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Source: Bell's Weekly Messenger, No.1858, Sunday, November 13, 1831



Thursday morning a fire was discovered in the lower part of an eating-house in Cow-cross. The retreat of the inmates was cut off below, but the new police and some of the neighbours having procured ladders, they effected their escape from the upper part of the house. Several engines, attended by a large body of firemen, were soon on the spot, but some time elapsed before a plentiful supply of water could be procured. At this period the flames had made great progress, and the adjoining house on the right, occupied by a baker, was also in flames. Before three o'clock only the bare walls of both houses were left standing, and the greater part of the property destroyed. Friday, an extra number of labourers were employed to remove the rubbish, under the superintendence both of the parochial officers and the new police. About 1 o'clock, the remains of one of the sufferers were taken from the ruins, but the skeleton was very imperfect. From the fragments, it was evident that it was the skeleton of an adult person; and from a portion of the raiment attached to it, it was supposed to have been that of a male. At 3 o'clock, the remains of a female (Mrs. Holihock [sic], the wife of one of the persons destroyed) were also taken out and conveyed to the workhouse of St. Sepulchre Without. Shortly after this, some of the workmen who were employed near a fragment of the party-wall of the adjoining premises, were, by its suddenly falling with a tremendous. crash, buried in the rubbish which they were attempting to remove; but they were extricated as quickly as possible Four men were dreadfully injured, and a fifth so mutilated, that he was conveyed to St. Bartholomew's Hospital on a shutter, apparently lifeless. A little after 5 o'clock, the workmen, who continued their task, discovered the skeletons of the other four persons, who, it would seem, had all huddled together near the water-closet. Some parts of their bodies were burnt to a cinder, and on other parts flesh appeared.

Yesterday afternoon an inquest was held before Mr. Stirling, the Coroner; in the Committee-room of St. Sepulchre's workhouse, touching the deaths. of William Hollihock[sic] Elizabeth, his wife, William and Samuel, their sons, Robert Young, and Michael Bones, whose skeletons were found among the ruins of the houses in Cow Cross street, on Friday.

The remains were confined in five shells, one of them containing those of the sons.

About 20 witnesses were examined, but no satisfactory proofs were adduced how the fire originated, yet presumptive evidence was given that it was in the cellar beneath Mr. Hughes's eating-house which was filled with coals and wood. A lodger in the house, named Williams, on being awoke with coughing arising from the smoke which filled his bed-room, opened his door and found the cellar-staircase was on fire. He alarmed Mrs. Hughes, then proceeded to the second floor, and having proclaimed to Mrs. Hollihock her danger repaired to the third floor, where the deceased Young and Bones slept, and dragged Young out of bed (he being very much intoxicated), and informed both that to save their lives it required a speedy escape from the premises. In consequence of this alarm, the lodgers in the third floor hastened down stairs, and met the family of Mr. Hollihock and Williams on the landing of the second floor. The flames were rapidly ascending the second floor, and their escape down stairs appeared impossible. All were horror-struck at their appalling situation, and the scene was indescribable. Mrs. Hollihock jumped out of the window into the yard, and was. killed upon the spot The other poor sufferers. were observed running about the yard crying most piteously without the prospect of escape. At length they sought refuge in the vault of the privy, but even there the flames pursued them, and burnt them to cinders. Mr. Hughes was insured, but not sufficient to cover his losses by upwards of 1001. An orphan girl is left to bewail the miserable deaths of her parents and her two brothers.

The Coroner gave Williams 5s., he having lost everything except his shoes and trowsers, in saving the lives of Mrs. Hughes and her baby, by jumping with them out of the first-floor window; but he gave it the Committee appointed for receiving subscriptions for the poor sufferers who have lost property and relations, saying that be had some friends who would assist him. We are happy to hear that upwards of 201. have already been subscribed.

The Jury returned a verdict of —Accidentally Burnt to Death.