A NEW YEAR TRAGEDY - MALTRAVERS CRESCENT SHEFFIELD - DECEMBER 1945

Sharing the same grave in Sheffield's City Road are four children

DERBYSHIRE, Betty (daughter of Frederick, age 3).
Died at 30 Maltravers Crescent; Buried on January 5, 1946 in Consecrated ground; Grave Number 21326, Section D6 of City Road Cemetery, Sheffield.

DERBYSHIRE, Derek (son of Frederick, age 10).
Died at 30 Maltravers Crescent; Buried on January 5, 1946 in Consecrated ground; Grave Number 21326, Section D6 of City Road Cemetery, Sheffield.

DERBYSHIRE, Lorna (daughter of Frederick, age 6).
Died at 30 Maltravers Crescent; Buried on January 5, 1946 in Consecrated ground; Grave Number 21326, Section D6 of City Road Cemetery, Sheffield.

DERBYSHIRE, Rita (daughter of Frederick, age 4).
Died at 30 Maltravers Crescent; Buried on January 5, 1946 in Consecrated ground; Grave Number 21326, Section D6 of City Road Cemetery, Sheffield.

The children died as a result of a dreadful tragedy that occurred in the early hours of 31st December 1945. The Manchester Guardian dated 1st January 1946 gave a very brief report of the children's death
 

The children were buried five days after the fire but5 what happened next is rather disconcerting to say the least. An Inquest was held in Sheffield on 8th January 1946 under the auspices of the local coroner, Mr. A. P. Lockwood. The Manchester Guardian dated 9th January 1946 stated the following

When I first accessed the report in The Guardian, I was rather perturbed to read the Coroner's comments - "although he was satisfied there had been no criminal negligence, he found it difficult to accept that the parents did all they could have done to rescue the children.. he felt that there had been a grievous loss of time on the part of Mrs Derbyshire. He supposed it was reasonable for the father to go first though he would have preferred to be the father left in the room." Given that the parents had lost four of their six children, and buried them just three days earlier, his comments could be deemed insensitive for want of a better word. Or to put it another way compassion and sympathy seemed to strangely absent.

Given the nature of the comments, I went to the Local Studies library in Sheffield and found a report in The Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated 9th January 1946. The headline certainly caught my eye

   

This more detailed report of the incident does reveal another aspect of the case that is not mentioned in The Guardians report. After his inferred criticism of the parents conduct after the fire was discovered he then goes on to state " This is a purely personal matter and in that respect I suppose they did what they thought was right and it was right." and "all had been done to rescue the children from the bedroom in which they died."

It seems to me that the Coroner at some point realised that his comments on the parents conduct were inferring some form of negligence on their behalf, and so he then retreated by saying "all had been done to rescue the children from the bedroom in which they died."  

One thing is for certain is that the Coroner never had faced a house on fire in the middle of a foggy night in December. He seems initially to have used the valuable commodity of hindsight and then proceeded to tell the parents that their conduct and actions at the time of the fire left something to be desired, and that if they had acted in a thoughtful and rational manner, more of their children would have been saved. In my opinion, most people caught in a house fire of this nature do not act in a calm and purposeful manner but panic and are in a state of shock. Reading the report, the parents did the best they could in the circumstances - to have the parents and children together in one room with the door closed is sound practise. The fire just took a strong hold that meant it spread far faster than the parents anticipated - "flames came through the floorboards and under the door." No questions were asked about the materials by the Coroner used in the house, and the houses layout and construction. But more worryingly, investigations into the cause of the fire were none existent - "the fire MIGHT have been caused by a trivial act of carelessness" is just pure speculation and no substantial evidence was produced at the inquest to suggest that this was the case. There was a small fire in the living room and Mr Derbyshire threw a cigarette stub into it at about 11.00 pm was the extent of the "evidence."

But the final disconcerting feature of the case was that the mother Mrs Laura Derbyshire whose hair was burnt in the fire, had lost and buried four of her children days earlier  was then placed in the witness box "for over an hour" by the Coroner and closely questioned about the events of that night. As I said earlier, compassion and sympathy were absent from the inquest.

As always, if anyone has any further information on the fire and its aftermath, please contact me.

Notes

Surname First name(s) Spouse District Vol Page
Marriages Jun 1931
Barber Laura Derbyshire Sheffield 9c 1412
Derbyshire Frederick Barber Sheffield 9c 1412

Sources

The Sheffield History Forum

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated 9th January 1946

The Manchester Guardian dated 1st and 9th January 1946

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This page was last updated on 05/04/16 16:01