. First, because there must be a furnace and furnace flue, and the flue used is generally that built for an open fire only; and second, the pipes are carried in every direction, to be as much out of sight as possible. By this means they are constantly liable to produce spontaneous ignition, for there appears to be some chemical action between heated iron and timber, by which fire is generated at a much lower temperature than is necessary to ignite timber under ordinary circumstances. No satisfactory explanation of this fact has yet been given, but there is abundant proof that such is the case. In heating by hot-water pipes, those hermetically sealed are by far the most dangerous, as the strength of the pipes to resist the pressure is the only limit of the heat to which the water, and of course the pipes, may be raised. In some cases a plug of metal which fuses at 400 deg. is put into the pipes, but the heat to which the plug is exposed will depend very much on where it is placed, as, however great may be the heat of the exit pipe, the return pipe is comparatively cool. But even where the pipes are left open, the heat of the water at the furnace is not necessarily 212 deg.. It is almost needless to say that 212 deg. is the heat of boiling water under the pressure of one atmosphere only; but if the pipes are carried sixty or seventy feet high, the water in the furnace must be under the pressure of nearer three atmospheres than one, and therefore the heat will be proportionately increased. Fires from pipes for heating by hot water have been known to take place within twenty-four hours after first heating, and some after ten years of apparent safety.
The New Metropolitan Building Act prescribes rules for the placing steam, hot-air, and hot-water pipes at a certain distance from timber; but as it must be extremely difficult for the District Surveyors to watch such minute proceedings, it becomes every one who is anxious for safety to see that the District Surveyors have due notice of any operation of this kind.
Another cause of fire which may come under this head is the use of pipes for conveying away the products of combustion. Every one is acquainted with the danger of stove pipes, but all are not perhaps aware that pipes for conveying away the heat and effluvia from gas-burners are also very dangerous when placed near timber. It is not an uncommon practice to convey such pipes between the ceiling and the flooring of the floor above. This is highly dangerous. Gas-burners are also dangerous when placed near a ceiling. A remarkable instance of this took place lately, where a gas-burner set fire to a ceiling 28-1/2 inches from it.
Another evil of furnaces is, that the original fireplace is sometimes not large enough to contain the apparatus, and the party wall is cut into. Perhaps it may be necessary to notice at this point the use of gas, as it is becoming so very general. Gas, if carefully laid on, and properly used, is safer than any other light, so far as actually setting fire to anything goes, but the greater heat given out so dries up any combustibles within its reach, that it prepares them for burning, and when a fire does take place, the destruction is much more rapid than in a building lighted by other means. Gas-stoves, also, from the great heat given out, sometimes cause serious accidents; in one instance, a gas-stove set fire to a beam through a two-and-half inch York landing, well bedded in mortar, although the lights were five or six inches above the stone. This is mentioned to show that gas-stoves require quite as much care as common fires.
Spontaneous ignition is believed to be a very fruitful cause of fires; but, unless the fire is discovered almost at the commencement, it is difficult to ascertain positively that this has been the cause. Spontaneous ignition is generally accelerated by natural or artificial heat. For instance, where substances liable to spontaneous ignition are exposed to the heat of the sun, to furnace flues, heated pipes, or are placed over apartments lighted by gas, the process of ignition proceeds much more rapidly than when in a cooler atmosphere. Sawdust in contact with vegetable oil is very likely to take fire. Cotton, cotton waste, hemp, and most other vegetable substances are alike dangerous. In one case oil and sawdust took fire within sixteen hours; in others, the same materials have lain for years, until some external heat has been applied to them. The greater number of the serious fires which have taken place in railroad stations in and near London have commenced in the paint stores. In a very large fire in an oil warehouse, a quantity of oil was spilt the day before and wiped up, the wipings being thrown aside. This was believed to have been the cause of the fire, but direct proof could not be obtained. Dust-bins also very often cause serious accidents. In one instance, 30,000l. to 40,000l. were lost, apparently from hot ashes being thrown into a dust-bin.
These accidents may in a great measure be avoided by constant care and attention to cleanliness, and where paints and oils are necessary, by keeping them in some place outside the principal buildings. Dust-bins should, as much as possible, be placed in the open air, and where that cannot be done, they should be emptied once a day. No collection of rubbish or lumber of any sort should be allowed to be made in any building of value.
Mr. Wyatt Papworth, architect, has published some very interesting notes on spontaneous ignition, giving several well-authenticated instances.
