A mysterious case of arson in Mile End

firemen

Charles Brighton had gone to bed at about 11 at night on the 26 October 1874. Brighton, a stableman, lived with his wife and children in Lombard Street, Mile End. He employed William Goodsall to help him in his stable work and Goodsall lodged with the family.

Between half past midnight and one o’clock in the morning Brighton was woken up by the cry of ‘fire!, fire!’ coming from downstairs. He recognised Goodsall’s voice and rushed down to find his sitting room in flames.

He found that the ‘house [was] full of smoke, the passage on fire, and the flames catching the stairs’.

With some outside help (including some members of the fire brigade who arrived swiftly) he managed to fight the fire and put it out. However, when he went into Goodsall’s room he began to suspect the blaze had started there, and had been set deliberately. He couldn’t find his servant anywhere and so his suspicions grew.

Others were affected by the fire. The wife of a dock constable (whose husband was presumably on duty at night and so not at home) had to jump out of a window to escape the flames, falling and injuring herself in the process. Brighton’s family escaped unharmed but it must have terrifying for them.

Later that morning Goodsall was found and arrested. Back at the police station he was asked if he set the fire and seemed to admit it: ‘All right, I have done it’ he reportedly told the desk sergeant, adding ‘I won’t swear if it was wilfully done or an accident’.

The case was heard at Worship Street Police Court before Mr Hannay. The magistrate examined the evidence and was told that there might have been a bit of unpleasantness between Goodsall and Mrs Brighton. What this was is not made entirely clear, either in the newspaper report of the pre-trial hearing nor in the Old Bailey trial that took place later in November.  It appears that Goodsall and Mrs Brighton argued because ‘Jim’ (as William was known) had visited the school where the Brighton children studied and their mother took exception to this.

It seems very unlikely that this alone caused the young man (Goodsall was 24) to set his room on fire to spite his employer, so perhaps there was more to it. Mr Hannay committed him for trial and on the 23 November the jury convicted him despite his defence that he had been out drinking at the time of the blaze. The Old Bailey judge sentenced him to two years in prison.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, November 8, 1874]

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