Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the shocking case of a girl who had to spend the night alone while locked below an empty shop.
On the first Thursday of June 1883 Mrs. Jolly, of Inkerman Street in Preston, sent her daughter Elizabeth, aged five, and her younger sister to the St. Walburge’s School for the afternoon.
Shortly before 5 o’clock the latter returned home, but without her elder sister. The youngster was not able to give her mother information as to Elizabeth’s whereabouts.
After making enquiries that shed no light she contacted the police and then along with her husband and the police spent all night searching frantically for her daughter.
At midday on the Friday Mrs. Jolly, accompanied by Det. Insp Brown, was called to the shop of Mr. Nightingale in Bouverie Street where her daughter had been taken.
She had nothing on but her chemise and one stocking, and was shaking with cold. She appeared wild and excited and Dr. Henry Walmsley was sent for to calm her down as she was in nervous shock.
Half an hour earlier James Powell, aged 16, of Havelock Street had been passing an untenented shop on Brook Street when he heard some stifled screaming and along with passer by he discovered an unfastened door.
They searched the shop and then noticed behind the counter a trap door that led to the cellar. Cautiously proceeding down the cellar steps into the darkness, he called out and heard a muffled response and then discovered in the corner the petrified little girl with her frock and petticoat beside her. He immediately bundled her up and carried her to Mr. Nightingale’s shop.
The following day Det. Insp Brown interviewed the girl who said she had been going along Fylde Road when she met Nancy and Sarah Isherwood, two sisters who lived in Bouverie Street.
According to Elizabeth one of the girls had snatched her shawl and she was forced to follow them as they walked about until dusk.
The sisters then taking her to the empty shop, washing her with dirty water, stripping her and shutting her up in the cellar. After a while she had tried to raise the trap door, but could not and her cries for help through the night had gone unheard.
On the following Wednesday Nancy Isherwood, aged 11, and Sarah Ellen Isherwood, aged nine, appeared at the Preston police court accused of assault.
The details of Elizabeth Jolly’s ordeal were relayed by various witnesses and D.I. Brown told the court that his investigations had led him to believe that Mrs. Isherwood was a drunken, unprincipled woman and that the children had often been neglected and kept from school due to lack of school fees.
Chief magistrate Dr. Gilbertson addressed Mrs. Isherwood, saying the Bench were of the opinion that she had neglected her duty, and that the children must be taken out of her hands. He then ordered they be remanded to the Fulwood Workhouse for seven days after which time their fate would be decided.
A week later the girls were brought before the court and Dr. Gilbertson informed them that they would be sent to the Sale Moor Industrial School, near Manchester, where they would remain until they were 16 years old. In the hope that they would come out better children than when they went in.