Incendiarism may be divided into three sorts—malicious, fraudulent, and monomaniac. Of the former there has been very little in London for many years. The second, however, is rather prevalent. The insurance offices, which are the victims, protect themselves as well as they can, but an inquest on each fire is the true mode of lessening the evil. This is much more the interest of the public than at first seems to be the case. In several instances where the criminals were brought to punishment by Mr. Payne's inquests, people were asleep in the upper parts of the houses set fire to, and in one case there were as many as twelve or fifteen persons. This, however, is seldom stated in the indictment, as, if it is, the punishment is still death by the law, and it is supposed that a conviction is more easily obtained, by the capital charge being waived. Monomania is a rare cause of incendiarism, but still several well-certified cases have occurred in which no possible motive could be given. In one instance a youth of fifteen set fire to his father's premises seven times within a few hours. In another, a young female on a visit set fire to her friend's furniture, &c., ten or eleven times in the course of one or two days. In neither case could anything like disagreement or harshness be elicited, but the reverse. In other instances, it has been strongly suspected that this disease was the cause of repeated fires, but there was no positive proof. In all these cases, known or suspected, the parties were generally from fourteen to twenty years of age.
What is "Fire-proof Construction?" is a question which has given rise to a great deal of discussion, simply, as it appears to me, because the size of the buildings, and the quantity and description of the contents, have not always been taken into account. That which may be perfectly fireproof in a dwelling house, may be the weakest in a large warehouse. Suppose an average-sized dwelling-house 20 x 40 x 50 = 40,000 cubic feet, built with brick partitions, stone or slate stairs, wrought-iron joists filled in with concrete, and the whole well plastered. Such a house will be practically fire-proof, because there is no probability that the furniture and flooring in any one room, would make fire enough to communicate to another. But suppose a warehouse equal to twenty such houses, with floors completely open, supported by cast-iron pillars, and each floor communicating with the others by open staircases and wells; suppose, further, that it is half filled with combustible goods, and perhaps the walls and ceilings lined with timber. Now, if a fire takes place below, the moment it bursts through the upper windows or skylights, the whole place becomes an immense blast furnace; the iron is melted, and in a comparatively short time the building is in ruins, and, it may be, the half of the neighbourhood destroyed. The real fire-proof construction for such buildings is groined brick arches, supported on brick pillars only. This mode of building, however, involves so much expense, and occupies so much space, that it cannot be used with advantage. The next best plan is to build the warehouses in compartments of moderate size, divided by party-walls and double wrought-iron doors, so that if one of these compartments takes fire, there may be a reasonable prospect of confining the fire to that compartment only. Again, cast iron gives way from so many different causes, that it is impossible to calculate when it will give way. The castings may have flaws in them; or they may be too weak for the weight they have to support, being sometimes within 10 per cent., or less, of the breaking weight. The expansion of the girders may thrust out the side walls. For instance, in a warehouse 120 feet x 75 feet x 80 feet, there are three continuous rows of girders on each floor, with butt joints; the expansion in this case may be twelve inches. The tie rods to take the strain of the flat arches must expand and become useless, and the whole of the lateral strain be thrown on the girders and side walls, perhaps weak enough already. Again, throwing cold water on the heated iron may cause an immediate fracture. For these and similar reasons, the firemen are not permitted to go into warehouses supported by iron, when once fairly on fire.
Cast and wrought-iron have been frequently fused at fires in large buildings such as warehouses, sugar houses, &c., but according to Mr. Fairbairn's experiments on cast iron in a heated state, it is not necessary that the fusing point should be attained to cause it to give way.[A] He also states, that the loss of strength in cold-blast cast iron, in a variation of temperature from 26 deg. to 190 deg. = 164 deg. Fahr., is 10 per cent., and in hot-blast at a variation of from 21 deg. to 190 deg. = 169 deg. Fahr., is 15 per cent.; now if the loss of strength advances in anything like this ratio, the iron will be totally useless as a support, long before the fusing point is attained.
