Weaste Cemetery

Biographies of people buried between 1920 & 29

Mary Brierley (1913 - 1929)


MARY BRIERLEY (1913 – 1929)

Mary Brierley, a 15-year-old mill girl who lived in Artillery Street, shocked her family by committing suicide by drinking *Lysol, a popular disinfectant.


On Tuesday 26th February 1929, an Inquest was held by Salford City Coroner, Mr Howard Flint, into the death of Mary Brierley, who had died in the early hours of that day at Salford Royal Hospital. Dr H. Lees Hockman, Houses Surgeon at Salford Royal Hospital said the deceased was admitted at 12.40 am that day suffering from poisoning. She was moribund and unconscious and the contents of the stomach smelt strongly of Lysol. She died at 1.50am, poisoning being the cause of death.


Elizabeth Bradley said that Mary was her niece and she was her guardian since she was three. Her mother died in 1916 and her father died about 12 months ago. Elizabeth said that Mary used to have fits, but overcame them. At about 5.45pm on Monday Mary came home from work at a mill in Manchester and had her tea. She went out to the pictures and came home at 10.55pm. Elizabeth told Mary she was too young to be out that late and Mary laughed it off. However as Mary had forgotten to buy firewood earlier, she went to the corner shop to buy some. When the Coroner asked about the occupiers of the house, Elizabeth replied herself, her brother who was a widower, his son, her daughter and Mary. During the cold weather the three females slept in the same bed. On that night Mary went to bed first and after a short time there was a noise like snoring. Elizabeth looked into the bedroom and noticed Mary's mouth foaming and a bottle of Lysol on the table. She was taken to hospital. Elizabeth explained that she kept the Lysol disinfectant in the scullery.


The Coroner asked if Mary had any worries. Elizabeth said that she hadn't been in any trouble, but her married sister had just lost her baby son, who Mary was very attached to. She cried very much, but appeared to recover. Other questions revealed that Mary was not keeping company with a boy; did not read trashy novels; went to the pictures twice a week; the film she saw that night was about scenery in Ireland; that she wasn't an excitable girl, but she would go a very pale colour if she ever did get excited; and that she was a quiet girl. Other witnesses told a similar story.


Reviewing the evidence, the Coroner said that the case was a remarkable one. Here is the deceased who was a mere child, 15 years of age, so dissatisfied with her life that she drank this Lysol and caused her death. I am quite at a loss to understand what is behind this case. The girl was of a bright and cheerful disposition and seems to have been happy and comfortable with her aunt. There does not appear to have been any trouble in her work. I am most reluctant to find that a girl of such tender years should have deliberately taken her life. I am satisfied that she was not in a normal condition and yielded to some sudden impulse and drank the Lysol. Nowadays the girls and children certainly enjoy more freedom than they did previously and possibly it is not always to their advantage.

A verdict of "Suicide while temporarily insane" was returned.

The funeral was held on 2nd March 1929. Mary was buried in a common grave in the Roman Catholic portion. Father R. Delaney officiated.


* Lysol was a brand name of disinfectant used as a household cleaner. The active ingredient in those days was cresol (similar to phenol or carbolic acid). The dilution rate was one teaspoon of Lysol to be added to one gallon of water. This would be stored in empty bottles. In 1918 Lysol was advertised as an effective counter-measure to the Spanish Flu pandemic.

By coincidence, (and this is pure speculation on the behalf of the writer), Lysol was used by Charlotte Mary Mew, an English Poet, to commit suicide on 24th March 1928, (less than 12 months before Mary's suicide)! She was born on 15th November 1869 and her poetry is described as being on the cusp of Victorian and Modernism. Mental illness was rife in her family and she vowed never to marry so that she would not pass it on. One of her famous poems was entitled "In Nunhead Cemetery". It is written from the perspective of a man, whose fiancée has recently died, as he stands beside her newly dug grave at Nunhead Cemetery in London.