’Twas in the year of 1897, and on the night of Christmas day,
That ten persons’ lives were taken away,
By a destructive fire in London, at No. 9 Dixie Street,
Alas! so great was the fire, the victims couldn’t retreat.
In Dixie Street, No. 9, it was occupied by two families,
Who were all quite happy, and sitting at their ease;
One of these was a labourer, David Barber and his wife,
And a dear little child, he loved as his life.
Barber’s mother and three sisters were living on the ground floor,
And in the upper two rooms lived a family who were very poor,
And all had retired to rest, on the night of Christmas day,
Never dreaming that by fire their lives would be taken away.
Barber got up on Sunday morning to prepare breakfast for his family,
And a most appalling sight he then did see;
For he found the room was full of smoke,
So dense, indeed, that it nearly did him choke.
Then fearlessly to the room door he did creep,
And tried to arouse the inmates, who were asleep;
And succeeded in getting his own family out into the street,
And to him the thought thereof was surely very sweet.
And by this time the heroic Barber’s strength was failing,
And his efforts to warn the family upstairs were unavailing;
And, before the alarm was given, the house was in flames,
Which prevented anything being done, after all his pains.
Oh! it was a horrible and heart-rending sight
To see the house in a blaze of lurid light,
And the roof fallen in, and the windows burnt out,
Alas! ’tis pitiful to relate, without any doubt.
Oh, Heaven! ’tis a dreadful calamity to narrate,
Because the victims have met with a cruel fate;
Little did they think they were going to lose their lives by fire,
On that night when to their beds they did retire.
It was sometime before the gutted house could be entered in,
Then to search for the bodies the officers in charge did begin;
And a horrifying spectacle met their gaze,
Which made them stand aghast in a fit of amaze.
Sometime before the firemen arrived,
Ten persons of their lives had been deprived,
By the choking smoke, and merciless flame,
Which will long in the memory of their relatives remain.
Oh, Heaven! if was a frightful and pitiful sight to see
Seven bodies charred of the Jarvis’ family;
And Mrs Jarvis was found with her child, and both carbonised,
And as the searchers gazed thereon they were surprised.
And these were lying beside the fragments of the bed,
And in a chair the tenth victim was sitting dead;
Oh, Horrible! Oh, Horrible! what a sight to behold,
The charred and burnt bodies of young and old.
Good people of high and low degree,
Oh! think of this sad catastrophe,
And pray to God to protect ye from fire,
Every night before to your beds ye retire.
London was visited, in the early hours of yesterday morning, by a fire calamity, which resulted in the burning to death of a whole family of ten persons. The scene of this disaster was a four-roomed tenement in Dixie street, Brady-street, Bethnal-green. The premises which are situated in a poor and crowded locality, was tenanted by two families. The front and back room on the ground floor were occupied by a widow named Barber and her five daughters, one of whom was married and lived in the front room. The first floor was tenanted by a family named Jarvis. There were ten members of this family sleeping in the house when the fire broke out, and they have all lost their lives. The father of the family, who was lying in the Mile-end Infirmary suffering from consumption, died yesterday afternoon. As his condition was hopeless, the news of the disaster was not communicated to him. There were 16 people asleep yesterday morning in the house when the fire broke out. In the front room of the ground floor were the married daughter of the occupant (Mrs. Sarah Barber) and her husband, and in the back room were Mrs. Barber and her four unmarried daughters, Emma, aged 11, Elizabeth, aged 16, Ada aged nine, and another. On the next floor the ten individuals who comprised the Jarvis family were asleep. How the fire originated, and at what hour, are matters which all inquiries have failed to elicit. All that can be gathered is that at about half-past 6 o’clock yesterday morning the married man sleeping in the front room on the ground floor smelt fire, and, running out into the passage, discovered that there were flames blazing down the staircase. He instantly raised the alarm, and succeeded in awakening his wife, his mother-in-law and his sisters-in-law, who rushed into the street. The fire was evidently blazing with the greatest possible fierceness in the upper rooms, and had so far extended downwards that it was quite impossible to go upstairs by means of the staircase. Prior to the arrival of the firemen several unsuccessful attempts were made to run up the staircase. The street rapidly became a scene of excitement, but there was no sign from within the burning house. A young man ran to the Bethnal-green junction Station, where there is a fire alarm, and the engine and escape from the Green-street station were instantly turned out. The entrance to Dixie-street is blocked by two posts, which render it impossible for a fire escape to be run close up, but the firemen who first arrived with the escape unshipped the first floor ladder and carried it to the blazing house. The height from the first floor of the house to the ground was only about l0 ft., and if any of the occupants had been able to make the effort when the fire burst out they could easily have dropped into the front or the back gardens. The results of the inquiries which have been made by the officials of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade seem to show that the fire originated in a cupboard in the back room on the ground floor, and must have been smouldering for hours before it was discovered. When the engine from the Bethnal-green station arrived the firemen got a hydrant into operation from one of the mains of the East London Water Company without a moment’s delay, and the effect of the powerful delivery of water was soon apparent. When the firemen entered the house a painful spectacle presented itself. In the two first floor rooms were the unrecognizable remains of the family. It was obvious, however, that the mother had clasped her eight-months old daughter close to her, and had shielded her, so that, while the adult was badly burnt, the child’s body was almost untouched by the flames. The bodies were in some cases much charred, but the opinion of the fire brigade authorities is that the fire had burnt for hours, and that the entire family was suffocated some time before the smouldering fire burst into flames. The fire caused an extraordinary sensation in the East-end of London. It would appear that the mother of the family, with what help she could obtain from her children, supported them all by making match-boxes.
The following is the official report of the fire presented by Commander Wells, R.N., to the London County Council :- “Called, at 6 36 a.m. (Sunday), to 9, Dixie-street,. Bethnal-green, E.; premises occupied by J. Jarvis, lodger; front room on ground-floor, ditto, D. Barber, lodger; back room, ground-floor, ditto, S. Barber, lodger; landlord unknown; cause unknown; Insurance unknown; damage – first floor and the contents nearly burnt out, and most part of the roof destroyed, rest of house of five rooms and the contents severely damaged by fire, heat, and water. Sarah Jarvis, aged 39, Hannah Jarvis, aged 16 years, Mary Ann Jarvis, aged 14 years, Thomas Jarvis, aged 12 years, William Jarvis aged ten years, Louisa Jarvis, aged eight years, Alice Jarvis, aged five years, George Jarvis, aged three years, Caroline Jarvis, two years, and Elizabeth Jarvis, aged eight months, burned to death.”
The Times, 27th December 1897
This story gives a graphic illustration of the crowded conditions in London’s poorer districts, with 17 people – four adults and 13 children – living in a single five-roomed house. The fatal fire appears to have started in a cupboard, and to have smouldered away for some time before bursting out. The unfortunate Jarvis family died of smoke inhalation before the fire was discovered.