Lancaster Gazette

Sunday’s Obituary – Thomas Fawcett (1855-1885)

Thomas Fawcett was born in Lancaster, Lancashire – his birth is registered in the fourth quarter of 1854.

Thomas married Hannah Musgrove on 28 May 1876 in Lancaster. Hannah is my 1st cousin 3x removed. Her parents are William Musgrove and Elizabeth Leach. Our common ancestors are William Musgrove and Harriot Francis, my 3x great grandparents.

Thomas and Hannah had at least six children (one of whom died in infancy) and on Christmas Eve 1885 the children would have gone to bed excited, eagerly anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus. However as things turned out they would have a totally different Christmas.

I recently discovered the following article in the Lancaster Gazette of 30 December 1885.

FATAL ACCIDENT THROUGH FALLING DOWNSTAIRS

On Saturday, at noon, an inquest was held at the Town Hall, before Mr Holden, coroner, touching the death of Thomas Fawcett, table baize grainer, who met with his death through falling downstairs early on Christmas morning.

The Coroner said the jury had been called together to enquire into the death of Thomas Fawcett. The first aspect of the case, as reported to him, was rather alarming, but he believed that the medical evidence, when legally directed, had somewhat modified that aspect.

The following evidence was then given:-

Hannah Fawcett said: The deceased was my husband, and was 31 years of age. He lived in Railway Street, and was a table baize grainer. He had his supper about a quarter or twenty minutes past eleven on Thursday night, and then went out “singing” with some friends. When I next saw him, about half-past four, he was in Mr Woodhouses’s – my next door neighbour – and both Mr and Mrs Woodhouse were then in the house. He came home with me. I took him into the children’s room for the purpose of putting toys into their stockings, as he was very fond of the children, and I left him there. I never saw him again alive. I went to bed – leaving him in the children’s room – and fell asleep almost immediately, and at ten minutes past nine on Christmas morning I found him lying at the bottom of the stairs.

Thomas Winder, labourer, of Scotforth, was called to give evidence, but appeared to be under the influence of drink, and the Coroner requested the police sergeant to lock him up for contempt of Court.

Robert Woodhouse, painter, of 8 Railway Street, said: I live next door to deceased, and saw him soon after four o’clock on Christmas morning. I had not been with him, but he came with a party and sang in front of my house, and I invited a few of them in – deceased being amongst those who came in. Deceased appeared as if he had had something to drink; but I could not say he was drunk. They stayed with me a short time – not more than five minutes altogether. I did not see Mrs Fawcett come into the house. Deceased was able to walk and went out of the house unassisted by anyone. I gave them something to drink, and did not see any of the party drink anything, while in my house. They sang in front of deceased’s house as well as mine, as we lived next door.

James Gifford, cowman, of 12 Railway Street, said: Deceased’s house is between mine and last witness’s. I did not see deceased on Christmas Eve; but about a quarter or half-past nine on Christmas morning Mrs Woodhouse told me “Tom Fawcett has tumbled downstairs and is dying.” I went into the house at once to render what assistance I could, and he was dead. He was lying at the foot of the stairs with his back to the passage – his feet being towards the stairs bottom. The information was that “he was dying;” but I found him dead and cold, as if he had been dead a few hours. There was a small pool of blood underneath his head. Mr Woodhouse and I took him up and carried him into the parlour. There was no sign of a scuffle having taken place at the bottom of the stairs when I went in; and his clothes and the furniture were not disarranged.

Robert Woodhouse recalled, said he had assisted the last witness to carry deceased into the parlour, and was present when PC Baxter came. The body was in the same position when the policeman came as when they left it in the parlour, and had not been touched.

PC Baxter said: I received information of the deceased’s death at twenty minutes to eleven o’clock on Christmas day from William Fawcett, deceased’s brother. He asked me to go up to his brother’s house as he had dropped down dead. I went up at once, and found deceased lying in the parlour on the floor fully dressed – except his hat and shoes. His clothes were not disarranged. I examined his head and found a wound at the back of it which had been bleeding. The pool of blood was about a yard from the bottom step to the middle of the passage. There was not much blood then; it had dried up. He was cold and dead, as if he had been dead some hours. There was no disarrangement of the furniture. I saw a slipper about half-way up the stairs which had belonged to deceased. The stairs were not very steep – being ordinary wooden stairs. I saw no obstruction at the bottom of the stairs, and examined carefully for any trace of blood but could find none except that mentioned.

