Descendant pays tribute to fire victim caught up in Chesterfield tragedy which claimed lives of five girls

A descendant of one of five girls who died in Chesterfield more than a century ago has paid tribute at her final resting place.

By Gay Bolton
Wednesday, 20th April 2022, 12:41 pm

Lizzie Bell and her mother Elizabeth, are buried at Spital Cemetery where the Friends group arranged for Darren Wall to visit the grave of his great-great aunt and great-great-grandmother.

Darren, who lives north of Barnsley, was met on arrival in Chesterfield by the Friends of Spital Cemetery tour guide Margaret Hersee who escorted him to his ancestors’ graves where he laid tributes.

Lizzie died in 1911 after a group of 25 children crowded into two small changing rooms in a cottage on Burlington Street where they were due to perform in a Christmas show in the adjacent Picture Palace. Some of the girls, including the five casualties, were wearing dresses to which cotton wool had been attached to represent eskimos.

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Darren Wall at the graveside of his great-great aunt Lizzie Bell who died in Chesterfield in 1911.

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A newspaper report suggested that one of the girls was smoking. The reason for the start of the fire was disputed, but the inquest concluded that one of the girls was dropping small pieces of cotton wool onto the fire and one flew up and set fire to Lizzie Bell’s costume and burned very rapidly.

Lizzie’s best friend, Ada Tidbal, tried to save her pal, but she and three other girls, Lydia Smith, Winnie Wood and Mabel Swaine, were all set alight.

The girls managed to run downstairs and out into the street, where one man picked up Lizzie and said ‘whose little girl are you?” as he sprinted to the hospital on Holywell Street. Fred Bell had failed to recognise his own daughter because of her injuries.

Tour guides Andy Miles, Margaret Waldron and Margaret Hersee with Darren Wall by Elizabeth Bell’s grave.

The five girls, who were aged 12 and 13, died that night or early the next morning.

The tragedy caused great shock in the community and a large funeral, led by Archdeacon Crosse, was held in St Mary’s and All Saints Church.

Many floral tributes were laid at the burial which took place in paupers’ graves with no monument.

Elizabeth Bell, Lizzie’s mother was so affected by the death of her child that she died just one month later. Like her daughter she was buried in a pauper’s grave.

Funeral of Lizzie Bell was held at St Mary and All Saints Church in Chesterfield.

Darren Wall’s ancestors never spoke about the tragedy. Nothing was known, apart from a vague story told to his mum half a century ago by Lizzie’s sister. When Darren asked about family history he was even told by his grandmother that there was “nothing to find”.

His great-great-uncle Billy Bell, who was 23 years old when his sister Lizzie died, kept an ancient cutting of her death and family tragedy. His secret heartbreak was revealed by the Derbyshire Times when Billy died at the age of 93 in 1982.

Dave Sheldon, who lives locally, paid for monuments to be erected for the girls five years ago.

Tours of Spital Cemetery take place on the second Sunday of every month, starting at 1pm.

To find out more about the Friends of Spital Cemetery, visit the website Facebook page.