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  Gravesend Fires 1844 & 1846  


Gravesend fire 1844

The Great Fire at Gravesend. June 1844.

From the Illustrated London News, Saturday 8 June 1844.

Extensive configuration at Gravesend.

Configuration, unequalled at Gravesend during the last century, broke out on Sunday night last, in the shrimp boiling-house of Mrs. Sandford, West Street, Gravesend, and was not extinguished before twenty-six houses, including three warehouses, four licensed victualers' establishments, and nineteen private buildings and shops, situate severely in West Street, Bath Street, and on Horncastle's and Elkin's Quay, had been, with a major part of their contents, entirely consumed.

West Street is an arrow thoroughfare, stretching along the town of Gravesend, near to the bank of the Thames, from West to East, commencing at the Clifton Hotel, and intersecting a quantity of small avenues approaching the higher parts of the neighbourhood, and ending at the terrace-pier. About midway between these two points is Caroline place on the east, and the extensive yards of Messrs. Rackstraw and Fletcher, merchants, on the west. On the north side of the block buildings within the area is a bank of the Thames, and upon the southern side is West Street, the whole being enclosed in a parallelogram 200 feet long by 120 feet deep.

The flames were first perceived by Henry Wickham, No. 8 of the Gravesend police, about a quarter to eleven o'clock, issuing from Mrs. Sanford's shrimp boiling-house, where it is conjectured that the fire must have originated from the stoker not having effectually extinguish the burning cinders raked out of the furnace. The wind, at the time the fire was discovered, was blowing rather fresh from the North, varying to northeast, but about three o'clock it lulled, or there is no saying where the damage to life and property might have ended. West Street consisted mostly of wood built houses; in addition to which there were several large store houses, containing the most inflammable materials.

As soon as Wickham observed the fire he raised an immediate alarm, and Superintendent North, with Inspector Oxley, and the whole of the Gravesend police, were quickly on the spot. Lieutenant M'Coy soon afterwards arrived with a number of the military from the depot at Gravesend, and Major Kelly, commander of Tilbury Fort, sent a strong detachment of the troops under his command, who rendered most efficient assistance. The Kent-office engine from Dartford, three engines belonging to the corporation of Gravesend, Royal Exchange engine from Crayford, and the Kent from Rochester, arrived in quick succession, but the fire spread so rapidly that the residents of High Street, Kempthorne Street, Bath Street, and even Wakefield Street, were actively engaged in removing their furniture from their houses, while West Street presented an indescribable scene.

The flames extended from Mrs. Sanford's to Union Wharf, been extensive premises on the west, which belonged to Mr. Beckett, Brewer, of Gravesend, and were tenanted by the Star Steam Packet Company as a storehouse for pitch, tar, timber, and other articles necessary for boat building. In a short time the wharf was destroyed, and the fire next communicated to Mr. Saddington's salt warehouses, in which there were five or six barrels of gunpowder, and a large quantity of brimstone. Two of the barrels of gunpowder were rolled into the river before the workhouses took fire; but the remainder went off with a terrific explosion, blowing the roofs and walls of the adjoining houses to a considerable distance; the reflection upon the river of the ascending flames presenting, at this time, a terrific appearance on the opposite shore. The exertions of the fireman and military were now beyond all praise; but were attended with little effect, for the flames speedily extended to seven houses belonging to Mr. Saddington, on Horncastle Quay, and which were in a few minutes burnt to the ground. They were tenanted by Mr. Parker, Mr. Jewes, Mr. Taylor, Mr. Thompson, Mr. Shephard, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Johnson, and each contained from six to eight rooms.

The fire of this time was likewise burning with the upmost fury, Eastwood and Westwood of West Street, and in the course of its ravages three public houses were reduced to ashes, viz.:- The "India Arms," kept by Mr. Missing, whose stock is insured in the Sun-office, the "Cock," by Mr. Pickering, insured in the Kent Fire-office, and the "Fisherman's Arms," kept by Mr. James Collins, who is not insured. Mr. Matthews's premises (the extensive mast and block maker) were likewise seriously damage, and the principal part of his timber, spars, and blocks destroyed. The stock and buildings were insured in the Dissenters' insurance office. Upon searching the ruins on Monday, Mr. Matthews discovered that his books and papers were in an iron chest. Amongst the other principal sufferers were Mr. Nettlingtion, boot and shoe maker; Messrs. Elkins and Co., marine store and coal dealers; Mr. Green, baker; Mr. Collingford, grocer; Mr. Simmons, clothier; and Mr. Brightwell, plumber and glazier. In order to cut off the connection between the houses in West Street, it was found necessary to commence pulling down the latter persons house, and it unfortunately happens that he had a son and daughter in the last stage of consumption, lying in bed. They were hastily removed to Mrs. Bennett's, in Kempthorne street, but the fright had a fatal effect upon the youth, and he died on Monday morning. The daughter is not expected to live.

