Ada’s grandfather, James Townsend had been a wood turner and shuttle maker in the 1840s and 50s, so surely it was no coincidence that her husband-to-be Edgar Harwood was a shuttle tip maker. The tips of the wooden shuttles were made from forged steel and were then fitted on the wooden shuttles to prevent the wearing down of the wood and causing them to snag on the yarn. The steel tips then had to be smoothed on a rotating grindstone to iron out any tiny imperfections that would prevent the shuttle from flying through the yarns from one side of the loom to the other. I own a shuttle that I bought many years ago and it wasn’t until I learned about Edgar’s occupation that I looked closer at my shuttle and noticed the two metal shuttle tips, almost bullet-like at their point.
Edgar’s family had been whitesmiths for several generations dating back to his great great grandfather John, 44 born in 1730, making Edgar a fifth generation whitesmith. The Harwoods had all lived and worked on the appropriately named Heights Road which runs almost at the top of the Midgley Moor on the North side of the Calder Valley. At a dizzying 1000ft above the valley this road is the home of spectacular views of latticed farmland with seams of dry stone walls, some well maintained and in current use while others stand neglected and ruined but still speak of the hands that placed stone upon stone centuries ago.
“If I pay the roots of the heather
Too close attention, they will invite me
To whiten my bones among them”
( from Sylvia Plath’s poem Wuthering Heights)
Houses are scattered along the road and when I first explored this area I was amused by a building named Rough Bottom and it wasn’t until I began to research my family connections to this windswept moor that I discovered that Rough Bottom had once housed the Harwood family, and the attached building that projects from the Western end was the whitesmith’s smithy.
The land behind the building is open moorland, ‘Rough’ to distinguish it from the managed farm fields, and above the building is Rough Top farm.
The next group of buildings span Foster Clough, a fast moving stream. Foster Clough was home of the Harwoods until Edgar’s father moved into the centre of Midgley village, opening a grocer’s shop after his marriage in 1847. It was at that time that he established James Harwood and Sons, whitesmiths.
By 1861 he was living in Stocks House, a beautiful roadside cottage with his nine siblings until the family moved down into Hebden Bridge, part of the migration to the valley bottoms for the faster mills and by 1871 they were living on my street, Crown Street. In 1891 they were at 11 Crown Street and along with his brothers they have specialized their whitesmithing business and are now registered as shuttle tongue and tip makers. The tongue is that part of the shuttled that is hinged like a pocket-knife, so that it projects out from the mortise when inserting a fresh cop of yarn. Meanwhile Edgar’s shuttle tip business continued to flourish. His father built Malvern House on Crown Street, across the street from me which now houses Boots chemist.
In 1892 it moved to larger premises close to Foster Mill retaining the name Crown Street Works. There were 35 employees and they exported to many parts of the world. As many of the successful manufacturers Edgar played a prominent role in the Hebden Bridge community. He headed up the masonic lodge was the worshipful master and was a leading member of the liberal association. He was a member of Birchcliffe choir and was a deacon the chapel for six years, the beautifully preserved building where he married Ada, just across the road from their marital home at Hurst Dene. He served on the Hebden Bridge council for eleven years becoming the chairperson, an office which his father had held before him, being termed “mayor” in the local newspaper. During the first world war he sat on the military tribunal and in 1923 he swore the Oath of Allegiance as a Justice of the Peace in Todmorden Town Hall. But there was time for relaxation too in Edgar’s busy life. Judging from the prizes he won in the Hebden Bridge Horticultural shows over several years Edgar was a keen gardener, his fine aspidistra and plate of tomatoes gaining him two first places.
In the summer of 1922 Edgar and his second wife took a cruise from Liverpool to New York on the Laconia, a ship that would be sunk after a torpedo attack by a German U-boat in 1942 with a loss of over 1800 lives of soldiers and prisoners.
In 1927 Edgar was killed at work when a grindstone burst at the Crown Street works. His brother James who worked there was the first on the scene of the accident. Edgar had been grinding peg points on a large sandstone grindstone. There was no fencing around the rotating stone because the men had to have easy access to it. Apparently Edgar had fitted a new pulley to make the grindstone rotate quicker just a minute before the accident when a large crack was heard. An eye witness related: “Mr Harwood was lying on the ground. He had been killed instantaneously, part of his skull was blown away and part of his right hand.” An inquest revealed that the grindstone had been operating at 75% above a safe working speed but nevertheless a verdict of accidental death was returned by the jury. The funeral service at Birchcliffe Chapel was conducted by the Rev A. Windsor who had been a close friend of the Harwoods. Indeed he proffered that ‘nobody else knew him better. ‘ He described Edgar as ‘an unpolished diamond’ ‘There was a mixture of strength and tenderness in him.’ The shock had been so intense for his wife, that she was unable to attend the funeral though the list of mourners and floral tributes took up an entire column in the newspaper.
One grim February afternoon with snow still clinging to the roads and a heavy cloud of fog obscuring even the closest hills I came across a photograph of the former Crown Street Works online taken ten years ago. It’s entitled ‘Former Crown Street Iron Works, Spring Grove, Hebden Bridge,’ and it was with a jolt that I realized that I knew the place. The skeleton of this large building had attracted me since moving to the town and I found several photos of it that I’ve taken of it over the past few years.
Something about it had intrigued me. It’s on a small piece of derelict land, roofless and for the past year has had a ruined car with smashed windscreen and flat tyres just outside one of the doors. The wide double door at the side was usually firmly closed and locked, presumably to prevent people wandering in and coming to some harm but one day the doors were open and I was able to see inside. There’s not much of interest, just piles of odd pallets and boxes Adjoining the building are the derelict stables which are currently for sale. Last year I had even made a piece of fabric art from the photograph I took of the stables. As I took a closer look at the stables a man emerged from a house opposite. He owns the stables which once served Foster Mill and he showed me photos of the cottages that once stood on the site of the modern houses which now form Spring Grove. My thoughts when I pass this place in future will now be filled with Edgar’s ghost wandering in this ruin while his wife’s ghost floats above Blakedean Bridge.
“Seldom has the district of Hebden Bridge been so greatly moved as it was last Saturday evening by the news of a terrible tragedy which happened at Blakedean whereby a well known local lady lost her life.”
On May 28, 1909. Mrs. Ada Harwood, with her husband Edgar, her 16 year old nephew George A. Smith, and Miss Milnes, her partner in the dressmaking and millinery business they conducted in Hebden Bridge had driven up to High Greenwood, above Heptonstall earlier in the day to stay with Mrs. Priscilla Clayton for a few days. A 66 year old widow from Shropshire Priscilla ran the 9 roomed boarding house. After a few days stay in Heptonstall the family were looking forward to taking a ‘pleasure trip’ to Norway, land of the midnight sun, with some friends. From the newspaper account I read: “After tea they went for a walk in the direction of the trestle bridge, only a few minutes walk from the house. Mrs. Harwood and her nephew were a little apart from the others, and, as hundreds have done before, they stepped into one of the recesses to better enjoy the view. The youth doubted the safety of the place. It struck him as being rather flimsy. “Do you think it safe, auntie?” he asked. She replied that it was, having no knowledge of the awful danger which lurked under her feet: and sprang on tiptoe, or, as one might say, “prised” on tiptoe, to make a little test of the platform’s strength. And at that instant the tragedy was upon them they could not avert it, though only a foot’s space from safety.
The wood cracked and gave way beneath their feet. Part of it went hurling down to the bed of the stream far below, and Mrs. Harwood fell with it. Overcome by the shock, her nephew found himself clinging to the railing, with no foothold. His walking stick fell through the gap into the gulf. How he got back to the comparative safety of the permanent way he does not remember. One can understand what a fearful shock it was to him as, clinging there and looking down as he saw his relative falling into that great depth to certain death. Mrs. Harwood was beyond help. Her lifeless body lay on a grassy plot just clear of the stream. Her injuries were fearful. They were, in fact, indescribable. Her head and body had apparently struck the framework of the bridge directly after disappearing through the hole, and probably instant death or merciful insensibility was caused before the ground was reached. In a second or two this peaceful valley had been transformed, for the watchers, into a scene of painful tragedy. Pending the arrival of the ambulance the remains of the unfortunate victim of the disaster were reverently conveyed to a spot near the stepping-stones at Blakedean, being carried thence under difficulties by P.C. Matters, and others. Bad news travels fast, and this news was all over the district soon after eight o’clock. From that time the main streets of the town were occupied with hundreds of people discussing the sad event.” Over one hundred years later I found myself standing at the very spot where the tragedy occurred.
Beside me was one of the enormous stone stanchions that once formed the base of a trestle bridge 103 ft above the river built to carry the Blake Dean railway line. The railway had been built to take men, equipment and raw materials from the shanty town near Heptonstall to the site of three dams that were under construction at Walshaw Dean to provide water for the rapidly expanding town of Halifax.
The architect was a local lad, the son of a quarry owner, born in Haworth in 1843. His name was Enoch Tempest and he lived up to his name in more ways than one. A tornado of a man he was a notorious drunkard who once woke up in New York after a drinking binge with no recollection of how he got there. He returned to England, mended his ways and made his name as the famous teetotaler builder of reservoirs. The railway serving the construction site had opened just eight years before Ada’s accident and the trestle bridge had become one of the ‘must see’ sites of the Hebden Valley, along with the rocky outcrops of Hardcastle Crags, sometimes known locally as Little Switzerland though that nomenclature requires more imagination than I can muster.
In the Hebden Bridge history society’s archives I’d found a fragile copy of ‘A Guide to Hardcastle Crags and neighbourhood’ compiled by an unacknowledged author in 1879. From it I learned that it had become a common practice for tourists to walk on the bridge for the sensation of looking down from so great a height. At the inquest into Ada Harwood’s death the contractors’ foreman said that notices had been put up at both ends of the bridge saying ‘Notice: no person allowed on these works or tramway except workmen on business. Others will be prosecuted.’ But visitors constantly pulled the warning notices down. No criminal negligence was found but the jurors recommended that the signs should be replaced and if possible to erect barricades at the weekends when there were no works’ trains. My attention was drawn to the fact that the chairman of the jury at the inquest was none other than Abraham Moss, one of my family members, who was to come to his own extraordinary and untimely death just eight years later. From my spot beside the babbling stream I crossed over Hebden Water and followed a steep rough track through open fields leading me directly to High Greenwood, the boarding house where the Harwoods had been enjoying their mini break. It is a beautiful stone building dating from the late 1700s set just off the lonely Widdop Road speaking of wealth and privilege of its original owners with its symmetrical façade centred on a front door made all the more impressive by the triangular pediment above.
Today it’s surrounded by a well- maintained lawn and has expansive views in all directions. Close to the front door is a weeping willow tree causing me to wonder if the person who planted it knew of the association of the house and its unfortunate overnight guest. In this remote place there’s a feeling of vast expanse heightened this May morning by the calls of the curlews who ‘Hang their harps over the misty valleys, ’ their bleak, windswept calls as they sweep and glide above me mirror my sentiments today. It doesn’t surprise me that in 1920 this very spot was the filming location of a silent movie, Helen of Four Gates, written by Heptonstall resident Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, an important working class social activist and feminist. The raw scenery and the hard life of the local farmers is beautifully portrayed by pioneer film maker Cecil Hepworth, and it was to this very spot that Ethel brought Cecil to show him this remote location with its scattered farms and persuaded him to shoot the movie here.
Its grainy black and white images heighten the hardships of the isolated life for these hilltop residents as the heroine battles against the abuse she receives not only at the hands of her family but those inflicted by the elements. I soon came to Draper Lane with its stretch of flat farm land perched high above the tumultuous rocks and crannies of Hardcastle Crags. Once the site of Dawson City, named after the famous Canadian shanty town synonymous with Klondike gold rush, these fields had been home of the builders who had constructed the narrow gauge railway which ran for three miles to the reservoir site – and its trestle bridge.
