The Burned Baby

Thomas Allen LEE is with his parents on the Shared Tree. I will let the unsatisfactory account of the Inquest into his accidental death tell the story.

Driffield Times 24 July 1897

Terrible Fatality

A Child Burned to Death at Filey

On Sunday night last a little after ten, just as people were retiring to rest, an alarm of fire was given, and the fire engine in a few minutes rushed through the streets to the Beach to the residence of Mr Foster Smith, 2 Undercliffe, where a fire had broken out in the bedroom of a visitor, and a child who was sleeping in the room, was burned to death.

The Inquest

Mr Luke White held an inquest at the house of Mr Foster Smith, on Monday afternoon, with reference to the death of Thomas Allan Lee, aged three months, son of Thomas William Lee, cotton broker, Heswell, Cheshire, who met with his death on Sunday night at the above address, under very sad circumstances.

Superintendent Harvey watched the proceedings on behalf of the East Riding Police.

Thomas William Lee, father of the child, said it was born on the 8th of April. He last saw his son alive 20 minutes before he died, and also between five and six on Sunday night, just after the nurse had brought deceased into the house from the Promenade. They were lodging at No. 2, Undercliffe. He was sitting in the dining-room with his wife. She said she would go to bed, and she had just got outside the room, when she heard a commotion upstairs. He ran upstairs, and saw some people standing outside his bedroom door, and someone gave him the child, which he saw was burnt. He also saw the cot blazing. He ran with the child to the house of his friends, and at once sent for Dr Haworth, senr., and both he and Dr Tom Haworth were in immediate attendance. Witness and his wife slept in the same room as the child. The cot was close to the bed. There was a bracket against the cot, which he had only used twice for a night light. They had been staying in Filey since the 1st July, and had not had the night-light there for the last ten days. He considered it unsafe, and so had it placed in a plate on the drawers. They had a nurse with them named Margaret Jones, she generally put the child to bed. He did not tell the nurse about the new arrangement with the night light, but he was certain his wife did. To the best of his belief there was nothing on the drawers that could have caught fire.

A juror: Did the nurse seem affectionate towards the child?

Witness: Most affectionate. Continuing, he said, the nurse came downstairs about five minutes before she went to bed and said the child was all right.

Mary Ann Crawford, waiting maid, said that about ten o’clock she was in the first storey nursery when she heard two screams come from the front bedroom, which was occupied by Mr & Mrs Lee. She went and knocked at the nurse’s bedroom door and told her of the screams. The nurse was in her nightdress and went upstairs. When witness heard her scream, she came downstairs, and ran outside for assistance from the next door. When she came back, Mr Lee had the baby in his arms. The nurse always seemed very fond of the child.

Margaret Jones said she had been in the service of Mr Lee since the 8th of May last. The child slept in the room with its parents, in a cot by the side of the bed. She generally put the child into the cot about nine o’clock every night. When it got dark, she used to light the night-light, which was on a plate on the drawers. When they first came, they had the light on a bracket on the wall, but Mr Lee thought it unsafe, so after three or four nights it was put on the drawers. On Sunday night she wheeled the cot from the nursery to the bedroom. At that time she had no candle. She left the child and went to supper. About ten minutes to ten she went and lit the nightlight with a match, putting the remains of the match on the plate. She afterwards went to look at the child and he was asleep. After that she went to the nursery for a book, and then went to her bedroom. Previous to going to her bedroom she had seen the child again. When the waiting maid came to her door witness asked her to go for Mrs Lee. But she went herself, and on going into the room saw the cot ablaze. She could not account for the fire. She afterwards got the child out of the cot, which had burnt through. She had burnt her hand slightly.

Arthur Coster, a visitor, residing at No 2, Undercliffe, Filey, said he was sitting with his wife and her mother when they heard a heavy bump on the floor in the room above them; then a lighter bump, followed by a frightful scream. He ran upstairs and saw a woman with  the child in her arms on the landing. The child was covered with glowing embers and partly in flames, and the front of the woman’s dress was also partly in flames. He extinguished the flames on the nurse and child and took the child in his arms. It was the nurse’s scream that he heard.

The nurse, recalled, said that when she went into the room to get the child out of the flames the night light was still burning.

Annie Parnaby, trained nurse, said she was staying at No. 2, Undercliffe. At ten minutes to ten last night she heard the child scream twice. She came out of her room and followed the other nurse upstairs and met her coming out of the bed-room with the child in her arms, all on fire. She gave the child to witness, and Mr Coster then took the child from her.

Mr Fred Chapman, of Beech House, Filey, said he came into the house on Sunday at a quarter past ten and went straight to the bedroom. He had seen there was a fire from the window outside. When he got to the room the door was shut. The fire was burning fiercely. He assisted to put it out.

Dr Tom Haworth said he was called in by Mr Lee at 10.25 on Sunday and saw the child about 10.30. It was then in the nurse’s arms at No. 5, The Parade, Filey. He noticed that the child was in a state of collapse. It was extensively burnt and was breathing very badly. He dressed the wounds and stayed with it about two hours, and then left it. He was called for about 2.30 on Monday morning, and the child was then dead, lying at No. 5 The Parade. In his opinion, death was due to the shock caused by the extensive burns.

The Coroner, in summing up, said it was a most extraordinary case with regard to the origin of the fire. The girl, Margaret Jones, seemed to have given her evidence very fully and freely. She stated distinctly that she went into the room where the child was sleeping in the cot about ten o’clock, and lighted a night-light, which was placed on a plate on the chest of drawers. About ten minutes afterwards, she went to the room again to take a bottle of medicines, and at that time saw the light burning and everything all right. He thought she must by some accident either have dropped a match or trodden on one, or in some way or other used a match in such a manner as to set fire to the cot. She would not admit that she could have done so by any possible means. The doctor certified that death was caused by shock, owing to the extensive burns, and it was for them to say that they were satisfied. Of course they could not be satisfied as to the way in which the fire arose.

After a long discussion the jury returned a verdict, “That death was due to shock caused by burns accidentally received, but how the fire was caused there is not sufficient evidence to show.”

The father of Elizabeth COWLING had an intriguing byname – “Dutch Clock”. I wonder how he came by it. I also wonder what went through Elizabeth’s head in 1936 – to marry the husband of her deceased older sister, Mary Jane. I have not been able to find sources to support this Shared Tree story.

I lose track of Elizabeth in 1901. Her fisherman father took his family across the river and the census caught them in Clee with Weelsby in 1891. (Mary Jane was with her uncle Samuel CRISP’s family that census night)

In 1901, Elizabeth was back in Filey with her uncle Thomas CHAPMAN and working as a fur cleaner. There is a 1942 Leeds death registration for a 68-year-old Elizabeth Nicholson that fits well enough, but I couldn’t find any sort of confirmation in the 1939 Register.

Blacksmith William FENBY was twenty-one years old when he married Elizabeth JOHNSON at Filey St Oswald’s Church. The Shared Tree currently says he died in 1865, but a blue hint to the 1871 census appears to give him a few more years of life.

Filey Genealogy & Connections offers the date of Emily FISHER’s death and her last address but doesn’t give her birth family name. The Shared Tree indicates that it wasn’t FISHER!

In loving memory of FRANK, beloved husband of EMILY FISHER, died Oct 30th 1937, aged 73 years.

‘At rest’

Also of the above EMILY FISHER, died July 14th 1949, aged 84 years.

Flight of Fancy 50 · Jumping the Hedge

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