18th September 1854
Reference Numbert18540918-1039
VerdictGuilty > unknown
SentenceMiscellaneous > sureties

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1039. RICHARD BELL was indicted for a nuisance.

MESSRS. RYLAND and LOCKE conducted the Prosecution.

RICHARD GREEN (City policeman, 421). On Monday, 5th Sept., 1853, between 1 and 2 o'clock in the morning, I was on duty in Cannon-street West—I heard a crackling noise inside the premises of the defendant, No. 21—the door was fastened—there was no one residing on the premises—policeman Russell came up, and called out, "Fire!"—I remained at the door while he went for the fire engines and the turncock—the engines arrived in about five minutes—the fire brigade is almost close to those premises—when the firemen arrived they broke the door open—I went in with them, and observed several large boxes of lucifer matches on fire, and part of the partition—there were about fifteen boxes—they were about four feet long and two feet high—we took them out of the house after we had worked upon them with the engine—a great many of the neighbours came out—the fire continued burning two or three hours—the engines were playing upon it during the time—besides those boxes that I observed when I went in, there were a great many smaller boxes—they were taken away in two or three vans, which were partly filled—I should think there were about two van loads—I was on the same premises on 29th July—I then observed several large packages of lucifer matches—some of them were open—I had been on those premises three or four months before the fire in Sept—I then saw nearly twenty of those large packages—they contained lucifer matches—some were open, some were closed—I recollect attending the inquest held before Mr. Payne on 9th Sept., 1853—MR. Bell was examined before Mr. Payne.

CHARLES KEYS . I am clerk to William Payne, Esq., the Coroner. Mr. Payne took down the evidence of the defendant: reads, "Richard Bell, of 21, Cannon-street West—'These are my premises; I have carried on business there about fifteen years; I am not oftener there than once a week, some-times once a fortnight; my son George is there every day; I was not there on Saturday; I have been there since the fire; the suspicion that I have for the origin of the fire is the rats in the cellar; I do not think the matches would ignite spontaneously; we had a strong room for books; it might be that I was compelled to build it before I got possession; it was pulled down, perhaps, six or nine months; I pulled it down to make room; it was perfectly useless; we never made use of it; I do not suppose there was a box of matches in it for some years; I think the object of the strong room was to keep the books in; the strong room would not have contained one-twentieth part of my stock—it was intended that the lucifers should be put in the strong room; Mr. Black managed the business in town for me at that time.'"

Cross-examined by Mr. CHARNOCK. Q. There was no injury done to the

neighbouring premises? A. No; there have been a great many fires since the inquest was held—it is not an uncommon thing to have a fire—I never knew any fire from lucifer matches before—there are a variety of manfacturers in the City—there are not many grocers—I do not know whether there are many oil shops which sell oil, turpentine, and bees' wax—they sell lucifers; and I believe doctors', and grocers', and chandlers' shops sell them—there were several boxes there, two feet high, four feet long, and two feet wide—none of them were empty; some had got a few in them—some were a quarter full, and some half full—I think there were none not filled at all—there were fourteen or fifteen boxes, or more—I can undertake to say that most of them were full, and had lucifer matches in them—I said there were fifteen—I did not count them—I cannot tell how many were full—there were a great many that were not in cases—I know that Mr. Bell has been on these premises many years—I never knew any fire there before nor since—I do not think he manufactures these articles there—I have not been to his factory at Wandsworth—I know that he lives on the premises where these are manufactured—I was present when those boxes were taken out and put into the vans—there were two four-wheeled spring vans—it took two vans to take fifteen boxes—the boxes were not all burnt—there were broken boxes, and other things—there were a great many small boxes, containing grosses—some of them were put in—I did not notice whether there was any furniture—I went before the Magistrate on this matter in Aug.—I did not go before the Grand Jury; I was not called.

COURT. Q. What sort of vans would they be to require two of them to carry fifteen boxes; I should think it would not take two vans to do that? A. They took them away in two vans; they appeared full.

MR. RYLAND. Q. You say they took all the things away at once? A. Yes; I never saw so many cases of lucifer boxes—the premises were not furnished like a dwelling house.

MR. CHARNOCK. Q. Do not you know that persons lived in the house just before the fire? A. I think it has not been inhabited since I have known it; I have known it these two years.