By 1901 there were 22 huts accommodating about 230 men with large dormitories and wash houses provided for single men. As wives and children joined their husbands the impact was felt by the local community of Heptonstall and a spare room in the school master’s house was brought into service for the additional thirty children living in the shanty town. Sanitation in the new city presented a major problem and when outbreaks of typhoid and smallpox broke out a tent was set up to serve as a field hospital capable of caring for fourteen patients but it blew down in a gale! I can definitely testify to the strength of the wind as it lashes the few trees that manage to survive in this barren landscape and I’ve become in danger of being blown over several times as I’ve walked along this hilltop.
As I continued my walk back down into Hebden Bridge the entire town opened up before me, the terraced houses clutching to the steep hillsides at crazy angles, as impressive in its own way as any hilltop town in Italy. Reaching my home I passed along Market Street, one of the small town’s main shopping streets. Passage along the narrow pavement is usually an obstacle course with tourists stopping to gaze into the nicely decorated windows displaying their wares while tugging at dog leashes in a mostly successful attempt to prevent them coming into contact with the buses, tractors and heavy goods vehicles for whom this is the only road along the valley floor.
One of these shops had been the location of the millinery business that Ada had operated with her business partner, Mary Ann Edith Milnes. When Ada was buried in the old burial ground at Birchcliffe chapel even though it was mid May “throughout the funeral obsequies rain poured down. Blinds were drawn in cottage and villa alike showing sympathy and respect.” Following a short service at Hurst Dene Ada’s body was carried across the road by seven deacons.
In the service the minister, Rev A. J. Harding stated, “ Her loyalty to the church of Jesus was the most conspicuous feature in a character notable for many admirable traits.” Just over a year after Ada’s death a stained glass window and memorial brass were erected in Birchcliffe chapel, the first window of its character to be installed in the church. The glass was a representation of William Holman Hunt’s ‘Light of the World’ and it was placed by the Harwood pew. “The window a remarkably beautiful reproduction of the marvellous picture : the colouring is exquisitely done, and a credit to both the designers and the executants, Messrs. J. Harding, Birmingham. A massive brass tablet has been put behind the pew recently occupied by Mrs. Townsend, bearing suitable inscription, and is a very appropriate accompaniment to the window. The newspaper account of the unveiling mentions the Worsick and Townsend families’ long devoted and honourable association with the church. Ada’s grandfather, Henry Worsick had attended Sunday school there and during the ceremony it was said of Ada that “She had given of her life’s best energies to the cause at Birchcliffe. She had always been ready to do that work, and willingly too.” “For Mrs Harwood it was a sudden entrance into glory, at quarter to seven that Saturday evening.” I was excited to discover that the stained glass window is still there in the Birchcliffe chapel and in January 2022 I made an appointment to view it. Until my own research the heritage centre did not know to whom the window was dedicated. I was taken on a wonderful behind the scenes tour of the former chapel, much of it now the Pennine heritage centre with its photographs, art and dance studios, and part of it is maintained as a wedding venue.
Although the structure of the building is in good condition the interior furnishings are either gone or in a state of bad repair. A mosaic floor covers the hallway at the entrance to the building and there is some wonderful tile work on the walls. Part of the pulpit is upended and stored against a wall and much of the plasterwork is missing, revealing the wooden framing of the building. The chairman of the Trustees and the new Heritage Manager even pulled up the flooring covering the sunken baptismal font which was used for the total immersion of the people being baptized. What had been the body of the church is now subdivided into various studios and I was shown into the studio containing the window. The studio belongs to a needle fabric artist and it was an honour to see her marvelous work on the shelves and tables in the room, overlooked by Ada’s window.
As I continued my research into Ada Harwood another incident in this story stopped me in my tracks. Less than three months after his wife’s death Edgar married Mary Ann Edith Milnes, none other than Ada’s business partner in their dressmaking and millinery business, and a woman who had shared a home with Ada and Edgar throughout their married life. I needed to know more about Ada – and Edgar but I’d save that for a winter’s day.
Six months later after visiting the site of the trestle bridge I’d woken to the first snow of the season, nicely timed between Christmas and New Year. The sky was a shade of blue that I hadn’t seen in weeks, with puffy white clouds gently gliding across the sea of blue. The landscape took on the aspect of a monochrome photograph with black trees silhouetted against the white fields of snow and the dark stone walls wore hats and eyebrows of white. But I was eager for Edgar’s story. I’ll just take a quick look and see if there’s anything of interest in local newspapers of his time before I head out for a chilly walk. Six hours later, the sun had disappeared over hill above Weasel Hall and I was still absolutely absorbed in the lives and ancestry of Ada and Edgar. Ada was the third of four daughters born in 1859 at Heppens End to George Townsend , a shuttlemaker and his wife Sally, nee Worsick. Heppens End is a terrace of four cottages close to the river in Hawksclough between Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd. Today the cottages are the only buildings that remain in what is now a large industrial estate, just across the River Calder from the now leveled Walkley Clog Factory which burned down in August 2019.
I pass the cottages at least once a week on my walks along the canal and now I knew of my connection to the cottages I stopped for a moment to take a closer look at the row of three cottages. Within minutes I found myself chatting to one of the current residents who was only too happy to bring out a framed photograph of the terrace taken in the mid 20th century. It was absolutely dwarfed by huge factory buildings on three sides. When Ada was born there was a saw mill backing onto the river. By the time Ada was 12 in 1871 the family had moved into the centre of Hebden Bridge to Carlton Street where her father George was a furniture broker and fustian finisher. That’s an interesting combination. Like Ada her two older sisters were also tailoresses. By the age of 22 Ada was described in the census as a ‘shopwoman.’ Living with the family was a draper and milliner from Leeds by the name of Edith Miles, nine years older than Ada. The next time I find Ada she’s still living with her parents and Edith but they have moved to Market Street where they occupy two houses, and comprising a drapers/milliners/tailoresses shop. Ada was 36 when she married Edgar Harwood, just a year older than her. It must have been presumed by friends and family that she was a confirmed spinster by that time. After their marriage the newly weds moved to Hurst Dene. Ada’s widowed mother, 71, moved in with them, and Edith Miles, Ada’s business partner also continued to live with them. Today Hurst Dene is a five bedroomed semi detached stone house in the Birchcliffe area of Hebden Bridge, the posh end of town with its Victorian villas, and is grandeur is testimony to Edgar’s successful business as a shuttle tip maker. From Ada’s birthplace I retraced my steps along the banks of the River Calder and from the centre of Hebden Bridge I climbed the steep hill of Birchcliffe. Hurst Dene is situated on a corner plot almost opposite the former Birchcliffe Chapel, now the repository of the Hebden Bridge archives where I’ve spent many hours in the course of my research. As luck would have it the front door of the house was open. Looking past the stained glass panels set into the door I could see a grand piano in the room beyond the hall. I called out a friendly ‘Hello’ and soon found myself chatting to a young man. He knew all about Ada’s story and her time at Hurst Dene and it wasn’t until later that I realized that he is one of the organists on the rota at Heptonstall church and so I recognized his name. For the Harwoods to have lived in such an impressive house at the end of ‘snob row’ told me a lot about their wealth and status in the community so I set out to find out Edgar’s story little thinking that it too would feature in my Untimely Deaths project.
At his baptism on March 18, 1865, Ezra and Mary’s son was given the name Gibson, the surname of his mother. The church of St James, in Hebden Bridge must have been crowded since Gibson was one of 11 children baptised that day by Rev George Sowden. In 1900, at the age of 36 Gibson Butterworth was to become the second husband of Isabella Wolfenden, a lady born in 1857 in Paythorne, a small village in the Ribble Valley, Lancashire, 15 miles north of Burnley. Isabella’s father was an agricultural labourer, supporting his wife Hannah and their five children and by the time Isabella was ten years old the family had moved to the remote moorland dividing Lancashire and Yorkshire where her father operated Good Greave farm.
Just across a field from Good Greave was Greave, where Thomas Shackleton, a farmer, was living with his unmarried sister, an elderly aunt and two servants. It’s little wonder that in this sparsely populated area the two families got to know each other well and at the age of 17 Isabella married the 28 year old Thomas, the man who lived next door – well, just across the field. Isabella’s brother was the same John William Wolfenden who had been living next door to Ezra Butterworth at Hippins and had cared for him after his fatal fall. In 1827, 40 years before Isabella and Thomas sealed their marital knot, Thomas’s farm had been the scene of a horrific murder that made headlines in newspapers all across the country. A policeman was even sent from London to attempt to solve the gruesome crime on this lonely moor. The victim was Thomas’s great great uncle, James Shackleton. This area already had its reputation as a God-forsaken place. “Our moors put you in fear o’being stabbed in the back! We are without cultivation except for kicking one another to death in clog fights o’ the long dark winter nights. This is a godless place, dark and inhospitable.” So comments Mary Lockwood in the fictionalized account of Rev. Grimshaw’s life written by local author Glynn Hughes and set a hundred years before the Greave murder. the Hell-fire Methodist preacher Grimshaw is considered to be one of the founders of the Methodist faith along with the Wesley brothers and was vicar of Haworth church before Rev. Patrick Bronte.
I met up with John Shackleton, a descendant of the victim in June, 2020, and I learned of his recent attempt to reach the site of Good Greave farm for himself. “I went up to Good Greave last year; there’s a track up from the Yorkshire Water road which goes up to Walshaw Reservoirs. Of the site of Near Good Greave farm where there were several buildings show little remains. If one persists and goes further you can see the ruins of the Far Good Greave farm but it’s exceedingly difficult to access.” He urged me not to try and access the site by myself but showed me a photo which show a door frame and lintel, all that remains of man’s presence in a peat ridden landscape with not a road or building in sight.
But luck came my way two years later when someone who had read my blog had walked to the ruined farm recently and offered to escort me to Greave farm. In the early years of the 20th century the three reservoirs of Walshaw Dean were constructed and the path we were to take was one of the maintenance roads for the reservoirs. Indeed the only people that we saw on our walk were from a construction lorry using the road. After passing a forest we headed upward, across Greave Pasture and, if it had not been for the presence of a solitary tree marking the spot the pile of stones that had once been Good Greave farm was barely distinguishable from the moorland amidst the long tussock grass.
It was obvious that many of the stones had been removed from the site but why? Who lived in such an isolated spot? Where did they buy food? How did they give birth? Early maps show a path to the farm that follows a more direct route to the farm but that path, though shown on the OS map no longer exists.
On his website John documents the story of the Shackletons of Widdop, putting them into their historical context. “The farming community of Greave comprised two, possibly three farmsteads has been in the possession of my Shackleton ancestors since 1790 that I can trace directly, but there were Shackletons living there four centuries ago. A 1604 survey of the Savile estate lists 26 farmsteads in Wadsworth, fourteen of which were owned by Shackletons and the document specifically mentions two at Good Greave.” 34 Indeed, in an article entitled ‘Travellers not made but born” the Todmorden and District News of February 1910 holds that “residents of Hebden Bridge show great determination and grit and a better exemplification of it could not be found than in the person of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who it was known had descended from old family which originated at Shackletonhill on the Wadsworth side.”
Perhaps that particular connection was wishful thinking on the behalf of the author. Shackleton hill The most comprehensive account of the ‘horrid murder’ of James Shackleton was in the Manchester Mercury, June 5, 1827. The article not only gives a detailed description of the character of the victim but conjures up the remoteness of the area around Greave farm and is worth recounting in its entirety. “Horrid murder, Wadsworth, near Colne in one of the wildest and most sequestered spots in Yorkshire, distance about 13 miles from Halifax and 7 from Colne, and within 2 or 3 miles of the Lancashire border in a district celebrated for majestic scenery. In this nook of the country, a place called Good Greave in the township of Wadsworth, is situated; the former is the scene of this horrid crime; it consists of only four houses, two them separated from the rest by a distance of about a quarter of a mile and the nearest them within a mile of the Halifax and Colne road. Stretching towards Colne, Haworth, or to Blackstone-edge in different directions, the township of Wadsworth consists of heaths and the deep ravines running between them. Nearly the foot of a steep aclivity, and within short distance of one of the gullies which carry off the waters from the mountains lived James Shackleton, an old man in the 7lst year of his age. In the dwelling where his existence was at last prematurely terminated, he first drew breath; that and the surrounding acres were his paternal estate, and by careful habits and moderate desires, he had rendered himself a man of considerable substance. Satisfied with much less of the good things of this life than he had the ability to purchase, in that he did enjoy a brother and sister, also advanced in years, but younger than himself, participated; the three having chose a life of celibacy, they were restricted so far as regards family and social intercourse, to themselves, except, indeed, their nephew, residing just at hand, who had a wife and three children.
