The Society for the Protection of Life from Fire:
SOCIETY FOR THE PROTECTION OF LIFE FROM FIRE (SPLF) MEDALS:
My main interest is Scottish Police medals but, I recently the bought this SPLF medal and a Police Long Service and Good Conduct (LS & GC) Medal to a Metropolitan Police (MP) officer. Whilst not having the cachet of ‘Medals for Gallantry’, I hoped it would be an interesting research project with the main sources being local and national newspapers, SPLF archives and MP records. I quickly found this to be the case.
What follows is a brief description of the awarding body, the SPLF, then a chronological account of the circumstances that led to PC Boosey’s bravery being recognised, a description of the family involved in the tragedy resulting in the deaths of two children and including the aftermath of the fire, inquests and burial.
SOCIETY FOR THE PROTECTION OF LIFE FROM FIRE:
The SPLF was formed in 1836 in order to preserve life through the provision of fire-escapes and attendants at around seventy locations in London in an age before local authority fire brigades. [i] An excellent description of the activities of the RSPLF can be found in Crutchley’s London in 1865: A Handbook for Strangers.[ii]
“The Society maintains, in different parts of the Metropolis, 73 fire-escape stations, usually at distances of half a mile from each other. At each station there is a fire-escape, attended throughout the night by a conductor well instructed in its use, and provided with all necessary implements. From 1843 to March 31, 1861, the Society’s fire-escapes have attended no less than 5211 fires and rescued 670 lives. The fire-escape in use is Abraham Wivell’s; its height varies from 43’ to 45’ and by means of a supplemental ladder even 60’ can, if necessary, be obtained. Each machine weighs 8.5 cwt and costs 60/-.”[iii] [iv]
An interesting image of the map created by Wivell showing the locations of the fire-escapes in London and a model showing the two types can be seen at the Science Museum Group website. [v]
The SPLF received the Royal Patronage of Queen Victoria in 1837 and was styled ‘The Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire’ (RSPLF) until her death in 1901.
Historically, the society has been supported by insurance companies and that support continues to this day. The SPLF Trustees are still drawn from the insurance industry and scrutinise nominations for awards from Chief Officers of Police and the Fire Service.[vi]
The SPLF now only awards certificates and medals but in the past, bronze medals, silver medals, silver watches and certificates were awarded.
The bronze medal featured in this article was awarded to PC 302 H Alick Edmund Boosey of the Metropolitan Police for his efforts in assisting in the rescue of a family whose house in Stepney was on fire.
[ii] Crutchley’s London In 1865: A Handbook for Strangers (http://www.victorianlondon.org/charities/preservationoflifefromfire.htm/)
FIRE IN 91 BIGLAND STREET, STEPNEY, 24 MARCH 1939:
On Friday 24 March 1939, just after midnight, Florence Rose Hazard of 91 Bigland Street, Stepney in London was asleep in the first-floor front bedroom when she was awoken by her son Joseph. The flat was above a shop in which her partner Jack ran a general dealer’s business. She could see flames rising up the stairs and the smoke was choking her. Her son Joseph opened the bedroom window as far is it would go, climbed over and dropped to the street and called the patrolling police officer, PC Boosey of H Division at Leman Street. The PC arrived on scene just after midnight and having sent for the Fire Brigade, began dealing with the incident. [i] Three of the neighbours had been alerted by the screams coming from number 91 and assisted PC Boosey to rescue the family.
Joseph Thomas Burford (sic)[ii] of 93 Bigland Street heard screams from the house next door occupied by the Hazard family. Mr Burford (sic) and his son Thomas, left their home to see what was happening. The whole ground floor of No. 91 was alight, and flames were up to the first floor. Burford (sic) could see Mrs Hazard in a kneeling position on a first floor window sill. There was smoke and flames in the room behind her.
PC Boosey assisted by Joseph and Thomas George Burford (sic), rescued Mrs Hazard and her son Leonard by Thomas standing on his father’s shoulders and he and PC Boosey catching them as they jumped. The father and one of his sons also managed to escape from there.
