Brave Maud died trying to save children from timber yard blaze
ARCHIVIST Gary Haines revisits a tragedy more than a century ago in London’s East End when a mother-of-seven died trying to rescue four of her children including a baby from their blazing home above a timber yard. A brave passer-by also died in his attempt at rescue. The tragedy hit the community and the Mayor of Bethnal Green launched a public appeal for a memorial to the tragedy
ARCHIVIST Gary Haines revisits a tragedy more than a century ago in London’s East End when a mother-of-seven died trying to rescue four of her children including a baby from their blazing home above a timber yard. A brave passer-by also died in his attempt at rescue.
The tragedy hit the community and the Mayor of Bethnal Green launched a public appeal for a memorial to the tragedy.
By Garry Haines
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A LETTER from the Mayor of Bethnal Green about the Hackney Road fire was published in the Eastern Post newspaper on April 26, 1902, to open a fund for the relief and assistance of “the persons suffering in consequence of the fire which took place at 423, Hackney Road, resulting in the loss of seven lives.”
His letter continued: “If the fund be adequate, some suitable record of the heroism displayed by Mrs Denman and by Peter Regelous at the cost of their lives, could be provided. Contributions to the fund can be sent to me at the Town Hall, Bethnal Green, E,” signed C.E. Fox, Mayor of Bethnal Green.
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The Princess of Wales had sent the Mayor a letter of sympathy and a donation to the relief fund of £10.
The fire broke out in the early hours of the April 20 that year at Murrell Owen timber merchants premises in Hackney Road, where the upper floors were used for accommodation.
Alice Denman, who was 27, rescued two of her six children when the blaze started and went back into the burning building for the other four, including a baby.
Tragically, she along with the four, Alice Maud who was eight, Charles aged six, Ethel aged four and the baby Winifred who was three months, would never come out alive.
A woman lodger, Alice Briggs, who was 26, also died in the fire trying to rescue the children.
A passer-by was also to die, a brave 24-year-old Arthur William Regelous, known as Peter.
He dashed into the burning building to try to rescue those inside.
Mr Denman, husband of Alice and father of the children, arrived home to be told of the tragedy.
The funeral of Peter Regelous, who had worked as a carman in Hackney, was held on a Saturday morning. He was well-known in the area. One wreath was noted as being “made by the Girls at Nardi’s Factory. To the Memory of a Brave Man, Peter.” Another was sent by the choir girls at the Ashley Mission, “May God bless the memory of a brave man.”
The Mayor and Mayoress of Bethnal Green also sent flowers. The Borough of Hackney Standard reported on May 2, 1902, the funeral in detail: “The Hearse with its four handsome horses, followed by two mourning coaches, started from the house at 43, Pott-street, Bethnal Green, the mourners including three sisters and three brothers. At the head of the procession rode a patrol of mounted police.
“On each side of Hackney Road blinds were drawn and black boards displayed. Many people went by train to the cemetery at Chingford Mount, and saw the coffin lowered into the grave.”
A similarly large crowd gathered on the following Monday for the funeral of Alice Denman and four of her children. Her coffin was covered in white flowers and carried in a four-horse open hearse with black plumes.
The coffins of her children were carried in a similar hearse surrounded by white flowers and violets. A dozen policeman on foot and one mounted were needed to clear the crowds.
The Town Hall appeal for funds from the public proved sufficient. A memorial to the bravery of Alice Denman and Peter Regelous can be found today—a plaque on a drinking fountain erected in their memory in the corner of Museum Gardens in Cambridge Heath-road, between St John on Bethnal Green parish church and the Museum of Childhood.
It reads: “Alice Maud Denman and Peter Regelous, who lost their lives in attempting to save others at a fire at 423 Hackney Road on the 20th April, 1902.”
This stands in silent tribute to the victims of this tragedy, the oldest being 27 and the youngest just three months.