JAMES RUSSELL (City-policeman, 474). I was on duty in Cannon-street West, on the morning of this fire—I was the first who discovered it—I went for the engines and the turncock; they came promptly and worked very hard—I did not go into the premises—I saw two vans at the door the next morning; I do not know what they took away.

Cross-examined. Q. Had you known the house long? A. Yes; six or seven years—I know nothing about the occupying of the house—I know the house was there—I do not know that the upper rooms were occupied before the fire.

JOSEPH GERRARD . I am one of the firemen at the Watling-street station—I recollect the fire on the defendant's premises on Monday morning, 5th Sept, 1853—I was called out about half past 1 o'clock—I was there with the first engine—I found the fire issuing up at the back part of the premises—it was what we term a small fire—I saw the flames issuing out of the back premises, going up from the skylight, which is over the ground floor, at the back of the premises, over the back warehouse—I broke open the front door, and discovered the lower part of the premises all on fire—I worked the engine upon it—it was at work, on and off, for I suppose about an hour—I observed the partition between the shop and the staircase; it was nearly burnt through—I should think the adjoining houses were not in any immediate danger—I saw some packing cases, as I term them; they contained lucifers—I cannot at all account for the cause of the fire—there

was nobody in tire house at the time that I am aware of—I saw nobody come down stairs—there were about twenty of our own men there to extinguish the fire—I observed the lucifer matches; part of them were burnt—there was a very disagreeable smell, I should say of phosphorus—there were a great many of these things burnt—I do not think any of the boxes were closed—the lids were burnt off—I should think the boxes were about there feet square—they were not four feet long—besides the lucifers in the boxes there was a great quantity on shelves; some in tin cases, and some in wooden boxes—a great portion of them were on fire.

Cross-examined. Q. Do you get more when there is a large fire than when there is a small one? A. Not a farthing—the boxes that I saw were all full—I did not see any that were empty—I did not look into them, I had no occasion—we carried them into the street—I cannot tell whether there were any cases which did not contain lucifers—the adjoining houses were not more in danger than they would have been in an ordinary fire—I cannot tell about the number of the boxes—I would not swear there were fourteen or fifteen, or that there were two van loads—I dare say there were two van loads of rubbish, and boxes, and all—there was a great quantity of ceiling and stuff fell down—I could not say what the origin of the fire was; I first saw it through the skylight in the yard, and that covered the continuation of the ground premises—I did not see anything like candles there, or anything that had the appearance of having been lighted—the premises are lighted with gas—the place is about forty feet long, and from fourteen to eighteen feet wide—a portion of the boxes were under the skylight; that part is very small—the shop is larger than the warehouse; the shop is three or four times as big as the warehouse.

MR. LOCKE. Q. Was the front shop full of lucifers? A. I saw a very small quantity in the front part; there were lucifers in the back part—the shop was on a level with the back warehouse—the front shop is divided from the back shop and warehouse—there were some lucifers in the window, and some on shelves.

COURT. Q. You were asked whether the shop is not three of four times the length of the warehouse? A. Yes; I think it is—it is, but one shop, divided by a partition—I cannot tell how many tin oases there were—there were a good many wax tapers.

EDWARD HENMAN . I am retired from business, and live at Holloway—I have premises next door but one to Mr. Bell, in Cannon-street, West—I occasionally sleep there—I slept there on Sunday night, 4th Sept, 1853—I had known Mr. Bell for years as the keeper of No. 21, I knew the nature of the stock he kept on those premises—I did not like it much—on Monday morning 5th Sept., I was alarmed about half past 1 o'clock—the flames were issuing out to a very great height, and the smell was suffocating—I was considerably alarmed, I considered the premises all around to be in very great danger—there was a speedy alarm, and assistance as speedily as possible—but for that, the whole neighbourhood must have been destroyed—I opened the window, called the police, and desired them to go round to Mr. Braidwood, and to bring all his force immediately in consequence of the danger I thought the neighbourhood was in—I got up, went down, and went out—I should think it was about an hour before they got the fire under—I saw Mr. Bell in the course of the morning—I saw a great many things that had been brought out, and thrown in the street, such as boxes, partly broken, and partly burnt—there were a great many lucifers on fire in the street, and the engines were playing on them—there was a strong smell for some days—I had some conversation with Mr. Bell some time on

the Monday—he told me that he considered that the nature of the business was of so dangerous a character, that he declined to let the upper part of his premises, or to let any one reside there—he stated that the business was of an unprofitable character, and it was his intention to give it up after what had occurred—I consider it was a dangerous stock to be kept there.

