The servant girl of 21 disguised the death of her child

Hertfordshire Mercury,12th October 1918


At Hertford Police Court, Louisa Coxall (21), a domestic servant, belonging to Buntingford, was charged with concealing the birth of a male child, at Little Berkhamstead, on 20th September.

Supt G. Pear stated that on 25th September he received information that the body of a male child had been found in a manure heap at Ponfield Farm, Little Berkhamstead.  He at once went there and saw the body which was very much decomposed.  He sent for Dr Hall, who went and examined it, and then the body was removed to the mortuary at Hertford.  The witness afterwards made enquiries at Ponfield, where Capt and Mrs Sandbach Parker resided, and asked Mrs Parker if he might interview the domestic servants.  He questioned them all and found that the prisoner had been there temporarily for 5 weeks but had left 3 days previously.  Following up the information obtained, the next day he went to Murdock House, Wareside, where Mrs Sandbach Parker’s sister, Mrs Seymour Barrow, lived, and in whose employ the prisoner was as a domestic.  He found the prisoner staying at the cottage of a Mrs Simmonds and told her about the finding of the body at Berkhampstead, and asked her if she knew anything about it.

She at first denied any knowledge of it and, as she appeared to be ill, he advised her to go into the house and that he would see her later.  A few minutes afterwards, she sent for him and, in the presence of Mrs Simmonds, said “I own up to the child being mine”.  He then took her in custody to Hertford and, when charged, she said “It was born last Friday, September 20th, in the closet at Ponfield.  I never saw it and I did not tell anyone about it”.

Dr H.S.W. Hall, of Hertford, stated that he had held a post-mortem examination but was unable to say whether or not the child was born alive.  He examined the prisoner on 27th September, with her consent, and found evidence that she had recently given birth to a child.

Thomas George Hipgrave, of Cole Green, a farm labourer at Ponfield, stated that he was heaping up some manure in the farmyard on 25th September when he found the body and gave information to his father.

Harry Archer, gardener and houseman at Ponfield, stated that it was part of his duty to empty the closet pails twice a week.  He did so on 20th September and emptied them into the manure heap.  He saw in one of the pails what appeared to be a rabbit skin, and that pail came from the servants’ closet near the coal house.  On 25th September, when Supt Pear came, he pointed out where he had emptied the pail and, on examination, they found the body of the child.

The Clerk said it was a case which the Justices could not deal with and that it would have to go before a Judge at Assizes.  The girl was then committed for trial at the Assizes next month.  Mrs Seymour Barrow asked if she could do anything for the girl in the meantime.  The prisoner was honest and hard-working, and she could give her a thoroughly good character.  She had no doubt been very foolish over this matter and was probably very frightened.  If the girl could be placed in the charge of the Court Missionary whilst waiting for her trial she would be glad to do anything to help her.

The Justices’ Clerk said there would have to be substantial bail in two sums of £25, and her mistress would have to be responsible for her if she acted as one of the sureties.  Mrs Seymour Barrow said she could not be responsible for the care of the girl whilst she was on bail, but she should have liked to help if she could in any other way.

The Clerk said the girl would probably be best off at Holloway where she would be in the remand quarters and properly cared for whilst awaiting her trial.  Bail was fixed at £50, and Mrs Seymour Barrow was informed that if in the course of a few days she could make arrangements which would be satisfactory to the Police for the girl to be cared for, and find another surety, the girl could be let out.

On 23rd November 1918, at Herts Autumn Assizes, Louisa Coxall pleaded guilty to a charge of concealment of birth at Little Berkhamstead on 20th September.  Mr Murphy, on behalf of the prosecution, stated that the body of a newly born child was found in a manure heap at Ponfield where the pails from the servants’ lavatories had been emptied.  The Police were informed and, on making enquiries, found that the prisoner, who had been temporarily employed there, had only left a few days before.

They went to the house where the prisoner was residing at Wareside, and at first she denied any knowledge of the matter, but shortly afterwards confessed that it was her child.  On behalf of the girl, he was asked to say that there was a lady in Court who wished to say a word in her favour.  As far as the Police knew, there was nothing known against the girl.

Mrs Seymour Barrow, of Wareside, said the prisoner was in her service for a year, and she found her an honest, hard-working, girl.  As far as she knew, there was nothing known against the girl’s character.  When this affair happened, the girl was temporarily in the service of witness’ sister at Little Berkhamstead.  Asked by the Judge if she knew who was the father of the child, witness said she did not know but she had her suspicions.

The prisoner said she was quite innocent of the crime she was committing at the time.  The Judge said that in some cases this offence was a very serious offence, but he was glad that in the prisoner’s case there was nothing to suggest that she destroyed the child’s life.  She had been in prison since 28th September and he thought that under the circumstances she had suffered sufficient punishment.  The prisoner was then bound over and discharged.

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