Parents’ horror as children suffocated in Preston fire tragedy

Bentinck Street led off Maudland Bank
Bentinck Street led off Maudland Bank
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Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at a house fire that claimed the lives of two youngsters.

The modern day Maudland Bank estate bears little resemblance to the late Victorian times when rows of terraced homes occupied the land.

Amongst the streets in the days when the Lancaster Canal ran behind Maudland Bank was Bentinck Street home to numerous working families. Back in mid-September 1891 it was the place where a tragedy struck that shocked the whole neighbourhood.

On the second Monday of September, Thomas Wilding, engine tenter, and his wife left home at 9 o’clock in the evening to visit Avenham Park to witness a pyrotechnic display. Their children, Maggie, aged six, and Willie, aged two, being fast asleep in the front bedroom. Prior to leaving Wilding turned the kitchen gas very low, and left all apparently safe.

The couple after watching an exhilarating display of fireworks returned home a couple of hours later.

On opening the front door Wilding was horrified to discover the house was on fire with the kitchen ablaze and dense smoke and fumes engulfing the staircase.

Rushing upstairs he forced his way into the front bedroom and seized the youngsters from their beds.

Believing the children were still asleep he carried them into a neighbouring house exclaiming: “Thank God, the children are safe; bother the furniture.”

As they showed no sign of animation he became alarmed, and secured some brandy from the neighbouring Maudland Bank Inn public house.

This he administered with no response and neighbours who had alerted the fire brigade tried to contact a local doctor who was not at home. Dr Brown of Plungington Road was then called to attend and when he arrived he witnessed the parents holding their children in the street hoping that fresh air would revive them.

Unfortunately, despite his best efforts Dr Brown could only confirm that the children had been overcome by the fumes and suffocated whilst asleep, undergoing a painless but sorrowful end. The blaze despite the deadly fumes it gave off was mainly confined to the kitchen and the fire brigade soon quelled the flames.

On the Wednesday afternoon an inquest was held at the Ship Inn on Fylde Road before coroner Dr Gilbertson. A distraught Thomas Wilding was the first witness and he described the terrible events that had unfolded. He then stated that he believed the fire was caused by a flue from the adjoining Maudland Bank Inn on the street corner.

Robert Edward Saul, the landlord of the inn, was next called and stated that although his brew house adjoined Wilding’s home, the fire did not originate from his premises.

Further evidence was then submitted by the fire brigade that indicated the flue did not cause the fire.

The coroner in his summing up stated that the leaving of these children alone was an act of great carelessness especially with the gas burning, this apparently having been done by the parents on a number of occasions.

The coroner’s jury after their lengthy deliberations returned a verdict that the children had been ‘accidentally suffocated’ and added that there was not sufficient evidence to show how the fire was caused.