In the confusion, it was thought that all the family had been rescued however, when the five family members were reunited in the street, it was realised that the youngest child, Ronald Lewis Hazard, was still in the house. Mrs Hazard screamed ‘Save my baby’. It was ascertained that the child was still in a first-floor bedroom. PC Boosey attempted a rescue by entering the front door but was beaten back by the flames and smoke on the stairs, the effects of which, caused him to be admitted at St George In the East Hospital, Shadwell. [iii]
William Sands, Inspector at Shadwell Fire Station arrived shortly after at 12.13am and was in charge at the scene. It took twenty minutes to get the fire under sufficient control to enter and search for Ronald. They found the child dead in the front room of the first floor within six feet of the window. [iv]
Harry and Florence Hazard and their sons Joseph, Leonard and Harry, were also admitted to the same hospital, all with serious burns. Two firemen were also treated for injuries sustained in the fire. According to one newspaper, ‘more than 150 firemen attended the outbreak and the flames reached a height of 25 feet.’ [v]
It was reported on Saturday 25 March 1939 that a second child had died as a result of the fire in Bigland Street the previous day. Leonard George Hazard, (10), had died of his injuries in St George in the East Hospital where his father, mother and two surviving brothers were stated to be “quite comfortable”. [vi]
METROPOLITAN BOROUGH OF STEPNEY COUNCIL MINUTES, 1939:
His Worship the Mayor, Councillor Joseph Johnson J.P. chaired the meeting of the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney Council on Wednesday 29 March 1939 and the minutes record the following under ‘Urgent Communications’:
“No. 91 Bigland Street – Fire at.
His Worship the Mayor referred to the outbreak of fire which occurred at No. 91, Bigland Street, E.1, the home of Mr. J. Hazard, in the early morning of Friday, the 24th March, 1939, as a result of which two children met their death and the remainder of the family were injured, their house and home being completely gutted out and their business destroyed, thus rendering them homeless and destitute.
His Worship informed the Council that the funeral of the two deceased children would take place on Monday next, the 3rd April 1939 at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, at Christ Church, Watney Street, E. 1, and expressed the hope that as many members of the Council as possible would attend the service to demonstrate their sympathy with the bereaved family.
INQUEST INTO DEATHS OF LEONARD AND RONALD HAZARD Day 1:
The inquest into the deaths of Leonard George Hazard and his younger brother, Ronald Lewis Hazard began on Tuesday 28 March 1939 at Stepney Coroner’s Court and presided over by Mr William Bentley Purchase, M.B., D.P.H., Deputy Coroner, Eastern District, London, Westminster and South London districts. [viii]
Evidence was taken from an aunt of the two boys, Mrs Louisa March from Lewisham who, in the absence of the mother, gave evidence of the identity of the children and their address. PC Boosey and several of the neighbours, the Brufords and Joseph Saunders gave evidence as well as. All described the screaming from the house, the chaos and confusion over how many had escaped and their attempts at rescuing all of the stricken family.
Florence Rose Hazard was too ill to attend that day and the Deputy Coroner adjourned proceedings to Friday 31 March 1939.
RESUMED INQUEST INTO DEATHS OF LEONARD AND RONALD HAZARD Day 2:
The City and East London Observer edition of Saturday 8 April carried a full account of the evidence led at the resumed inquest on 31 March.
Mrs Florence Hazard, with her arms still heavily bandaged gave evidence that she and her family occupied the premises at 91 Bigland Street as a second hand furniture business and lived in the flat upstairs. She stated that the flat was lit by gaslight which they did not use. They used candles instead but on the night of the fire, all had been extinguished by her before she went to bed around 10.30 pm. She slept in the front room of the first floor.
A low coal fire was left on in the kitchen and she felt it was quite safe despite there being loose bricks in the grate. About midnight, she was woken by her son Joseph and she saw flames and the smoke choked her. She made for the window above the street and her son climbed over the lower part of the sill and dropped to the street to fetch help.
She was questioned by counsel regarding dangerous structures notices affecting the building but denied ever seeing such a notice.
Percy Brown, a building manager for the landlords, Messrs. Charles Benabo, said they were the agents for the property. He had received no complaints from the rent collector about the fireplace. He also stated the fireplace was in perfect order including the flue and the brickwork. Mr Brown said that the floor beyond the cement was in good order and even the lino there had not been burnt. He was of the opinion that the settee was far too close to the fire. He had measured the distance between the (burnt) framework and the fire and allowing for padding on the settee, it would be eight or nine inches.
William Sands, Inspector at Shadwell Fire Station had stated that if the fire had been due to anything falling from the grate, they would have expected the floor to be damaged.
The Coroner recalled Mr Percy Brown and asked him “What about the window? It was said that the bottom part was immovable?”. (Brown replied) “I could not say that”. “Well assume it was”. “That would have been on the sanitary notice. It’s my job to remedy that”. Have you had any complaints in connection with that?”. “No”.[ix]
There was further evidence concerning the window from Mrs Hazard, John Walker Hallett, a rent collector and William Anstey, a Sanitary Inspector. Hallett and Anstey denied that Mrs Hazard had reported the defective window to them.
THE CORONER’S VERDICTS:
In reviewing the evidence, the Deputy Coroner Mr Bentley Purchase, according to the East London Advertiser, made the following observations:
“Apparently the fire had been caused in a piece of furniture being too near the room fireplace. Any defect in the fireplace did not point to anything.
When the fire was discovered there was a difficulty in getting out of the window. He felt that those who gave the people assistance in getting out, particularly the police officer (PC Boosey), did all they could in the few minutes available. He was impressed by their actions. It was difficult to say whether the window being up or down made any difference to the rescues.