Dr Parker said: I was called in to see the deceased about ten o’clock on Christmas morning, and got there about half-past. Deceased was lying in the front parlour. I did not examine him then. I saw he was dead and had been dead sometime. Subsequently under your directions as Coroner I re-examined him at about quarter-past twelve. He was then in the same position as before, and I examined the body externally. There was a wound about the size of half a crown on the back of the head. It was almost as deep as the bone – about 3-8ths of an inch. I made a post mortem examination – being assisted by Mr ???? – and we opened the chest first. We found all the organs quite healthy, and there was nothing to account for death. We then opened the head. Beneath the wound was a fracture of the skull extending about half an inch upwards and two inches down from the wound. On removing the skull cap and in the cavities of the brain we found about four [ounces?] of blood, pressing on the whole surface of the brain substance. That of itself was sufficient to cause death and was practically the cause of the deceased’s death. The fracture could have been caused by falling backwards downstairs and knocking his head against the tiled floor. The external wound was not of such a nature as to have been caused by falling against a sharp substance, as the tissues were crushed, and must have been caused by falling against a flat [surface?]. We examined the other parts of the body – [particularly?] the hands, and they did not appear to have been in conflict with any one – and found no sign of violence whatever. In my opinion deceased’s death was caused by falling backwards downstairs. The witness Gifford mentioned something to me last [night?] about hearing a noise, but he has not said anything about it in his evidence.

James Gifford was then recalled and said he had heard a sound coming out of deceased’s house as of a [????] falling about six o’clock in the morning. It was [????] thud, and was followed by no cry for help. He had no idea what it might be, but thought, in his own mind, that the table must have fallen.

The Coroner, in summing up, said the jury had heard the evidence relating to the untimely death of the man. Deceased had been out singing till half-past four on Christmas morning, and on returning home went first to a neighbour’s house where he stayed five minutes, and where it was observed he was not quite [????]. His wife was looking out for him, and took him home. She left him, as she said, very tenderly [????] putting toys into his children’s stockings, so that when they woke on Christmas morning they might find some little token of affection from their father. The evidence seemed to show that the deceased had been in children’s room, and might possibly have gone to sleep for an hour or two. About six o\clock he seemed to have awakened, and in trying to get to his room in a drowsy, sleepy, almost helpless condition about half-way up the stairs, he fell back and fractured his skull, and so met with his death. [I am happy?] to think no one seemed responsible for the unhappy death, and if the jury were satisfied from the evidence, they would say that “the deceased met his [untimely?] death by falling down stairs.” – The Jury immediately returned a verdict to that effect.

Referring to the witness Winder, the Coroner asked Chief Constable Ward what had become of him, and was informed that he had been locked up. The Coroner asked when he might be expected to have recovered from the effects of libations, and the Chief Constable said “probably about five or six o’clock.” – The Coroner then gave orders that he might be set at liberty directly at four o’clock, and hoped it would be a lesson to him.

It’s hard to imagine what life must have been like for Hannah and the children following Thomas’s death.

After more than four years Hannah remarried to Alexander Billington, a mason’s labourer. In the 1891 census Hannah and Alexander are living together at Fosters Court in Lancaster – none of Hannah’s children are there.

In that 1891 census three of the children, Arthur (12), Agnes Ann (10) and Elizabeth Leach (8) are recorded at Ripley Hospital, Endowed Charitable Trust for Fatherless Children. Another, Christopher Nathan (5) is with his grandparents William and Elizabeth Musgrove and Florence (15) is working as a “cotton rover” and living at Adelaide Street, Lancaster.

I do wonder whether Alexander Billington didn’t want to take on the children or perhaps it was just not practical – however I do feel some animosity towards him, maybe unfairly.

Did Hannah lose touch with her children after she remarried?

In any event Hannah was dead by early 1896 at the age of 41.

I really need to do some more work to find out what became of the children after Hannah’s death. Maybe that will be the subject of another blog post.

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