James Bannister (1868 - 1901) is one of the everyday heroes whose act of self-sacrifice went unnoticed at the time he performed it.
His memorial in Postman's Park records, "James Bannister Of Bow, Aged 30, Rushed Over When An Opposite Shop Caught Fire, And Was Suffocated In The Attempt To Save Life. Oct 14 1901."
The shop referred to was Messrs Emery and Sons', drapers on Bow Road, East London.
The premises from which James Bannister rushed to render assistance to those caught in the blaze was Bussey's Auction rooms, where he was employed as a painter.
It is also a sad fact that, although the fire was a devasting one to the premises in question, it was initially believed that no lives had been lost in the conflagration.
The tragedy was only realised when firmen searched the debris after the fire had been exstinguished and found two bodies in the burnt out remains of the building.
Under the above headline The Bournemouth Daily Echo carried a report on the disaster in its edition of 16th october 1901:-
"The fire at Messrs. Emery and Sons's drapery establishment, adjoining Bow Railway Station, In Bow-road, on Monday evening, has, contrary to what was believed at the time, resulted in the loss of two lives.
Yestersay afternoon the bodies of two men were recoverd from the debris.
One was that of Percy Ludlow, aged 25 years, who was employed by the firm as a window dresser, and who resided at Peckham.
Owning to the fact of his living off the premises his absence went unnoticed after the fire was subdued on Monday evening.
The other body is that of James Bannister, a married man, aged 30 years, residing at 14. Brwery Yard, Bow, who was employed by Messrs. Bussey's sale rooms, nearly opposite the premises that were destroyed.
It seems that Bannister was standing outside the sale rooms when the fire broke ut, and he rushed across the road to render assistance.
It was not until two o'clock yesterday that it became known that any lives had been lost, and then the bodies were found in the ruins of the carpet room in a position indicating that Bannister was attempting to rescue Ludlow at the time both were overcome by the smoke.
The bodies were so greatly charred that the features were almost unrecognisable."
The inquest into the deaths of James Bannister and Percy Ludlow, took place on 22nd October 1901.
The next day The Globe carried a report on the proceedings, in which the Coroner had been somewhat critical about the lack of fire escapes and the fact that no-one working in the shop knew how to handle the inadequate fire fighting appliences that were available in the shop:-
"At the inquest at Poplar yesterday respecting the deaths of Henry Newman Ludlow, 56, draper"s assistant, and James Bannister, 33, a painter, who perished in a fire last Monday, week at the premises of Messrs. Emery. drapers, of Bow-road, the jury returned a verdict of accidental death, and commended P. C. Goodchild„ 203 K, for the assistance he rendered in the early stages of the outbreak.
The fire started in the window just after the gas had been lighted, and spread with great rapidity.
Ludlow, it appears, stayed behind in the building to secure his hat and coat, but all the other employees were enabled to escape.
Bannister, it appeared, went into the shop to render assistance.
It was at first thought that everyone had got safely out of the place, but on the debris being searched, the two bodies were found.
Death was apparently due to suffocation.
The Coroner, in reviewing the evidence, pointed to the fact that the only means of exit were at the front of the house, and said it was surprising that the loss of life had not been greater.
It also appeared, he said, that the fire appliances in the shop were useless, and no one wass, moreover, capable of using them."