The Great Fire of Conduit Street

Conduit Street, the the heart of fashionable Mayfair, runs off Bond Street to the north-east, about half way down, From it George Street turns off north to Hanover Square, passing St George’s church, famous for Society weddings, on the way.

Conduit Street itself had a number of hotels during the late 18th-early 19th century, including Limmer’s, the dirtiest hotel in London according to Captain Gronow, despite being a favourite of the rich squirearchy. Another was Warne’s, located on the northern side, half way between George Street and Mill Street.

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It is no wonder, when fire broke out at Warne’s Hotel, threatening St George’s church itself, that it caused chaos. The Globe of Monday of 30th January 1809 reported the scene. (My comments are in square brackets.)

Dreadful Fire

At half-past four, yesterday afternoon, a most alarming fire broke out at Warne’s hotel, in Conduit-street, Bond-street. The hotel consisted of two houses, being No.19 and 20. [The numbering has remained the same, so the site is easily identified today]. The appearance, on its first breaking out, was most frightful. A great body of smoke issued from the premises, which entirely prevented the passengers [ie pedestrians] from seeing their way in the street. The inmates of the house, including several gentlemen and families, flew in every direction. In an instant afterwards, the flames burst out from every window of the house, and the whole side of the street, from the corner of George-street, Hanover-square, to Mill-street, was enveloped in flames, threatening destruction to the whole neighbourhood.

The drums beat to arms, and the St. James’s, Bloomsbury, and St George’s, Hanover-square, volunteers, [organised by the parishes] repaired to the spot with the greatest alacrity. Engines arrived in all directions, but water could not be immediately procured.

The fire burned with the greatest rapidity; the first house was nearly consumed before the engines could be brought to play with any effect, though the firemen used every exertion in their power; – the wind being very high, the flames spread to such an extent, that it was almost impossible for them to work. Many of them rushed into the Hotel to save some of the property, and, we are sorry to say, that, according to the latest account we could collect, four firemen and a boy were missing. The fire was got under about nine o’clock at night.

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The Hotel is entirely destroyed, and part of an adjoining house, including the back premises, which extend nearly to the gates of St. George’s Chapel, in George-street, Hanover-square. The evening service was not over at the time the fire broke out; the flames seen through the windows of the chapel alarmed the congregation. The service was immediately stopped, and the congregation made their escape. Great confusion ensued; the charity children, who always attend there, ran in every direction – some without their hats, the girls without bonnets or cloaks. We are afraid that many persons were hurt, as the confusion was very great, and the congregation numerous. We understand the church plate was secured, as the Chapel, at one time, was thought in great danger.

Great praise is due to the Earl of Chesterfield. On hearing of the accident, he sent for a party of horse [cavalry], who instantly repaired to the spot, and cleared the carriages in Bond-street, which were four a-breast, and entirely impeded the progress of the engines.

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Earl Percy also ordered the engine from Northumberland House [ie his private fire engine] to attend; and the Duke of Portland sent out a supply of ale to those who were employed at the fire. Sir Walter Farquhar ordered his servants to render every assistance, and great part of the furniture saved from the flames was brought into his house. A fireman of the Phoenix-Office [insurance company], of the name of Rushfield, was very much injured; the hair of his head was entirely burnt off, and part of his clothes. He was rescued from his perilous situation by a milkman who served the house, and ran to give every assistance; he was also very much burnt in the hand.

Most of the families that were in the hotel, as soon as the alarm was given, went to Bates’s and other hotels, in Jermyn-street, St. James’s.

The fire broke out in Lady Falkland’s dressing-room. Her Ladyship has lost all her jewels. [This was only the beginning of a disastrous year for Lady Falkland, the wife of Charles John Cary, 9th Viscount Falkland. She was widowed on 2nd March 1809, three days after her husband was fatally wounded in a duel.]

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 The scenes of fire and the details of the fire engines and firemen pumping are from a print by Rowlandson and Pugin, published by Ackermann in 1808. It is entitled “Fire in London” and shows a house on fire at the southern end of Blackfriars bridge.

The print of George Street from the junction with Conduit Street shows St George’s on the right. It appeared in Ackermann’s Repository in 1812.

7 Comments

Filed under Accidents & emergencies

7 responses to “The Great Fire of Conduit Street

  1. Surprised more people didn’t die. Great post as usual.

  2. Thanks, Lesley! It’s a great newspaper report, isn’t it? So vivid

  3. That’s an excellently vivid report there.
    (I’ve somehow been lax in finding this blog, and only stumbled on it while preparing to do the first of the Regency Walks in ten days’ time).

    • Thanks, Stevie. Sorry not to have moderated the comment & replied sooner, but have been in the S China Sea with no internet access! Do hope you enjoyed the walk and the sun shone for you

      • No worries. The sun shone, but we accidentally stayed in the Wallace Collection all afternoon and so haven’t managed the walk yet. On the other hand, someone has rashly said she’ll walk part of Hadrian’s wall next year, and I’ve volunteered to help her preparations so there’ll be plenty of chances to do all the walks over the summer.

        I’m very envious of your trip. Was it for research or purely a holiday?

  4. Purely holiday, Stevie. Had a great time sailing from Borneo up through the Phipppines to Taiwan and then the southern Japanese islands

  5. Thank you for sharing. My ancestor, John Gottlob Kolbe lived at 34 Conduit Street at the time, He attended St. George’s Chapel. His home and taylor business presumably survived the fire, but unfortunately it was bombed out of existence in World War II. His one son (my direct ancestor), George Augustus Kolbe x Margaret Downing emigrated to South Africa in 1820.

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