The Kirby family

This Foldout describes the case of Spontaneous Human Combustion and the Kirby family in 1899.

John Henry Kirby was a gas stoker with Halifax Corporation Gas Works.

In [Q2] 1892, he married Sarah Ann Mitchell in Halifax.

They had two daughters: Alice Ann [b 1893] and Amy [b  1894].

By 1899, the parents had separated: Amy (aged 4) lived with her mother at Hargreaves Terrace, Norland, and Alice Ann (aged 5 years and 11 months) lived with her father and grandmother, Mrs Kirby, on Wakefield Road, Sowerby Bridge.

At 11 o'clock on Wednesday, 5th January 1899, Amy was found in flames at Hargreaves Terrace on the Norland hillside. At the same time, Alice Ann was on fire at the house on Wakefield Road, Sowerby Bridge.

At Hargreaves Terrace, Amy had been left alone whilst her mother went to get water from the well. As she returned a few minutes later, Sarah Ann heard screams coming from the house, and saw Amy with

flames a yard high coming from her head ... [as if] she had paraffin thrown over her

As Sarah ran to fetch her husband and with news of Amy, she met a neighbour running in the opposite direction with news of Alice Ann.

Alice Ann had been asleep in bed at the time and her grandmother had gone to help her married daughter at a nearby house. A neighbour, Miss Phoebe Ramsden, saw a blaze in the house but did not take any particular notice, thinking that Mrs Kirby was burning rags or such. Then the little girl appeared at the door with flames coming from the top of her head. There were no matches about, and the fire in the hearth had not been disturbed. Miss Ramsden called Mrs Hollas, another neighbour, wrapped Alice Ann in a rug to smother the flames and set off for Norland to fetch her mother. They met in Fall Lane as Sarah Ann was coming in the opposite direction.

Dr Wellburn arrived and sent the girls to Halifax Infirmary where they were treated. Alice Ann was fearfully burned from her ankles to the top of her head. The flesh in many places seemed to be completely charred.

Alice Ann died the same evening, and Amy died the next day.

At the inquest, their mother said she had gone to the well to fetch water because the child had a terrible thirst, although another report says that she needed water to wash the flags.

The deaths were recorded as accidental, but the vicar – Rev Canon Charles Llewelyn Ivens – buried them [7th January 1899] in an unmarked grave in unconsecrated ground at Sowerby Bridge Cemetery [Section B 288].

The above information was kindly supplied by Anne Lucas who tells me:

The mother of the girls, Sarah Ann, was my maternal grandma. She died in 1949 at the age of 77. The two little girls would have been my aunts. When the church would not allow the girls to be buried in consecrated ground, this upset my gran as they were very religious and already owned a family plot

Further tragedy followed the family, when in 1911, the family lost another child.

The Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail [24th July 1911] reported

the death of the nine-months-old child of John Henry Kirby, an oil refiner of Sowerby Bridge. The child had pulled a pan of boiling water over itself

This & associated entries use material which was kindly contributed by Anne Lucas

© Malcolm Bull 2024
Revised 15:12 / 2nd April 2024 / 5703

Page Ref: MMK69

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