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A Grim Almanac of Leicestershire
By Nicola Sly
The History PressCopyright © 2013 Nicola Sly
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1 JANUARY 1899 Peter Hubbard lived and worked with his uncle, sixty-eight-year-old Josiah Hubbard, at the village bakery in Bitteswell. On 2 January, their assistant, Thomas Church, reported for work at 6.30 a.m. and was greeted by Peter, who asked him to fetch some brandy as he didn't feel well. On his return to the bakery, Church was appalled to find a large pool of blood on the floor and, when he questioned Peter, he was told that Josiah had fallen. The elderly man lay dead in the bake house with extensive injuries, apparently caused by a blunt instrument, although when blood and grey hairs were found on Peter Hubbard's boots, the doctors concluded that he had kicked his uncle to death.
An inquest held by coroner George Bouskell returned a verdict of wilful murder against twenty-eight-year-old Peter, who was committed for trial at the next assizes. Peter claimed to have knocked his uncle down and kicked him during an argument on 1 January about Peter's desire to get married. However, the medical superintendent of the Leicester Borough Asylum and the prison surgeon were both of the opinion that Peter was 'feeble-minded' and deficient in understanding.
Both Peter's parents had spent time in a lunatic asylum and he was found guilty but insane. He was ordered to be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure and died in November 1926, while still in custody.
Leicester County Police were heavily criticised for allowing Church to get on with the day's baking after the body was found, having moved the corpse into the next room.
2 JANUARY 1899 Intending to wash his knives and tools, Leicester pork butcher Joseph Henry Hillyer filled a tin bath with boiling water and placed it in his back yard. He momentarily left the bath unattended while he went to collect something from indoors but rushed back when he heard screaming. He was horrified to find that his four-year-old son had climbed into the bath. Joseph Henry Hillyer junior was badly scalded from the waist down and died from shock that night in the Leicester Infirmary.
At an inquest on 4 January, coroner Robert Harvey recorded a verdict of 'accidental death'.
3 JANUARY 1907 Kate Morley of Loughborough woke to find all three of her sons dead in their beds. An inquest was opened and adjourned for post-mortem examinations on the boys, who were aged five, three and one year old.
When the inquest concluded on 11 February, doctors stated that the boys died from 'carbonic oxide gas poisoning', due to the inhalation of fumes from the coal fire in their bedroom. The police testified that the chimney was so caked with soot that there was no draft at all until a chimney sweep was brought in to clear it.
The coroner stressed that Kate was a good mother and the jury returned verdicts in accordance with the medical evidence.
4 JANUARY 1886 Selina Mary Redfin was playing in a field in Snarestone, which was used as a public recreation ground. The canal ran through a tunnel beneath the field and, at the tunnel's end, only an 18-inch high parapet protected the children from a 24-foot drop into the canal below.
When nine-year-old Selina toppled into the water, another girl tried to reach her with a stick, while two more children ran for help. Two men raced back to the canal with them but, by the time they got there, all they could see was Selina's hat floating on the water.
Coroner George F. Harrison recalled another fatal accident at the same place a few years earlier, at which time a request was made to the canal company to do something about the dangerous parapet. However, shortly afterwards, ownership of the canal passed to the Midland Railway Company and the coroner's recommendations were not acted upon.
In returning a verdict of 'accidentally drowned', the jury asked the coroner to write to the railway, calling their attention to the danger and recommending that the parapet should be at least 4 feet high, with narrow coping on top to prevent children from walking on it.
5 JANUARY 1823 Joseph Hurst and William Peet had a trifling dispute at Hinckley, which they resolved to settle by fighting. It was obvious that Peet was getting the worst of the bout and spectators separated the two youths after just a few blows had been exchanged. The men shook hands and Peet was taken into a nearby cottage, where he expired within seconds. Horrified, Hurst handed himself in to the police to await the coroner's inquest.
Fortunately for Hurst, the inquest found that Peet 'died from excessive passion and not by blows received from his antagonist'. No criminal charges were brought against Hurst in connection with Peet's death.
6 JANUARY 1897 A rent collector visiting a property in Loughborough found the tenant dead. Seventy-year-old Harriett Rushden (or Rushton) lay on a heap of rags on the floor, naked apart from a bodice. Her emaciated body was filthy and verminous and her house so disgusting that coroner Henry Deane ordered it to be cleaned before he would allow the inquest jury inside.
Having been ill with bronchitis, Harriett had been of concern to her neighbours for many months – according to Ann Dickens, she was destitute and had to pawn things to survive. Mrs Dickens had supplied her with food and coal and had also lent her money, although she could ill afford to do so.
Harriett was well known to the local relieving officer but when Francis J. Rowbotham visited, she refused to allow him into the house, telling him to mind his own business. Neighbours believed that Harriett would be better off in the Workhouse, but having been rebuffed, Rowbotham washed his hands of her and said that he could not intervene unless Harriett herself asked him to.
The inquest jury returned a verdict of death from natural causes but asked the coroner to investigate Rowbotham's conduct. Accordingly, Mr Deane asked the Board of Guardians to carry out a thorough enquiry.
