Backchurch Lane (Church Lane until the 1860s), running south from Commercial Road to Cable Street, became the
boundary between the parishes of St Mark Whitechapel and St John the
Grove [Golding] Street. The area was densely populated, with a
mix of industrial and residential properties, with dangers to match.
Further details of the area which became St John's parish are here.
Fires and Explosions
|TERRIFIC BOILER EXPLOSION
A fearful explosion occurred on the premises known as the Patent Saw Mills, situated in Back Church Lane, Commercial Road East, one of the most densely crowded districts of London.
These premises were divided into several compartments, each fitted up with most costly machinery. A little to the left of these compartments stood the steam-boiler house, in which were deposited two boilers, one about 12-horse and the other between 8 and 9-horse power. The latter of these, which had been in use some time, was at work, and although it was observed to move sluggishly, no danger was apprehended; but between 10 and 11 o'clock in the forenoon a tremendous explosion occurred, which threw the whole neighbourhood into dismay.
For the space of half a minute after the explosion happened, nothing but a dense mass of steam and dust could be seen, which ascended so high as to darken the neighbourhood in the immediate vicinity of the premises. The instant the steam and dust in some measure began to clear away, a shower of timber, bricks, and portions of heavy machinery fell. Large piles of wood were seen flying in every direction, which, as they fell upon the house-tops, either forced in the roofs or demolished the back or side walls. At the same time one of the boilers, weighing many tons, was lifted from its bearings, and thrown a long distance from its original position; the other was rent in pieces, and one part, weighing nearly two tons, was forced high into the air, and, after travelling a distance of 100 feet, fell into the back yard, striking in its descent the large premises used as counting-houses and offices, forcing in the windows, and partially destroying the front walls. The crash was tremendous, and at the same instant the school-house in Charles Street was partially blown down; two or three houses adjoining had their roofs and back fronts stove in, and an iron tank, weighing upwards of a ton, was driven by the force of the explosion some distance above the house-tops, and falling upon the roof of the mill, broke through and settled amongst the machinery.
The devastation was carried far beyond the property. An aged man passing along the road was struck by a piece of iron, which broke both his legs, and he was obliged to be carried to the London Hospital. A boy passing through Church Lane had his arm fractured by the falling of a large piece of brickwork. Mrs. Young was buried in the ruins, and very severely scalded, and otherwise greatly injured. Mrs. Bailey, residing in the same street, who was looking out of the window at the time of the explosion, received so great a shock that she died on the following morning.
|A note on the
development of firefighting in London
The first commercially-successful fire engine was patented by Richard Newsham in 1725, and many were made in different sizes (Buckingham Palace had once of the largest), and Newsham and Rags (his cousin) was established at 18 New Street, Cloth Fair, West Smithfield. They sold around the country and were even exported to the United States. Around 1750 he was bought out by John and Margaret Bristow (John was a churchwarden at St George-in-the-East in 1784), and production continued in Ratcliff Highway until 1831 - their story is told here.
Before 1833 there was no co-ordinated system, and no trained firefighters. The 300 parish engines were under the control of often elderly beadles, and the insurance companies had their own equipment. Saving property rather than people was the priority. The Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire, founded in 1828, sought to address this by providing fire ladders in streets, and attending fires to give assistance to individuals at risk.
The London Fire Brigade (originally the 'London Fire-engine Establishment') was created in 1833 by ten insurance companies working together, the Sun Fire Office taking the lead. The first Superintendent was James Braidwood (1800-61) [right], formerly of Edinburgh, where within weeks of his appointment at the age of 23 dealt with the Great Fire of Edinburgh. In his second year in London he faced the major fire at the Houses of Parliament.