On the night of Wednesday the 23rd about half past nine o’clock in the evening, the unfortunate victim, James Shackleton and a man named Richard Smith, an aged house-carpenter dwelling in the house until had completed a few jobs, were sitting over a cheerful fire of peat, waiting the return of Thomas Shackleton, the old man’s 34 brother, who had gone a short distance from home, on some business, relative to the formation of a new road. The sister Mary Shackleton had gone to bed, when six men entered the house, armed with bludgeons, and one of them, going up to James Shackleton, said “he wanted to purchase a cow.” This excited some astonishment in the old man, who replied that “that was a very odd time to come on such a business.” A demand instantly followed for his money, with which the old man hesitating to comply, the carpenter, Smith, said, “James, if you have any money, pray give it them.” Two cur-dogs in the house barked most furiously at the villains who struck them with their bludgeons. James requested them to desist doing so, and he would quiet the dog. They, however, still continuing bark, one of the men, with a knife or some other sharp instrument, made a desperate blow at the larger intending cut his throat, but he only made a deep incision in the neck the animal. The men insisting immediate compliance, James rose from his seat, and proceeded to a chest of drawers, from whence he took out two purses. These, the villains said, only contained copper, to which he answered that there was both gold and silver in them. They then told him that had £lO, in the house, which he had received for a cow that he had sold. This he denied, as, if the cow was sold, he had not yet received payment. The villains then struck the old man and the carpenter with bludgeons, but particularly the former, and demanded all he had, while some of the party took down two hams, and gun and pistol, which were hung up in the house. The carpenter, being alarmed for his own and his employer’s safety, got up and proceeded towards the door, to call the nephew, but was interrupted by two men at the doorway, armed with pistols, who declared that, if he stirred a step, they would blow his brains out. He then returned to the house, and the men were preparing to retreat, after the old man had surrendered his all. Fearing, from their ill treatment, that they would take his life, the old man had risen up, and gone towards the window, which had no open casement, and was calling for his nephew. From this circumstance, and the yelling of the wounded dog, it is probable a sudden fear seized the murderers. On their rather hastily retiring a voice was heard to exclaim “d–n him, shoot him,” and one of them, armed with a gun, seemed return to complete their crime, for on arriving at the end the passage, from whence he had a view of the man at the window, he levelled his piece, and shot him under the left shoulder blade, the shot penetrating through the body and coming out at the breast. He instantly fell, covered with gore, and having been laid abed on the floor of the house, the purple flood continued to flow until life was extinct. This closed the unfortunate man’s life, within half hour after the occurrence. Medical aid was sought soon as any one dared to stir out, but found, it was in vain. The nephew, John Shackleton, first became alarmed hearing one of the dogs make an unusual noise (probably when the wound was inflicted upon him) and laying down the pipe which he was smoking, he proceeded towards the house to inquire the cause. On approaching it, he saw a man standing in the passage, and supposing it to be his uncle Thomas who might have just returned home, shouted ‘ hallo’. To this no answer was returned. He then retraced his steps, and entered his own house; but not satisfied with what he had seen, he returned immediately, after locking the door 37 of his house, for his own family’s security. Having again sallied forth, the man in the passage ran at him, as he approached, and exclaimed “I’ll kill the devil,” inflicting, at the same time, a severe blow on one of his shoulders. It was then that the nephew became sensible of the danger. When precipitately retreating, he heard the cry of “d–n him, shoot him,” and instantly saw the flash of gun in the house. He ran to loose a bull dog which was tied up on his own premises, and while so engaged, the villains appear have left the house, for, on his again coming forth he heard nothing but a kind of murmuring noise, as if from the voices men, ascending the declivity, nearly at the foot of which the house was situated. The men were only about ten or fifteen minutes in the house, and on leaving it went in a direction towards Haworth, over the moors, but this, no doubt, was a feint to elude detection.”36 * Four days later in the Sheffield Examiner we read ‘The body of the unfortunate James Shackleton has been opened by a surgeon, who states that the wound was not inflicted by small shot, as was reported, since, in the course of his inquiry, he found two slugs, which had apparently been cut off from the handle of a spoon.”37 Someone was taken into custody but discharged and according to the obituary of James’s brother, Thomas, the murderers were never discovered. Sixty years later the murder was still a hot topic in the local press and it was still on the lips of people in the community. One local writer who was intrigued by the story was Tattersall Wilkinson, known as ‘Owd Tat.’ The youngest of twenty one children from Worsthorne near Burnley, the village where my mother-in-law grew up, he took an interest in astronomy, archaeology, geology and natural history. He spent some time with “old Sally Walton” who eked out a living in a two storey cottage close to the road at the bottom of Widdop pass. “Witch and boggart tales she thoroughly believed—and many a happy hour has your humble servant passed by the turf fire side listening to the tales of yore told by the venerable dame.” According to Sally the area around Crimsworth Dean and Pecket Well was “infested with a gang of desperadoes – poachers and house breakers. Sally tells us more about the carpenter who was staying at Greave– Richard Smith known as “Old Dick o’ Whittams” who lived at “Th’ ing Hey” near Roggerham Gate. I find these names so priceless and evocative of their time. Adding further fuel to the drama, the robbers who had ‘blackened faces,’ finding no ammunition for Shackleton’s gun “in a most deliberate manner took a leaden spoon from off the table and cut it into slugs.” 38 An inquest was held upon the body of of James Shackleton, at the Ridge public house, before Mr Stocks and a very respectable Jury.
Mr H. Thomas of Hebden Bridge, surgeon, stated that the deceased died of a gun-shot wound which injured the lungs, heart and pericardium. And after all the evidence had been heard the Jury returned a verdict of ‘Wilful Murder against divers persons to the Jury unknown’. A substantial reward was offered but the murder remains unsolved. The gun, however, according to Eric Shackleton, a descendent who contacted me from New Zealand, is in the possession of his brother. I needed to put to rest the gruesome story and so I sought out James’s burial record. Usually only the name, age and location of a person’s home is given here seven lines of minute text carefully squeezed into the column recording James’s burial at Heptonstall showing the devastating effect that this murder had on the community.: ‘Six men went to his house on purpose to rob – demanded his money-accordingly he delivered two purses to them – and they went out of his house after they had received them. He went to look out at the window. One of the robbers turned back into his house and shot him with slugs out of a gun so that he was both robbed and murdered in his own house about 9 o’clock at night, May 23, 1827.’ The inquest was held at The Ridge pub on Widdop Road. The inquest took place at The Ridge pub, now known as The Pack Horse. By law inquests had to be carried out in a public place and so inns were frequently used. I’ve been in the inn several times, most recently to say hi to the new landlord who recently moved there from The Cross Inn in Heptonstall. As I’d sat in the lounge six weeks ago I’d looked out at the open moorland and thought about the murder of my distant ancestor.
Later I was surprised to find an account of James’s death in a collection of poems written by another of my ancestors, Joseph Hague Moss. My Moss ancestors had split into two areas of expertise, the cloth industry and teaching. Joseph Hague Moss had been the founder of a dynasty of school teachers and when he died in 1861 his son gathered his poems together and had them published.
James of The Greave
Where the wild game in summer the heath flowers among,
Invite the bold sportsman to range o’er the moor;
And where deep rugged dells roll the echo along,
There has stood an old mansion a century or more;
Where far from the gay world, unskill’d to deceive,
Contented and happy dwelt “James of the Greave.”
In his lambs and his sheep, and the moorland close by,
He took great delight, and increased in wealth;-
A harmless old man, with a glance in his eye,
And a glow on his cheek, that gave picture of health;
And he might have sunk gently, like sunset at eve,
Had others been harmless as “James of the Greave.”
But the sportsman may chase the wild game on the moor,
And the innocent lambkins may bleat in the fold:
The man that beheld them with pleasure before,
Is wantonly murder’d at seventy years old:-
And long from the bosom remembrance shall heave
The wild note of sorrow for “James of the Greave.”
Greave farm lies off Widdop Road which drops down steeply in a series of switch backs to the bridge across a narrow bubbling stream called Graining Water. Once there was a chapel sandwiched between the stream and the road, Blakedean Chapel. The rear of the chapel was built into the hillside and access to its upper gallery was via one of the higher switchbacks on the road. I stopped to pay my respects to Isabella who is buried there.
Not another person was in sight, not a car passed me. Apart from the road there was no evidence of human activity. The landscape was pristine. But a hundred years ago one man made structure was to cause the death of another member of my family only ten minutes walk along the banks of Graining Water from this very spot.
DEATH BY CHAMBER POT 1898 Can a tale be harrowing and comical at the same time? Is this story a candidate for the Darwin awards? The newspaper heading had it all: ‘The Blackshaw Mystery – Threat with a loaded gun – Disgraceful and sickening behaviour.’ At the age of 71 Ezra Butterworth was found by the postman barely breathing on his kitchen floor in a pool of blood. With the assistance of a neighbouring farmer the two got Ezra settled in his bed but he died later that same evening. Tragic though this sounds the inquest into this unfortunate event was not devoid of a lighter side. One of the witnesses at the inquest was John Whitaker a fustian cutter of Stubb, Mytholmroyd who had been staying with Ezra for the previous three weeks. One night another man joined John and Ezra and, according to the newspaper report, John retold a strange scene. ‘ “We all slept together.” Coroner: “Was it cold that night?” (Laughter) “No sir, I thought it very warm” (renewed laughter). We frequently stayed in bed together til 4 in the afternoon. I have persuaded him to stay in bed late telling him that it would save money.”
About 10 days before his death the John and Ezra had been drinking at the Blue Ball, Blackshawhead, a pub now closed but I thought this would be a good place to begin my journey into Ezra’s life and his premature demise. In the early 1800s the hilltop village of Blackshawhead had a population of around 4000, four times as many inhabitants as it does today. It was a thriving community, 1300ft above sea level, and an important resting point for travellers on the Long Causeway, a major packhorse route between Halifax, Yorkshire and Burnley, Lancashire. As such the village provided several inns for the packhorse travellers, and, over time a post office, at least two cafes and other shops took root here.
Today, unlike Heptonstall, a similar hilltop village clinging with true Yorkshire tenacity to its one post office, tea room and two pubs, no pubs or shops remain in Blackshawhead and it’s become commuter land for people working in Manchester and Leeds for indeed, the views in all directions from the village are truly wonderful. The hourly bus from Hebden Bridge terminates between the former Shoulder of Mutton, where the inquest into Ezra’s death was held, and the former Blue Ball inn. As I alighted from the bus on this late summer afternoon I regretted that the inn had closed its doors many years ago. A pint of cool cider would have been just perfect at that moment, especially with such a wonderful view laid out before me. The inn, so central to Ezra’s story is now Blue Ball cottage, the end house in a blackened stone terrace with its mullion windows looking bravely out onto the Calder Valley. As the bus disappeared into the distance there was not a sound to disturb my thoughts on this remote hilltop as I recalled the events leading to Ezra’s death. It was December 1898. Ezra and John Whitaker had been drinking at the Blue Ball. On his way home Ezra fell down and John went back to the inn and, with assistance from the landlord’s son, they managed to get Ezra home, and settled him in his bed. I wanted to retrace Ezra’s stumbling steps from the inn to his home at Hippins and it wasn’t difficult. Almost directly opposite the Blue Ball is Davy Lane, a pleasant lane on this sunny day leading gently down towards the Calder Valley but in December 1898, however, it would have been dark, pitch black, possibly icy. In February 2018 I’d taken the first bus up to the village after a terrific snowstorm.