When the clerk to the Guardians reported back, he advised the coroner that there was plenty of food in Harriett's house including bacon, bread, tea, sugar, oatmeal and a roast duck, as well as jars of beef extract. There were also seventeen rabbits, although these had been kept for so long that they were unfit for eating. Harriett had lots of clothes and bedclothes, which were folded and wrapped in tissue paper. She also had two shillings in cash and several valuable pieces of jewellery.
7 JANUARY 1943 An inquest held by coroner Mr E. Tempest Bouskell into the deaths of five soldiers concluded in South Croxton. When an army lorry carrying twenty soldiers crashed in the village on 7 December 1942, four men were pulled from the wreckage dead, a fifth dying in hospital on 29 December.
During the blackout necessitated by the Second World War, the lorry was driving without headlights. The vehicles had a tendency to pull to the left and the country lane was bordered by high hedges and trees, which gave the impression of travelling along a tunnel. Driver J. Stoddart stated that he was driving very slowly owing to the fact that he had no lights. He felt a bump and suspected that he was on the grass verge, so braked and then released his brakes to avoid skidding, at which point the lorry hit a tree.
The inquest returned five verdicts of 'accidental death' on Privates Leslie John Oliver (32), Edwin Dare (19), George Sharples (25), Leslie Robertson (30), and Martin Kelly (23).
8 JANUARY 1900 A new kiln was under construction at a brickyard in Loughborough. The outside walls were finished and the framework supporting the arched inner roof had been removed three weeks earlier but, on 8 January, while several men were working on the top of the kiln, it collapsed. James White shouted a warning to his colleagues, who scrambled clear, but White himself didn't make it and was buried by debris, dying instantly from crushed chest walls.
The kiln had been inspected several times after the timber supports were removed and was judged safe – indeed, it had supported up to twelve men, more than double the number on the roof when the collapse occurred. The only possible explanation was that the incident occurred on Monday morning and it had rained heavily since the men finished work on Saturday, possibly softening the clay and weakening the unsupported ceiling.
At the inquest into White's death, the coroner advised the jury to consider whether there was any negligence or if this was a totally unforeseeable accident. The jury returned a verdict of 'accidental death', although they recommended that the supports should be left in any future kilns until construction was complete.
9 JANUARY 1886 Although Millington's Pit in Leicester was private property, it was close to a recreation ground and when it froze over, people flocked to skate and slide on it.
On 9 January the ice broke, sending two men and six boys into the water. The men and three boys were rescued but Joseph Winterton Bennett (10), William Alton (11), and Harry Swingler (13) drowned.
Coroner George F. Harrison held an inquest, at which witness Alfred Sarson claimed to be a member of an organisation called The Railway Ambulance Society. Sarson was fully trained in artificial respiration and was convinced that he could have saved the boys had he been permitted to do so, but told the coroner that members of the public refused to let him assist, insisting on trying their own methods of resuscitation, which were completely ineffective.
The three deaths were not the first to have occurred at the pit, which was referred to as 'a mantrap'. The jury returned verdicts of 'accidental death', adding a rider that the pit should be filled up or fenced. They asked the coroner to severely reprimand the owner, who had been warned about the dangerous state of the pit and had failed to take action.
10 JANUARY 1893 Three boys decided to walk across the frozen River Soar but the ice broke when they reached the middle. Two young boys saw the accident and heard one of those in the water shout 'Come and get me out,' but neither witness was able to swim and there was nobody else in sight who might have attempted a rescue. By the time Thomas Dawson and Joseph Tarry had raced home and told their parents what had happened, there was no possibility of recovering anyone from the river alive. At an inquest held by coroner Robert Harvey, the deaths of eight-year-olds Joseph Manship and William Ward and seven-year-old William Burton were deemed 'accidental drowning'.
11 JANUARY 1876 The Groby Granite Company had a three-mile-long railway line to their works and, on 11 January, eight men were riding on an engine, pulling three waggons laden with granite to the weighing machine (six were quarrymen, going for their dinners).
Without warning, the train derailed and overturned, trapping four men beneath it. One scrambled out with only minor injuries but James Gamble, William Grimes and Ralph Richards were all more seriously injured. Grimes and Richards are believed to have survived the accident but, on 14 January, Gamble was still complaining of terrible pain and was taken to the Leicester Infirmary, where he died from internal bleeding.
An inquest held by coroner George F. Harrison learned that the track and engine were well maintained, although there was one place on the line where the ground had sunk slightly. Nobody considered this a serious safety issue and the train had progressed at least 10 yards past the defective section of line when it left the rails. The most likely explanation for the accident was the frosty weather and, having heard this, the jury returned a verdict of 'accidental death'.
12 JANUARY 1892 Coroner Mr G.A. Bartlett held an inquest into the death of five-year-old Alfred Barrowcliffe.
When George Biggs went to Syston on 9 January, his landlord's son, Alfred, begged to be allowed to go too. Once George completed his business, they went to Syston Station to catch the train back to Leicester. George sat Alfred on a seat in the weighing shed and made him promise to stay there while he went to buy their tickets. Alfred had an orange and some biscuits and George left him eating them and went to the booking office on the opposite side of the line. He was gone for less than three minutes but when he returned, Alfred had disappeared.