It was clear that it was not the fault of the landlord that the fire had occurred.
A verdict of ‘Accidental Death’ was recorded in both cases.” [x]
Having the Coroner’s verdict, it was now possible for the family to register the deaths and this took place in Stepney on 1 April.
Ronald Lewis Hazard, (5), died on 24 March 1939 at 91 Bigland Street, Stepney. His occupation was shown as ‘Schoolboy. Son of Florence Rose Hazard, a Housekeeper’. [xi]
Leonard George Hazard, (10), died on 25 March 1939 in St George in the East Hospital. His occupation was shown as ‘ Of 91 Bigland Street, Stepney. Son of Joseph Hazard, a Cinema Attendant.’ [xii]
THE FUNERAL 3 APRIL 1939 CHRIST CHURCH, WATNEY STREET, STEPNEY:
The East London Observer of Saturday 8 April 1939 gave a detailed account of the funerals of Leonard and Ronald Hazard.
“Hundreds of housewives and schoolchildren lined the route from 81 Bigland Street, Stepney to Christ Church, Watney Street, when the funeral of Ronald Hazard, aged 5 and his brother Leonard, aged 10, who lost their lives when fire broke out at their home, took place on Monday afternoon. Many people were in tears. Police officers stood by to prevent the roadway being blocked.
The bodies were brought out and placed in separate hearses from the house of Mrs T. G. Bruford. When the cortege started, it was followed by three carriages in which were the relatives. Mr Hazard was present, his arm heavily bandaged and with burns still showing on his face. With him was one of his sons. Mrs Hazard was too ill to attend.
The procession was followed up Bigland Street, down Anthony Street into Mariner’s Street where it halted at the “Refiner’s Arms”, then into Buross Street, along Commercial Road, through Anthony Street again, down into Cable Street and finally into Watney Street and Christ Church.”[xiii]
The short service was conducted by Father Robert Young in the absence through illness of Father Groser. ‘The service was attended by Jews and non-Jews alike’.
The coffins were removed and conveyed to the City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery where the interment took place:
“A fund had been started known as the “Bigland Street Fire Fund” by Mr George Jacobs, licensee of the “Refiner’s Arms” who is the chief organiser., together with Mr F. Long to assist the parents. Already, within a week, over £83 has been collected from neighbours and sympathisers in the district. The money was used to cover the cost of the funeral and the wreaths. The remainder will go to the fund which has also been started by the Mayor of Stepney.”[xiv]
Thirty wreaths were with the cortege and they ranged from family and neighbours to the Mayor and Mayoress of Stepney, Leman Street Police Station (where PC Boosey was stationed), Shadwell Fire Station, The Oxford and St George’s Jewish Club and Ronald’s schoolmates.
The same edition also published a letter from Stepney Mayor, Joseph Johnson making an appeal for donations towards his fund for the Hazard family and asking that the organisers of any other fund for the family contact him with a view to bringing them all together. [xv]
[i] The East London Observer, Saturday 1 April 1939.
[ii] Last Name is Bruford on Electoral Roll for Stepney, 1939.
[iii] The East End News, Friday 31 March 1939.
[iv] The East London Observer, Saturday 1 April 1939.
[v] The Daily Herald, Friday 24 March 1939.
[vi] The Birmingham Mail, Saturday 25 March 1939.
[vii] Metropolitan Borough of Stepney Council Minutes, Wednesday 29 March 1939, Page 1196 (L/SMB/A1)
[viii] The City and East London Observer, Saturday 8 April 1939.
[ix] The City and East London Observer, Saturday 8 April 1939.
[x] The East London Advertiser, Saturday 1 April 1939.
[xi] General Register Office, England Document No. DYE 370363.
[xii] General Register Office, England Document No. DYE 37036.
[xiii] The City and East London Observer, Saturday 8 April 1939.
[xiv] The City and East London Observer, Saturday 8 April 1939.
[xv] The City and East London Observer, Saturday 8 April 1939.
SPLF BRONZE MEDAL AWARDED TO PC 302 H ALICK EDMUND BOOSEY 1939:
The SPLF committee meeting to decide on awards took place on Tuesday 18 April 1939. The Bigland Street fire was Case No. 17349 in the minutes.[i] The minutes also recorded that the, ‘Date of Fire and Cause: 24 March 1939. Furnishings ignited by spark from fire’.
Those recommended for an award, presumably by either the Metropolitan Police or London Fire Brigade and the decisions in each case were as follows:
Joseph T Bruford
Thomas G Bruford
The SPLF minutes are very sparse and there is no detail on which to make a judgement on the decisions.
All those nominated had been commended by the Deputy Coroner at the conclusion of the inquests.