I’d sat in the front seat taking videos and photos of the white landscape stretched out before me. Then, despite the sunshine it had started to snow and the strong wind created blizzard conditions. I wondered what the weather had been like on that fateful night. Just before reaching the bridge over the delightfully named Daisy Bank Clough I turned into a well maintained cobbled side track leading to the Calderdale way and Hippins Farm. The track was walled on both sides and lined with trees reminding me of the tree lined avenue down to 3rd Bungalow, Affetside, where I grew up. Through the trees I caught my first glimpse of Ezra’s home. Today it’s is a six bedroomed property and a Grade ll listed building, a long two storey stone house set on a level area of land, a rarity in this area. All the windows are mullioned and retained their lattice glazing. The front door has an ogee lintel inscribed with I.G, 1650, and according to C. F Stell in his book ‘Vernacular Architecture in a Pennine Community,’ 1960, “is the finest 17th century yeoman farmhouse in the parish.”
When Ezra lived there it was divided into two residences, Ezra renting one and a farmer, John William Wolfenden renting the other. Two ancient looking wooden doors complete with iron studs gave access to the property. I knocked on one of these but I didn’t get any response. I knew that the current owner has lived there for 40 years and is an avid historian. Meetings of the local history society are held at the farm. I looked in at the kitchen window realizing that it was on this very kitchen floor that Ezra was found by the postman, barely conscious, and carried to bed. Some time during the night of his drunken stupor he had fallen out of bed onto the chamber pot, breaking it in two pieces and cutting himself ‘somewhere behind.’ He stayed in bed for several days afterwards, John and his house cleaner bringing him a little food and drink, but one afternoon, possibly delirious, he took up his loaded gun from the rack in the kitchen saying “I’ll shoot ’em all.” Not surprisingly John made a quick exit. A few days later he was found by the postman lying on his back on the living room floor senseless, though still alive, undressed and ‘without his stockings’ (horror of horrors!). The postman called for help from John Wolfenden and together they got him up the stairs and in to bed. In the inquest Dr Cairns from Hebden Bridge described a four to five inch wound on the right thigh or buttock. He suggested that this, plus the exposure of being on the cold stone floor was the cause of death. Elias Barker, Ezra’s son-in-law was called as a witness. He had been immediately summoned to the farm when the postman had raised the alarm. He was asked if there was any money missing from the house, or any articles to suggest a murder robbery. No he responded. “Did you remove the chamber pot?” asked the chairman at the inquest. “Yes.” “What did it contain?” “I called it pure blood.” The court accepted that no foul play was involved and a verdict of accidental death was recorded with exposure and alcohol as contributory factors. So what led up to Ezra’s unexpected tragic end? It would seem that alcohol had played a leading role throughout his life. I was fortunate enough to make contact with a descendent of Ezra’s, one James Moss, who shared with me a handwritten copy of Ezra’s life story, as told by his daughter Grace. In it are frequent references to Ezra’s excessive drinking habits. Indeed his future wife’s brother ‘had warned her of Ezra’s drinking habits like many others associated with the railways in their early days. It was his great weakness.’ OK. That I understand. But how did this son of a ‘poor’ hand loom weaver, who became a plate layer, one of the poorest paid and least respected jobs in the railway, a gamekeeper in his spare time hobnobbing with the gentry, come to build a couple of houses in the centre of Hebden Bridge, then build the pretentious Oak Villa, send his children to fee paying private schools and then subsequently claim he has very little money and is taken to court by his own son who claimed his father owes him wages for work done? Ezra was proving an enigma to me. I was intrigued, I have a photograph of Ezra, sent to me by James Moss. He is in his middle years, standing proudly,
looking straight into the camera and brandishing a gun. Well, ok, it’s a hunting rifle since this is Todmorden, not the Wild West. He’s bedecked in a full gamekeepers outfit, corduroy jacket, matching waistcoat fitted nicely around the chest, white starched collar, tie, plus fours, and knee length leather boots. At his side rests his faithful hunting dog. He looks the very essence of Oliver Mellors in ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover.’ During lockdown I read ‘The Gamekeeper’ by Barry Hines and as I began to read it on a dark wintery morning this description popped up: ‘George Purse took down his jacket from the hook on the back of the kitchen door and put it on. He took his deerstalker hat out of one of the side pockets and put that on. He was now dressed in his full gamekeeper’s uniform: hat, tweed knickerbocker suit, and woollen knew stockings. That hat and socks he had to buy for himself. The suit 30 was provided.’ How like Hines’s description was this photo of Ezra. Ezra’s daughter Grace describes his hunting experience: ‘He had the grouse shooting rights at Greave, a large sheep farm on the Walshaw Moors. The surrounding moor was owned and shot on by Lord Savile, whose shooting lodge was near by,’ Interesting! Greave had been the remote farm where one of my Shackleton ancestors had been murdered (see next chapter) and I had attended an afternoon of music in the shooting lodge last year. “Ezra was proud and fond of his well trained gun dogs. If, when shooting, a hind fell over the boundary according to law it was Savile’s and the dog was not allowed to fetch it. But invariably when, at the end of the day Ezra was comfortably settled by the fire one of his dogs, Jim would steal out in the dark on to the moors and bring in the hind. The Greave was owned by the Shackletons who, despite pressure, would never allow Savile to shoot over their land. He trained his own dogs and once, when Lord Savile borrowed Jim, the gamekeeper who returned him said ‘We will pay any price you set on this dog’ but the offer was refused. Jim had been worked so hard his paws were bleeding.” I like to think that the dog sitting by Ezra’s feet in the photograph is the self same Jim. But having shooting rights and hobnobbing with the landed gentry was a far cry from Ezra’s humble beginnings. A few days earlier I had found an online blog in which someone described his recent visit to the ruins of Dale, a lone cottage set about halfway up the hillside between Charlestown in the bottom of the Calder Valley, and Blackshawhead at the top, and which was before his marriage to Sarah Horsfall in the summer of 1856 the home of Ezra Butterworth. I’d seen references to Dale cottage in the course of my family research, knew that little if anything remains of the building, and that it looked quite difficult to get to, there being no roads and not much in the manner of footpaths still in existence. I contacted the blogger but before he could reply my curiosity got the better of me and, being blessed with a dry sunny morning, I set out in search of Dale. I had an 1851 map with me, and though the paths were marked there was no indication of how steep they are and, indeed, there’s no knowing whether they still exist today. Would I need to climb a wall, or, horror of horrors, scramble over a gate? I retraced my steps from Hippins back up to the main road and set off to reach the place of Ezra’s birth. I headed off down Marsh Lane once more to Winters, home of the Gibson family, and from there I found a diagonal track going steeply towards Dale – in fact, it was so steep and slippery with dry sandy soil that I was forced to do one of my ‘Heather specials’ as my daughters call them – sitting down and sliding down the path on my rear end. This was my modus operandi for the next half a mile or more. The view across the valley was lovely but I was too scared of losing my footing and dropping my phone to take any photos but I saw a tiny building on my left that I recognized from a photo on the Charlestown history website. It was a cludgie an outside toilet with a stream running through it. Thankfully it wasn’t too long before another path crossed mine, this time hugging the contour of the hill and there in front of me was Dale cottage – within an arm’s length. The perimeter walls of the building are still about 3 ft high and provided the perfect sitting spot for me to recover my equilibrium.
I welcomed my sit down and, after taking lots of photos, I had a picnic in what had been Ezra’s living room! The fireplace and even some stone shelving is intact.
There would have been a perfect view onto Erringden Moor in Ezra’s time, but now much of the view is obscured by trees, even on a sunny day when it’s not ‘obscured by clouds.’ Still, I could catch a glimpse of Stoodley Pike, that monument crowning the 1300ft hilltop across the valley. The tower had been erected in 1814 to commemorate the peace following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Suddenly, on the afternoon of 8th February 1854 it collapsed. A few years earlier it had been damaged by a lightning strike,
which this is thought to have contributed to its downfall. I wondered if Ezra and other members of his family saw it fall down from this perfectly positioned viewpoint but then I realized that it would have been pitch dark by 5:30 on that February afternoon. The local newspaper recounts ‘This column was erected by public subscription in 1814, to commemorate the peace, and after weathering the storms of 40 years, it fell with a tremendous crash about half past five o’clock on the afternoon of Wednesday last, and nothing now remains but the shattered base.’ Imagine getting up one morning and finding it – gone. It must certainly have been the talk of the town. So too must have been its rebuilding which was completed two years later, the year that Ezra married. On November 10th 1855 “The last stone was put on the new Stoodley, and a handsome flag fixed therein.” I imagined the Butterworth family gathering together outside their home celebrating the completion of the 120ft monument. I have hiked to it several times from my home, climbing its dark staircase to the viewing platform, the most notable occasion with my three daughters in celebration of my birthday in 2018. It was with some trepidation that I continued my journey back down into the valley. At one point I crossed a tiny bridge over an angry torrent. It was a creepy place, reminding me of some hidden lair in a Tolkien novel, and I looked around me, half expecting to see Gollum peering at me from behind a water sprinkled rock. But it wasn’t a hobbit that caught my attention but part of a wall, barely distinguishable amidst the dense undergrowth. On further exploration the perimeter walls of an entire building was evident. A large beech tree was firmly embedded in what had once been the living room floor and bright green ferns now curtained the window openings.
It wasn’t until I got home that I found that this was Higgin House, where, in fact, Ezra had been born – literally, in 1827. In 1841 there had been four families living here, all, apart from Ezra’s father Thomas, being involved in the manufacture of cotton, either as cotton twisters or cotton warpers. Thomas, on the other hand, was a worsted weaver as were Ezra’s older siblings of which there were four. As I approached the valley floor I found myself confronted by the railway line that shares the limited flat land of the valley bottom with the main road, the River Calder and the Rochdale canal, all crossing and recrossing each other in some elaborate weaving display. This railway line played a significant role in Ezra’s story for by his mid 20’s Ezra was a plate layer for the railways. Railways were originally known as plateways. Besides laying the track plate layers were also responsible for all aspects of track maintenance such as replacing worn out rails or rotten sleepers, packing to ensure a level track, and weeding or clearing the drains. The main line from Leeds to Manchester had opened in 1841 However, Ezra’s daughter, Grace, describes his work with great pride. “he laid some lines wrongly and on being reprimanded by a superior said “But I knew they were wrong when I laid them.” “Why then did you do it?” said the man. “Because I am paid to work not think” said Ezra. “Well” replied the man, “you will be paid to think in future,” and Ezra got a rise in pay. As years went by he became a railway contractor and was responsible for the laying and upkeep of many of the lines of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. He was a perfectionist and the train drivers always knew when they were on his lines, they were so smooth.” Perhaps this was simply a family anecdote to be passed with pride onto the next generation. “Unfortunately his wife, Sarah, was a kleptomaniac, and was always taking home things she did not need and had not paid for. While this was a great worry to Ezra, it did not raise the problems at that time, in such a small community as Hebden Bridge then was, as it would today. Ezra just returned the goods to the understanding shopkeepers and that was the end of the matter. She died early in married life on the birth of her first child.” There was less than 6 months between his first wife dying and his marriage to Mary Gibson, daughter of the Joshua Gibson, innkeeper of the Bull Inn, Hebden Bridge. They started married life at Weasel Hall, a large building set alone above Hebden Bridge and which I have a perfect view of from my writing desk. It’s lone position at that particular height above the valley always reminds me of the position of Lily Hall over the Hebden valley, and when I chatted to the current resident of Weasel Hall I was not surprised to learn that the two halls had been renovated by the same contractor in the 1980’s.