He lived 'over the shop' at Watling Street, and throughout his career saw through many detailed improvements to structures, apparatus, training and reporting of fires, detailed in his book Fire Prevention and Fire Extinction (Bell and Daldy 1866 - cover right). This was published posthumously - he died attending the huge fire at Cotton's Wharf, Tooley Street in 1861. In 1866 the Metropolitan Board of Works assumed control of the fire service from the insurance companies, fulfilling one of his hopes; the Metropolitan Fire Brigade became the London Fire Brigade in 1904. Left is its first motorised fire engine in 1902.
Backchurch Lane was also a place where entrepreneurs and men of science
lived and worked. Here are some examples.
|20,629. The humble Petition of the undersigned, John Fell Christy, of
the borough of Lambeth, glass manufacturer; John Harvey, of Ludgate
Street, in the city of London, merchant; George Rahn, of the Crescent,
Minories, in London aforesaid, merchant; and Charles Speare Tosswill,
of Budge Row, in London aforesaid, typographer, as Proprietors of the
Patent Fire-Preventive Cement,
That your Petitioners are the chief owners of a certain mode of manufacturing a cement or plaster which is fire-proof, and which renders all buildings encrusted with it, and exposed to the action of fire, likewise fire-proof.
That great and alarming fires and conflagrations have recently taken place, whereby many lives have been lost, and an immense amount of property has been destroyed, all of which might have been prevented had this fire-proof cement been used as the plaster of the respective buildings.
That the two Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, the Royal Exchange, the city of Hamburgh, and various large mills and manufactories in Lancashire and elsewhere, have fallen a prey to the flames, within a very short period.
That experiments have taken place in London and Manchester by buildings being exposed to a much more powerful fire than any that ordinarily takes place, without in the least penetrating beyond this cement; certificates of which fact have been made by many magistrates, architects, surveyors, manufacturers, and other respectable persons.
That several eminent architects, surveyors, and engineers, have employed this cement, including Mr. Charles Barry, R.A., Major Jebb, R.E., Captain Brandreth, R.E., Mr. Field, Mr. Allison, Mr. Stevens, and Mr. J. B. Shepherd. That such cement has been used under the superintendence of the Lords Commissioners of Woods and Forests in the New Model Prison of Pentonville, in the Victualling Yard Deptford, in the Royal College of Surgeons, in the British and Foreign Schools, at Saint Thomas's Hospital, at Woburn Abbey, at the Phoenix Gas Works, and other places.
That your Petitioners will be most happy to present to the Legislature, your honourable House, or Government, such a quantity of this cement as may be required to make the new House of Parliament fire-proof, without any profit whatever.
Your Petitioners humbly solicit that your honourable House will be pleased to enquire into the truth of these allegations; to accept the offer of sufficient of the cement to make the new Houses of Parliament fire-proof, and to take such steps in the premises as to your honourable House shall seem just, wise, and expedient.
And your Petitioners shall ever pray.
Jno. F. Christy - John Harvey - George Rahn - Chas. S. Tosswill.
I take the liberty to introduce to the numerous readers of the Annals of Electricity, &c. an Electro-Magnetic Machine, differing materially from the common description of that Instrument, viz:—The method of breaking battery contact, &c. Fig. 2 represents the Machine consisting of primary and secondary coil A. and B. a cross of soft Iron, not covered, which rotates between two pieces of Iron C. C. passing through the sides of the bobbin A. so as to be in contact with the iron wires in the axis. D and E are two copper wires carrying the current which press upon the break-piece F. into which there is a piece of Ivory inserted for breaking contact. Upon, making connection with the battery, the cross B. commences rotating rapidly, and, on placing a finger on each of the conductors F. F., a succession of shocks are felt, more violent than from any machine that I have as yet constructed. When the toothed wheel and spring are used, the stud G. cuts off the current from the wires D. andE. oil moving the stud H. the conductors are disconnected from the secondary, and no shock is felt. F. is a platform, with two binding screws for connecting a voltameter, platina, wire, &c &c. .....
Should you think the enclosed worthy of a place in your Annals, the insertion of the same will greatly oblige,
Sir, Your most obedient and very humble servant,
Philosophical Instrument Maker,
25, Back Church Lane, Commercial Road, East.
