“LOUISA KAY YATES, aged only 16 years was present but she appeared so utterly prostrated by the sense of her position that she was altogether insensible of what was taking place,” began a report of an inquest in the Darlington & Stockton Times of 150 years ago this week.
The paper told how a body of a young male baby had been found buried beneath about a foot of waste in the ashpit in the back yard of a house in Hurworth, near Darlington. The house was occupied by Miss Eales, although her neighbours had access to the yard as the water pump was located there.
The neighbours were the family of Joseph Poole, the master of the Wesleyan schools, whose servant, Louisa, had joined them about five months previously.
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“At the time she entered my service, I had no suspicion she was in the family way,” Mr Poole told the inquest in the Bay Horse pub. “I thought that she afterwards looked stout. I believe Mrs Poole challenged her with it (pregnancy) but she stoutly denied it.”
If he had known of Louisa’s predicament, he said, he would never have taken her on.
He continued: “About a month ago I came down one morning about breakfast into the kitchen where Louisa Yates was in the habit of sleeping. I saw a large stain of blood on the carpet before the fire.”
The poor girl was dressed and going about her chores. Mr Poole asked about the blood, and she replied: “I did it while washing the hearth.”
He said: “She was poorly that day and she had a glass of gin given to her by us at night.”
The baby was found the next day, and Mr Poole concluded his evidence by noting how Louisa “has diminished in size”.
AWFUL HEADLINE: From the D&S Times, February 16, 1867
George Edmundson Cockcroft, the village surgeon, said the 7.5lb baby was well developed. During an autopsy, he had removed its lungs which had floated when put in a jar of water. He’d then cut the lungs up and tried the float test on each portion – some had floated, others had sunk. From this he concluded that the baby had drawn breath, but only briefly – he estimated 30 seconds to a minute – as the lungs had not been entirely inflated.
He said the child had died of obstruction to the airways, but could not tell whether this had been a “wilful act”.
“The coroner, having summed up and recapitulated parts of the evidence, the jury, after some deliberation, returned the following verdict: we are unanimously of the opinion that the deceased is the illegitimate child of Louisa Yates, and that it was born alive, but died during the act of self delivery,” said the D&S.
Lousia was kept in custody until her appearance a couple of days later at Darlington police court charged with concealing the birth of her illegitimate child at Hurworth. She pleaded not guilty and was committed for trial at Durham assizes later in the month – hopefully we’ll spot what became of her in future weeks.
At the time of this tragedy, Hurworth had two brands of Methodism – the Primitives at the east end of the village, and the Wesleyans at the west end. The Wesleyans were the longest established, having built their chapel in 1827. They enlarged it in 1865 so that it could hold 250 people, and then rebuilt it once more in 1954 – presumably this was when the long windows on the front were bricked up with bricks that don’t quite match. Today, the chapel shares its premises with the Mustard Tree Café.
The Wesleyans began their school in 1848 when they paid their teacher – Joseph Poole in 1867 – £50-a-year, which was covered by an anonymous local benefactor. We believe the schoolroom was on the chapel site and we guess, therefore, that the tragedy happened in one of the neighbouring houses – if anyone has any information, we’d be pleased to hear it.
The Wesleyan school was sold to Durham County Council in 1904 and in 1914 it amalgamated with the village school which was then opposite the Spar shop.