Preston mother jailed for neglect after death of her five-week-old baby

Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at a tragic inquest into the death of a baby.
The Millard family dwelt in squalor on the High StreetThe Millard family dwelt in squalor on the High Street
The Millard family dwelt in squalor on the High Street

On the last Monday of October 1886 an inquest was held at the Earl Street police station before coroner Dr. Gilbertson following the death of five-week-old John Millard.

Amongst the witnesses called was midwife Maria Woods who stated that she had visited the High Street, Preston, home of Martha Millard in mid-September where she delivered a fine healthy child.

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During the following week she visited regularly finding mother and child in a healthy state, with mother suckling and feeding the infant. Unfortunately, in the weeks ahead it appeared that the child had been neglected and when the midwife was called by worried neighbours four weeks later he looked very delicate and had not thrived since birth.

Dr. Pilkington testified that he was called out later that day to examine the child, finding it in weak and sickly state and weighing less than 6lbs and showing signs of neglect and starvation.

There was little he could do and the child passed away within hours.

After also hearing the evidence of neighbours who stated that the mother had often left the child alone and crying for hours on end the inquest jury returned a verdict of manslaughter through neglect, against both Mrs. Millard and her husband John Millard.

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Within days the pair appeared before the Preston magistrates with most attention focused on the mother’s behaviour, rather than her husband who was a commercial traveller and had been away from home for a number of days after the child’s birth.

Police Detective James Challen related that he had spoken to Mrs. Millard on the day of the child’s death and had found her in a drunken state and that when he told her she was neglecting the child she said that it was not neglected as she was good mother.

The magistrates after brief consultations committed Martha Millard for trial at the forthcoming Manchester Assizes. As the chief magistrate Moses Savery Maynard announced the decision she wept bitterly before she was removed from the dock.

Her trial took place before Mr. Justice Cave in early November and the court heard that the couple had been married several years and that Mrs. Millard, aged 35, was the mother of several children, of which three were still alive, including her eldest daughter Jane Millard, aged 14.

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The prosecution called witnesses who spoke of the mother’s neglect and of her often going out leaving the baby wailing and crying and returning in a drunken state. Dr. Pilkington stated that neglect of the child was apparent and he was distressed by the state of the house, which he found very dirty and very foul smelling.

In her defence Mr. Shee called her daughter Jane who testified that she fed the baby with milk both morning and night and that for some days before the child died she had difficulty in making it take the milk. Mr. Shee stated that he did not dispute the infant had died of starvation, but he denied there was neglect, remarking that many a girl as young as Jane Millard had been left to look after infants. He submitted that in this case there had not been criminal negligence.

The jury after lengthy deliberations returned with a guilty verdict and Mr. Justice Cave passed a sentence of six months imprisonment with hard labour.

Most of the High Street where the Milliard family dwelt was demolished in the slum clearance days of the late 1950s and all traces of its existence are buried beneath the concrete of the Ring Road that sweeps down to Friargate – except for a couple of business premises at the top end that carry the name plaque of the High Street.

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