Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Castle Inn Fire

On 2nd November 1838.chambermaid Mary Gardner, cook Harriet Bonner, waitress Mary Ann Rooth, barmaid Caroline Smith and kitchen maids Mary Chatterton and Harriet Buswell had all retired to bed by 1:30am on the Friday morning. About two hours later the alarm cry went up when someone called out FIRE! Landlords Mr and Mrs Webb awoke and, on opening the door to the passage, discovered their path was blocked by the smoke and the great heat. On returning to their bedroom they escaped via the rear window, having attracted the attention of those below.

Initially the proprietors were assured the girls were safe. However, it soon became clear they were most likely still inside. A ladder was found and a search discovered the bodies of the girls. Five of the girls had died as a result of asphyxiation, barmaid Caroline Smith discovered at the top of the stairs with her hands and face badly burned. At the inquest a verdict of accidental death was recorded. The cause has never been understood.  

Four days later one of the most elaborate of public funerals ever seen in Tamworth took place. All the shops closed at 4pm as a mark of respect and to allow the funeral procession to come from the Kings Arms to the churchyard of St Editha's. The streets were thronged with mourners and, despite the vast numbers, all was completely silent. All six were buried in a communal grave, later topped by a memorial paid for by public subscription. The massive funeral costs were covered by their employer, Frederick Webb of the Castle Inn. 

In the 1960s the remains were removed and reburied at Wigginton Cemetery. Close to one corner of the church lies a headstone to William Smith and, as inscribed on that headstone, nearby the remains of his daughter, Caroline.

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