On 4 January 1900, an inquest was held into the death of George Stephen Funnell, a 33-year old police constable.(1) Funnell and some colleagues had rushed to the scene of a fire that had broken out on 22 December 1899 at the Elephant and Castle, situated at the corner of Wick Road and Victoria Park Road. Constable Baker testified that when they rushed to the scene of the fire, the barman, William Goodridge, opened the door, causing a draught that spread the fire in all directions. In the house were, besides the barman, the landlord´s wife Mrs. Fowler, and two barmaids, Alice Maryon and Minnie Lewis. P.C. Funnell went through the flames to rescue the women. Funnell was so overcome by the smoke and fire that he fell back into the parlour where he was rescued by his colleagues. Sergeant Danzey said that the other officers were so overcome that they had to go on the sick list and one of them nearly fell into the fire from exhaustion. Mrs Fowler was so badly burnt that she could not attend the inquest.
Funnel died on 2 January in hospital. Dr. Hall of Hackney Infirmary said that Funnell “had been badly burned and that death was due to pneumonia following on partial suffocation and burning”. The verdict was “accidental death”. The policemen were commended for their efforts to save the lives of those within the pub. They were later to receive a bronze medal from the Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire. Just last year, Danzey’s medal turned up at auction (Dix Noonan Webb Ltd, 25 March 2013) as part of a lot of 3 medals. Also included in the lot was a photograph of the five policemen with their medal.
So, who was P.C. Funnell? The inquest already told us that he was 33 years old and that his first names were George Stephen. A letter sent to The Times later that month by Henry Seymour Trower of 9, Bryanston Square, tells us that Funnell had a 27-year old wife and two small boys. Trower is appalled at the small yearly pension (£15 and £2 10s for each child) awarded to the widow. Although he realises that it is “presumably as liberal as official considerations permit”, it would not do and he proposes to do something about “this pittance”, so “any subscriptions for the purpose sent to Mr. A.R. Cluer, Worship Street, Police Court, or to me, will be duly acknowledged”.(2) How much money was raised by Trower is not known, but it was a kind gesture.
I found a photograph of Funnell and some more information on a website dedicated to the Funnell family, although without exact references and the sources hidden behind a password, so I do not know how reliable the information is, but apparently George’s wife’s name was Jane Lillian and the children were called George Stephen (born 1897) and Lenard A. (born 1898). The England & Wales, FreeBMD Marriage Index gives a George Funnell marrying Jane Lilian Boulton at Gravesend in the latter quarter of 1895 and the England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, gives a George Stephen as born in Hackney in the third quarter of 1896, and Leonard Albert in the early months of 1898, but I have not found the parish records online, so cannot positively state that these are our hero’s boys. If they are, they lived with their widowed mother at 35 Chelmer Road, Hackney at the time of the 1901 census. Ten years later, at the time of the 1911 census, Jane has remarried Henry Arthur Blann, an electric car driver, and the two Funnell boys are living with their three half-siblings at 47 Tankerton Terrace, Mitcham Road, West Croydon.
As is usually the case, newspaper reports varied the details of the events surrounding the fire a bit, see here for the News of the World version, but in essence, the stories were the same. George Stephen Funnell lost his life after rescuing three women from a fire. A Postman’s Park plaque well deserved.
(1) The Times, 5 January 1900
(2) The Times, 29 January 1900