The coroners’ reports that survive from the mid 19th century reveal the untimely demise of some of those whose lives were cut tragically short. The office is an ancient one, being originally created in 1194, when coroners were appointed to investigate sudden or unexplained deaths. Below are just four examples for the year 1852.
One unfortunate individual was 41-year-old Hannah Reeves of Longton. She was the wife of Richard Reeves of Furnace Road, where the couple lived with their eight children, ranging in age from eighteen down to two. On August 5th Hannah left her home with three of her daughters, promising them an enjoyable day at the annual wakes at Trentham Park. Only a few yards from their house they met a horse and cart which was on the road for the purpose of conveying passengers to the wakes. The driver stopped to allow them on board, and the cart, now laden with fourteen passengers, continued on its way. Only a short distance later both of the shafts on the cart broke and the passengers were thrown out. Hannah fell on her head and received severe injuries. She was taken back home but died from her injuries the following day.
An inquest was held at The Duke of York public house on August 7th. The coroner concluded that the cause of death was from the injuries sustained when thrown from the vehicle. The driver was blamed for the accident, not only was the cart overloaded but it was also proved that the shafts that broke were in a decayed state.
Thomas Browning was a 76-year-old widower who lived with his married daughter and son-in-law at Ravens Lane, Audley. On June 23rd he was returning home after conducting business in Tunstall. Three miles into his journey at Peacock Hay he was run over by a horse and cart. He was still alive, although only just, when he was found in a ditch by the side of the road. A horse and cart was summoned and he was carried home. However, his injuries were so severe that he died on the way.
When Thomas left Tunstall it was known that he had a silver watch and about ten shillings in silver. When friends searched his clothes it was discovered that both of these were missing. A report stated that ‘much excitement was created in the neighbourhood and there is no doubt the old man had been robbed after the last wheel had passed over his body.’ An inquest was held at the Boughey Arms in Audley the following day. Without the solid evidence of foul play, however, the jury were only able to return a verdict of accidental death.
Elizabeth Ford was the 47-year-old wife of John Ford of Mill Farm at Wolstanton. On the night of July 2nd at around quarter to ten she had been quarrelling with her two daughters, aged 11 and 12, when she suddenly fell down and died a couple of minutes later. A surgeon from Tunstall was called but was unable to determine the cause of death. What may have been a sudden heart attack however was not mentioned, and the inquest, held at the Lamb Inn at Tunstall, concluded that death was caused by a ‘visitation of God.’
Elizabeth Mould of Springfield, Trent Vale, was only eight years old. The coroner described the case as being of ‘the grossest negligence.’ Elizabeth was the daughter of John Mould, a brick and tile manufacturer. John was a widower and while at work would leave his eldest daughter, aged 22, in charge of her younger siblings. It was well-known that she was a ‘most dissolute and bad character’, and even though only aged 22 she had already bore three illegitimate children, two of whom were in the workhouse. The inquest discovered that as soon as her father left for work she was regularly in the habit of leaving her two younger sisters, Elizabeth aged eight and Anne aged five, so that she could visit a gentleman friend who was also the reputed father of her own three children.
It was on one of these amorous liaisons that her younger sister Elizabeth, being too close to the hearth, caused her clothes to catch fire and she was burned to death. A doctor from Newcastle was summoned and arrived half an hour later but Elizabeth died shortly afterwards.