For a couple of miles I followed the path alongside the railway track back towards Hebden Bridge, bound for Oak Villa, the gentleman’s residence that Ezra had built for himself and his family. By this time Ezra and Mary had two children, Grace and Gibson. So far so good. It’s the next portion of Ezra’s story that I find puzzling. According to Grace’s account “In due course they moved to Commercial Street and then to Carlton Terrace where Ezra had built some houses on the present site of the Cooperative building,” Yes, Ezra had become a railway contractor, perhaps implying more of a supervisor’s role but where did he find the money to build ‘some houses.’? And to top it in 1875 Ezra decided to build a house in Savile Road. Several detached houses were being built there at that time and he bought a piece of land along the ledge and built Oak House, and another house just next door but which he fitted as a stable, but which he planned could be converted into a house.
Next to that he built Oak cottage where lived his gardener cum groom and beyond was a long stretch of kitchen garden. His ‘gardener cum groom’? He was living the life of a 33 gentleman! In the 1881 census he describes himself as a farmer with 9 acres. ‘He was always a man ahead of his time, and Grace never remembered living as a child in a house without a bathroom.’ As I stood opposite Oak Villa my mind spread its own rumours about how Ezra could have come by enough money to build these three gentlemen’s residences that reek of Victorian opulence – asymmetrical design, an abundance of windows, an elegant bay window in the sitting room, a steeply pitched rood topped with blue slate. Could it be significant that Oak Villa lies on Savile Road, named after the wealthy landowner whose lands were adjacent to Greave and for whom Ezra was the gamekeeper? My mind returned to Grace’s story – “ and once when Lord Savile borrowed Jim the gamekeeper who returned him said “We will pay any price you set on this dog” but the offer was refused.” I don’t suppose we shall ever know and his Moss descendants are as puzzled as I am. At the time that he built Oak Villa he was in his early 50s with a wife and two children in their late teens. I took it for granted that Ezra intended to live in this luxurious home for the rest of his life, enjoying the benefits it offered. But that was not to be. In 1890 Ezra decided against the wishes of Mary and Grace to lease Hippins farm from the Savile estate, paying an advanced payment that would secure his tenancy for the next 25 years. Correspondence between Ezra and the Savile estate shows that Ezra was paying rent of 6s. and 11d for Hippins, a 75 acre farm, with the house being subdivided with the Wolfenden family, John Wolfenden to help with the farm and his wife is act as a general servant. He spent a great deal of money on improvements building a new barn and reconstructing much of the interior of the house. He bought from Ireland twelve Kerry cows and a bull and settled down to a very different way of life. It was eight years later that his tragic death occurred. His will shows that he never patched up his feud with his son Gibson, omitting him from his will. It’s less easy to understand why Ezra left money to Grace’s husband, Elias Barker, a prominent cotton manufacturer in Todmorden, and not to Grace herself, but perhaps that was just indicative of the place of women in society at the time. From Oak Villa it was only a few minutes walk to St James’s cemetery, Ezra’s final resting place, where he was buried on Christmas Eve, 1898. His wife, Mary, outlived him by 20 years and is buried alongside him.
But ten years later Paul’s connection with another story in the paper is no laughing matter. By this time Paul and Sarah Ann’s daughter Ellen was 35 and living at home at The Fox and Goose along with her sister Mary, a fustian tailoress and brother James, a clerk for a courier. Ellen had no occupation listed on the census of 1891 which is unusual, though on previous censuses she had been listed as a fustian machinist.
She ‘helped around the house’ we are told by her father in the newspaper report entitled ‘Another Sensational Suicide.’ Following a serious bout of influenza she had been afflicted with much pain in her head and back and had been attended to by the local doctor. Shortly after her illness her brother Richard and his wife went away on holiday to Blackpool for a few days and had given their house key to Ellen so that she could look after the cat, the dog and the bird while they were away. Richard, a skilled fustian cutter, his wife, Grace, a tailoress and their son lived on Stoney Lane, part of the now demolished Bridge Lanes area.
One Spring morning I stood on Market Street at the bottom of Stoney Lane. A narrow passageway bounded on both sides by three storey houses led to a long flight of steps rising steeply to Heptonstall Road. Did I say long? Can I underline steep? The sun never penetrates this flight of stairs and the cobbles linking one flight to the next were covered in wet, very slippery moss. The steps are known as Cuckoo Steps after the mill close by. I was thankful for the wrought iron handrail and steadied myself several times on the climb. The stone steps had that familiar saddle shaped appearance from a century’s wear but no horses used this passage. At the top of the flight a path led to Heptonstall Road. Where once Richard’s house would have stood the path is today edged by ferns and brambles, all that remains of the once tightly packed community of Bridge Lanes.
One day during her brother’s holiday Ellen had left the Fox and Goose and didn’t return that night. Her parents were not anxious. They thought that she’d gone up to Heptonstall to help her sister Annie look after a boy who was ill for Annie was now keeping the White Lion in Heptonstall with her husband, John Butterworth.
When I first visited the White Lion I had no idea of its connection with my family’s story. When Richard returned from his holiday he called in at the Fox and Goose to get his key back from Ellen no doubt descending the steps where I was standing , but found that she hadn’t been home the previous night. When the family checked with her sister and found that she hadn’t been to the White Lion either they went to Richard’s house, broke down the door, it being barred on the inside. Laid out on the bed, fully clothed was 27 Ellen, a handkerchief tied around her head is if to reduce the pain there. The door crevices had been filled with brown paper and her petticoat had been stuffed at the bottom of the door. The gas tap was open at full. “I should say she had been driven crazy with pain,” stated Mr Clay at the inquest and a verdict was returned – that she had suffocated herself with coal gas while in an unsound state of mind.” 28Perhaps the first thing that came to mind when I read this was the suicide of Sylvia Plath, wife of the poet laureate Ted Hughes whose demise has been recounted in detail in many sources. A much less detailed account was the attempted suicide of my grandmother’s second husband, Harry Hall, who attempted to gas himself just days after their marriage. He survived and lived for four more years dying of natural causes – in the county mental hospital.
So two of Joshua Gibson’s sons had taken their own lives. But what was happening to Joshua Gibson’s daughters? Out of his nine children three were girls. Mary married a railway contractor, Ezra Butterworth who ultimately came to his own sticky end. Hannah and Sarah Ann both married innkeepers, thereby keeping up the family business. On 2nd April 1854 Sarah Ann Gibson, then aged 20 married the 24 year old Paul Taylor at St John’s, Halifax, and it’s through her that I am connected to the Taylor family. Over the course of the next 16 years Paul and Sarah Ann had ten children. Until his marriage Paul had lived in the tiny community of Old Chamber, high above the Calder Valley, one of seven children born to Mary and John Taylor, a farmer and sometime slater.
There Paul had made his living as a plasterer. At some point, probably when he married Sarah Ann they moved down into the valley and settled in Hebden Bridge for in 1861 they are running a beerhouse on Bridge Lanes just steps away from The Bull Inn where Sarah Ann’s father, Richard, had been the landlord. The tightly packed community known as Bridge Lanes was a conglomeration of houses, literally on top of each other, connected by steep stone steps which today show the imprints of a hundred years of clog clad feet.
The earliest reference to a named pub that the Taylors were operating was in 1857 when they were keeping The Fox and Goose. Oh my! In February 2020 when the flood waters from Storm Ciara prevented me from returning home after playing the organ for a Sunday morning service at Heptonstall church I sought refuge in The Fox and Goose, primarily because its location is slightly elevated from the centre of town and was therefore above water! Along with other refuge seekers I was provided with warm food and as much tea as I could cope with. I was so grateful. What a surprise to find that my ancestors had operated the same pub 145 years before. I hope they were as kind and inviting to their customers as today’s landlord is.
I recalled an incident, however, when landlord Paul may have been a little too welcoming. In 1875 Paul was charged with permitting drunkenness on his premises between 10 and 11 pm. When two bobbies entered the premises they found Paul Taylor in the taproom, along with James Clayton, the blacksmith, with a mug of beer in front of him and ‘another man in who was fresh.’ Paul was fined 20s. In the same year it appears that the same two bobbies were again on Paul’s trail. This time Paul and another man were spotted by the two plain clothed bobbies playing cards ‘on the Lord’s day’ at Rawtenstall wood, the very steep hill that rises directly above the pub, – and gambling. Greenwood was captured on the spot but Taylor ran off but took his cap off and looked back.
One bobby, recognizing him shouted “That’s Paul Taylor, the landlord.” Greenwood was taken to the lock up. Taylor denied being there and called others as witnesses who supported his claim and his case was adjourned. I’ll never be able to wander around that wood just above Bridge Lanes again without looking out for those plain clothed bobbies! But Paul was not the only landlord in the family that enjoyed a tipple. Two of Paul’s brothers, Henry and John took it in turns to be landlords of the Stubbing Wharf pub over a span of 25 years. In 1876 John was fined 10s for being drunk in his own beerhouse and Henry ran the inn until his death in 1892. It’s now a picturesque establishment on the Rochdale canal, my ‘go to’ pub when I have guests visiting from out of town, but until recently I never knew of my family’s connection to the place.
As I browsed through old newspapers online for references to the Fox and Goose I found that in 1878 Paul had been required to undertake the drainage and completion of closets to his houses at Newgate End as per plans submitted to the board. But four years later it was reported in the Todmorden Advertiser that ‘ there is a continual nuisance in and about the privy belonging to Paul Taylor, Newgate End which is caused by the defective drains of the 2 cottages belonging to Thomas Sutcliffe.’ Eight years later Paul and his sanitary problems were still making the newspaper columns when, in 1890, the building and nuisance committee reported a nuisance arising from a defective urinal.
But another newspaper article about Paul Taylor stopped me in my tracks. Paul and Sarah Ann’s six year old son, Frank, drowned on his way home from school – St James’s, Mytholm. It was the depths of winter, February 1880. At the end of the school day the children were dismissed at 4:10. It would have been totally dark by that time but there was a lit gaslight close by. Frank clambered over the wall opposite the school and climbed down to the river where the school children were known to like to slide on the frozen dam. Below the dam, was the ‘panhole’ – a hole four feet deep, with no fencing around it, just below a small waterfall.
Frank balanced on some ice on the frozen Colden Beck and reached into the panhole to gather some ice. Someone on the bridge saw him fall into the panhole and Richard Mellor, the schoolmaster was summoned and was quickly on the scene. Mellor could just see the top of Frank’s head peeking above the hole. He managed to retrieve Frank but his attempts to resuscitate him failed. Frank’s body was taken to his home at the Fox and Goose, just five minutes walk from the school. His dad was out feeding the pigs at the time and within minutes a doctor was called for, but his efforts too were in vain. The shock for his parents and five siblings is unfathomable. They had already lost one son, Gibson, who had died a few months short of his second birthday. At the inquest into Frank’s death held at the Bull Inn, Frank’s mother’s former home, the schoolmaster commented that “If P.C. Eastwood would visit the school and give a warning to the scholars it would no doubt frighten them for a time.” The school lies just a few hundred yards up Church Lane and I crossed over the Colden River on Bankfoot bridge where, in the Taylor family’s day stood Bankfoot Mill. St James’s church where I sometimes play the organ for services was to my right and directly behind it is the school that Frank attended. The school was established in 1870 and funded by public subscription- “ … a school shall be established for the education of children and adults or children only of the labouring, manufacturing, and other poorer crafts of the ecclesiastical district of Hebden Bridge…” Originally it was a single storey building and all the children were taught together. However, in 1880, the year of the tragedy, it was decided to separate the ‘Mixed’ from the ‘Infants’ with Richard Mellor head of the mixed and Mrs Mellor head of the infants. In 1888 a second storey was added for the needs of the growing population and I’m proud to say that my Wrigley ancestors were employed to carry out the painting of the extension. A further coincidence was that Paul Taylor’s daughter, Mary, married schoolmaster Mellor’s son at St James’s church and as a witness to their wedding Richard Mellors’s signature is on their marriage certificate.