Cross-examined. Q. Was any one with you when the defendant said that? A. Yes; Mr. Wood was present—he has premises adjoining, and if it had not been for the iron shutters their premises would have been destroyed—I use lucifers—I cannot answer whether my maids do—I have one box of them in my bed room—I do not carry them about with me—I have vestas—I do not think there are any oil shops, or chemists in Cannon-street West—I have been anxious about this matter, and my neighbours were so anxious that we called on the Coroner, and begged him to call an inquest—I knew Mr. Bell's premises before the fire—I think that persons for a considerable time lodged there, but not at the time of the fire—I should think not for two years before—to the best of my belief there were not persons lodging there, till within three or four months—MR. Bell stated that he thought it was possible the boxes might have been knocked down by the rats, and in that way the fire might have taken place.

Q. But have you not said that Mr. Bell said he thought they bad ignited spontaneously? A. Certainly not; he told me that the only way in which he could account for it was that the rate might have knocked down the boxes—I heard the defendant state at the inquest, that he thought the fire ignited spontaneously.

COURT. Q. You have heard him say that these, things would ignite, and bad ignited spontaneously? A. Yes.

HENRY WOOD . At the time of this fire I occupied premises near Mr. Bell's—I was not sleeping there that night—I gut there by 9 o'clock, or a little after 9, on Monday morning—I found in the street the remains of cases and the lucifer matches lying on the footpath—I saw Mr. Henman and Mr. Bell, and heard some conversation between them about the fine—Mr. Bell said he considered the stock so very dangerous that he would not allow any person to live in the upper part of the house, and he should get rid of the premises, and give up the business—he said he could not account for the fire—I have a clerk named Ashdown—he lives on our premises.

Cross-examined. Q. I suppose you have taken some interest about this fire? A. Yes—this conversation took place on the Monday—I know that Mr. Bell is still on the premises—I do not know that he has laid out property in constructing a room—the Fire office repaired the premises—I never buy any lucifers; my servants do—I do not know whether they use Mr. Bell's—I have a good deal of property in the neighbourhood—I was not before the Magistrate—I was asked by the solicitor's clerk to come here to-day—I did not make any memorandum of this conversation—I do not know that Mr. Henman and I have talked it over—there never was any fire in. that place before—I have lived there forty or fifty years—I know the house was occupied before the fire, but not lately—I think no person resided on the premises for the last eighteen months before the fire—the house is to let; there is a board up now.

WILLIAM M'DANIEL . I assist Mr. Kensit, the clerk to the Skinners' Company—they are the freeholders of the premises, No. 21, Cannon-street West—MR. Bell was their tenant—I have heard that some years ago some complaint was made of the stock he kept on those premises—the complaint was made in our committee—I am not present in the committee—I remember Mr. Bell's agent attending, the company—I have seen Mr. Bell

there—I know that he represented that he had built a strong room; that was through his agent to the company—I do not know what a strong room is—I have seen Mr. Bell there since on the subject of the fire—he made no statement to me at all—he came to see Mr. Ken sit, but not in my presence.

ROBERT WALLBUTTON . I am a builder. I superintended the erection of a strong room in Mr. Bell's premises, in Cannon-street, fifteen or sixteen years since—a person of the name of Black gave me the directions, who I understood to be Mr. Bell's partner—they told me the strong room was to be built to contain tin boxes, and these tin boxes were to contain the stock of lucifer matches and wax vestas—the room was about eighty feet superficial area, about ten feet by eight—it was about nine feet high—I completed the room—I recollect the fire that took place in Sept., last year—I had seen the premises occasionally before that—I was on the premises three or four days, or a week, after the fire—I could see that the room had been removed.

Cross-examined. Q. "Was this room brick or iron? A. Brick, iron, and stone—I have built another room since the fire—it is partly on the same spot—it is quite fireproof—I should think it has been completed about six weeks—if the matches were put in that place I should say they would be perfectly safe—I am acquainted with making fireproof places—I had not been on the premises after I completed the room till after the fire—I took no notice of the amount of stock on the premises—I did not notice anything but two or three boxes, when the last room was built—stock put in that room would be perfectly safe—I cannot tell what the room will cost; it may cost perhaps 50l.—I have been in business for myself about nine years—we have built several fireproof rooms since I have been in business for myself—I built the room as if I had been building it for myself, and had had a large quantity of goods and plate.

