On the evening of Tuesday, 12th July 1910, Margaret Taylor, proprietor of number 29 Back Bank Terrace, upon noticing a terrible smell coming from somewhere within her house, would make a shocking discovery.
After wandering around from room-to-room to find the cause of the smell, Mrs. Taylor would eventually make her way down into the basement. In there she spotted an array of items, from clothing to furniture that had been left behind by a previous tenant.
After rummaging around for a short time, she came across a small tin-box. The smell at this point had gotten much stronger and it seemed to be coming from within the box.
Curious as to what was inside, she managed to break it open.
Recoiling from the odious smell that instantly escaped from the box, Mrs. Taylor, cupping her nose and mouth with one hand, leant back over and peered inside.
What she found inside the tin was a cardboard box, and inside that and wrapped in a dark blue coloured cloth and clothed in a white nightgown, were the feet of a young baby that peered through.
Horrified at the discovery, Mrs. Taylor immediately left the basement and went into town to inform the police of her find.
Quickly, Sergeant Walker made his way to number 29 and after investigating the basement, he took possession of the tin box, lifting it onto a table top. Opening it, Walker discovered the remains of a baby, but with decomposition in such an advanced state, he was unable to determine the sex.
The following morning, on Wednesday, 13th July, Dr. Harrison performed a postmortem ready for the inquest that would take place that afternoon.
Meanwhile, Sergeant Walker whom had spoken to Mrs. Taylor had made his way over to Loveclough, a small village in nearby Rawtenstall and based on information given to him, he called at the home of Sarah Hannah Barnes.
Informing Sarah of the tin-box being found and after asking if she owned such an item, Sarah asked him, “Do you think they will send me to prison?”
Sergeant Walker, obviously could never answer her question and instead asked if she would accompany him back to Haslingden so she could attend the inquest that afternoon.
In front of Mr. Robinson, the inquest into the body of the baby being found at number 29 Back Bank Terrace would take place in the Haslingden Town Hall.
First up would be Sergeant Walker who would tell of when Mrs. Taylor first approached him about the finding of the tin-box in the basement and how he took possession of it. He would also mention his subsequent visit to Loveclough to speak with Sarah Barnes.
Next up, Mrs Taylor would take to the stand. Along with detailing the events that took place the previous day, she would mention of how Sarah Barnes had been a neighbour living next door to her and her husband William from Christmas until around the end of February. When leaving, Sarah had asked Mrs. Taylor if she could leave behind some items of furniture which she would remove at a later date to which Mrs. Taylor had agreed too. She had known Sarah for around twelve-months and saw no reason to deny her request.
A couple of months passed and Sarah then returned to number 29 on Saturday 9th July, to drop off some more items, such as a flock bed and some bed clothes as well as a tin box.
Two days later and on Monday 11th July, Sarah returned, this time to pick up some items.
From mid-Monday until the following Tuesday evening, Mrs. Taylor spoke of how a pungent smell had begun to spread throughout her home until she realised it was perhaps coming from the basement. Upon searching, that is when she came across the tin-box and the contents within it.
Dr. Harrison would be next to be called to the stand. He told the magistrate of how he had performed a postmortem on the baby during the morning prior to the inquest taking place. His findings being that of a fully developed female baby, weighing approximately 1lb 15.5 o/z. It was badly decomposed with most of its organs now almost disappeared. The carcass was in a mummified state.
The body itself, from initial viewing, hadn’t been washed and there were no obvious signs of injury but because of the decomposition, Dr. Harrison could not determine the cause of death.
However, and despite any kind of evidence, he would go on to say at the inquest that he felt that the baby had been born alive, with the lungs having shown signs of being inflated and that it may have died from “want of attention at birth.”
Sarah Hannah Barnes would finally take to the stand. Aged just 23, she would tell the magistrates that she already had two children – one aged 5 years and another aged 1 year and five months old.
The coroner said to Sarah that she didn’t need to say anything unless she wished but she replied saying she was willing to tell all.
