Weaste Cemetery

Biographies of people buried between 1890 & 99

Dora, Elizabeth Ann and Bertha Litherland (N/A - 1894)

This story is about a bedside paraffin lamp that "exploded" engulfing three little girls in flames. (Not to be read by the faint-hearted).


The Salford Reporter of 22nd September 1894 records an Inquest into the deaths of 3 little sisters, Dora aged 5, Elizabeth Ann aged 3 and Bertha aged 8 months, Litherland. It was held on Wednesday 19th September at the Brotherton Liberal Club, conducted by the Coroner, Mr F Price. It concerns a fire at the home of the Litherland family, 3, Elton's Yard, Great Clowes Street, Broughton, near Broughton Bridge.


The first witness was the mother of the three girls, Mrs Dora Litherland. She said that she was the wife of William L. Litherland, Bricklayer. She put the three girls to bed together on Saturday night and she and her husband retired at some time between midnight and 1 am. They were all in the one bed: she was at one end with the two older girls and William was at the other end with the baby. They had not been drinking. She had carried a paraffin lamp upstairs and turned the wick down low so that it would burn all night. The two girls were not very well. They had not been asleep long when she woke up to a noise in the room like an explosion and a burning noise followed. The room was full of smoke and there was only a small flame visible on the table where the lamp had been standing. She roused her husband, screamed for help and jumped out of bed. She took the two elder children in her arms and rushed out of the room and found her husband screaming on the landing. She did not think the children were burnt as she could see no fire.


When they got into the street she shouted for help and some men came. She did not tell them what had happened, her whole anxiety being for the safety of the baby which was still inside. Someone fetched Bertha out of the house and she next saw her in her husband's brother's house next door. She remembers being taken to hospital in a cab and her husband and children were already there. She was herself burnt on her hands, breast and arm and became unconscious soon after arrival.


Dora Litherland was questioned about the lamp. It was established that the lamp was 5 years old and the extinguishing mechanism did not work. She had to blow out the flame from below. She said that she regularly trimmed the two wicks. She had filled the lamp after buying a quart of paraffin from the little shop in Harrison Street at a cost of 3 ha'pence. When asked if she turned down the wicks to below the top of the tubes she replied no. She also said that the lamp was on a table which was a yard away from the bed. At this point Dora suddenly put her hand to her head and said "Oh God, help my poor little ones", and fainted. She had to be assisted out of the room.


The next two witnesses discussed the workings and the maintenance of the paraffin lamp and the quality of paraffin, and concluded that yes indeed, the lamp could have exploded, showering the room with burning paraffin.


The final witness was Dr Brown, Senior House Surgeon at Salford Royal Hospital. He said that Mr Litherland and his three daughters were brought in with burns at 1.15 am on Sunday morning 23rd September. The two elder children had burns all over their bodies and the baby had burns on the lower part. The second child (Elizabeth Ann) died an hour after admission, the eldest (Dora) died at 7 am and the youngest (Bertha) died at 11 pm. The cause of death was shock caused by burns in each case, although the burns were not deep.


The Coroner recorded a verdict of Accidental Death and said that he wished to bring the following points before the public:


1. that the burners of all lamps should be kept clean inside;
2. that wicks of the proper width should always be used; and
3. that good oil should be used.


The funeral was held on Friday afternoon, 21st September 1894. William Litherland was unable to attend as he was still detained in hospital. Several hundred people congregated at the junction of Lower Broughton Road and Great Clowes Street to witness the departure from Elton's Yard. The funeral cortege consisted of a glass-panelled hearse, known as a Washington car, which bore the three plain coffins, and four coaches. As it approached Weaste Cemetery another large group of people had gathered. A detachment of police were on duty to maintain a clear passage, but the crowd was quiet and orderly. There were many floral tributes.