Much confidence has been placed in wrought-iron tie or tension rods, to take the lateral strain of the arches, and also in trusses to support the beams; but it must be evident that the expansion of the iron from the heat, would render them useless, and under a high temperature, it would be so great as to unsettle the brickwork, and accelerate its fall, on any part of the iron-work giving way: again, the application of cold water to the heated iron, in an endeavour to extinguish the fire, is almost certain to cause one or more fractures. The brick-arching is also very liable to fall, especially if only four and a half inches thick, independently of the weight which may be placed upon it, for it is not uncommon after a fire in a large building, to find the mortar almost completely pulverized to the depth of three inches, or four inches, from the face of the wall. When a fire occurred under one of the arches of the Blackwall Railway, on the 15th July, 1843, a portion of the lower ring fell down, and also a few bricks from the next ring.
Another very serious objection to buildings of this description, is that, unless scientifically constructed, they are very unlikely to be safe, even for the common purposes intended, independent of the risk of fire. In the Report of Sir Henry De la Beche and Mr. Thomas Cubitt on the fall of the mill at Oldham, in October, 1844,[B] it is stated that the strength of the iron-beams was within ten per cent. of the breaking weight. Now according to Mr. Fairbairn's experiments on heated iron, already referred to, an increase of temperature of only 170 deg. would have destroyed the whole building. It is quite clear, therefore, that so long as mill-owners and others continue to construct such buildings without proper advice, they must be liable to these accidents. In timber-floors there can be no such risk, as the strains are all direct, and any journeyman carpenter, by following good examples, can ascertain the size required; and even if he makes a mistake, the evil is comparatively trivial, as the timber will give notice before yielding, and may be propped up for the time, until it can be properly secured. In the case of fire-proof buildings, an ignorant person may make many mistakes without being aware that he has done so, and the slightest failure is probably fatal to every one within the walls. This also increases the difficulty and danger of extinguishing fires in a large building, as the only method of doing so is for the firemen to enter it with their branches, and in case of the floors falling, there is no chance of escape. On the other hand, timber-floors have repeatedly fallen while the firemen were inside the building, and they have made their escape uninjured.
In a pamphlet published by Mr. S. Holme, of Liverpool, in 1844,[C] and which contains a report from Mr. Fairbairn on fire-proof buildings, it is stated, that many people, especially in the manufacturing districts, are their own architects; that the warehouses in Liverpool may be loaded to one ton per yard of flooring; and that unless great care and knowledge are used in the construction of fire-proof buildings, they are of all others the most dangerous.[D]
The following are the principles on which Mr. Fairbairn proposes to build fire-proof warehouses:—
The whole of the building to be composed of non-combustible materials, such as iron, stone, or bricks.
In order to prevent fire, whether arising from accident or spontaneous combustion, every opening, or crevice, communicating with the external atmosphere to be closed.
An isolated staircase, of stone, or iron, well protected on every side by brick, or stone walls, to be attached to every story, and be furnished with a line of water-pipes, communicating with the mains in the street, and ascending to the top of the building.
In a range of stores, the different warehouses to be divided by strong partition-walls, in no case less than eighteen inches thick, and no more openings to be made than are absolutely necessary for the admission of goods and light.
That the iron columns, beams, and brick arches be of strength sufficient, not only to support a continuous dead pressure, but to resist the force of impact to which they are subject by the falling of heavy goods upon the floors.
That in order to prevent accident from the columns being melted by intense heat in the event of fire in any of the rooms, a current of cold air should be introduced into the hollow of the columns, from an arched tunnel under the floors.
There is no doubt that if the second principle could be carried out, namely, the total exclusion of air, the fire would go out of itself; but it seems, to say the least of it, very doubtful indeed if this can be accomplished, and if it could, the carelessness of a porter leaving open one of the doors or windows, would make the whole useless. The fifth principle shows that Mr. Fairbairn has omitted to allow for the loss of strength the iron may sustain from the increase of temperature. The last principle would not be likely to answer its purpose, even if it was possible to keep these tunnels and hollow columns clear for a number of years, which is scarcely to be expected. A piece of cast-iron pipe, one-and-a-half inch in diameter, was heated for four minutes in a common forge, both ends being carefully kept open to the atmosphere, when, on one end being fixed in a vice, and the other pulled aside by the hand, it gave way.
One of the principal objections to the kind of fire-proof buildings above described, is, that absolute perfection in their construction is indispensable to their safety; whereas buildings of a more common description are comparatively safe, although there may be some errors or omissions in their construction. Indeed, Mr. Fairbairn states in the same Report, that "it is true that negligence of construction on the one hand, and want of care in management on the other, might entail risk and loss to an enormous extent."
