Unsolved Murders

Mary Ann Lovell

Age: 15 months

Sex: female

Date: 22 Sep 1902

Place: Treasury Farm, Ickham, Kent

Annie Lovell 6, Dorothy Lovell 5, Rose Lovell 3 and 15-month-old Mary Ann Lovell died in a barn fire at Treasury Farm in Ickham, Kent on the Monday 22 September 1902.

Their mother was charged with killing them but later discharged due to lack of evidence.

Treasury Farm was between Canterbury and Dover and most of the outbuildings were used as dwellings for the hoppers employed on the farm. It was one of three buildings, a barn, that the mother had lodged with her four children.

Following the fire suspicion fell on the mother for having set fire to the buildings.

The first intimation that anything was wrong was at about 9am on the Monday morning whilst the majority of the hoppers were at work in the gardens when they were suddenly alarmed by the cry of 'Fire' and smoke was seen to issue from one of the outbuildings.

There was then a general rush for the buildings but the flames were rapidly spreading and the wind, which was fairly strong and blowing from the south-east, caused the fire to spread rapidly to the other buildings.

It was said that it appeared that at about 9am that the mother said she was going out to buy a loaf of bread and that when she got outside her hut that it was noticed that the place was on fire. However, another woman hopper who had been in the next hut contradicted that statement, saying that when the mother was in the hut that she heard one of her children cry out, 'Oh, mamma, the straw is on fire'.

The woman hopper said that when she saw the flames that she immediately gave the alarm and a groom was dispatched to fetch assistance and the Wingham Fire Brigade was smartly on the scene very shortly after.  However, by then the whole of the outbuildings, many of which were filled with that years produce as well as two wheat stacks, two oat stacks, and a pea and clover stack were one mass of flames.

The firemen concentrated their efforts on the building that the children were in but the flames were so powerful that no living being could approach them.

However, shortly after two other fire-engines from Canterbury arrived and fortunately a good supply of water could be obtained from the little Stour river that ran about a quarter of a mile from the farm.

When they saw that it was impossible to save the outbuildings the fire brigade turned their attention to saving the farmhouse which was practically a new building and by their combined efforts the flames were cut off from reaching the main building.

After that, as soon as it was safe enough, the men commenced to move the debris of the fallen barn in which the children were.

It was said that a very pathetic scene was witnessed when the charred remains were discovered and brought out into the open. It was said that two of the little ones were found clasped in each other’s arms, their charred remains having been burnt almost beyond recognition. It was described as a gruesome sight.

The bodies were then taken to the public-house.

By noon the whole of the buildings had fallen in although the remains were still burning and up to a late hour on the Monday night the firemen were still busily engaged in endeavouring to extinguish the blazing stacks and the smouldering remains of the farm buildings,

It was noted that fortunately the hop gardens escaped the ravages to the fire and that only slight damage was caused to them.

It was noted that the farm was insured and that it was roughly estimated that the cost of the damage would be about £5,000.

The children's mother was shortly after detained. It was said that up until the Saturday that she had been employed at the farm hop-picking but that she had been paid off and that she was seen to leave the hut on the Monday morning shortly before the fire was discovered.

Following the fire and the discovery of her body it was said that an infuriated mob made a desperate attempt to get at her, believing her to have caused the fire and that violence was only prevented with the utmost difficulty and vigilance on the part of the police.

She was put on remand on the charge of having started the fire although the inquest found that there was not sufficient evidence to show how the fire had originated.

When the mother was asked whether she could account for the fire, she said that she could not. She said, 'I don't know. I gave my children a slice of bread each, and I then took my kettle to the pump to get some water to make my children some breakfast. When at the pump I looked up and saw the place was on fire. I ran to the hut to get my children but the flames drove me back.'

When she was asked at the inquest whether she had any matches, she replied, 'No, I did not have any', but afterwards said, 'There were two matches in an old box high-up out of reach of my children'.

After the magistrates heard the evidence on 4 October 1902 they said that they were of the opinion that the evidence brought before them was not sufficient to justify them in charging the mother with wilfully setting fire to the farm and she was discharged.

However, the magistrates noted that the case had not been discharged on its merits and that the mother had to understand that if any further evidence was brought forward that she was liable to be arrested again.

*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Exmouth Journal - Saturday 27 September 1902

see West Somerset Free Press - Saturday 04 October 1902