19th. November, 1839.
|At the Thames Police-office on Saturday another 'burial ground' case was heard. The exposure was the result of a quarrel between two rival undertakers. The facts are these. Samuel Sheen, besides being an undertaker, is the proprietor of a private place of interment called 'Sheen's Cemetery'. William Jeffryes, coffin maker and furnishing-undertaker, in the course of business, conducted the funeral of a child which was to be buried at Sheen's cemetery. The ground had been selected, and the dues paid: but when the funeral party arrived on Tuesday last week, the gates of the cemetery were locked. Admission was obtained through Sheen's house; and it was then discovered that no grave had been dug nor other preparations made. Sheen was absent from home. The coffin was therefore deposited in a grave prepared for an adult; and the funeral service was read by Jeffryes at the request of the mourners. On returning home, Sheen was very angry; he proceeded to Jeffryes' house in Leman Street, and there he uttered much personal abuse, with threats of violence. The defence was that Jeffryes had brought the coffin to annoy his rival; that Sheen was excited when he went to the other house; that Jeffryes then called him a rascal, and threatened to expose his cemetery as a nuisance; and that he thereupon did somewhat forget himself. The defendant was fined 10s. and costs.|
A squalid place
There are various damning accounts of the area around Backchurch Lane from the second half of the 19th century; the page on St John's parish gives examples, but here is one directly related to the street, where James Greenwood Unsentimental Journeys, or By-ways of the modern Babylon (Ward & Lock 1867) comments on a particular local trade:
universal fish-frying is the key to another mystery common to the
neighbourhood. In every 'general shop', in every rag and bone shop, in
the high street, and in the hundred courts and filthy alleys that worm
in and out of it, may be seen solid slabs of a tallowy-looking
substance, and marked with a figure 6, 7, or 8, denoting that for as
many pence a pound weight of the suspicious-looking slab may be
obtained. It is bought in considerable quantities by the fish-eaters
for frying purposes, and is by them supposed to be simply and purely
the fat dripping of roast and baked meats, supplied to these shops by
cooks, whose perquisite it is. This, however is a delusion. The
villainous compound is manufactured. There is a 'dripping-maker' near
Seabright-street, Bethnal-green, and another in Backchurch-lane,
Whitechapel, both flourishing men, and the owners of many carts and
sleek cattle. Mutton suet and boiled rice are the chief ingredients
used in the manufacture of the slabs, the gravy of bullocks' kidneys
being stirred into the mess when it is half cold, giving to the whole a
mottled and natural appearance...
... here is Hooper Street ...
Kinloch Chas & Co Ltd, wine merchants
109 Harris Bach, egg merchant
111 Lewis Stepnitsky, tobacconist
111 Philip Herman, barrow lender
111 Yodiesh & Yuchetel, smiths 
113 Jacob Jancovitch, harness maker
119 Abraham Shusterman chandlers shop
Robert Park & Co Ltd, freight brokers (Arcade Works) 
Premierland Ltd, cinematograph theatre
149 Mrs Gezalla Herhowitz, dining rooms
151 Bryan Corcoran Ltd, engineers 
153 Jacob Breiterman, fancy box maker
155 to 159 John West & Sons Ltd, brassfounder 
[unnamed public house, landlord John Latchall, at 155]
2 Nathan Limpan, dining rooms
... here is Pinchin Street ...
[16 Blacksmiths Arms Tavern ]
Browne & Eagle Limited, wool warehouse keepers
... here is Ellen Street ...
[48 picture shop in 1891]
[50 butcher in 1891]
[58 chandler's shop in 1891]
[62 chandler's shop in 1891]
[64 Prince of Wales, landlord William Pratt, in 1891]
66 Abraham Smith, tailor [tailor in 1891]
68 Simon Gullovitch, confectioner [dairy in 1891]
70 Morris Gershman, tailor [draper in 1891]
72 John Grybus, beer retailer 
... here is Edward Street ...