Due to difficulties accessing material at the MP Historical Collection, I decided to visit The National Archives (TNA) at Kew and search the Metropolitan Police (MEPO) records having calculated his earliest joining date from his date of birth. Before I did this, an online search revealed that the ‘Attestation Register’ (MEPO 4/359) covering 10 August 1931 to 5 August 1948 was freely available on Flickr. [ii] This was a stroke of fortune and on page 111, I found that Alick Edmund Boosey had been attested on 9 May 1938 with the Warrant Number 126866. [iii]
It was the key to some important dates in Police Orders (PO) (MEPO 7 series) where significant milestones in his career would be published. Having his start date meant it was possible to roughly calculate the award of his LS & GC ( at 22 years’ service) to a date after 9 May 1960 and his likely retirement on pension (at 30 years) in the second half of 1968. Other details might mean searching through several years’ worth of PO to find advancements in pay, transfers, promotions etc.
It has not been possible to trace any record of the recommendation made by PC Boosey’s senior officers at Leman Street for the SPLF award in the MEPO files. However, it was very simple to consult the index to the consolidated Metropolitan Police Orders for 1939 and 1940 and having done so, I found the publication of his award on Monday 15 January 1940.
Item 3 on page 57 under ‘Commendations and Rewards’ stated:
“The Commissioner has commended the following officers and has pleasure in notifying the grant of the awards shown:-
H. (96/Unc/2460). PC 302 – 126866 Boosey, a Bronze Medal by the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire, for courage and promptitude displayed in assisting in the rescue of persons from a burning dwelling house.” [iv]
Alick Edmund Boosey was born on 28 January 1917 at Maldon in Essex. [v] He joined the Metropolitan Police on 9 May 1938. He was entitled to the Defence Medal for his service during 1939 – 1945 in the East End of London. He was awarded his LS & GC medal in PO of Tuesday 11 October 1960. [vi] He married Joan Ives Burney in Ilford, Essex on 25 March 1961. [vii] He retired on pension from the Met on 16 December 1968 while stationed at Traffic Department ‘M’. He had completed 30 years and seven months service.[viii] He retired to live in Polegate near Eastbourne in Sussex. I believe his father and sister also lived nearby by then. Alick Edmund Boosey, (61), died on 2 January 1979 in Eastbourne, just short of his 62nd birthday. [ix] Joan Ivy Boosey, (75), died in Eastbourne on 7 March 1998. [x]
I applied via a Freedom of Information (FOI) application to view PC Boosey’s Pension Record in MEPO 21 at TNA. I received a positive reply with a copy of the Pension record, and it confirms the above details along with his home address on the date of retirement. [xi]
[i] SPLF Minutes, 1939, (CLC/014/MS34982/004)
[ii] MEPO 4/359 page 111. https://www.flickr.com/photos/naphotorecords/3636711958/in/album-72157619881518300/
[iii] MEPO 7/100, page 375, TNA.
[iv] MEPO 7 /102 page 57. TNA.
[v] General Register Office, England, Document QBDAB402151.
[vi] MEPO 7/122 page 709, TNA.
[vii] General Register Office, England Document MXH 654400.
[viii] MEPO 7/130, page 1212, TNA.
[ix] General Register Office, England, Document QBDAB402151.
[x] General Register Office, England, Document QBDAB 404147.
[xi] MEPO 21/111, TNA.
THE HAZARD FAMILY AFTER MARCH 1939:
I have so far, been unable to find any more information on the outcome of the ‘Bigland Street Fire Fund’ although there is a reference to the initial £83 being used to pay for the funerals and wreaths. I could find no reference to the ‘Mayor of Stepney’s Fund’ in the council minutes for 1939 and 1940. The surviving family were living in Lewisham by the National Registration in September 1939.
THE END OF THE STORY:
This has been a fascinating exercise in medal research in an area with which I was completely unfamiliar. The newspaper reports of the time were quite detailed in their description of anguish and injuries and I have tried to limit the intrusion into the lives of the Hazard family by softening the language.
PC Boosey was a probationary constable with ten months service at the time of the Bigland Street fire. His actions were exemplary, and he was worthy of his award. It has been rewarding unravelling the story behind this brave man’s recognition and bringing it to a wider audience. It has also, if belatedly, acknowledged the bravery of Joseph Thomas Bruford, Thomas George Bruford and Joseph Saunders, the neighbours. They suffered their own tragedy when between 1939 and 1945, their own houses in Bigland Street were damaged beyond economic repair by enemy bombs.[i]
My thanks to Tanya Ursual of medalsofwar.com for permission to use the images of the SPLF Silver Medal and to Ray Ricketts for the H Division picture.
If I have inadvertently included any factual errors, please feel to contact me and I will happily correct the material.
This article was first published in the Journal of the Orders and Medal Research Society (OMRS) in early 2021.
[i] The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939 -1945, Ward, L, London, 2015, page 63.