MR. LOCKE Q. You were at the Mansion-house on the inquiry about this matter? A. Yes; I cannot recollect whether it was before or after then that I commenced building this strong room—we had got it in hand about a fortnight, and it was completed about six weeks ago—I have not been there since the iron door was put on its hinges—it is the same door that was on the first room, and that door had to be sent to the smith to have it completed—I sent to the smith to know if it was completed, and he sent word that it was—I do not know when the iron door was fixed—I suppose about a month ago—I can say that the iron door was put up, and the whole thing complete a month ago.

DR. HENRY LETHEBY . I am professor of chemistry at the London Hospital. I have the remains of lucifer matches which I obtained from Mr. Bell; I got them on 13th April last—they are made of slips of wood, the composition on them is chlorate of potash; blue and colouring matter which is a preparation of iron—they are very combustible—I have made experiments as to under what circumstances they will ignite—the temperature at which they will take fire varies from 140 degree to 200 degree, according to the condition of the atmosphere—the temperature of 140 degree is one that may exist, or may be produced in a shop window exposed to the sun enclosed in glass, so that lucifer matches may take fire when exposed in that manner to the summer sun—I found also that they were fired by very slight friction—some of Mr. Bell's matches have fired in my house from falling from the chimneypiece though I did not see them—the maid has told me so, and brought the box to me—I can also state that some of Mr. Bell's matches were standing on my laboratory table, and I was making some experiments with the pestle and mortar merely shaking the table, and they went off

spontaneously, and set fire to the paper and everything about them—I believe from this that the falling of a box from the chimneypiece might fire them—supposing there were a place where there were a great number of these, the rats running about and throwing down the boxes, might fire them—the phosphorus exists in the matches in the state of a powder, and if any of the powder remains on the surface uncombined with the other materials, it may take fire spontaneously at an ordinary temperature without any friction.

Q. If these matches had been kept for some time perfectly dry, would the phosphorus become powder? A. I can hardly tell, but if it has not been carefully prepared it will do so—in my judgment it is dangerous to the house and the neighbourhood to have large quantities of these things kept.

(The witness here poured some liquid phosphorus on a sheet of paper, and when it was dry it took fire and burned.)

Cross-examined. Q. You say if there were dry powder on the match it might ignite, but if there were none it would not? A. No—there is phosphorus, and oxide of iron, and chlorate of potash in these—oxide of iron is known under many names—a man might purchase it and not know it—I cannot tell what other matters are in this preparation—I only sought for those things which I know to be mischievous—there is nothing that can be introduced into these lucifer matches, in my judgment, that will reduce the disposition to ignite—I have seen matches made in most of the large factories—I never attended Mr. Bell's—I have had to attend to the diseases of many persons employed in match factories—I do not know how Mr. Bell makes them, but I think there is no great secret in it—it is my opinion that these matches have no controlling matter in them to prevent the ignition—they will ignite at 140 degree—if they were in these boxes, enclosed in another box in a window, and there were a thermometer of 140 degree, they might ignite—I have only known by report of matches igniting in a shop—I have known a heat of 140 degree in a shop, and I have had it on my own premises, in my glass case outside my drawing room window, which, I believe, is in a southern attitude—140 degree is not an immense state of heat—the temperature in this Court now is, I suppose, about 89 degree—I know that the Germans make those matches also, but the Germans have no chlorate of potash in them; they use nitre instead, and, as a rule, they require a higher temperature than others do—they are what are called silent matches—the defendants shop was shut up, and it was in the night—there could be no 140 degree then.

HENRY ASHDOWN . I am clerk to Messrs. Wood and Co. Their premises extend to Red Lion-court, at the back of Mr. Bell's—I and my wife reside in a place adjoining Mr. Bell's premises, and we have done so just on two years—on 5th Sept., last year, I and my family were awoke by the watch—I opened the door, and saw a great light in the back room—I saw Mr. Bells premises, and the flames were issuing above our window, which is the second floor—they were issuing with great violence, and the heat of the room was intense—the flames came from Mr. Bell's back building—I knew the nature of the stock in Mr. Bell's premises, and I saw a large quantity of stock on the premises on the morning after the fire—there were fifteen or sixteen cases, and I smelt a sulphureous smell, showing that a great quantity of matches had been burnt—my family has resided at the back of the premises two years, and myself longer than that—we have felt alarm—we have never been comfortable any night—we have thought we might be called up any night through the premises being on fire—Messrs. Woods

have a large and valuable stock on their premises—they signed a petition to the Court of Aldermen.

