Child Burnt to Death – Use of Fireguards

January 1902

Mexborough & Swinton Times, January 3rd 1902

Child Burnt To Death.

Strong Remark By The Deputy Coroner

The Use Of Fireguard

Another case of child burning occurred at Denaby on Friday afternoon in last week, to investigate which an inquest was held at the Montagu Cottage Hospital on New Year´s Eve, by Mr. B. Bagshawe, the deputy coroner.

Mr. James Marsden was the foreman of the jury.

The child was Priscilla Dagnall, the seven year old daughter of John William Dagnall, a miner, living at 23 Barnburgh Street, Denaby, who  was the first witness.

The Deputy Coroner asked where the mother was, and was told that the police did not consider it necessary to call her to give evidence. Mr. Bagshawe then said that in all such cases the attendance of the mother and father should be required, but it would not follow that they would receive anything in the way of remuneration for giving evidence

The father of the deceased was then sworn. He said that on Friday, about 4-45 p.m., he and his wife were upstairs changing some bedsteads. The deceased and a younger child, aged five years, were left downstairs in the kitchen. He had been there a quarter of an hour and his wife two minutes when he heard the deceased cry ” Oh dada I´m on fire.” He ran downstairs and saw the child´s clothing on fire. He tried to put out the flames by wrapping round an old cloth, but he did not succeed. A neighbour who was passing came in and put out the flames by means of the hearth rug. They put treacle on the child´s face and thigh, where the burns were, and afterwards applied linseed oil and lime water. A doctor was sent for, and he recommended the child be sent to the Montague Cottage Hospital. They got to the institution about 20 minutes to 6.

The Deputy Coroner : Did the child tell you how she got on fire ?

The witness : Yes, she said she was lighting a piece of paper at the fire to have a smoke, and she set herself on fire.

The witness added that the younger child had gone out of the house when he got downstairs and the deceased was in flames. He had not had any children burned or died suddenly before.

The Deputy Coroner : Can you read ? Not much sir.

Do you read the newspaper ? Yes, sir.

The Deputy Coroner : It is no use talking to people about what you ought to do and about what you ought not to do, but do you know that a most serious loss of life occurs in England in the same way as it occurred to your child ? It is the most cruel death a human being can suffer. And yet you never, I suppose, had a fireguard ?

No, sir.

The Deputy Coroner : If the fathers and mothers were burnt to death in that sort of way we should soon have an end put to it. Did you hear or read of a case I had the other day similar to this one ? Yes, sir.

And yet you did not think it necessary that you should have a fireguard ?

No, sir.

Have you got a fireguard ? No, sir.

Well if you get another child roasted like this one you had better look for squalls.

The Witness : I shall have one ( meaning a fireguard ) when I start work.

The Deputy Coroner : Oh, yes.

The foreman of the jury remarked that the death seemed to be the result of a pure accident.

The Deputy Coroner : Arising from gross negligence.

Betsy Whitehead, 13 Barnburgh Street, Denaby, wife of Enoch Whitehead, said she had known the last witness and his wife about three years, during which time they had been neighbours. On the date named, about 4-45 p.m. she was passing the door of the Dagnall´s house when she heard a child scream She went into the house and saw the father trying to put the fire out. She got a hearthrug and helped him. The mother of the deceased did not come downstairs just then, as she was lame with a broken ankle, but she came down later. The father was sober.

The Deputy Coroner : Have they a fairly cleanly house ?

The witness : Yes, sir.

The Deputy Coroner : There are some dirty ones in Denaby.

The witness : Yes, sir, but theirs has always been clean when I go in.

In reply to further questions the witness said the Dagnall´s always treated the children properly and never left them alone in the house, indeed, Mrs. Dagnall scarcely ever went out, the witness had always found her at home whenever she called.

The Deputy Coroner said it seemed to be one of the serries of lamentable cases that he and other people had had to investigate lately. There seemed to be no culpable negligence in this instance, but there had been a lack of fore thought and care. A letter had been addressed by the Coroner to the Medical Officer of Sheffield as to a warning circular being sent out by the Corporation and delivered at every house. It appeared to him it was worthy of consideration by the Urban District Council of Mexborough, and of the district councils in the neighbourhood as to whether it would be advisable to send out a similar circular pointing out to parents the very great obligation they are under to prevent these serious accidents occurring to children. The Sheffield Corporation intended to issue such a circular. No doubt it would appear in print and if any of the jury had influence with the Urban Council he thought it would be very desirable indeed if they would try to induce the Council to issue circulars with the object of influencing parents to get fire screens. The deaths in similar cases during the year had numbered 400, which might have been prevented had fire screens been used. He thought if an appeal were made to parents of all classes it would be attended with substantial advantage

Continuing, Mr. Bagshawe suggested that the urban district council should state the various prices at which fire screens could be had, and also keep a stock of fire screens to retail to parents.

A juryman remarked that there had been five such cases in a little over seven weeks.

The Deputy Coroner : I really believe South Yorkshire is one of the worst districts in the country. I have had five or six cases during three weeks ; and it is really a matter which ought to be attended to. If the destruction of a child’s life in the Boer campaign had gone on in the same way as the destruction of child life here, there would have been a row in this country.

I think this is not such a bad case ; I do not think you ought to censure the father.

The jury intimated that they did not desire the father to be censured.

The Deputy Coroner then called the father once more up to the witness´s chair and asked : Will you make a pledge to myself and the jury that tomorrow or the next day you will get a proper fire screen ?

The father : On Saturday, sir.

The Deputy Coroner : You will do that, and you must tell your wife it must be properly used, because if a second child of yours gets burnt to death you will incur a very great responsibility, both you and your wife. Try to persuade your neighbours to get these fire screens ; they are not expensive things.

The Foreman : You must not think a fire screen will do all. The parents have a part to do. There are plenty of houses without fire screens where there have been no accidents.

The jury returned a verdict that the child ” Died from burns accidentally received.”