A Dreadful Fire at William Vandersteen's Public House

The Times, September 14, 1840

William Vandersteen in this article was  born on 7th October 1815 to Charles and Mary (née Emery) Vandersteen



  Another dreadful fire involving, we regret to add, a melan-
  choly loss of human life occurred yesterday morning in
  Milton-street, Cripplegate, in the Jacob's Well public-house,
  so celebrated for its meetings in reference to trial by jury and
  other political questions. The Jacob's Well is situate on the
  east side of the street, at the corner of Phillipa's-court, nearly
  opposite the late City Theatre. The premises consisted of a
  brick building three stories high, in the occupation of Mr.
  William Vandersteen, a young man 24 years of age, the son
  of Mr. Vandersteen, landlord of the Frying Pan public-house,
  in Brick-lane, Spitalfields. The fire was first discovered about
  25 minutes to 2 oclock, by city police constable Casson, No.
  11, who was on duty in the neighbourhood. The constable
  was passing along the street, when he had his attention
  directed by some passers by to a great glare of light which
  was observable through the fanlight over the shop door of
  the public-house in question. Being convinced that it was
  not such a light as would be produced by mere gas, Casson
  knocked at the door with his staff, there being neither
  knocker nor bell, and had scarcely done so before a loud crash
  of the breaking of glass was heard, apparently in the rear of
  the premises. The constable and other persons who had
  assembled rushed up Phillipa's-court where a good view of
  the back of the premises could be obtained, when it was
  placed beyond a doubt that the house was on fire. The
  flames were issuing from a large sky1ight over the parlour,
  which is attached to the back of the house, but only one story
  high. The police constable instantly gave an alarm throughout
  the neighbourhood, which is one of the most densely popu-
  lated in the city. Within five or six minutes after the alarm
  was raised a party of the city police, from the Cripplegate sta-
  tion-house, arrived; up to which time none of the inmates of
  the Jacob's Well had made their appearance, and serious fears
  were entertained for their safety, as the flames were gaining
  a rapid ascendancy in front as well as at the back part of the
  premises. The police broke open the front doors of the shop,
  when the fire was discovered raging from the bar backwards.
  After the expiration of about ten minutes a boy was observed
  to escape out of the front garret widow, and crawl along
  the parapet that of the adjoining house, which was several
  feet lower. He, however, succeeded in reaching by jump-
  ing at the risk of his life, and, although in his night clothes
  and having nothing whatever on his feet, thus managed to
  effect his escape. Immediately after the figure of a man, which
  subsequently proved to be Mr. Vandersteen, was observed
  standing on the very point of the roof, and in a very dangerous
  situation, he being prevented from gaining the roof of the
  adjoining house by a large stack of chimneys on either side.
  By this time not less than from 300 to 400 people had col-
  lected near the spot, and the various shouts raised to the un-
  fortunate man in his perilous situation were true1y appalling.
  Ultimately some short ladders were procured from the work-
  shops of Mr. Mackenzie, builder, in Star-court, and conveyed
  to the parapet of the house, which was some feet below the
  edge of the slanting roof. They placed one of the ladders on
  the roof, near the place where Mr. Vandersteen stood, and held
  it from the parapet whilst he descended. It being sup-
  posed that all the inmates had been got out, Mr.Vandersteen
  from his extreme state of excitement being unable to afford
  any information, the engine from the brigade station in
  Whitecross-street was set to work, a good supply of water
  being obtained from the plugs in the neighbourhood. To get
  at the back, where the fire was raging with the greatest fury,
  the brigademen were compelled to carry the hose up Phillipa's-
  court, in which the houses are composed chiefly of wood, and
  one of which was igniting from the great heat. By the ex-
  ertions of the firemen they were saved, but the inmates, who
  are poor persons, sustained much damage by removing their
  furniture to a place of safety. Mr.Braidwood, the superin-
  tedent of the Fire Brigade, arrived about 20 minutes after
  the first alarm was given with the large engine and a body of
  men from the chief station in Watling-street, and it was
  speedily put in operation. The engines from the stations in
  Farringdon-street and Wellclose and Jeffery-squares, and that
  from the West of England, soon followed, and by half-past 3
  o'clock the fire was entirely got under. The damage done to
  the premises is not so great as might he imagined. The back
  part of the house, together with a portion of the roof, is con-
  sumed, and the front is much burnt but most of the floors
  are partially standing. On the building being sufficiently
  cooled, the firemen were directed to make a rigid search of
  premises, it having been rumoured that human life had
  been sacrificed. On entering the second floor front room they
  found it but slightly injured by the flames, but they were ter-
  ror-struck on the discovery of the body of a young female
  lying enveloped in a sheet, with her head and a part of her
  body on the flooring, and her feet resting on the edge of the
  bed. She was perfectly lifeless, and had evidently met her
  death by suffocation, the body not being burnt in the
  slightest degree. She was in her night-dress, and proves
  to be Jane Gross, aged 18, the barmaid.
     On further search, the firemen discovered lying entangled
  amongst the burnt rafters of the back garret a mass of burnt
  flesh, which proved to be the remains of another human
  being, but so awfully destroyed as to render any further re-
  cognition imperceptible. These remains during yesterday
  morning were ascertained to be those of Thomas Newman, a
  lodger in Mr. Vandersteen's house, who was about 43 years of
  age, and who held some situation in the London Docks.
  These remains, and the body of the unfortunate barmaid were
  placed in shells and removed to the bonehouse of Cripple-
  gate parish, in Fore-street, where they await a coroner's in-
     On instituting inquiries as to the origin of the fire, it was
  ascertained from Mr. Vandersteen that he closed his house at
  12 o'clock on Saturday night. The deceased female went to
  bed at that time, and he and Newman both went up stairs at
  the same time to go to bed, leaving, as he thought, everything
  safe below. He slept in the front room on the second floor,
  where the barmaid was found, but she slept in the back room
  on the same floor. Newman slept in the back attic, and the
  potboy in the front. He was awoke by the barking of his
  dog below, and thinking there were thieves in the house he
  jumped up and called "Jane, Jane, there are thieves in the
  house;" she came out of her room, and they met on the land-
  ing together, when they discovered the fire rising towards
  them. She fainted, and he endeavoured to carry her up-
  stairs, but in doing so they fell together. The smoke became
  so overpowering that he was obliged to fly for his own life, and 
  gained the roof. It was his opinion that she must have rallied
  and crawled into his room with a view of escaping by the front
  windows, when she became overpowered. He could in no way
  account for the origin of the fire, as he put the gas carefully
  out himself. The body of the poor man (Newman was found
  near the door of the room. It is stated that Mr. Vandersteen
  is not insured.