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The Fire Hazards of a Victorian Home

Society rapidly advanced during the Victorian era, as industrialisation kicked in and people became wealthier. Although a number of new inventions took place during this time, making life easier and more comfortable, Victorian homes were still full of hazards. In particular, fire was especially rife due to a number of factors.

Reading with a candle

© ysbrandcosijn / Adobe Stock


Sanitary systems

We have Thomas Crapper to thank for the safer plumbing systems of the Victorian period - he established a new bathroom showroom and plumbing business in 1861. Prior to this, bathrooms in Victorian homes were risky places, with lavatories prone to exploding.

This was often because highly flammable gases from human waste, such as hydrogen sulphide and methane, would gather in sewers and leak back into homes. With the Victorians' fondness for using candles, a naked flame could easily ignite these flammable gases, causing a fire.

When Crapper developed new plumbing and sanitary systems, this reduced the risk of nasty gases leaking into the atmosphere, thus slashing the fire risk.


Flammable plastic

British inventor Alexander Parkes is famed for creating the first man-made plastic in 1885, which he called parkesine. This moldable plastic, eventually taking the name of celluloid, replaced the more expensive ivory, and was used to make a plethora of everyday household items during Victorian times. Combs, toothbrush handles, brooches, buttons, shoe soles, dolls, toys, walking sticks and billiard balls were just some of the many items made from this new material.

Celluloid also found its way into clothing, where it was used to make cuffs and collars that needed minimal cleaning, as well as bow ties and corset frames on ladies’ dresses. Unfortunately, celluloid was found to be highly flammable, which made it a big fire hazard risk in homes during Victorian days.



Candles and oil lamps were used to light homes during the Victorian era, and even when gas lighting and electricity became more common, many Victorians still used candlelight on most occasions to bring light to their abodes. Both candles and oil lamps were a fire hazard in homes at that time, especially if placed close to flammable fabrics or items made from celluloid.

At Christmas, the Victorians would traditionally decorate their trees with candles. This further increased the risk of starting a fire.

When gas was introduced to light homes during Victorian times, it was regarded as a revolution, but it was not without its risks. Coal gas contained a highly flammable cocktail of chemicals - sulphur, methane, hydrogen and carbon monoxide. In particular, Victorians became fond of using chandeliers powered by gas, often producing large flames that could easily catch on nearby flammable fabrics.

As more and more 19th century homes began to rely on gas, the supply industry became more competitive. Due to the lack of regulation, suppliers often cut corners in a bid to outdo their rivals, which resulted in poor quality workmanship with the production of gas pipes and questionable safety standards. As a consequence, there was a surge in fires and explosions during this time.

Although most households today are much safer than they were during the Victorian era, fire hazards are still a cause for concern. Fortunately, with the prevalence of fire prevention devices, these risks can be greatly reduced.

To give you complete peace of mind that your property is protected from a potential fire outbreak, why not take a look at the wide range of high-quality fire alarm and extinguishing systems available from Trelawney Fire & Security?

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