A common cause of death and injury in Victorian London was from fires that regularly broke out in the overcrowded houses of the district.
In an era when houses were heated by and lit by naked flames, it was not uncommon for tragic accidents to result in loss of life.
THE FATAL HOUNDSDITCH FIRE
Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, in its edition of Sunday the 29th of January 1888, carried the story of one such conflagration:-
Mr. S. F. Langham held an inquest at the City mortuary, Golden-lane, Barbican, on Tuesday, on the bodies of the four victims of the fire at 15, Hutchinson Street, Houndsditch.
The names of the deceased were: Rosetta Boginsky, alias Phillips, Judith Salzedo, Sophia Salzedo, and Mordecai Salzedo.
Police Constable Webber, who met with injuries while endeavouring to arouse and rescue some of the inmates, was present to give evidence, but he walked with crutches.
The deceased were foreign Jews, and the jury was mainly composed of members of the Hebrew community.
JACOB SALZEDO’S EVIDENCE
Jacob Salzedo, who described himself as a “killer” (slaughterer of animals under the Jewish ritual), identified three of the deceased as his mother, Judith Salzedo, aged 75; his sister, Sophia Salzedo, aged 39; and his nephew, Mordecai Salzedo, who was three years old, and who was deaf and dumb.
They lodged at 15, Hutchinson Street, Houndsditch and were tenants of Mrs. Phillips.
They occupied two front rooms on the first floor, Mrs. Phillips and her children occupying the ground floor and two rooms at the top.
CHARLES WEBBER’S TESTIMONY
Police Constable Charles Webber, No. 934, of the City of London Police, said that on Friday morning, about ten minutes past three, he was passing 15, Hutchinson Street, when he noticed a light through two small holes in the shutters of the parlour window. The fire was in the parlour at the back of the shop. He at once sprang his rattle and aroused the inmates.
Immediately after he gave the alarm he heard someone in the house screaming out, “Police! Police!” and, he believed, “Murder!” He was not certain as to hearing “Murder.”
He also said:- “I saw a person at the first-floor window in the act of dropping out. I endeavoured to catch the person, but was knocked down by the violence of the contact. I am disabled in consequence, and have been in the City Police hospital since.”
FURTHER EVIDENCE IS GIVEN
Samuel Carter deposed to going for the fire-escape, which arrived as quickly as possible.
The fire-escape rescued two persons from the second floor, but when they got to the ground they were apparently lifeless, and were taken into a neighbour’s house.
Leonard Davis, a fireman, stated that he believed that the fire broke out in the back parlour under the staircase. There was very little damage done in the shop.
James Pierce, engineer to the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, in charge of the Whitechapel station, stated that the lad who was taken to the hospital informed him that some coke was kept under the stairs, and it was his impression that some hot ashes were inadvertently thrown there instead of being placed outside.
Mr. Henry James Sequiera, a surgeon, said that all the deceased were very much scorched, but had the appearance of having died from asphyxia. They were suffocated before the firer reached the bodies.
DEATH FROM SUFFOCATION
The jury, at the suggestion of the coroner, returned a verdict to the effect:- “That the deceased died from suffocation, but how the fire was caused there was no evidence to show.”
The funerals of the deceased took place during Tuesday afternoon.
Mrs. Boginksy was buried in the Jewish cemetery at West Ham, while the other three bodies were interred in the Mile End Burial Ground.