Mansfield, infant

Mansfield infant         1919 February 28th             Porton

Baby in a Basket

The South Wilts Coroner (Mr F H Trethowan) held an inquest at 1, Avenue Cottages, Porton, on Monday, relating to the circumstances surrounding the discovery of the body of a newly-born baby.

Dr J O March, of Amesbury, said that on Sunday, at 10.30am, at the request of the Police, he examined the body of a newly-born full time male child at Mrs May’s house. The child was dead and he came to the conclusion that it had never breathed. There were no marks of violence on the body and he considered it unnecessary to hold a post mortem. The chest had never been expanded and he should say the baby had been dead about two days.

Mrs May, wife of Mr William May, shepherd, stated that she looked after land-workers at her cottage. A worker named Lily Mansfield came to her house on Wednesday in last week and worked on Mr G F Gay’s farm at Porton. She went to work the next day and returned at about 5pm, had tea and then went upstairs. As she did not come down witness went up to see her, but she said she had a headache and would not come down. At three o’clock on Friday morning she heard a noise in the room, and she went in and asked if anything was the matter. Miss Mansfield complained of pains, but said she would be all right. Witness made her a cup of tea, and after drinking it she said she was better. Later in the morning she saw Miss Mansfield, who said she was not going to work, and she stayed in the room all that day and night, and came downstairs on Saturday, when there was a change in her appearance. Witness went up to the room as she was suspicious, and opened Miss Mansfield’s dress basket, which was under the bed, and found the body of a newly-born male child in it. She went downstairs and said, “What have you in the basket,” and Miss Mansfield replied, “Dirty clothes.” She told her she was telling a lie, and then Miss Mansfield started crying. She told her to go back to bed and reported the matter to Mr Gay.

PC Hosey, stationed at Winterbourne Gunner, said that in consequence of a report from Mr Gay, he went to Mrs May’s house and saw Miss Mansfield. He saw the body of the child and there were no marks of violence on it. He cautioned the girl and asked her if the baby were hers. She said, “Yes, the child was born just before Mrs May came in on Friday morning about 3am. The child did not move, so I put it in my night-dress, and put it in my dress basket. I was frightened. I did not really know what I had done, and I did not tell anyone about it.” He removed the body into an outhouse. He understood that the girl had no father and mother, and he had heard that she was assaulted at Wootton Bassett early in the month.

The mother of the child corroborated the constable’s evidence. She said the baby was born dead.

A verdict was returned that the baby was still-born.

1919 March 7th Salisbury Magistrates

Lily Mansfield was charged with ‘attempting to conceal the birth of her child.’ The evidence was as already stated, and she was committed for trial at the Assizes, but released on bail at the request of Miss Olivier, honourable secretary of the welfare committee associated with the Women’s Land Army in Wiltshire.

1919 May 23rd County Assizes case

Lily Mansfield (18) was charged with endeavouring to conceal the birth of her child on or about February 21st by a secret disposition of the dead body.

Acting under the instructions of her counsel, she pleaded not guilty.

Mr J E Y Radcliffe, for the prosecution, outlined the facts of the case which have already been reported in the Salisbury Times. Defendant was in the the Land Army and worked for Mr Gay at Porton, lodging with Mrs May who found the dead body of the child in a dress-basket in the girl’s bedroom. When charged with the offence, she told the Police she was frightened, and did not know what to do, so she rolled the body in her nightdress and put it in a dress-basket under the bed. She did not tell anyone.

Mr Holt, for the defence, submitted that there had been no secret disposition of the body. She put it in an ordinary dress-basket under the bed where anyone could see it, and some one was bound to find it soon.

The judge pointed out that the defendant did not bury the body, nor did she merely cover it with a sheet. But he had great doubt whether the evidence amounted to proof of any secret disposition at all. It might well be true that the girl was frightened and did not know what she was doing.

The jury returned a verdict of not guilty, and defendant was at once discharged.


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