Cross-examined. Q. How long have you felt alarm? A. Ever since the fire took place—I go to bed every night—I cannot say that I have slept soundly—my wife often calls me up from alarm—I do not know whose lucifers I burn—I have been there six years—there never was a fire there before or since—I went over Mr. Bell's premises with Mr. Braidwood after the fire—I did not examine the cases—I looked in, and saw they contained lucifers.

THOMAS SMITH . I am a surgeon, and live in Bow-lane. My premises are about fifty yards from Mr. Bell's—I live and sleep there with my family—I know the nature of the stock which Mr. Bell has been keeping on his premises—I am not afraid of keeping matches in my bedroom, but I have been alarmed for myself and my neighbours from the stock that Mr. Bell keeps.

Cross-examined. Q. You use matches? A. Yes—I have lived in that neighbourhood eighteen or twenty years—I have heard that Mr. Bell is a very respectable man—I use Bell and Black's matches, who live next door to me—they have lived there ten or twelve years—I have not been alarmed all that time—I was alarmed when the fire took place—there was no fire there before or since—there was a fire next door to me through Bell and Black's matches.

COURT. Q. You say Bell and Black live next door to you? A. Yes—they sell lucifer and vestas matches—they have a very large quantity in their shop—to the best of my belief they have been there six or seven years—MR. Richard Bell's is at the back of my premises, and Bell and Black's is at my right hand—I think there was an alarm of fire about two months ago—there was a fireman about, and some water scattered about—it was soon put out.

WILLIAM MONK . I reside in Red Lion-court, at the back of Mr. Bell's, within twelve or fifteen yards of him. I recollect the fire in Sept. last year—I have been rendered uncomfortable from the nature of the business carried on by Mr. Bell—I have a wife and family residing there—I have not observed the quantity of stock kept at Mr. Bell's.

ANTHONY SEARD . I am a bootmaker, of No. 24, Cannon-street West. I had a wife and family there previous to the fire—I knew the nature of the articles kept on Mr. Bell's premises—I always considered them dangerous—I always felt great anxiety, and fearful of the stock taking fire.

Cross-examined. Q. How long have you lived there? A. Three years—I felt alarmed before the fire, and since—my wife and family do not reside there now—I carry on business there.

THOMAS ALLEN CREATON . I am a painter and decorator. I was carrying on business next door to the defendant when this fire took place—I was aware of the stock kept on those premises; I knew he kept a large quantity of matches—I did not feel particularly alarmed till the fire—I did afterwards, because I thought it might occur again—I removed my wife and family—I imagined that there was danger in living near those premises.

CHARLES PEARSON , Esq. I am the solicitor to the Corporation of London. I remember this subject being brought before the Court of Aldermen on 29th Sept., 1853—there was a presentment from the Ward Inquest, a petition signed by a number of persons—the Court referred it to me to take such steps as I thought proper—I did not visit Mr. Bell's for a considerable time, having been informed that he was about to remove or discontinue the

business—I did not take any steps for several months—I did go to the premises, and told the persons there who I was—I think that must have been in May or June last—I inspected the premises—I saw that there was no strong room for the deposit of these articles—I purchased a box of matches for the purpose of analyzing, telling them what I did it for—I placed it in the hands of Dr. Letheby, and took proceedings—MR. Bell was not in the shop when I was there—I had reason to believe that there would be a strong room made after I had been to the premises, but I cannot say that I knew there was a strong room till I first heard it here to-day—if I had known there had been a strong room before I preferred this indictment I should not have preferred it, but have referred it to the Court of Aldermen whether it would not have been a sufficient reason to abstain from the indictment.

COURT. Q. Supposing there had been this strong room, and there had been security that stock of this description should be deposited there, you would have submitted it to the Corporation? A. Yes.

COURT to DR. LETHEBY. Q. What would be the effect of a quantity of matches lighting; would they produce a flame, or a smouldering fire? A. A smouldering fire, not an explosion.

GUILTY .— To appear and receive Judgment when called upon.

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