Sep 242014

Fire is something no one wants to think about today, but it was even more terrifying for those living in the Regency. Today, Regency author, Regina Scott, whose latest release is Ballrooms and Blackmail, tells about the measures that the residents of Regency London took to protect their property. She also tells us about those men who were willing to risk their lives to protect others.

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Fire! Fire! Fire! Anyone else know that old song about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and the Great Chicago fire? It was great fun to sing around a camp fire. But fire in a crowded town like London was no laughing matter in the nineteenth century.

Print of a building fire in London

The reason dates back to the Great Fire of London in 1666. That fire destroyed two-thirds of the city. Afterward, people went to great lengths to make sure wooden buildings, and just about anything that was easily burnable, was eliminated. Wooden shutters were moved indoors, wooden window sills replaced with brick, and buildings were constructed with stone or brick exteriors and steps. Insurance companies offered property owners policies to protect their buildings from fires and requested that the owners affix a wall plaque (known as a fire mark) to show which company was protecting them.

Photo of a firemark

Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. Some people faked marks, hoping to be protected for nothing. Other marks were so similar, the fire brigades couldn’t tell which was which (especially when it got a little smoky, I’d think!). Some firefighters arrived at a burning building, only to refuse to put out the fire because they didn’t believe the building was insured by their company! The Custom House burned to the ground in 1814, and the Royal Mint in 1815.

In 1833, the insurance companies united their firefighters under one brigade, called the London Fire Establishment. They were commanded by James Braidwood, who had been chief of the first municipal fire service in Edinburgh in 1824. Called the "Jimmy Braiders," they rushed to put out any fire, aided by manually operated pumps. These were huge, horse drawn wagons, and several men worked each side pulling down and pushing up the bellows on the pumps.

Print of fire on the London docks

With only 80 Jimmy Braiders for an area with well over a million people, the firefighters often lost the fight. The old palace of Westminster burned down in 1834 when its heating boilers exploded, Lloyd’s Coffee House and the Royal Exchange incinerated in 1838, and the Grand Amory of the Tower of London went up in a shower of sparks in 1841. A particularly spectacular fire in 1861 set all of the waterfront aflame along the Upper Pool of the Thames. Braidwood himself lost his life fighting it, and the blaze wasn’t completely contained until 6 months later.

But whether 1861, 2001, or 2009, selfless firefighters like Braidwood continue to be heroes. Say a prayer for one today, will you?

© 2009 – 2014 Regina Scott
Originally posted at Nineteen Teen
Posted at The Beau Monde by permission of the author.

  2 Responses to “A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight by Regina Scott”

  1. The theatres were forever burning as well. It seems that the three major theatres in London burned just before the regency. The water supply was inadequate to extinguish most fires. The most the firemen could do was try to keep the fire from spreading.

  2. Thanks for reposting!

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