From the Fox and Goose I headed to St James’s school and the scene of Frank’s death. I passed the former site of Bankfoot Mill, a spinning and weaving mill that would have been a hive of activity at the time but which was demolished in 1971. The school lies directly behind St James’s church. The site for both had been donated by James Armitage Rhodes of Mytholm Hall. He had reserved a piece of triangular land behind the church. “I reserved it for a School: but I subsequently thought that it was too dark – as light is essential to the well conducting a School.” A low stone wall, barely two feet surrounds the perimeter of the school today and directly below the ground drops vertically to the river. I could make out a weir, which is probably ‘the waterfall’ referred to in the inquest into Frank’s death as I stood on the bridge, probably standing in the very spot from where the schoolmaster could see Frank’s head peeking above the hole. As I headed back towards the church I paused for a moment to pay my respects to Frank at the cemetery which borders the stream. From his resting place I could hear the bubbling brook as it wound its way to join the River Calder. A chill passed through my body despite the warmth of the afternoon and I retraced my steps to the Fox and Goose, pausing to partake of some much needed refreshment in the beer garden situated in the ruins of the cottages adjoining the inn.
Alice Ann, Richard’s daughter, was born in 1880, the eighth of ten children born to Richard Gibson and his first wife, Alice Rawson. What a stroke of irony that she was born on Bride Street, Todmorden, for it was her lack of marriage that proved her downfall when, at age of 21, she took her own life only one year after her stepmother, Rose Gibson, did the same. According to the newspaper report “The inquiry aroused considerable local interest in consequence of certain rumours that were afloat” – an unfortunate turn of phrase considering the manner of her death. In fact this tragedy that took place just before Christmas 1900 was reported in newspapers all across the country from Leeds and Manchester in the North of England to Staffordshire in the Midlands and Somerset on the South coast. Alice Ann, a machinist, had told her sister with whom she lived on Myrtle Street in the centre of Todmorden that her sweetheart to whom she was engaged was going to a party with another girl.
She threatened to not only break off the engagement if he did so but to drown herself. Her sister thought she was just being dramatic. Willie Greenwood had gone to the party as planned and had failed to show up at Alice’s home the following Saturday as was their usual arrangement, understanding that by taking the other girl to the party he had precipitated the end of his engagement. The following day Alice had tea with a friend during which she had cried most of the time. Before leaving she had handed a letter to her to pass on to her fiancé the next day. The letter read ‘I cannot live to be laughed at and the shame of meeting you after what has passed between us. I have gone. You have deceived me and no mistake. Yours, Alice Gibson.’ Alice had left her friend’s house but had failed to return home that evening. Later that evening an umbrella, recognised as belonging to Alice had been found on the side of the canal and handed in to the local police. The following morning the police dragged the canal where the umbrella had been found. After an hour Alice’s body was discovered in the centre of the canal. Her body was recovered and at the inquest it was noted that she was fully clothed, minus her hat, and that the body showed no marks upon her body to indicate violence. But Willie still felt obliged to ask if anything could be done by the jury to protect him from the rumours that were rife about the town. The jury unanimously agreed to a verdict that the deceased committed suicide by drowning herself. This afternoon as I began my journey into Alice’s last hours I saw that today no houses remain on Myrtle Street, just the street sign leading to the car park. It was with a startle that I realised that on a winter’s day three years ago I had seen a white figure clothed in a flowing long white dress in this very spot– and she was still wearing her hat! She was carrying a torch, red with a burning flame. Was this Alice’s ghost? No. This was the annual Lamplighter parade, when a giant lamplighter puppet lights a torch symbolically guiding the community through the dark winter months.
From Myrtle Street I headed to the Rochdale canal. Moored boats were few and far between on this bitingly cold winter day. From the chimneys of the houseboats smoke was bellowing and blending with the low clouds enveloping the bottom of the valley. Carefully avoiding the icy puddles on the towpath I soon found myself at Sandholme Mill with its vast expanse of weaving sheds now silent, its tall chimney now redundant.
It was on this stretch of the canal that Alice breathed her last, over one hundred years ago. The newspaper column adjacent to the report of her death that day told of the death and funeral of Oscar Wilde. ‘An ideal husband’ was what Alice Ann had wished for – in vain. *
The towpath passed over an overflow channel and as I looked down at the bubbling water a flash of colour drew my attention. Looking over the bridge I couldn’t believe my eyes. A bouquet of red roses was caught on the lip of the overflow, fresh and vibrant as if someone had only just thrown them in. They were still bound together with ribbon and looked fresh so only could have been in the canal for an hour or so. it seemed a fitting tribute to my Rose.
Richard was the youngest of Joshua Gibson’s nine children and had been born in Winters, though by the age of ten the family had moved down into the valley and were running the inn on Bridge Lanes. Unlike his brother Stansfield Richard sought work away from the family business and was a millwright throughout his life. The millwright’s trade combined the practical elements of those of the carpenter, blacksmith and stone mason, with those of an engineer, requiring a resourceful turn of mind since the occupation of millwright demanded the ability to design mills and milling machinery, requiring the application of arithmetic and geometry to the manufacture of all the components of a working mill. Like Stansfield Richard was married five times. He fathered ten children with his first wife, Alice Rawson. I felt very moved as I saw their signatures on their marriage certificate signed at St John The Baptist, Halifax. Richard’s was large, flowery, confident. Alice too signed her own name but in tiny writing, simple and straightforward.
I wondered how much those signatures penned 160 years ago reflect their owners’ personalities. Following Alice’s death at the age of 49 Richard remarried three more times, all to widows. Sarah Crowley died three years after she married Richard and three months later Richard married Mary Ann Whittaker who was living at the Golden Lion in Todmorden at the time of their marriage. Three and a half years later Mary Ann died and five months later Richard married Rose Gibson who had already been widowed twice. Rose Stansfield had only been married for a little over a year to Richard Gibson when she was found lifeless in a lock of the Rochdale canal in the centre of Todmorden in the winter of 1899. Richard’s father, Joshua Gibson, had also committed suicide in the slaughter house of his pub, the Bull Inn in Hebden Bridge forty years before. And when Richard took his own life ten years after Rose The Hebden Bridge Times even headed their account – ‘Can Suicide Be Hereditory?’
An inquest into Rose’s death was held at Todmorden town hall on Nov 17, 1899, the day after her death, and it was reported in the Todmorden and District News: ‘Todmorden drowning case probable suicide. During the breakfast half-hour Monday morning great excitement prevailed in the neighbourhood of the Golden Lion bridge, capitalise Todmorden, by reason of a report that the dead body woman had been found floating in the canal and the sensation was increased by the fact that deceased’s husband appeared on the scene before the body had been recovered and actually assisted in getting the lifeless form out of the water. The deceased was Rose Gibson, aged 54 years, wife Richard Gibson, millwright, of 5, Longfield Rd Todmorden. She was very well-known in Todmorden district, being at one time the landlady of the York Hotel.The body was at once removed to 5, Longfield Rd Todmorden.
In matters such as this rumours of a somewhat ugly character soon ran rife in the town but the verdict was: “Found drowned, without mark of violence or injury, having probably drowned herself, but not sufficient evidence to show the state her mind the time.” Richard’s testimony was that the couple woke around 5:30 on the morning in question. Rose got up saying she was going to make some cocoa. That was the last he saw of her. When he got up about 7:30 she was not in the house and so he went to search for her, first calling in at her daughter’s house, thinking she might be there. But to no avail. He went back home to see if she’d returned but she had not. He set off again in search and when he got to the Golden Lion Bridge he heard that there was woman in the canal lock at Neddy Bridge.. He went to look, and found it was his wife. He recognised her by her hair and shawl. She was only a couple of hundred yards from her home. Despite five or six people gathered around Richard testified “I had to ask four or five times before they would put a hand on.” On being asked if she had ever hinted at taking her own life Richard replied “Well, she has sometimes said she would: she told me on Sunday that she had been a bit queer at times ever since the change of life. She has also been a hit upset about letter from a niece in Middleton. The Coroner: Has she been taking too much drink lately? Well, Sunday night she wanted a pint bottle for beer, and I fetched her one from the White Hart.”
So off I went in search of the canal lock at Neddy Bridge, scene of her death and Rose’s home at Longfield. I couldn’t locate Neddy Bridge on a map but by posting for help on FaceBook I found that that particular lock on the Rochdale canal is directly opposite the Golden Lion. The lock had taken its name from a former landlord and coach proprietor at the Golden Lion – Owd Neddy Blomley. From my home in the centre of Hebden Bridge I walked the four miles along the Rochdale canal to Todmorden. Mallard ducks and Canada geese accompanied me along the towpath, honking vociferously for this was Spring and thus the height of mating season. Fragments of former houses and mills edged the towpath from time to time, their stones covered with bright green moss, and I liked to imagine it was the hair of some wonderful canal monster.
At Callis gardens the vegetable beds were springing into life and early crocuses were adding splashes of yellow in the flower pots displayed on the roof of the houseboats moored on the canal. Stoodley Pike topped the hills to my left while the Wizard of Whirlaw dominated my view to my left. As I approached the town of Todmorden I could see Cross Stone church atop the hill and I thought about Stansfield’s wedding there one hundred and fifty years ago. Along the towpath’s edge herb gardens had been planted, part of the Incredible Edibles, an urban gardening project started in Todmorden in 2008 that aims to bring people together through actions around local food. In 2009 Prince Charles visited the project to give his support and since its beginning 700 similar groups have sprung up worldwide. Just before Neddy Bridge a large sign with letter 5 ft tall is set into a wall above the marina. It spells the word Kindness.
Running beneath the bridge a steep cobbled footway connects the towpath to the main road. I was in search for Rose and Stansfield’s home at the time of her death – 5, Longfield Road. Longfield Road rises steeply from the main road where it crosses the canal at the Golden Lion. On my right was Cockpit, home of Ellen Maria Farrar who had assisted in the laying out Rose’s body after it was taken from the lock. Today a lady was gardening outside Cockpit in the early morning sunshine and I explained the reason for my presence and we mulled over Rose’s story together.
As I sought out the house numbers on Longfield Road I realised that number 5 no longer exists. Judging from a retaining wall above the canal and the long flight of steps that must once have been a terrace of houses that in Rose’s time overlooked the Golden Lion inn and the canal I realised that the word Kindness is on the very spot where Rose and Stansfield’s house had been. A few weeks later I happened to see two photos spanning one hundred years superimposed on one another in an estate agent’s window in Todmorden.
The end result was that the author/photographer, Daniel Birch, delivered his book ‘Todmorden Now and Then’ to my door. Imagine my surprise when leafing through I found two photos superimposed of the old and the new view of where I suspected Rose’s house had been. And there it was, in a terrace of four storey houses directly above the canal and Daniel confirmed that ‘the steps leading to Longfield Road are still in place.’
My next stop was the Golden Lion, where, just to confuse things, Richard’s third wife had been living when she married Richard. It is primarily a live music venue of considerable repute. I was rather taken aback by the bright yellow coat of paint that has recently come to adorn the side wall, a rather bright gold, dare I say garish?
The current owners have been threatened with a £20,000 fine and even jail for painting the exterior wall this obtrusive colour. The Guardian and The Independent have both taken up the story in which the owner says it was done after the council asked local businesses to brighten up the town in the face of the pandemic. Six months later I returned to the scene and saw that the wall has now returned its former white hue. I looked in vain for a golden lion too but found instead a little outdoor street market, redolent of the strong sense of community that is prevalent in Todmorden. Built as a coaching inn around 1760 the Golden Lion inn was a halt on the Manchester to Halifax stage coach service. Many important meetings have taken place over a few glasses of ale in here and I was sad not to be able to sup a glass in Rose’s memory today in such historic surroundings. High on the list of significant meetings held here was one which resulted in the proposal to erect Stoodley Pike, a monument marking the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Its erection was first discussed in this very pub in 1814. Six years later the first meeting of a new company established to built [build] the amazing edifice of Todmorden Town hall was held here too. Today The Golden Lion is known as one of the small market town’s most haunted buildings. It runs UFO-spotting meetings and patrons sometimes stay overnight in the upstairs room, provided they provide their own sleeping bags—and a fair dose of skepticism.
