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1917: Comforting candle kills

Updated: Dec 7, 2023


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At the Cuckfield Infirmary on Friday night the Coroner for East Sussex (Mr G Vere Benson) held an inquiry touching the death of Benjamin Streeter, aged 75, who died in the institution on the previous Wednesday. Mr A Sayers was foreman of the jury.


Esther Curd, aged 75, said the deceased was her brother, and she lived with him at Rose Cottage, Handcross. He was an old age pensioner, and at times he was a little strange. On the previous Monday she left him in bed with a candle three feet away from the bed. He was frightened of the dark. The Coroner said it was always dangerous to have a candle by the bedside, but the danger was remoote with it three feet away.


Witness went on to say that at 10.15 p.m. she heard a scream, and on going to her brother's room she saw he was on fire. The candle was in the bed, but was not alight. She pat the flames out and took his shirt off and then put some flour on the burns. She then sat by her brother's bedside until a quarter-past six the next morning, as there were no neighbours, near Dr Newton, of Balcombe, was rent for on Tuesday.


The Coroner: It must have been a terrible shock to you.


Witness: It was, sir. The Coroner: There is nothing to suggest that he set fire to himself on purpose? Witness said deceased never said how he caught alight. He only knew be was on fire when he saw his whiskers burning.


Dr Wells, medical Officer at the Infirmary, said he saw the deceased on Tuesday. There were extensive burns all over the body. He never said how the accident happened. Death was due to shock from the burns. Deceased passed away on Wednesday. The jury returned a verdict of 'Accidental death'.


Sussex Agricultural Express, 16 November 1917


Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


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