The Curious Death of Blanche Early

On Wednesday 11 December 1901, a pork butcher called Jesse Early, lived over the shop with his wife and daughters on Effingham Street, Rotherham. At the time, one of his girls was called Blanche Emily who was around nineteen years of age. Despite her youth however, she had seemed beset by illness for most of her life and was considered by her parents to be weak and fragile. Blanche shared a bed with her eldest sister, Florence Amy, who on that morning was told to get up by her mother around 7.30 am. She accordingly got up, leaving her sister, who had not been very well, still in bed.

It seems that as Florence went downstairs, she noted that her mother had left the Venetian blinds up in the bedroom next door to their own, which she shared with their father. Thinking nothing of it, the girl went downstairs to help her mother prepare breakfast for the family. Her father Jesse meanwhile also called in at at his youngest daughters bedroom door, urging Blanche to get up as it was almost 8 am. As he was descending the stairs, Jesse saw his daughter was up and walking along the landing, heading towards the back bedroom he had just left. He walked into the kitchen having no idea about what was just about to happen.

At the same time, in a house on the opposite side of the street was a servant girl who was employed in helping out in the Early household, serving in the butchers shop, as well as helping around the house. She was called Lily Woodhead and was getting ready for work when she glanced across to her employers house. To her complete astonishment she saw Blanche open the window of her parents bedroom and putting her legs out, sit on the sill. Lily watched in horror as Blanche, still in her nightdress seemed to be still for a moment, before plunging down into the yard below. Lily scream helplessly as she knew that the bedroom window was estimated to be twenty five feet from the window, and knew that Blanche would not survive the fall.

Blanche’s brother, Patrick by now was working in the butchers shop and he also heard someone open his parents bedroom window above. To his horror a couple of minutes afterwards he saw his sister fall past the shop window, and rushing outside found her seriously injured on the cobbles. Picking Blanche up as gently as he could, he carried her through the shop and into the family’s living quarters behind. A local doctor, Dr Baldwin was immediately called out and he quickly attended the girl, but there was little he could do. Just two days afterwards on 14 December Blanche Early died. It seems that although she had soon re-covered consciousness, Blanch was unable to remember anything about the incident or what had prompted her to take such desperate actions.

Needless to say the family was distraught and the only conclusion that they could come to was that Blanche had walked in her sleep and had somehow jumped out of the window by mistake. Needless to say an inquest was arranged for Monday 16 December 1901 by the deputy coroner, Mr Benjamin Bagshawe at the Rotherham Infirmary. Blanche’s father was the first witness who told the jury that his daughter had never been a healthy girl, even from her birth. However Jesse said that he had thought that there had been some improvement in her over the last few years. The butcher also stated that Blanche had, for many years, been subject to walking in her sleep but that appeared to have ceased around six years previously.

The witness said that his daughter had seemed normal and the night before had gone to bed at the usual time and appeared to him to be in her usual health and spirits. He said that the next time he had seen her however was when she was unconscious in the arms of her brother, after he found her in the yard. When the butcher was asked if he could account for his daughters death, Jesse simply shook his head. He said that he had looked long and hard at what had happened and could only conclude that in lifting the Venetian blinds, the brightness of the day must have startled Blanche.

He presumed that his daughter had been heading towards the bathroom but instead had found herself in her parents bedroom. He suggested that perhaps in a state of some confusion that she had for some unknown reason fallen out of the window. One of the jury asked the witness if he thought Blanche could have known exactly what she was doing, but her father could only suggest that she might have been dazed and not fully awake. Then it was time for Blanche’s sister Florence to give her evidence and she told the inquest that she was in the kitchen downstairs when she heard her sister go into the back bedroom above. She thought she had probably gone in there to fetch some clean clothes so also thought little of it. That was until she heard her brother shouting that Blanche had fallen into the yard.

Florence recalled how her sister was unconscious at first, but that she revived after about an hour or so later. However she could give no account of what had happened as she didn’t even remember getting out of bed. The coroner asked the witness if she and her sister were close, to which Florence agreed that they were. He then asked her if her sister had been particularly worried about anything at the time, but Florence stated that Blanche did not appear to be worried, not was she in any trouble within the family as far as she knew. The servant girl who worked for the family and the only witness to the girl’s death was the next to give evidence, and gave her name as Lily Woodhead.

She described how her employers daughter had come to the window and sat on the sill for a minute before jumping. The servant related how the girl had appeared to be talking to herself ‘because her mouth was moving’ but she could hear nothing. The witness said that only when Blanche opened the window did she, herself experience some alarm so Lily called out to her, but at the same time, the girl jumped into the yard below. The coroner summed up for the jury and he told them that sadly they could only come to one conclusion. Mr Bagshawe repeated the fathers assertion that his daughter had previously been a sleep walker, which he said was common for girls of that age.

He pointed out that according to the witness’s evidence, the girl had gone to bed quite cheerful and therefore the family had no reason to suspect that she might have intended to kill herself. They had no reason to feel concerned or to suspect that she might do what she had done. The coroner therefore suggested that the jury’s verdict should be something along the lines of ‘that the deceased had died from the effects of falling through a bedroom window, whilst probably in a semi-conscious or somnolent condition’. A verdict to that effect was given by the jury.

The coroner added his deep sympathy for the family before closing the enquiry. However this most peculiar and mysterious death of their daughter no doubt puzzled Blanche’s family for many years to come.

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