There was only one other person on the platform, a Mr Morris, who told George that he had not seen Alfred since the express train went through a minute or so earlier. George alerted station staff then began searching for Alfred but was interrupted by Morris, who shouted that Alfred had been found. His terribly mutilated body lay on the railway line and footprints in the snow on the platform suggested that he had walked off the edge.
Nobody had actually seen the accident but it seemed probable that Alfred became anxious on his own and tried to find Biggs. The inquest jury returned a verdict of 'accidental death'.
13 JANUARY 1862 Farmer Edward Dunmore of Staunton Wyville hired a steam-driven threshing machine from Henry Butcher, which proved far from satisfactory. It had numerous leaks, the pump was faulty, the water gauge was broken, it kept stalling and, at midday, it broke down yet again. Twelve men gathered round, watching Butcher repair a pipe with string and red lead, grumbling all the while about how unreliable the machine had become, when the boiler suddenly exploded.
Thomas Lee was blown 40 yards into a ditch, dying instantly. William Woolman's body parts were scattered far and wide, his head travelling 30 yards in one direction, his leg 15 yards in another, and the rest of his body flying more than 50 yards. Samuel Ashby was struck on the chest by a boiler part and died instantly, while George Woolman was seriously injured and died within hours. Five more were injured, although all eventually recovered.
An inquest deemed that the deaths were 'owing to the culpable negligence of Butcher and his partner William Bloxam'. When the coroner pointed out that this was manslaughter, seven of the jury baulked and eventually the coroner agreed to receive the verdict as delivered and leave the magistrates to decide if the two men should be formally charged.
Both were committed for trial at the Leicestershire Assizes, although the Grand Jury found no bill against Bloxam, leaving Butcher to face a charge of 'feloniously killing and slaying' the four men. His defence counsel blamed the tragedy on Samuel Ashby, who was feeding the boiler with water. It was suggested that, observing the leakage, Samuel screwed down the safety valve as far as possible, thinking it would prevent too much water flowing into the boiler. Unfortunately, this prevented the escape of steam and the pressure caused the boiler to explode. The fact that the safety valve was found screwed to within two threads of the bottom convinced the jury to give Butcher the benefit of the doubt and he was acquitted.
14 JANUARY 1895 Coroner Robert Harvey held an inquest at Leicester on the deaths of a father and son.
On 12 January, policemen were posted along the canal banks, warning people not to venture onto the highly dangerous ice, but most people ignored them. Thus there were numerous people on the canal when eleven-year-old Frank Arthur Perkins fell through the ice near Walnut Road Bridge. His fifty-two-year-old father, William, went to his assistance but he too fell in. Other skaters flocked to help and before long there were six people in the water, only four of whom were saved.
People tried to throw ropes but they proved too short, as did a ladder that was pushed across the ice. Someone fetched a life buoy but it broke on entering the water. Eventually, somebody placed a gate in the water, sliding it underneath the two casualties. Perkins and his son were dragged to the bank but were pronounced dead at the scene.
The inquest jury returned a verdict of 'accidental death' on both father and son and asked the coroner to commend PC Harvey. Although wearing a uniform, complete with greatcoat, leggings, heavy boots and ice skates, Harvey managed to tread water for almost twenty minutes, holding Perkins under the armpits and keeping his head above water.
15 JANUARY 1897 Lettice and George Lee lead almost separate lives. Lettice worked as a charwoman and shared one bedroom at their home in Leicester with their seven children, while George lived on an allowance from his sister, bought and cooked his own food, and had his own bedroom. However, the couple must have enjoyed a relationship of sorts, since on 3 January, Lettice suffered a miscarriage.
A neighbour nursed Lettice for a few days, until twelve-year-old Maud told her that she would be caring for her mother in future. The neighbour told George Lee that he must get medical help for his wife, which he agreed to do. However, it wasn't until 15 January, when Lettice was at death's door, that he fetched a doctor and, even then, he been called earlier, he could have saved her life and an inquest returned a verdict of manslaughter by gross and wilful neglect against Mr Lee.
When he appeared before magistrates, George made a statement, against the advice of his solicitor. He said that he had not known how ill his wife was, claiming that she was terrified of going into hospital and refused to allow him to call a doctor, continually reassuring him that she was fine and he should not worry. 'There was no wilful negligence, only negligence through ignorance,' concluded Mr Lee.
The magistrates committed him for trial at the assizes, where he was found guilty. However, since one of George Lee's daughters confirmed hearing her mother say that she did not want a doctor, the judge sentenced him to just nine months' imprisonment, with hard labour.
Excerpted from A Grim Almanac of Leicestershire by Nicola Sly. Copyright © 2013 Nicola Sly. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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If you love history, you'll love this. Every story is well told and documented. I was drawn to this by the story of the Green Bicycle Murders. The others are mindblowing as well. Super book.