The tragic death of Herbert Cruwys of Witheridge
Transcribed by Debbie Kennett from the North Devon Journal
COTTAGE BURNT: A CHILD PERISHED IN THE FLAMES. - On Sunday afternoon a fire was discovered in a cottage at Gunhole. There are two thatched cottages adjoining, one occupied by John Cruwys, and as his wife has been ill, his landlady kindly let him use the other cottage to sleep in. There had been put in the cottage some old thatching reed. It appears that the little lad, son of Cruwys, five years old, got some matches and set the reed on fire, and being afraid to tell of it, ran upstairs, and it was not known he was there until it was impossible to get inside the house. The body was got out as soon as possible, but not until it was past recognition, merely the trunk being left. Great sympathy is felt for the parents. Luckily the wind was in the north. Had it been in the east, the fire must have destroyed all Abringdence-row. There were many willing hands to help, but it was of little use, except to keep the flames off the other cottages. There have been several fires in Witheridge, and there is no apparatus in the place to extinguish one.
(This article was originally published in the North Devon Journal on 4th April 1891)
A CHILD BURNT TO DEATH. - Mr. F. Burrow held an inquest at Witheridge concerning the death of Herbert Cruwys, aged 5 years. Deceased's parents - the mother is confined to her bed - lived in a two roomed cottage. Adjoining it was a cottage, unoccupied except by Cruwys' children, who slept in the bedroom. The downstairs room was filled with straw. Deceased got some matches last Monday, and while playing among the straw in the unoccupied cottage set the straw on fire. As soon as he saw this burning he seems to have run upstairs and hid himself under the bed. The two cottages, which were covered with thatch, were soon in a blaze. Plenty of assistance was at hand, but no one had any knowledge of the boy being in the house. Consequently every effort was devoted to carrying the sick mother to a place of safety, rescuing the furniture and preventing the fire spreading to neighbouring houses. After the roof and the floor of the bedroom had fallen in it was rumoured that deceased must be in the house, and Mr. Gunn and Mr. Butt got buckets of water, and, standing in them, raked about the burning debris. Underneath an iron bedstead they found the charred trunk of the child. The head, arms and legs had been burnt entirely away, and there was nothing by which the body could be recognised. The jury returned a verdict of "accidental death."
(This article was originally published in the North Devon Journal on 9th April 1891)
John Cruwys was born about 1861 in Oakford, Devon. He married Sarah Quant, a widow, in 1882. Sarah was born about 1852 in Templeton. The 1891 census on 5th April records John and Sarah living "in the village" in Witheridge with their children John, 8, Thomas, 2, and Sarah, 3 months. Sarah's two children from her previous marriage, William H Quant, 18, a mason, and Mary E Quant, 14, were also living in the tiny two-room house together with John's widowed mother, Ann Cruwys, 62, a monthly nurse, who was probably staying to help with the new baby. (Baby Sarah's age is incorrectly recorded in the 1891 census as three years rather than three months.)