Tragic suffocation of Preston woman whose dress caught fire

Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the shocking and horrific death of a young woman in the 19th century...

Thursday, 22nd August 2019, 12:31 pm
Updated Thursday, 22nd August 2019, 1:31 pm
A fire in Cross Street at the corner house led to tragedy

Early in the evening on the first Saturday of January 1841 the residents of Cross Street, off Winckley Square, were thrown into a state of alarm, by a report of a fire at the three-storey home of Mr. Ross who resided at the corner of Avenham Rd.

The two horse drawn fire engines, in those days were located at the nearby old ‘Lock Up’ in Avenham Street and under the charge of chief fire officer Samuel Bradley.

Once the alarm was raised the fire brigade were quickly at the scene and soon had the blaze under control as a great crowd of onlookers gathered.

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When the blaze was extinguished it was learnt that Margaret Carson, the youngest daughter of eminent Liverpool physician Dr. Carson, had died.

At the subsequent inquest at the Town Hall, before the coroner Mr. Richard Palmer, details of the tragedy emerged.

Miss Carson, aged 20, had for nearly three years been resident at the house, receiving medical attendance under the direction of her father due to her suffering from a deranged mind. On the fateful evening she had been taken her tea at five o’clock and been left alone in her first floor room.

Half an hour later Mrs. Ross and a servant had heard shrieks and cries from above and hurrying upstairs had entered the smoke filled room to discover the unfortunate lady enveloped in flames. Along with the servant she managed to smother the flames with a blanket and the unconscious young lady was carried downstairs.

She had been severely burnt and was clearly suffering from suffocation, so much so that she died within twenty minutes despite the attempts by Dr. Alexander, who had arrived promptly, to revive her.

From the nature of the injuries sustained by Miss Carson, and from the state in which the room was found, it was presumed that she had taken fire at the lower part of her dress, and either from the effects of instant suffocation, or from insensibility, she was unable to make any effort to save herself. The remains of the ill fated lady had presented a shockingly horrific sight.

The inquest jury heard that she had previously been declared a lunatic, her derangement brought on by excessive studies, in particular her obsessive devotion to the Classics. The sad episode concluded with a verdict of ‘Accidental Death’ being recorded.

There was praise for Samuel Bradley who had been appointed at the January 1838 monthly Police Meeting as the Superintendent of the Fire Brigade on a salary of £25 per annum. He had constantly gained much praise in the press for the way he conducted training for his troops and often paid out of his own pocket for equipment needed.