Victorian London - Houses and Housing - Hotels - Thames Bank Depository

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IT is well known to most of our readers, that, for some time past, an immense range of buildings has been in the builder's hands, to be fitted up as a sort of barracks, or sleeping depot, for the accommodation of some hundreds of persons who intend to locate themselves in the metropolis during the ensuing Great National Exhibition. The establishment is named "The Mechanics' Home for 1851," and is situated in Ranelagh-road, near Vauxhall-bridge, on the Middlesex bank of the Thames. The premises occupy an area of two acres, is surrounded by roads on three sides, and is in a perfectly airy situation, and admirably ventilated. The plan has been recommended by the Executive Committee of the Exhibition and the arrangements were approaching completion, when, on Monday morning, we regret to state, the premises were greatly injured by fire.
    It appears that, at the time of the disaster, a few minutes after seven o'clock, the Depositary was tilled with valuable property of nearly every description. In order to keep the articles in the place free from damp or mildew, a hot-air pipe passed along the ceiling of each floor, and it is generally understood that the heat of this pipe caused the great destruction of property.
    At the time above stated, some of the men who were at work in the yard perceived smoke issuing from one of the windows in the Depositary, facing the model sleeping-rooms; and, upon entering the first-named building, flames were found raging, and portions of the burning materials were falling among the many hundred packages in the premises. Messengers were dispatched for the fire-engines, during which time Mr. Smith (the chief clerk to Mr. Harrison, the proprietor), with Messrs. Smart, Izod, Atkinson, Thompson, and a body of the B police, did all they possibly could in endeavouring to stop the flames and rescue some of the property. Unfortunately, the furniture was packed so closely on either side of the premises, that barely sufficient room existed for two men to pass up the centre, so that their exertions were greatly retarded.
    In a very brief period, numerous engines of the London brigade, with that of the West of England Insurance-office, and a powerful body of firemen, reached the scene, but, unfortunately, 15 minutes elapsed before water could be procured from the Chelsea mains, which run through the district. During that interval two of the engines were taken round to Bramah's Dock and set to work but the flames had previously rushed through a loop-hole in the ceiling, and were doing great havoc among the valuable articles in the upper floor.
    By noon, however, the firemen succeeded in extinguishing the fire, when it was found that. scarcely an article of furniture in the Depositary where the flames had entered had escaped damage of souse sort, and many of the costly goods were entirely destroyed. The premises (a brick building, 130 feet long, being termed fireproof), and their contents were not insured.
    A great crowd congregated on the spot throughout the day, and it required a strong body of the B police to keep them out of the way of the firemen.
    As the Mechanics' Home promises to be a most serviceable establishment, we hope the above damage will be speedily repaired. The accommodation will be good provision for sleeping, and security of luggage; a culinary department, from which the visitors will be supplied with breakfasts, dinners, &c., in a large and well-ventilated eating-room; and there will be a news-room and smoking-room-the latter provided with music.

Illustrated London News, Jan-June, 1851

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In our journal for April 12 we noticed the organisation of a "Mechanics' Home" at Thames Bank, near Vauxhall-bridge, for the reception of visitors to the Great Exhibition. This establishment is now in full operation, offering accommodation for 1000 persons. The premises are situated in Ranelagh-road, and cover an area of upwards of two acres. The arrangements combine comfort with economy for a trifling cost; the dormitories provide a separate bed for each individual, with soap, towels and every convenience for ablution; the rooms are lit with gas at night, and watched by efficient warders. The proper ventilation of the various apartments has received the approval of the authorities appointed for their inspection. A culinary department is attached to the establishment, to furnish visitors with provisions at a moderate and fixed price; the dining-room is large and well ventilated; there is also a separate smoking-room, detached from the main building.
A news-room, plentifully supplied with newspapers, magazines, and various publications relating to the Exhibition, and other sights of London, has been provided. Altogether, we cannot conceive anything in the shape of accommodation for large numbers of persons better calculated to ensure comfort, enjoyment. morality and social order, than the arrangements of this establishment; and Mr. Harrison, the proprietor is entitled to the thanks and support of the public for his foresight in providing so important an element of the enjoyment of thousands who visit the Exhibition, as a well appointed home.

Illustrated London News, August 2, 1851