The following is a very clear proof of the inability of cast iron to resist the effects of fire:—
"A chapel in Liverpool-road, Islington, seventy feet in length and fifty-two feet in breadth, took fire in the cellar, on the 2nd October, 1848, and was completely burned down. After the fire, it was ascertained that of thirteen cast-iron pillars used to support the galleries, only two remained perfect; the greater part of the others were broken into small pieces, the metal appearing to have lost all power of cohesion, and some parts were melted. It should be observed, that these pillars were of ample strength to support the galleries when filled by the congregation, but when the fire reached them, they crumbled under the weight of the timber only, lightened as it must have been by the progress of the fire."
In this case it mattered little whether the pillars stood or fell, but it would be very different with some of the large wholesale warehouses in the City, where numbers of young men sleep in the upper floors; in several of those warehouses the cast-iron pillars are much less in proportion to the weight to be carried than those referred to, and would be completely in the draught of a fire. If a fire should unfortunately take place under such circumstances, the loss of human life might be very great, as the chance of fifty, eighty, or one hundred people escaping in the confusion of a sudden night alarm, by one or two ladders, to the roof, could scarcely be calculated on, and the time such escape must necessarily occupy, independent of all chance of accidents, would be considerable.
For the reasons here stated, I submit that large buildings, containing considerable quantities of combustible goods, with floors of brick-arches, supported by cast-iron beams and columns, are not, practically speaking, fire-proof; and that the only construction which would render large buildings fire-proof; where considerable quantities of combustible goods are deposited, would be groined brick-arches, supported by pillars of the same material, laid in proper cement. I am fully convinced, from a lengthened experience, that the intensity of a fire,—the risk of its ravages extending to adjoining premises, and also the difficulty of extinguishing it, depend, caeteris paribus, on the cubic contents of the building which takes fire, and it appears to me that the amount of loss would be very much reduced, if, instead of building immense warehouses, which give the fire a fortified position, warehouses were made of a moderate size, with access on two sides at least, completely separated from each other by party-walls, and protected by iron-doors and window-shutters. In the latter case, the probability is, that not more than one warehouse would be lost at a time, and perhaps that one would be only partially injured.
It is sincerely to be hoped that the clause in the last Metropolitan Building Act, restricting the size of warehouses, may be more successful than its predecessor, for it is not only property that is at stake, but human life. In many of these "Manchester warehouses," there are fifty or one hundred and upwards of warehousemen and servants sleeping in the upper floors, whose escape, in case of fire, would be very doubtful, to say the least of it.[E]
Covering timber with sheet-iron is very often resorted to as a protection against fire. I have never found it succeed; but Dr. Faraday, Professor Brande, Dr. D. B. Reid, and Mr. W. Tite, M.P., are of opinion that it may be useful against a sudden burst of flame, but that it is worse than useless against a continued heat.
In wadding manufactories the drying-rooms were frequently lined with iron-plates, and when a fire arose there, the part covered with iron was generally found more damaged than the rest; the heat got through the sheet-iron, and burnt the materials behind it, and there was no means of touching them with water until the iron was torn down; sheet iron should not, therefore, be used for protecting wood.
Even cast iron, one inch thick, laid on tiles and cement three inches thick, has allowed fire to pass through both, to the boarding and joisting below, merely from the fire in an open fire-place being taken off and laid on the hearth. This arises from iron being so good a conductor that, when heat is applied to it, it becomes in a very short time nearly as hot on the one side as the other. If the smoke escapes up a chimney, or in any other way, there may be a serious amount of fire before it is noticed.
In a fire at the Bank of England, the hearth on which the stove was placed was cast iron an inch thick, with two-and-a-half inches of concrete underneath it; but the timber below that was fired.
With regard to the subject of fire-proof dwelling-houses of average size, I consider that such houses when built of brick or stone, with party-walls carried through the roof; the partitions of brick, the stairs of slate or stone, the joists of wrought iron filled in with concrete, and the whole well plastered, are practically fire-proof because, as stated at the opening of this chapter, there is no probability that the furniture and flooring in any one room would make fire enough to communicate to another. The safest manner of heating such houses is with open fire-places, the hearths not being laid upon timber. Stone staircases, when much heated, will fracture from cold water coming suddenly in contact with them; but in a dwelling-house built as described above, there is very little chance of such a circumstance endangering human life, even with wooden steps carried upon brick walls, and rendered incombustible by a ceiling of an inch and a quarter of good hair mortar and well pugged, all the purposes of safety to human life would be attained.