By Julie Smith
This is the story of Arthur Bunn who was born in Yarmouth, moved away to join the Fire Brigade but then returned to his home town to die a tragic death.
Arthur Diver Bunn was born on 7th April 1876 in Great Yarmouth and baptised in St Nicholas’ church later that year on 20th Oct. His father Charles Bunn was a piano teacher and organist whilst his mother Rosa Susanna nee Swan spent most of her time looking after Arthur and his 9 siblings!
Long before Arthur was born, his great grandfather on his mother’s side, died in a terrible boating accident. Abraham Wooden was a pilot and along with four colleagues was in a boat that was capsized in terrible weather. 61 year old Abraham and two of his colleagues were drowned.
In 1881 Arthur and his family are living in 63 Havelock Road Great Yarmouth and by 1891 the ever expanding family have moved to St Pauls Terrace.
At some stage Arthur moved down to London and in March 1899 at the age of 22 joined the Metropolitan Fire Brigade.
Throughout his short career he was stationed at Whitefriars, Greenwich, Shadwell, Burdett Road, Kentish Town, Highbury, Holloway and finally Deptford.
On 30 Sept 1900 at St Bride’s City of London he married 18 year old Olive Eliza Davis who was employed as a Druggists assistant
Their marriage was reported in the Bournemouth Daily Echo on 3rd October due to the presence of a very unusual guest – the station dog!
A Dog at a Wedding
Fireman Bunn, of the Whitefriars station, London was married at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street the other day, in the presence of all the men who could be spared off duty. Even the dog – a boarhound*- attached to the station took part in the ceremony. Wearing a white silk bow round its neck, the dog sedately joined in the procession, and walked right up the aisle. It was with difficulty that the animal, which had a large regard for Bunn, could be induced to leave the church. During the ceremony it sat outside whining, but when the newly-married couple walked out the church the dog followed them home and barked its congratulations.
* Also known as a Great Dane.
Olives father James Pool Davis was a City of London Police Constable. When she was born her family were living at 42 Cloth Fair (76 years later I would join the bank just a few hundred yards from this address and would walk passed it every day to and from work! Four times if we went to the nearby pub for lunch!) It is now considered to be the oldest inhabited house in the City of London dating from about 1614.
By the time of the 1901 census Arthur was based at Greenwich Fire station at 10 Lindsell St and the couple were living in the married quarters.
Records indicate that Arthur suffered from ill health and after a spell in the infirmary the Fire Brigade gave him 30 days leave, so on 9th of April 1910 he went to Yarmouth to spend time with his parents Rosa and Charles Bunn to recuperate.
On Tuesday his body was found hanging from an iron girder in the pit fronting the targets at the Rifle Butts on the North Denes.
The following has been put together from various newspaper reports.
His widow, Olive Bunn said that since about March Arthur had been suffering with sleeplessness and pains in his muscles and on recommendation of his Medical Officer it was intended that he should go to St Andrew’s Convalescent and Nursing Home in Folkestone. However, it would seem that he suffered from bouts of depression so due to the state of his mind he was removed to the Greenwich Union Infirmary and discharged on 4th April. Declared better he left for Yarmouth on 9th to stay with his parents.
Olive had identified the body as that of her husband who was 34 years old and a Fireman in the London Brigade based at Evelyn Street Fire Station, Deptford.
During the Inquest his widow would state that her husband suffered from depression which had lasted about ten weeks. She could not account for this as he was a jolly man. As far as she was aware there was no history of insanity in his family although on a previous occasion whilst in the infirmary he had attempted to commit suicide.
On Saturday Arthur had caught the train from London to Yarmouth. Olive did not see him off at the station and although he had seemed alright he didn’t want to go. Later that evening she received a telegram to let her know that he had arrived safely and on Monday morning she received a postcard from him.
When he arrived at his parent’s home in Walpole Road his mother thought he seemed very tired, however, on Sunday and Monday he was more cheerful. On Monday evening he left home to post a letter and the family never saw him alive again. When he hadn’t come home the following day they reported his disappearance to the Police.
About one 0’clock on Tuesday his body was discovered by Ernest Bacon, a Platelayer for GWR who found him hanging from a girder on the Rifle Butts. His feet were roughly three or four feet of the ground and it was assumed that he had thrown himself off the bank. The depth of the pit altogether was some thirteen feet.
The yellow dot on the above map indicates the area where Arthur’s body was discovered at the rifle range on the North Denes. The Green is Walpole Street where Arthur was staying with his parents and finally the mauve shows the location of the hospital.
Bacon, with the assistance of his companion cut down the body and whilst Bowdry remained with the deceased Bacon went to the workhouse to fetch help. From there he was able to telephone the Police Station and Police Constable Yellup along with the Mortuary Attendant went to the Butts in the ambulance.
The Constable arranged for the body to be removed from the ground by the side of the target pit and taken to the mortuary by ambulance where it was seen by Dr Thomas Lettis. He confirmed that Arthur had been dead for some hours and that apart from the rope marks around his throat there were no signs of violence on the body.
On searching Arthur’s body he was found to have on him half a sovereign, a sixpence and some coppers. In addition they also found a small bottle containing Sulphonyl Tabloids which would have been taken to help him sleep but taken in moderation they were not looked upon as dangerous.
According to Arthur’s boss Superintendent Charles Ulse Deakin, he was one of his men who was always bright and there was nothing bad to say about him. He had recently passed his exanimation for Sub-Officer and was to be promoted at the end of the month. He confirmed that although Arthur had suffered from mental derangement he was a good Officer and a loss to the Fire Brigade. There was no record of him ever having an accident whilst in the service.
Throughout his short time as a Fireman he was in charge of the land steam fire engines and may even be one of the Fireman on the vehicle below!
Eventually all the evidence was presented and the Coroner confirmed that it was very evident that Arthur had suffered from depression and restlessness and on this basis a verdict of “Suicide whilst temporarily insane” was returned.
Arthur Diver Bunn’s funeral took place on 16th April and he was buried in the graveyard of St Nicholas, Great Yarmouth in cemetery section C grave number 828.
At the time of his death 28 year old Olive was 7 months pregnant with their 5th child Ivy who was born in June of that year. Their other four children, all girls were 9 year old Rosa, 8 year old Olive, Bertha who 6 and finally for the time being, the youngest was 4 year old Florence.
In 1917, Olive now 35 years old married Edgar Bell and they went on to have at least one child – another daughter! Olive died in Battersea at the age of 80.
At some stage Arthur was awarded the Coronation Medal but at present I have not been able to find out when and why this was awarded.
I would like to thank Sophie Walter who is the Assistant Curator at the London Fire Brigade Museum who has provided me with some of the information, however, most of the Museum’s archives are in storage pending their planned move to a new Museum in 2024. Perhaps I will find out more about Arthur when all their records are more accessible!