Answers to Questions



SAUNDERS, Aldbury, inquest in 1882

June, 2011




Loretta Sutton (dlsutton @t of Para Hills, South Australia, writes: JAMES SAUNDERS (my GGG-Grandfather) of Aldbury Hertfordshire was accidently killed 23-6-1882. An inquest was held by HENRY DAY, Coroner 24-6-1882. I would like to obtain a copy of the report. Could you please point me in the right direction.

You don't say everything that is recorded on the death certificate but it is possible to make a reasonable guess as to how the inquest was conducted.,

When it was clear that James Saunders was dead, and that it was not a natural death, a message would have been sent to Henry Day, the coroner for the area, who lived about 10 miles away at Hemel Hempstead. Arrangements would have been made to hold the inquest the following day.  The body would be laid out in a suitable room - perhaps in the Malting, which is where James was living at the time of the 1881 census. However inquests were often held in public houses - so if the death was in the village it could have been at The Greyhound (landlord John Ling) or The Trooper (landlord James Platten). However if the death was near the railway line the Royal Hotel (landlord Samuel Brown) might have hosted the inquest. (I often wonder if the jurors spent the time listening to the inquest evidence drinking!)

At the inquest a jury of local people would be appointed and required to view the body. Mr Day would interview the witnesses in front of the jury, who would then have returned a verdict of "Accidental Death", almost certainly based on the coroner's recommendation. Henry Day would then have officially recorded the result of the inquest on the death certificate, and this would be the only official record of the findings of the inquest. A day or two after the inquest the funeral would have taken place, I assume in the churchyard at Aldbury.

The West End of Aldbury Churchyard - where James Saunders may have been buried.

I did not see a Saunders grave stone - but most people were buried with only wooden grave boards as markers - and it is clear that some grave plots with no surviving markers have been reused, as stones of different dates are all mixed up. The parish register (microfilm should be available via your local LDS Family History Centre; address on familysearch) should record whether James was buried at Aldbury.  The memorial inscription transcript produced by the Herts Family History Society does not record a surviving stone of the period.

[Other pictures of the Church.]

It is important to realise that there was no requirement for there to be any record of the witness statements or for the coroner to keep any other records for his own use. Where records do survive from this period they are often no more than a list of inquests as part of the coroner's expenses claims. No records exist for the Hemel Hempstead area before 1908, and even those after this date are incomplete. (See Tracing Your Family History in Hertfordshire.)

The only other possibility, which can be very informative in the more spectacular cases, is if there is a press report. The local paper for the Hemel Hempstead area, including Aldbury, was the Hemel Hempstead Gazette but reports could also appear in the nearby Aylesbury papers - The Bucks Advertiser and the Bucks Herald. The problem is that the paper would only have a detailed report if it knew about the inquest and sent a reporter, and they would only have sent a reporter if the inquest was likely to be newsworthy - such as a murder. This means that inquests for everyday accidental deaths involving the poorer members of society held in rural situations, such as in small villages such as Aldbury, may not have been recorded in any detail, if at all. If you want a search to be carried out I suggest that in the first instance you contact HALS (who may refer you to the Hemel Hempstead public library) or contact the Gazette via their online web site. If this fails you could ask about the Aylesbury papers via the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

November 2011   Page created