On Monday morning, soon after three o'clock, the wind providentially lulled, and by most strenuous exertion of the military and fireman, for the first time, began to get the mastery of the devastating fire; in two hours it was nearly subdued, although the engines continue to play upon the smoldering ruins throughout the whole of the day.

The estimated damage varies from 10,000 to 15,000. The greater number of the sufferers are very poor, and have large families, and those who were destitute of friends have been provided with a temporary lodging by the board of guardians, in some cottages in Stone Street, near the Union house, belonging to them.

During the confusion that prevailed a poor shoemaker, named Hooker, was observed to leave one of the houses in a hurried manner, bearing on his shoulders the dead body of his daughter, which lay in the house at the time it took fire.

At eleven o'clock on Monday morning the magistrates met at the Town-halls, to adopt measures for the alleviation of the distresses of the sufferers. There were present the Mayor, Mr. Staff, Messrs. Tichnell, Oakes, Spence, and Dr. Joynes, the rector, and it was understood that they determined upon setting a subscription on foot. The Staff packet directors likewise held a meeting at their board-room, in High Street, Mr. Cruden in the chair, and which Alderman Harmer and others attended, for the purpose, as it was said, of taking active steps to obtain so desirable an object.

Our engravings, from sketches made on the spot by Mr. Landelles, represented the configuration at its greatest height; and West Street on the morning after the fire; of some houses little more than the foundation walls remain. The scene of devastation is truly afflicting; and cannot fail to excite the sympathy of every visitor; alike from the extent of the disaster, and the distressed condition of the majority of the sufferers.

Gravesend fire 1844

Ruins after the fire at Gravesend, June 1844.


From the Kentish Gazette, 24 November 1846.

GRAVESEND, Friday, 11 p.m.

The calamitous fire which occurred here yesterday has caused great excitement in the district, and throughout the day the streets have been thronged by the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages, who flocked into the town to witness the effects of the devouring element. At the time at which I write, the fire has not been entirely subdued, but, from the precautionary measures which have been adopted, there is little danger of its ravages extending. It is satisfactory to state that the fears which were entertained, that the lives of several individuals had been lost, were unfounded. It has now been ascertained, beyond doubt, that the inmates of all the houses which have been destroyed escaped in safety.

It was a most fortunate circumstance that at the time the fire broke out the wind was blowing from the southward. There can be little doubt that, with a northerly wind, the conflagration would have extended up the High-street, and as the houses in the district are principally constructed of wood, it is fearful to contemplate the result.
Among the houses destroyed, besides those mentioned by your correspondents, are, as I am informed, the "Privateer Inn" (Mr. Tisdale’s); Mr. W. Edwards’s, general dealer; Mr. Horton’s, fishmonger, (whose house was pulled down to prevent the progress of the fire); Mr. Skillen’s, greengrocer; Mr. H. Pettit’s, eating-house; Mr. Lambert's, eating-house; the "Rum Puncheon Tavern" (known as "Curtis’s Hotel"); a warehouse called the "Old Brewhouse"; the "Hole in the Wall" public house; and the ale and stout stores of Mr. Richard Jerry.

It is due to the Rev. Mr. Joynes, the rector of Gravesend, to state that, when the serious nature of the conflagration was ascertained, the church and churchyard were thrown open for the reception of the goods of those persons whose property was placed in jeopardy; and that Mr. Joynes, with great consideration, ordered the church to be lighted up.

It is said that there was on the premises of Mr. Troughton, ironmonger, no less than two cwt. of gunpowder, which was fortunately removed before the flames extended to the premises.

I understand that Lieutenant-Colonel Kelly, (who commanded the detachment of troops from Tilbury Fort,) the Mayor, Mr. Oakes, a magistrate, Mr. North, the superintendent of police, and many of the respectable inhabitants of the town, exerted themselves in the most indefatigable manner in directing the efforts of the firemen, the military, and the police.

