Tight-fitting corset blamed for death at Preston dental surgery

Tight-fitting stays caused breathing problems
Tight-fitting stays caused breathing problems
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Local historian Keith Johnson this week looks back at another death at a dental surgery

On the second Saturday of January 1895 at about 7 o’clock in the evening Annie Budden, aged 23, a domestic servant employed by Mr & Mrs. Willan of Ribblesdale Place, Preston, visited the Fishergate dental surgery of Nathaniel Miller.

What was to follow brought back haunting memories of the day in April 1882 when a young lad had choked to death in Mr. Miller’s dental chair.

Miss Budden asked the dentist if he would take out two teeth that were causing her pain. After an examination he found that the pain was resulting from a lower tooth and agreed to extract it. She asked for gas, and from her healthy appearance he had no hesitation in administering it. Within half a minute she was thoroughly unconscious and he proceeded to remove the tooth, throughout which operation her breathing was normal.

She quickly recovered consciousness after the procedure was complete, but the dentist then noticed a slight pallor down each side of her nostrils and she began breathing spasmodically.

These symptoms alarmed him and she quickly lapsed into an unconscious state and at once he applied nitrate of amyl.

He then sent his assistant to fetch Dr. Collins on as he applied artificial respiration. The doctor arrived quickly and injected the patient with ether, and in removing her clothing he found her stays were so tightly laced that they had to be torn asunder. Despite the best efforts of both surgeon and dentist the patient slipped into death within half an hour.

On the following Monday afternoon an inquest was held at the Preston Royal Infirmary before the coroner Mr. J. Parker attended by her father Edmund Budden, a cashier from Middlesex.

Mr. Budden formally identified his daughter who he said had always had good health. Mrs. Willan stated that the deceased had worked for her for seven months and had been a good girl of regular habits. She was unaware that she was going to visit the dentist, although she had spoken of toothache a few weeks earlier.

Nathaniel Miller told the inquest of the procedure he had carried out and his unsuccessful efforts, along with Dr. Collinson, to save her life. He then stated that he had been in practice for 25 years, and administered gas safely over 100,000 times. Dr. Collinson stated that after observing the deceased to be tight laced he had measured her waist and found it to be 23 inches, whilst her stays measured 18 inch. He had conducted a post mortem along with Dr. Turnbull-Smith and they had observed that the appearance of the internal organs indicated that excessive tight lacing had been habitual.

He concluded by stating that death was due to asphyxia, under the conditions stated, which interfered with proper breathing.

There was no suggestion that the gas was too strong and the fact that Mr. Miller had treated other patients that day using gas without any problems suggested it did not contain any impurities.

The coroner, addressing the jury, said it seemed to him that death had resulted from the woman receiving gas whilst suffering the effects of tight lacing.

After a brief consultation the jury returned a verdict of ‘death from misadventure’ whilst under the influence of nitrous oxide gas, due to suffocation caused by excessive tight lacing.

The coroner concluded by remarking that Mr. Miller was in no way to blame for the unfortunate tragedy.

The practice of tight-lacing had become commonplace and tragedies such as this were a warning of the dangers.

Nathaniel Miller was one of Preston’s most respected dentists and was a town councillor from 1881.

In his later years Mr. Miller spent much time in creating his legacy to Preston the building and development of the Miller Arcade, opened in 1899, and the most fashionable of late Victorian structures.

He was made Mayor of Preston in 1910 and when he died in 1933, aged 83, the town mourned his passing.