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1892 - Shocking Death at Cuckfield Union Workhouse

Updated: Oct 4, 2020

Sussex Agricultural Express - Friday 22 January 1892


—Mr. G. E. Hillman, Coroner for East Sussex, held an inquest on Saturday at the Cuckfield Union Workhouse on the body of Joseph Russell, 34, who died at that institution on Thursday.

Mr. Worsfold was chosen foreman of the jury. Superintendent Denman was present at the inquiry.—Arthur Russell, coal merchant, Hassocks, said deceased was his brother, and his age 34. He had been a draper, but late followed no occupation. He saw him last on Wednesday in his stable. He was conscious, but seemed as near “done for as he could be.” Witness asked him to go to the Infirmary, and he said “Yes” after a little persuasion. He did not complain of any fall or blow, and witness had not heard that the skull of deceased was fractured. If that was so, witness could not account for it. He did not know anything about his being turned out of the Clayton Park Hotel stables.—

Cuckfield Union Workhouse

Thomas Bristowe, stableman, Clayton Park Hotel stables, said he knew the deceased. He found him on Tuesday night in the harness-room of the stables between a quarter and ten minutes to eight. He told him to go out, and he went out by himself. He was lying on the floor, and when he first got up he fell down again. He was drunk and could not walk straight. Witness did not assist him in any way, and when he afterwards went to the loft to get some chaff he saw the deceased going round towards the back. Witness did not think it necessary to watch him and see where he was going to. When the deceased fell in the harness-room he fell backwards, flat on the floor, but his head did not touch the floor. He got up himself, and when witness went to the loft the deceased was going in the direction of the place in which he was found the next morning.—

Edward Curd, barman, Clayton Park Hotel, said he saw deceased outside the hotel on Tuesday night. He had not seen him inside the hotel, but had been told by the landlord that he had been in the house.—

The Coroner here asked for the clothes, and Joseph King, labour master at the Workhouse, said when the deceased was brought to the Workhouse he had no shirt, only an overcoat, jacket, and trousers, if they could called such, but they were literally alive with vermin and had been burnt. They were in a very bad state indeed. —

Thomas Bristowe, re-called, said the deceased was not touched. When witness went into the harness-room he fell over the legs of the deceased, who was lying on the floor. He called to two men who were in the stables, thinking they would have to put him out. The men were there only two or three minutes. It was not necessary to put deceased out as he went out himself. He was not handled or touched, and there had been no fight.—

Mr. Howe, Master, deposed to deceased being brought to the Workhouse in a cab about 4.15 on Wednesday. He was placed in the Infirmary, and seen by the doctor. He was in a filthy condition, it being one of the dirtiest cases seen at the Workhouse. The deceased was found dead in bed bout 2.30, having apparently died in his sleep.—

Jame Peters, an inmate of the Workhouse, said he was sitting in the Infirmary on Wednesday night, and attending on the patients. He gave brandy to the deceased twice in the night by the doctor’s orders. About 11:25 witness offered him some brandy, but he would not take it. He was a little delirious, and wanted witness to let him go, as he said he had a pony and cart outside. At twelve o’clock witness saw him apparently asleep in bed. When he went round again at twenty-five minutes past two he found the deceased was dead, and once informed the head nurse, who informed the Master. Dr. A. E. Wells medical-officer at the Workhouse, saw the deceased on Wednesday. He was then pulseless, and in a dazed state he gave instructions for treatment, and on Thursday found he had died in the night. He thought he was suffering from the effects of exposure. He had made a post-mortem examination, and found chronic inflammation of the liver and kidneys. The lungs and heart were healthy. There was a discoloured clot on the heart showing he had died suddenly. On examining the head he found large extravasation of blood in the scalp the back of the head, and opposite this a small fracture of the skull. There were also several recent bruises, a large one below the left knee. Both legs were dropsical. The bruise might have been obtained by falling forward whilst intoxicated. The cause of death was concussion of the brain, from an injury to the head and exhaustion from exposure. He could not decide whether the injury to the head alone would have caused death. It might not if he had been properly attended to at first. The deceased must have had a very severe blow or fall within twenty-four hours of his death. The injury was sustained through violence of some description. The body was well nourished. The deceased was in a very weak condition when brought in, and one could hardly expect him to recover.—

Joseph King labour master, said when the deceased was brought in he was very nearly frozen.—

The Coroner, in summing up the evidence, pointed out the serious charges that might arise if evidence pointed to violence being used in turning the man out of the hoteler stable, and death had resulted from the violence, but there was no evidence before them showing how the injury was sustained. The only fall they had evidence of was one in which the witness positively stated that the deceased did not hit his head. He thought there was something behind what they had been told, and if an open verdict was returned the police might ascertain more about the affair.—

The Foreman of the jury said it appeared, from the bruises on the body, there had been some rough handling of the deceased, and after some consideration.—

The Jury returned a verdict that “Death was caused by concussion of the brain due to a fracture of the skull and exhaustion from exposure but there was no evidence to show how the deceased sustained the injury to the head.”


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