The bank of Messrs. Hills, M'Crae, and Co., in West-street, was burnt down, but the deeds and other important papers in the hands of the concern, as well as their books, &c., were fortunately saved.

At the time I write the fire is not entirely extinguished. The engines are still playing upon the upper story of the "Pier Hotel," and occasionally a fitful flume darts from the ruins of the destroyed houses; but as all the authorities are on the alert, no fear need be entertained of any further danger to life or property.


Some idea may be formed of the magnitude of the fire by the subjoined report of the engineers of the brigade force (who were sent down at an early hour to ascertain the list of the sufferers), made up to the latest hour, six o’clock; but it is expected that there are many other losses that have escaped their notice, in consequence of the great excitement that prevails.

West street (water-side), No. 74.— Mr. Garratt, grocer and tea-dealer; dwelling-house and shop destroyed, warehouse and stores at the back fronting the river also consumed. Mr. Garratt is insured in the Sun Fire-office for 700., which will not cover his loss by nearly 1,000. Buildings insured in the Kent office.

No. 75. Jointly occupied by Mrs. Cross, greengrocer, and Mr. Hoff, draper; double house. Burnt down.

No. 76. Mr. Patties, eating-house keeper; dwelling house, shop, and waterside premises destroyed. Supposed to be only partly insured.

No. 72. The "Pope’s Head Tavern," occupied by Mr. Gould; front and back premises, with the spacious dining rooms facing the Thames, consumed. Buildings and contents partly insured in the Kent Fire-office.

No. 71. Mr. Dixon, beer-shop keeper; front and waterside premises totally destroyed, supposed to be not insured.

No. 70. Mr. Eversfield, sail-maker; warehouse and stores consumed; not insured.

No. 69. Mr. Carlin, hatter and cap-maker; shop, dwelling-house, and back premises burnt down.

No. 68. Cooperage, and provision warehouses and stores, belonging to Mr. Vallouce and others, destroyed; partially insured in the County office. The loss here estimated at 2,600.

No. 67. "Beehive" public-house, Mr. Perfit; burnt down.

No. 66. (Occupier's name not known.) Fishmonger; burnt down.

No. 65. "Talbot Tavern," slightly injured; all the waterside premises (capably of dining 800 persons) destroyed.

Opposite side of the street.— The banking-house of Messrs. Hills, M'Crae, and others, totally destroyed; books, papers, and cash were saved. Insured in the Kent Fire-office.

Dwelling-house and shop occupied by Mr. Taylor, baker and ship biscuit maker, burnt down. Not insured.

Mr. Goodsall, hairdresser, house and shop destroyed. Partly insured.

Shop and dwelling house of Mr. Owen, chemist, totally consumed.

Mrs. Petitt, eating-house keeper, the entire premises destroyed.

Mr. Heard, ship’s butcher, shop and dwelling burnt down.

Shop and dwelling of Mr. Edwards, grocer, burnt down.

The premises of Mr. Skillen, greengrocer, consumed.

Mr. George Rackstraw, baker, house and shop destroyed.

Shop and dwelling of Mr. Roxbury, fishmonger, consumed.

Mr. Horton, fishmonger, the entire building burnt down.

Sutter's alley (on the south side of West-street).— The dwellings No. 1, 2, 3, and 4, partly gutted. The inmates, poor labouring families, not insured.

New-court (on the same side of West-street).— The houses Nos 1, 2. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, the property of Mr. C. Johnson, auctioneer, at Gravesend, burnt down. Occupied by poorer classes, none of whom are insured.

High street.— The "Pier Hotel," at the north-east corner of West-street, occupied by Mr. Lovel, destroyed. Insured in the Phoenix office.

No. 6. Mr. Roe, hatter and general outfitter, burnt down.

No. 5. (Occupier's name not known.) Dwelling and shop destroyed.

No. 4. Mr. Tuffnel, fishmonger, premises consumed.

Mr. Troughton, ironmonger and agent of the Alliance Fire-office (the south-east corner of West-street), partly destroyed.

There are a great number of other damages occasioned by hasty removal of goods, furniture, &c.; they, however, are of not much amount. The total insurance is estimated at between 20,000. and 30,000.; the chief bulk of which will fall on the Kent, County, Phoenix, Sun, Alliance, Licensed Victuallers, and Royal Exchange Insurance-offices. The loss is calculated at about 80,000.


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