Drunken Preston man killed wife by holding her over an open fire
Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the case of a young girl who has to give evidence against her father who killed her mother..
In 1872 there lived in Emmett Street, Preston, the Bradley family consisting of William Bradley and his wife Alice, both aged 46, and their three children Catherine, Francis and Elizabeth. A tragic incident at their home on the first Saturday of April 1872 made their eldest daughter Catherine, aged eight, the focus of attention.
Bradley, who worked as a labourer, had that night returned home intoxicated, slumping down in a chair by the fireside. His wife, who was also intoxicated, was anxious to get the rent money off him and attempted to rouse him.
What exactly followed was the cause of much debate, but the outcome was that Alice ended up on fire with her clothes ablaze. She was eventually rushed to the Preston & County Infirmary at Deepdale, opened in 1870, to be treated for severe burns. Despite the best of attention she died ten days later.
An Inquest held the following day had Catherine Bradley as the first witness. She told the court that an argument had followed her mother’s request for the rent money and that her father had grabbed hold of her mother and held her to the fire until she got ablaze. Eventually, she had wrestled herself free and dashed into the kitchen where she followed and tried to dampen the flames. Her father then acted aggressively to both of them throwing punches and shouting before they ran out into the street where some neighbours came to their aid.
She finished by saying that her Auntie Elizabeth had told her she must tell the truth.
Following the daughter’s testimony a deposition made by Alice Bradley, stating that she did not think her husband did it intentionally, was read out. The daughter responding to that by saying, “My mother knows nowt. She never knows nowt when she has had ale.”
In his defence it was stated that the deposition of the dying woman was similar to that made by the accused. It was suggested that Bradley had simply pushed his wife whilst in an unconscious state and it was a case of misadventure.
The coroner’s jury took just five minutes to return with a verdict of manslaughter against William Bradley. The following afternoon he was committed for trial at the next Lancaster Assizes, although bail was allowed.
The trial took place at the end of July before Mr. Justice Willes. He expressed his surprise that Bradley had been out on bail and that he had been in contact with witnesses, although his daughter Catherine was staying with her aunt in Pleasant Street.
Similar evidence was delivered as at the inquest, with the girl unshaking in her testimony and the father adamant he had not committed a deliberate act.
The jury took little time to return a verdict of guilty of manslaughter. His Lordship praised the daughter for her bravery in giving evidence and commented that Alice Bradley in giving her deposition had been trying to save her husband from the fate he deserved.
Addressing Bradley he told him he had carried out a wicked act and that he was fortunate he wasn’t charged with murder. Bradley was then informed he would go to penal servitude for 10 years.