She would tell at the inquest of how she had resided with her father at Townsend Street in the heart of the town and that is where she had given birth to her baby girl around 18 months ago. She was alone at the time and with no one to help her she would recount the story of how, when her baby was born it hadn’t made any sounds on its arrival. No crying – nothing! Sadly, it was dead on arrival.
She then mentioned of how poor she was and didn’t have the money to pay to have her baby buried in the right manner.
The coroner replied, saying – “It was rather foolish of you.”
After a short deliberation, the jury would return a verdict that the body was that of a child belonging to Sarah Hannah Barnes and had died from want of attention at birth.
Sarah would be remanded until Monday, 18th July, where she would be brought back before the Haslingden Bench.
Charged with the concealment of the birth of the child, Sarah replied, “I quite understand.”
She would also say to the bench, “I was wrong in the date. It was two years ago last October.” (when she had given birth)
The coroner would ask Sarah if she would like to make any other statement to which she said, “No, thank you.”
It didn’t take long for the jury to come to an agreement that Sarah should be committed for trial at the Liverpool Assizes. Bail was allowed but the Chairman remarked that as the Assizes began ‘to-morrow’, the prisoner would not have long to wait.
The case would be heard, as expected, the following morning at the Liverpool Assizes, but after formal charges had been read out, the prosecution would ask for it to be bound over until Saturday, 23rd July with the suggestion that Sarah should be sent to a home for a given period during which she should undertake to remain in the home. The Liverpool police court missionaries who had taken an interest in the case believed they would be able to find a home by the end of that day.
Sarah would spend the next few hours in custody but would later be removed to a home with a view to being reformed.
Despite extensive research, we have been unable to find where Sarah was sent too or what happened to her baby daughter in terms of where she would be interred. One would think the baby may have been buried within the grounds of St. James Church, Haslingden, but we will need to search the burial records and hope we can find proof of this.
Also, there is no record of where her father was during the time she gave birth? Had he gone away for a while? Possibly working away from home? Again, we have tried our best to find more information on her father but without any success at this point.
And as for the case against Sarah, in today’s society, I think we can say with a reasonable amount of accuracy that Sarah’s baby was delivered stillborn. She stated in court that the baby never made any sounds or even cried directly after she gave birth and in her own words, she said it was “dead on arrival.”
And yet Dr. Harrison, despite saying in court that he was unable to determine the cause of death, he still condemned Sarah by insinuating the baby had died, pretty much, from “want of attention at birth.” In other words, she simply neglected her newborn baby girl.
So, what are your thoughts on this tragic story? Despite Sarah not conforming with burial ceremonies and not getting the help when she needed it the most – was she harshly punished by being split up from her two surviving children having been sent away to be ‘reformed.’
I think this is a story I may come back to at a later date and hopefully more information may be forthcoming which may shed some light on several aspects of the case.
I’d be interested to know your feelings on this one so please leave your comments down below!
Sources used in this story;
Special thanks to Jackie Ramsbottom for finding the location of Back Bank Terrace. Please visit Haslingden Blogspot at – https://haslingdens.blogspot.com/
Haslingden Gazette – Saturday 07 January 1911
Haslingden Gazette – Saturday 16 July 1910
Lancashire Evening Post – Wednesday 13 July 1910
Lancashire Evening Post – Monday 18 July 1910
+ many more courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive – www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk
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Unbelievable the weight of the baby means it was most definitely dead at birth. The sad part is there was not help for mother’s with still born or just babies that die early on in the life’s. To afford a funeral or burial would of been impossible for her to afford .She must of been so scared poor wee sole.Women in that day would not of had a chance to defend themself’s. The whole story saddens me.
So many questions come to mind.
What happened to the father of the child / children.
Where did the father to Sara go and was he the father of the baby ( not unusual in those days)
Did she ever get her other two children back
Was the baby even buried
I think she was badly treated
I was looking at my father’s birth certificate and saw that my father was born at 29 back bank Terrace on the 20 th of January 1914 to my grandparents Walter and Nora Barnes his name George Barnes this is a strange coincidence