Annie West only lived to be ten.
She lived with her parents and brothers and sisters at 51 Markhouse Road. Her father worked at the local gas works, her mother had just had a sixth baby – and we would almost certainly never have heard of any of them if Annie had not died as she did.
What happened was this: On the evening of Boxing Day, 26th December, 1890, Annie left her home, and her family never saw her alive again. Her frozen body was found in a ditch on Lowhall Farm (link) the next day. She had not drowned, and there was no sign she had been attacked or physically ill treated.
The inquest into Annie’s death was reported in the local paper. And what emerged was a very sad story.
Annie and her mother had quarrelled that Boxing Night, and Annie ran out of the house without a coat or hat or warm boots. She wandered around the area for the rest of the evening, and spoke to several children she knew, telling each of them her mother had thrown her out. One girl, Ada Lebern, walked a little way with Annie, and gave her an orange to try to cheer her up. She remembered that Annie had been shaking with cold, but had said she would go home and sleep in the dog’s kennel.
Annie’s father worked at the Lea Bridge Gas Works, and one of his colleagues spoke at the inquest about meeting Annie at their offices about a month previously. She had arrived, forlorn and shivering, looking for her father.
At the hearing, Mr West accused his wife of having neglected their six children, of spending money on drink and of living in chaos. The coroner and the jury accepted everything he said, and put all the blame on Mrs West, saying she was morally responsible for the death of her daughter. But there was nothing they could do further, as no crime had been committed. No one seems to have suggested Mr West might have had any responsibility for caring for the children, or that he might have found help for them or for his evidently very sick wife.
That was the end of the newspaper story – we do not know what happened to the surviving West children or to their parents.