Local historian Keith Johnson looks at the tragic case of a boy killed when lightning struck a chimney...
The duties of Preston coroner Miles Myres included visits to the neighbouring villages to hold inquests wherever tragedy struck and in the last week of May 1865 he had to visit Longton after a tragedy there.
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On the last Monday of May a great storm of thunder, lightning and rain passed over the county. The lightning struck several buildings in Preston and a great deal of damage was caused by the torrential rain that afternoon.
Many a cellar was flooded in the town centre as water cascade down the streets. One tradesman, Mr. Hayes, grocer, with Friargate premises, reporting the loss of £100 worth of stock and Lune Street premises, including the Corporation Arms, were flooded due to blocked sewers.
Furniture in several dwellings in the centre of town was reported to be floating about.
With hailstones reckoned to be as large as marbles crashing down, broken glass was commonplace.
Trains were halted at Maudland, where sleepers blocked the line, and at Ribbleton, where an embankment was washed down cutting off the Longridge line.
There was certainly chaos and confusion, but nothing like the horror that had unfolded at Longton. Coroner Miles Myres received a message late on the Monday evening that a death had occurred in the village.
Consequently, Mr. Myres arranged an inquest at the Black Bull Inn on the body of Joseph Walton, aged 15, who had been killed by lightning. Walton had been casually employed that day in cleaning up the barn and repairing the gravel walks at the Manor House in Longton by Mrs. Moss.
At the height of the storm he had sought shelter in the Manor House and had joined Mrs. Moss and the servant girl Margaret Sutton in the kitchen, where the pair stood near the fireplace with the lad sat in a large chair with the house dog upon his knee. Suddenly a bolt of lightning struck the chimney, filling the kitchen with soot and debris.
Clearly what happened next was shrouded in mystery as Miss Sutton told the gathering she saw a flash of lightning, but she recalled nothing more until she found herself on the pantry floor.
The right side of her face was scorched. Mrs. Moss stated that she could only recall hearing a noise and nothing else until she found herself at the door of neighbour Henry Hall, a shoemaker.
He recalled hearing the cracks of thunder and the arrival of Mrs. Moss on his doorstep. He explained how the pair of them had gone into the Manor House and, upon entering the kitchen, which was covered with soot and debris, discovered the awful truth. The lifeless body of the youth was in the chair with the dead dog lying at his feet.
The deceased’s trousers were burning when he first saw him, one of his clogs was split, his stockings were burnt and his body much scorched. Plaster had been knocked off the wall and a clock above his head was much damaged and stopped on the fateful hour of 4 o’clock.
The jury, after listening to medical evidence, returned a verdict of ‘killed by lightning’. The coroner then remarked how fortunate the two women had been to escape relatively unscathed, and he expressed his commiserations to the mother of the victim.
He remarked that he had been a fine youth and a popular singer at the church.