Before I went to pay my respects to Rose I needed to know more about her life and to do that I had obtained her marriage certificate since Stansfield appeared to be her married name. Once that was in my possession I was able to piece together something of Rose’s story. Rose had been born in Mickleover, Derbyshire. Just two miles West of Derby the quaintly named village played an important part in the industrial revolution for it was there in 1717 that the world’s first industrial scale textile factory, a silk mill, was built. It’s cutting edge technology caused it to become quite a tourist attraction and both Daniel Defoe and Benjamin Franklin visited the mill. Rose’s father, Thomas had been a silk weaver but like many of the families around the area he was a silk weaver working with a hand loom, not the silk factory. Rose was the first of five children born to William and Harriet (nee Ambrose) and she arrived in the world just two months after her parents had been married at the parish church in Mickleover. In the early 1850s the family moved 85 miles north to Tonge in Lancashire, close to Rochdale and on May 6, Rose married Joseph Bamford, a 21 year old labourer living in Tonge. A daughter and son were born to them but in the winter of 1871 when only 30 years old Rose became a widow. It took her 8 years to find another husband, this time marrying John Stansfield, a bachelor living in Todmorden and several years younger than Rose. John was a master whitesmith like his father and employed a few other men and boys. A whitesmith was a metalworker who did finishing work on iron and steel such as filing or polishing, a much needed skill in the factories of the industrial age when small intricate parts constituted the large machinery. They set up home together at 4 Eagle Street in Todmorden with Rose’s daughter Sarah Bamford, moving to 1 Raglan Street, the next street, some time before 1891.
Of course all this time I had been wondering what precipitated Rose’s untimely death and perhaps an article in the local newspaper may give some insight into Rose’s predicament. In 1893 Rose took John Stansfield to court for deserting her. The account of the trial is a harrowing one. John had been ill for twelve months suffering from dropsy and Bright’s disease. For the previous month he had been bedridden and unable to go to his place of work in Der Street where he employed five or six men in his whitesmithing business. Rose had nursed and attended to him throughout his illness providing him with beef tea, milk, bread and mutton chops. His friends had looked in from time to time to cheer him up and had brought with them whiskey, brandy and even a bottle of champagne on one occasion. On Friday evening January 20th Rose went to bed about quarter past eleven and bade John goodnight ‘on the best of terms.’ About 5:30 in the morning she went downstairs and found that her husband had gone.’ 24 Not only her had left but the bed to which he had been confined had also gone! Rose ran the short distance to Eagle Street where John’s two brothers and two sisters lived together and was told that John was with them but she was not allowed to enter. The prosecution brought evidence that Rose had not properly cared for her husband and that she had consumed the liquor meant for him. John’s friends had had to pick her up off the floor, so drunk was she, and they had made the decision to remove him from the house. The court ruled that since John could no longer work because of his illness he had insufficient means to support Rose financially and though he had sent one month’s rent to their Raglan Street landlady, he would be unable to give her a weekly allowance. The case was dismissed. John died four months later at his brother’s house, 4 Eagle Street. Rose moved in to live at the masonic hall in the centre of Todmorden with her daughter and son-in-law, presumably as the caretaker.
She was still living there when she married for a fourth time, in the Todmorden registry office on September 19, 1898, this time to Richard Gibson and so it is at this point that she enters my family tree. So, after walking past the Town Hall where the inquest into Rose’s death took place I headed to the masonic hall. This imposing building is opposite the White Hart Inn that played such a pivotal role in my family’s story for it was in that building that the bastardy court was satisfied that James Wrigley of Lily Hall was indeed the father of Elizabeth Ann Whitham, and it’s through her birth that all my ancestors in this story can be traced.
It was from this pub that Richard brought Rose her final pint of beer. Before I knew of any connection between this pub and my family my daughter Sarah and I had had lunch there when we were visiting Calderdale in June, 2017. The masonic hall was built in 1862 and is a Grade ll listed building. Today as I looked at it for the first time I see that is a very substantial building but it currently looks disused. From the masonic hall it was only a couple of minutes walk to my final stop in Rose’s story: the canal lock itself. I realised that overlooking the lock is the garden of House des Lowe, a cafe I frequent in ‘normal’ times which is owned by my textile teacher and her husband. I’ll never again be able to sit enjoying my coffee in their rose bedecked garden without thinking about my own Rose. I took a few photos as I stood beside the lock, thinking about that morning 120 years ago.
“Don’t go jumping in now,” quipped the man sitting on the bench beside me giving me a strange look.
Richard was 69 when he hanged himself in the staircase of his home at 17 Union Street. Today only the street sign remains. The rest of the terraced street was demolished in the 1970s.
Todmorden & District News – Friday 29 July 1910: IS SUICIDE HEREDITARY? At Todmorden Town Hall, on Monday morning, Mr. E. H. Hill, coroner, held an inquiry concerning the death of Richard Gibson (69). millwright, of 17, Union Street Todmorden, who had been found hanging his residence on Sunday night. Mr. Richard. Dewhirst was chosen foreman of the jury. Sarah Gibson, the widow, was the first witness. She said her deceased husband was 69 years of age The Coroner: Had he been drinking lately ? ?Witness: Just a little. When? On Friday and Saturday. Did he bring the drink into the house with him? No, sir. What was he doing on Sunday ? Laying in bed most of the day. He came downstairs two or three times to have a smoke. Did he have anything to eat? No, only a drink of cocoa. When did you last see him alive ? Just turned half-past six at night. Where was he then? Upstairs, laid on the bed, partly dressed. He asked me where I was going (he saw that I had clothes on ready for going out), and I told him I was going to his daughter’s house. Did he seem cheerful? No, he was very quiet all day. And then you went out? Yes. I locked the house door and went out, and got back at half-post seven. And what did you find? l shouted Are you coming downstairs? but there was no reply. Then I called out again, but he did not answer, so I went to the bottom of the stairs, and saw bis legs hanging down the staircase, and I ran out for help. Who cut the body down? Mr. Hanbury came in first. But your husband was quite dead, I suppose? Yes, sir. Had you had any trouble? Well, he had had bit of bother in the public house with man on Saturday night, and the man threatened to summon him, and sent him a letter. That seemed to prey on his mind. Had he ever threatened anything of this kind? No, sir. Has he ever been in an asylum ? No, sir. Or any of his relatives? Not to my knowledge. Have any of his relatives committed suicide? Yes, his father committed suicide. At about the same age, wasn’t it?Well, I think so. The Foreman: Hadn’t he a daughter who committed suicide? Yes, his last wife did also. John Hanbury, an out-door labourer, of 15, Myrtle-street, Todmorden, said be knew deceased. Coroner. l was just coming out of my lodgings on Sunday evening about half-past seven when I met Mrs. Gibson. She said her husband was trying to hang himself. I ran to the house and found him hanging in the staircase. The Coroner, in summing up, said he presumed the jury had no doubt deceased hung himself. The next question they ‘had to decide was whether there was sufficient evidence to show what was the deceased?s condition of mind. He was bound to say that in great many of the cases which had to investigate either some of the relations had been insane or had committed suicide. When they found there had been two or three suicides in family it was certainly some evidence that there was strain of insanity in that family; and doctors had found that in the case of such families a suicidal tendency showed itself at a certain age. Were the members of the jury satisfied deceased hung himself, and was there sufficient evidence to determine the state of his mind at the time. The Foreman said he thought there was little doubt that deceased was temporarily insane. His wife said had received a threatening letter which preyed on his mind somewhat. The Coroner: Yes, but the same time a letter of that kind would not upset the reason of man with thoroughly sound mind. A unanimous verdict was returned to the effect that deceased committed suicide whilst of unsound mind.
One name that takes up more newspaper columns than anyone else in my Calder Valley family. It that of Stansfield Gibson. Like his father Joshua he was a butcher and innkeeper like his father, but also like his father he took his own life. But that life had been a colourful one and he had certainly packed more than most into those 78 years. He married five times, fathered seven children, was accused of child molestation, purchased a chapel and was the proud owner of a prize winning pony.
It can’t have been an easy start in life for Stansfield, the 8th out of 9 children. His mother, Sally, whose maiden name he was name after, died when he was fifteen and his father, Joshua, hanged himself three years later. Just six months after this tragedy on November 2, 1858 Stansfield, then aged 19, married Harriet Walker at St James’s church in Hebden Bridge. I sometimes provide the music there for services and I often think about the significant events that took place in the building as I’m seated at the organ.
Their marriage was performed by Sutcliffe Sowden. Rev Sutcliffe Sowden had been a friend of Arthur Bell Nichols, Charlotte Bronte’s husband, and had presided at Arthur and Charlotte’s wedding and at Charlotte’s funeral less than a year later. Rev Sutcliffe Sowden had baptized Stansfield, then aged 17 and his brother Richard aged 15 on the same day June 24, 1855 at St James’s, less than three months after he had conducted Charlotte’s funeral service. Stansfield was to follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps being first a butcher and later a butcher-cum-innkeeper, a common dual occupation providing a ready source of food for guests at the inn. This necessitated a slaughter house being situated close to the inn, and in Joshua’s case this was the scene of his tragic demise. In Stansfield’s case it was the presence of his slaughter house that was to caused conflict with several of his neighbours. After their marriage Stansfield and Harriet continued living on Bridge Lanes where he had grown up. Its main street was known as High Street because of its elevation, not for its commercial prominence. When the entire development was demolished in the 1960s the foundations of those buildings were just left in place leaving an ugly scar at the west entrance to the town but through voluntary community efforts a landscaping project was undertaken and I can now stroll through this place along a reasonable footpath bordered by wildflowers. In fact, I saw my first bluebell of 2020 in this shaded spot.
By 1870 the family had moved to Meadow Bottom, close to the railway in Todmorden and it was here that Harriet died of tuberculosis on July 28, 1870 aged just 33 years of age. She was buried at Heptonstall church. With the death of his wife Stansfield became the sole parent of six daughters, the eldest being Louisa Ann who was just eleven years old.
On the census of 1871 the word scholar after her name has been crossed out and next to it is written and ‘half time Fustian Operator,’ meaning Louisa went to school part time, and worked in the fustian factory part time. No wonder so many children fell asleep at work and were injured by machinery. It was imperative that Stansfield find a new wife and stepmother for the girls and so just 9 months after Harriet died he married a widow, Susannah Greenwood, whose maiden name was also Stansfield, just to confuse matters! The couple were married at St Paul’s church, Cross Stone, in the township of Stansfield (!) on April 17, 1871. The church had been rebuilt in 1833, with money from the so-called Million pound act. With the increase in population during the industrial revolution two acts of parliament in 1818 and 1824 had funded the building of churches to cater for the religious needs of the people. The rebuilding of Cross Stone church was testament to the growth and success of Todmorden’s textile industry in the first half of the nineteenth century. But there had been a church on the site since 1450 when it was erected as a chapel of ease for Heptonstall church. As such it provided a church more readily accessible for parishoners living a long distance from the church. But this ‘chapel of ease’ like its mother church lies atop a very steep hill standing 300 ft above the valley floor. Today a road leading towards it is name Phoenix Street which I’ve always thought as amusing, especially since that street peters out as if it’s found the climb up to the church so steep that it can’t make itself rise from the ashes. How on earth coffins or grieving mourners, many of them elderly, reached the cemetery on snowy days in winter, I can’t imagine. I decided that the church would be a good starting point for my day with Stansfield but I decided to approach it from above walking first along the hilltops from the bus terminus at Blackshaw Head. It’s a wonderful walk – in fine weather that is – with amazing views over the Calder valley. Many days when the sky above the valley is dull, pewter-bellied clouds seem to hang suspended barely above my head, pushing me down, lowering my spirits. If I can persuade myself to venture out I climb out of the valley, by foot or bus and suddenly I’m above those clouds, in a world of ever-changing light, with glorious vistas spread out before me, making me feel like as if I’m getting my own private viewing of the beauty stretched out before me. As I have become more familiar with the area I can now pick out many more districts and buildings associated with my family. The wonderfully named villages of Lumbutts and Mankinholes are perched on the shelf on the opposite side of the valley.
