George Funnell, a 33-year-old ex-soldier turned police constable, was on his beat in Hackney when he noticed a fire in the Elephant and Castle pub on Wick Road. After raising the alarm, he rushed into the burning building: the landlady and two barmaids were still inside. First he brought out the landlady, then one of the barmaids. Now burnt himself, he nonetheless went back in for the third woman.
PC Funnell reached the woman, and directed her to a back door. However, he himself was overcome by the heat and smoke. The woman escaped into the street, but by the time rescuers reached Funnell he was unconscious and burned on the face, neck and arms. Eleven days later, on 2 January 1900, he died of his injuries.
The inquest jury commended Funnell and his colleagues for gallant behaviour. The Society for the Protection of Life from Fire gave awards to those colleagues; during the ceremony, Mr G B Fordham commented that "he died the death of a thoroughly brave and sincere man" giving his life for three women who were strangers to him. Funnell's funeral was attended by several hundred police officers and firemen, as well as local people. A memorial committee was set up to support his wife and two children. His memorial plaque reads:
GEORGE STEPHEN FUNNELL - POLICE CONSTABLE - DEC 22 1899 - IN A FIRE AT THE ELEPHANT & CASTLE, WICK ROAD, HACKNEY WICK, AFTER RESCUING TWO LIVES, WENT BACK INTO THE FLAMES, SAVING A BARMAID AT THE RISK OF HIS OWN LIFE.
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