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1874: Sergison sisters die in horror blaze

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

West Sussex County Times - Wednesday 20 May 1874


The following details of this sad occurrence are from the Leicestershire Daily Post: – a melancholy occurrence took place at Netherseal Hall, the residence of Mr. E. W. Robertson near Ashby-de-la -Zouch, on Sunday evening last, whereby two young ladies were burned to death and two others severely injured.

Netherseal Hall, c1910 Derbyshire, Tudor home Gresley family. Demolished in 1933

It appears that the two young ladies, named respectively Katharine Agnes Emily Fraser Sergison, 19 years of age, and Isabella Mary Sergison, 17 years of age, daughters of the Reverend W. Sergison, of Slaugham Sussex, were on a visit to Mr Robertson, their uncle. They had come for the purpose of being present at the opening of a new church at Netherseal, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch. After leaving the dining room on Sunday evening the two Miss Sergisons along with Mrs and Miss Robertson, went to the housekeeper’s room, and the younger Miss Sergison went near to the fire for the purpose of warming her feet.

While doing so, by some means or other, her dress caught fire, and being all light muslin, it was almost instantaneously in blaze. Her sister and Mrs and Miss Robertson ran to endeavour to extinguish the flames, but in so doing, their dresses caught fire also. Miss Sergison’s dress was of the same material as her sister’s and was soon ablaze. The ladies screamed for help, and Mr Robertson and the Reverend Nigel Gresley, who appear to have been the only other persons present, immediately opened the door of the dining room to go to their assistance. On their doing so the two miss Sergison's ran into the room enveloped in flames, which extended over their heads. The Reverend Mr Gresley threw a rug over the eldest, laid her on the floor, and in a short time extinguished the flames. He went to fetch another rug to use for the same purpose with her sister as Mr Robertson was unable to put out the flames.

On coming back he found Miss Sergison had got up and was again in flames. He again threw her down, and eventually succeeded in thoroughly extinguishing the fire. The flames on Miss Isabella were soon after got out, and after which the bell was violently rung but there was no answer. On proceeding to the housekeepers room the two gentlemen found Mrs and Miss Robertson lying on the floor with their dresses on fire, but as they were of less inflammable material, the fire was easier to extinguish.

Medical assistance was at once sent for, and Mr Spencer Edmonds was speedily in attendance.

He found that all the four ladies had been terribly burned. He remained with them during the night, and did all he could to alleviate their sufferings. The two Mrs Sergison died in the morning from the effects of the burns, and Mrs and Miss Robertson still remain in a very precarious condition. Much sympathy is felt for the relatives of the deceased.

Mr Coroner Deane held an inquest at the Holly Bush Inn, in the parish of Seals, on Tuesday evening, when the following evidence was adduced:-

The Reverend Nigel Gresley said he was the Rector of Seals. On Sunday night he was dining at the hall.

About a 8:45 o'clock he was in the dining room with Mr Robertson, the ladies having left about 10 minutes previously.

He heard most frightful screams. He ran to the door and opened it, and the two Misses Sergison came running in with their dresses all in flames, these reaching far above their heads. He seized hold of the rug and threw the eldest down, and succeeded in putting out the flames, almost immediately. He looked around and saw Mr Robertson trying to put out the flames on her sister with his hands, there being no other rugs, and when he got back he found the elder sister had got up and was in flames again. Mr Robertson then had the rug which witness had first used. Witness instantly put the rugs on the eldest Miss Sergison again and put her on the floor and extinguished the flames effectually. He then rang the bell violently, and there being no reply he ran to the housekeepers room and found Miss Robertson and Mrs Robertson both having been on fire. Their dresses were less inflammable than the others and were easily extinguished. The Misses Sergison had been wearing light muslin dresses. Witness heard from Miss Robertson that Miss Isabella Sergison was warming her feet at the fire when her dress ignited. On going into the drawing room he found a slight guard before the fire and the rug on the middle of the floor.

