Death was part of everyday life in the Victorian Cotswolds. Doctors charged for their services, which meant that many poor people could not afford to get healthcare and suffered on their own. Diseases spread quickly in close communities; mortality was higher than now.
In addition, there was a male drinking culture prevalent in the Cotswolds at the time, with many labourers frequenting their local public houses on a regular basis. Crime was more common than you might think, with the police records showing several drunken assaults and sometimes murders.
But, as the case of Elizabeth Hope shows, there were just as many dangers to be faced in living a quiet life at home.
Elizabeth was a 72-year-old woman, who lived in quiet domesticity in Wyck Rissington with her husband of around 40 years, David, a farmer.
Although born in Naunton, near Stow-on-the-Wold, Elizabeth had spent all her married life in the nearby villages of Little Rissington and Wyck Rissington, bringing up her children and helping her husband.
She had been born as the rural 18th century turned into the industrial 19th, had seen her husband struggle during the agricultural depressions that blighted the first half of the 19th century, but then see him progress from short-term agricultural labouring jobs to running his own farm.
Elizabeth had also known loss. Her son Hubert had died in 1842, aged four; she may also have lost her daughters Ann and Mary, the latter aged nine. She seems to have only had two children who survived to adulthood – Julia, born in 1837, and a second Hubert, born in 1844.
In the spring of 1871, Elizabeth was living in her cottage in Wyck Rissington, with David, Julia and Hubert.
Retirement wasn’t an option to couples like David and Elizabeth; there were no pensions, they were unlikely to have been able to save money for their old age, and so David would have had to continue working as long as he was fit and able.
However, they seem to have been a close family, and might have expected to continue in the same vein for some time to come.
But many Victorian houses were home to hidden dangers.
They could have dark rooms, narrow, steep staircases, strange creaks at night from settling floorboards; wind howling through ill-fitting windows.
Accidents could and did happen in these houses, especially at night, when inhabitants might try and wander around without lighting an expensive candle to see their way round.
And isolated homes, in pitch-black countryside, were sometimes targets for opportunistic burglars, seeking to get into such houses and steal any silverware or other valuables they could, whilst their owners were asleep.
On the night of 12th April 1871, the Hope family had all retired to bed at around 10pm. Julia, a dressmaker, and mail contractor Hubert had gone to bed in their rooms, and Elizabeth and David had retired to theirs.
However, around 10.30, Elizabeth was woken by a noise. She feared it might be an intruder breaking into her house, but didn’t wake David. Instead, being a practical Cotswolds farmer’s wife, she simply got up herself, and made her way to the stairs.
Julia Hope, in her room, was then woken by the sound of someone falling. She ran to the top of the stairs to see what had happened, and saw a crumpled shape at the bottom.
When she reached the foot of the stairs, she found her mother lying there, blood pouring from her mouth.
She was still alive, and one of the Hopes – probably Hubert, who would have been quicker and fitter than his father – was despatched to fetch medical help as quickly as possible.
Elizabeth’s condition worsened, though, despite the arrival of help, and she died of her injuries.
Three days later, an inquest was held at Wyck Rissington before the local Deputy Coroner, Mr Corin. After the evidence of Elizabeth’s tumble down the dark, narrow stairs, the coroner’s jury returned a verdict of accidental death.
The Hope family had been broken apart by the accident, but they survived. Julia may have married and moved away. Widower David managed to retire by 1881, but died in 1882, at the ripe old age of 83.
Son Hubert moved to the Wychwoods, just over the border into Oxfordshire, where he worked as a horse dealer and brought up his own family. Hopefully, he told his children to always be careful walking down the stairs.