Overlaying Case -Weakly Child Dead – Mother’s Outburst

January 1938

Mexborough and Swinton Times January 21, 1938

Overlaying Case at Denaby
Weakly Child Found Dead
Mother’s Outburst

“Is it not a natural thing for a mother to have a baby by a side?” Asked John Henry Pickersgill, a Denaby miner, when giving evidence at the inquest of his nine-month-old son, John Allen Pickersgill, at a Conisborough Council Offices on Saturday.

Mr Mr WH Carlisle, Doncaster district coroner replied that the point was that it was a dangerous thing..

Gladys Morden Pickersgill, 52, Barnburgh Street, Denaby, the mother, said the child had been in poor health since it had been born. She had attended Welfare clinic, seen a doctor, and taken the prepared food he had recommended when they lived at Tylorstown in the Rhondda Valley. They came to Denaby in September.

On Wednesday, January 12 they went to bed about 12:15 a.m., and after reading for a short time went to sleep at about 12.30 with the baby, as usual, lying beside her. She awoke the following morning at about 10 a.m. and found the baby in the same position, but looking “funny.” She called her husband, and his mother, and when they realised it was dead, sent for a doctor.

In answer to the coroner, witness said it was a short term child, and only weighed 3 pounds at birth.

Could not Afford Cot

The Coroner: Do you know the danger of having a child in bed with you?

Yes, really; but we could not afford a cot.

The Coroner: Weren’t you told about it at the clinic?

I had that much sense myself.

The Coroner: Did you not realise that because it was a weakly child, it was all the more likely to be smothered?

We took all those precautions.

The Coroner: are you admitting that you knew it could easily be smothered? – It could not be smothered.

The witness declared that the child was a foot or more away from her and she was a sound sleeper: she denied that she could have turned in her sleep such an extent. “Don’t you think we have turned in bed before?” She asked, explained that the baby had been sleeping with the seven months.

The Coroner said it was no use doctors, nurses, and coroner’s point out the danger of with their mothers if no notice was taken of it. He thought mothers slept with their babies to save them the trouble of getting out of bed.

Witness replied: Do you think I didn’t care for my child? Do you think I tried to kill him? Do you think we think more about children than to kill them?

John Henry Pickersgill, the father, when asked by the Coroner if he had not thought there was a danger the child be smothered, said: “We couldn’t put him anywhere else. It is not a natural thing for a mother to her baby by her side?

The Coroner replied that it was a dangerous thing, and whether or not it was natural, was not the point.

Not Common practice

Doctor John MacArthur said he had attended the child about a month previously for bronchitis. When he saw the child at 12:30 AM on Thursday the child had been dead for about five or six hours.

There were signs that the child had vomited. Conducted a post-mortem and found that death was due to asphyxia. It was a seven months old child in an emaciated and tubercular condition, and only weighed 9 pounds instead of about 14 and £15. In answer to the Coroner, he said that the practice of sleeping with ones child was not common in Denaby orConisborough. A twopenny orange box would do if parents could not afford a cot.

The Coroner: Well, I’ve done my best to stop it. It cannot be too widely known.

Recording a verdict of “accidental death,” the Coroner said it was another case of a child dying when in bed with his parents, and being overlaid. He could not do more than he had done already in the past to prevent the practice. It was a very serious matter. He had had a similar case in the previous day, and he was left with no words to express his feelings about it. In the present instance the child was weakly, and the slightest amount of overlaying would be sufficient to cause death. He gave a verdict of “Accidental Death,” for he could not come to any other conclusion; but he did regret having to return such a verdict where parents knew the risks they run.

If such occurrences did not cease, a more serious step would have to be taken. Parents would have to be taught a lesson. The practice would have to stop.