Mr Spencer Edmonds said he was a surgeon at Netherfield. On Sunday night, the 10th of May, he was sent for to the Hall to attend the deceased ladies and Mrs and Miss Robertson.He found them all suffering from the effects of severe burns. He continued in attendance until the next morning, when the Misses Sergison died. They died from the effects of the burns. The jury returned a verdict of “accidental death”, and expressed their condolence with the relatives in their sad bereavement.

Funeral of the daughters of the Reverend for Prebendary Sergison.

From The Brighton Daily News

The mortal remains of the unfortunate young ladies recently burnt to death while on a visit at Neverseale Hall, in Leicestershire, were brought home to Slaugham for interment, on Saturday evening, accompanied by Mr and Mrs Sergison, and Mr W. Sergison.

On Sunday, crowds of persons availed themselves of the opportunity afforded them of viewing the coffins, which were placed in the study at the Rectory, the walls of which were draped with black and white, and appropriately decorated with white flowers and a beautiful motto, "asleep in Jesus."

The exterior coffins were of polished oak, surmounted by a large cross, one bearing the following inscription: – Isabella Mary Catherine Sergison, born February 22, 1855, died, May 11, 1874.

And the other: – Katharine Agnes Emily Fraser Sergison born March 2, 1857, died May 11, 1874.

By the side of each plate was laid a full blown broken Lily and many wreaths of crosses and white flowers. A sadder or more affecting scene could not be imagined than was presented yesterday afternoon, when the bodies were conveyed to the final resting place in the adjoining churchyard, where a spacious vault had been prepared. The procession was headed by a dozen children chosen from the young ladies’ Sunday classes; these were dressed in black and white, each carrying a basket of choice flowers, with which they strewed the path leading from the rectory to the church, and then to the grave.

The coffins were borne by 12 parishioners, and were covered with palls of white silk, the younger sister being carried first. A long train of mourners followed, including the Reverend Prebendary Sergison, father of the deceased, Mr W Sergison, the brother, Mrs Beecher, the sister, who herself nearly lost her life by fire at Brighton some years ago, Mr Manby Colegrave, the uncle, Messrs Thomas and Edward Colegrave, and captain Sergison, cousins, Mr P. Rawson and Mr H. King, churchwardens, Mrs Rawson, Mrs Paynter, Mrs Haweis, Miss Blake, Mr J. M. Norman, Mr. and Mrs. Tulloch, Colonel Calvert, R. A., The Reverend. J. Masters, Mr Medwin, of Horsham, Dr Martin, of Crawley, Mr J. Kensett, the household servants, and many sympathising friends of the neighbourhood.

The mournful train was met at the church gate by the Reverend J. O. W. Harris, of Collingwood Park, who read the introductory sentences. The psalm and lesson were read in the church very impressively by the Reverend J. C. Lees, curate. After this hymn 375, "Days and moments, quickly flying," from Hymns Ancient and Modern, was sung, the whole congregation uniting with the feelings of the deepest emotion.

During the playing of the "Dead March" the procession was reformed and proceeded to the grave, where, in the presence of some 800 persons, the remainder of the burial service was performed by the Reverend Mr. Maberly, rector of Cuckfield and the Reverend J. O. W. Haweis. Hymn 117 was then sung – "Jesus lives." The musical arrangements were conducted by Mr Gates, of Brighton, who officiated as organist.

The sad occurrence has created a profound sensation in the whole neighbourhood; the departed young ladies were so loved and respected, that their loss is deeply felt, and the expressions of sympathy for the bereaved parents are very numerous. On being lowered into the grave the coffins were covered with beautiful crosses of flowers and immortelles placed there by the hands of friends, each anxious to perform some parting act of love.

The vault is a new one, to hold eight persons, and was marked out only a fortnight before by the Reverend Mr Sergison as the resting place for himself and his family. It was built by Mr Marshall, of Slaugham.

Business, both in Slaugham and Handcross, was entirely suspended, and it must be a long time before the impression made upon the minds of the inhabitants on Monday can be effaced.


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