74 Solomon Zuckerkandel, provision merchant 
78 Hagee Hoosin, refreshment rooms
[86 Coach & Horses - ]
... here is Boyd Street ...
Co-operative Wholesale Society Ltd
... here is Fairclough Street ...
120 Mrs Kate Bloom, chandlers shop
... here is Sander Street ...
128 Mrs Annie Yudkin, fried fish shop
130 Mrs Sarah Ginsberg, tobacconist
|TWO MILES RACE BETWEEN PUDNEY AND TRAINER, FOR ONE HUNDRED POUNDS
This match, which has for a length of time past totally engrossed the attention and excited the speculation ot the patrons and supporters of pedestrianism, came off on Monday last at Garratt-lane, Wandsworth, in presence of a vast concourse of the lovers of that manly pastime. The competitors were both men who have acquired much celebrity in their respective localities, Pudney in London, Trainer in and about Liverpool and Manchester. Pudney has been for some time the holder of thc Champion's Belt as a10 mile runner, and it was supposed that he might risk his laurels were he to run for a shorter distance, his paramount qualities being those of stamina and endurance. He, nevertheless, boldly entered the lists on Monday last with the northern hero, and as the sequel proved, had no cause to regret his so doing. The weather, considering that it was the middle of November, was remarkably fine, the course in capital order, and everything conducted in tho fairest and most impartial manner. The gentlemen from the north (much to our surprise) backed Trainer at 3 to 2, and ultimately were offering 2 to 1 on their pet, which made us suspect there was a "screw loose" somewhere, but on personally visiting on Pudney, and questioning him as to his state of health and condition, we felt assured this this was all "bounce". A referee having been appointed from our office, and all the preliminaries arranged at a few minutes after the appointed time (three o'clock), the men toed the scratch, and after about ten minutes' dodging for the start, got away, Trainer with a trifling load, which he maintained throughout the first and second Iaps; in the middle of the third lap, Pudney passed his man for a yard or two as if to feel his position and capabilities, and having ascertained the supremacy of both, drew back for a while, and let his opponent again take the lead. At the termination of the fourth Iap he was about a yard ahead, but, making a tremendous rush down the first stretch af the fifth lap, ere he had traversed it he left his adversary some twenty yards en arrière, when the latter, finding that he was altogether outpaced and outmatched, gave up the fruitless contest, Pudney from this out, going at his leisure. We did not time the pace throughout, but the first mile was done in something like 4min. 40sec. The winner can have the stakes by calling at our office next Thursday, at twelve o'clock. They will be duly presented to Pudney in the evening at his own house, the Coach and Horses, Back Church-lane, Commercial-road, where he wishes his backers and friends to attend.
J. Trainer wishes us to inform pedestrians that it will be useless for any one tn challenge him at present, as he seriously injured himself in this race.
first remembrance of seeing any running was at the Hackney Wick ground,
where the course was only a furlong. That was some forty-five years
ago, and the occasion on which I made my acquaintance with it was a ten
miles race, and a genuine one. A man named Pudney had a sort of school
of runners with whom he used to tour the country. Among them was the
Red Indian, Deerfoot, who was always allowed to win. In the troupe,
however, there were at least two men who could lose him, one being
White, of Gateshead, and the other C. Lang, vvhose nickname was the
'Crow-catcher'. For some reason or other White fell out with Pudney, and as a
result of the disagreement White announced his intention of running on
his own at Hackney Wick, and winning. Pudney said "You shall not do
that, because Lang can beat you, and he shall go on his own." Deerfoot
was ignored altogether. White was very fit indeed, and he ran the first
seven miles round the small and awkward course in thirty-five minutes,
with Lang in close attendance. At this point Lang fell completely
exhausted, and White trotted on quite comfortably, and finished the ten
miles in fifty-two minutes, Deerfoot being distanced by about
three-quarters of a mile. That was my first experience of the running