So steep is the hillside here at Cross Stone that the roof of the church is on a level with the road. It’s an unlikely spot for another Bronte connection but there is one. In 1829, a certain John Fennel was vicar here but before he got the Cross Stone appointment, he was the first head teacher in 1812, at Woodhouse Grove Wesleyan School from where he was dismissed for spending too much time arranging picnics for his niece Maria Branwell, who was to become the wife of Patrick Bronte and mother to Charlotte. When Charlotte visited her uncle John Fennel in 1829 at Cross Stone he was living in the old parsonage house in the chapel grounds. She wrote to her “dear papa” that the house was “nearly in ruins.” Six years before her stay Fennel had collected subscriptions amounting to over £200 in order to repair the parsonage. Either the repairs were not carried out or they were not successful if Charlotte’s letter reflected the situation correctly .
Ten years after Stansfield and Susannah were married at Cross Stone the church itself closed for repairs, but then in 1894 dry rot set in and although it continued to function for some time it has now closed permanently and converted into a house. As I approached it a large For Sale sign dominated the site but on closer observation I realized that it was the adjacent building, not the church, that was for sale. This large two storey building has its own interesting history. Built as a school in the early 1800s it provided free schooling for six poor children in the town and the teacher’s income was provided by the parents of the 30-40 students who paid for tuition in reading and writing. A William Greenwood says that he held school on Sunday mornings and up to twenty children attended. They were charged one penny a week. Quills cost half a penny, copy books two pennies, a reading essay was sixpence and “rithmetic” was one shilling and eight pence. While the far right hand side of the house was the home of the schoolmaster the bottom storey served as the jail, a daily reminder of the fate awaiting those exhibiting unruly behaviour if ever there was one. Today wrought iron railings preventing the unwary pedestrian from falling into the house’s yard had been freshly painted judging by the drip mats beneath them, and were proudly sporting their new shiny black paintwork. I left the site of Stansfield and Harriet’s wedding and walked down the steep hill into Todmorden town centre to see if I could visit other places connected with Stansfield’s story. He moved his new family to Roomfield Lane, now the main Halifax Road in the centre of Todmorden town where he pursued his occupation of butcher. An article in the local paper on June 26, 1874 gives a momentary glimpse into everyday life for the people of Todmorden. “On Saturday forenoon last, as Marshall Sutcliffe was driving a galloway at Pavement, Todmorden, in a small butcher’s cart belonging to Stansfield Gibson, the galloway began to kick. There were in the trap two females, whose safety, with that of the driver, was a matter of concern to numerous spectators. The galloway, still kicking and plunging, got its head against Mr. W. Uttley ‘s butcher’s shop. It was then laid hold of by one or more persons, but continued kicking and plunging. The trap was upset, one of the young women slid off the side of the conveyance, and the other was taken from it by bystanders. After a sharp tussle with the pony to bring it to a standstill, it was finally subdued. The body of the trap kicked off, and the harness rent in various parts. Behind Roomfield Lane is the impressive structure of Todmorden market hall built in only eight months in 1879 and situated close to Stansfield’s shop. It’s one of my favourite markets but sadly today in the lockdown the marketplace was as empty as a ghost town.
But lovely as the Victorian market was, the living conditions of the surrounding residents were appalling as was borne out by the report of the sanitary committee on August 11, 1876: “If the following complaints are not rectified the ‘inspector of nuisances’ will take legal proceedings against the following parties: I would remind you that Miss Sutcliffe has a drain made up on her property in Roomfield Lane, and the house slops and refuse water are flowing on the street. At the same place, Stansfield Gibson, butcher, has a very offensive midden on the side of the street leading up to the back houses, and he is also in the habit of slaughtering sheep and lambs in a place behind his house, which has not been registered as a slaughterhouse. What a shambles! In fact the term shambles originally referred to a street or area in a city where the butchers lived, and has come to mean chaos or mess from the highly unsanitary conditions of waste disposal used there.
Judging by several reports in the local newspaper reports Stansfield was not an easy man to get along with, both in his professional life and also in his private life. As a butcher Stansfield would have raised the animals that he sold as meat in the shop and he farmed his own sheep and poultry. In January 1878 Stansfield was taken to court by the farmer of an adjacent field who claimed that Stansfield’s sheep had damaged his land. Two years later Stansfield encountered more problems caused by his business. In a column in the local newspaper entitled ‘Rival Poultry Keepers’ the reporter described an incident in which Stansfield and his 18 year old daughter Sarah Ann were summoned on a charge of aggravated defamation against a neighbour, one James Crowther. In court Crowther said that “about three months since he bought some poultry, and since that time he had had nothing but bother with the defendant, who had been continually buying fresh cocks to kill his. Stansfield said he would have another cock; Crowther replied, Thou can get as many cocks as thou likes, but keep that cayenne pepper off. ” Sarah Ann reportedly called James’s wife “a nasty b___” and added that she was continually abused by the whole family and on one occasion sent their cousin Oliver Stansfield to abuse her. She was almost afraid to stay in the house by herself. One day Mrs Crowther was standing at the shop door serving? the hens. Stansfield’s cock came and began to eat along with the hens. She shooed it off and Stansfield said “Throw a stone at it and I’ll take you to Todmorden”- meaning the court which was held in the town hall, a fine building standing mere stone’s throw from the scene of the altercation. When Mr Crowther appeared on the scene Stansfield challenged him to come out and he would give him a good hiding. Sarah Ann and Stansfield were fined £5, bound over to keep the peace for 6 months and ordered to pay the costs-15s. Perhaps Stansfield did not keep the peace as instructed or maybe the neighbours had had enough of the Gibson family for his landlady gave him notice to vacate the shop and house. Only two years later in the Spring of 1882 Stansfield along with three other butchers from Todmorden was fined under the cattle diseases act 10s for moving bullocks without a license. Animal identification and traceability was and still is important for disease control and public confidence in farm produce and a license is still required in Calderdale if you want to move even just one animal. But it wasn’t just issues in his business ventures that made newspaper headlines. There were family problems too. In 1883 Stansfield’s daughter, Sarah Jane, then aged 21 charged Bentley Fielden with the paternity of her daughter, born on Christmas day, 1882. Bentley denied being the father of the child and said that he had stopped seeing Sarah Jane because she had asked him to marry her. However the court ruled that Bentley should pay 3 shillings weekly for the upkeep of the child and ten shillings for the cost of the midwife who had attended baby Harriet’s birth. An interesting follow up to the story is that two years later Sarah Jane gave birth to another daughter, Alberta, and three years after that Sarah Jane married , yes, Bentley Fielden at Heptonstall church! But a happy marriage it was not. In 1897 Bentley was convicted of aggravated assault on his wife and a separation order was issued. Sarah Jane and Harriet moved in with her father, Stansfield, having received not one penny in support from Bentley during that time. After an incident when Bentley showed up at Stansfield’s house just as Stansfield had arrived bringing in a duck for their Sunday dinner Bentley seized Stansfield, hit him several times about the face and neck with both fists. Sarah Jane and her aunt, who was acting as Stansfield’s housekeeper managed to restrain Bentley while Stansfield ran off to find a policeman. In court Bentley accused Stansfield of having taken Sarah Jane to those dens of iniquity, Blackpool and Scarborough and slept with a child thirteen years of age. Stansfield denied this and no further action against Stansfield was taken. Bentley, on the other hand, was sentenced to one month in prison with hard labour.
In the spring of 1885 Stansfield decided to follow in his family’s footsteps and became landlord of the New Inn just across the main road from his butcher’s shop. Stansfield’s children Emily and Herbert assisted with work in the pub and it was from his work there that Herbert learned the job of being a landlord, a profession he was ultimately to take up himself. The New Inn that Stansfield had taken over in 1885 in a busy part of Todmorden was a 3 storey property almost next door to two more inns, the Rope and Anchor and the York Hotel but the area was full of mills and foundries, all with workforces that needed a pint after work. Indeed, within 250 yards more than one hundred houses had been erected during the previous ten years for the mill workers and there were at least 500 people living there This was a time when the word ‘inn’ actually meant that it had rooms for rent and under a previous landlord by the wonderful name of Robert Crook the business prospered and around twenty lodgers lived there. An added bonus for both residents and visitors was the presence of a resident pianist, an Irish girl named Dina who provided music for the nightly sing songs. The site of the New Inn is now the car park at Todmorden health centre and as I stood there 136 years to the day that Stansfield took over the pub I imagined the faint sound of a piano being played – Dina was on top form. Long after Dina’s music had faded into the mists of time on Friday the 13th October 1972, the building collapsed and fell down.
I’m sure the New Inn would have done a roaring trade on the day of the 1889 annual Todmorden Floral and Horticultural Show and Athletic Festival, a show still in existence. With prizes awarded for everything from ‘Two cauliflowers and 2 cabbages’, to ‘12 white gooseberries’ and ‘2 cock chickens’ the festival was a big attraction. For the 2 mile race for ponies six competitors turned up. Luke Greenwood’s pony led for the first mile, but was then passed by R. Cropper’s “Daisy” and Stansfield Gibson’s “Polly.” Gibson’s Polly got behind but at the mile and a half had regained second place. Stansfield took home with him a gentleman’s travelling bag worth £1 6 shillings as runner up. I wonder if Polly had been the pony who had thrown Herbert from her back just three years before.
Stansfield’s wife Susannah died a couple of days after Christmas in 1894 and was buried on New Year’s Eve high above Todmorden at Cross Stone church, the scene of her wedding to Stansfield. I wonder what the weather was like as the cortege made its way up the steep hill. Less than a year later, in the summer of 1895 Stansfield married another widow, Fanny Walters, 18 years younger than himself who had been widowed the previous year. They were married at Heptonstall church 1895 and later that year Stansfield took over the license of the Railway Hotel in Littleborough, a town on the West of the Pennines that had grown up around the industry enabled by the building of the Rochdale canal and the trans Pennine railway. Stansfield’s pub still overlooks the canal but it is now known as The Waterside, an upscale restaurant and bar.
Six years later Stansfield was widowed for the third time and soon after a notice in the local newspaper on February 8th 1901 instructed that all Stansfield’s household possessions were to be sold at auction because he was leaving the district. I find it fascinating to see Stansfield’s wordly possessions itemized and feel they need to be listed in their entirety since it gives an insight into both his standard of living and also gives us a snapshot of his day to day existence. I wonder if he could play the piano himself or if it was an instrument that others would play in the pub. I had to smile at the commode disguised as a small chest of drawers. “Dining room suite upholstered in saddle bag style including Couch, 2 easy and 6 single chairs, a noble 5ft walnut sideboard, with carved back having 3 bevelled plate-glass mirrors drawers, and cellaret complete; a brilliant toned cottage pianoforte, in walnut case, with panelled front and candelabra by Schuppinser and sons, London, oval walnut centre table; Milners’s patent fireproof safe, 26in. by 20 in by 20 in., brass curb, with fixed dogs: set of fire brasses: brass ash pan; pollard oak and brass-mounted coal vase, bamboo occasional table, tapestry bordered carpet square. 12ft. by 10ft., Axminster hearth rug, oil paintings: spirit decanters in E.P. Frame, F.P. Cruet, case of cutlery, flower vases and plaques, Chinese idol and stand; quantity of small Chinese figures and ornaments, Opera glass, glass dishes, wines and tumblers. Handsome walnut bedroom suite including 4 ft wardrobe, with centre mirrors, dressing table, with bevel plate glass mirror, washstand, with towel airer, marble top and back; and 3 upholstered chairs; stained dressing table, with mirror affixed; stained washstand, with tiled back, brass and iron Parisian bedstead, with tapestry hangings, woven wire, wool, and straw mattresses, feather beds, bolsters, and pillows, tapestry carpet square, 13ft. 4in. by 21ft 9in, toilet services, capital mahogany night commode to imitate small chest of drawers. KITCHEN: Polished birch long settle and cushions, stained square table, with deal top, Pembroke table, 3 bentwood chairs, wringing machine, wash tubs, clothes horses and dolly, dinner service, 2 copper kettles, fender and fire irons together with the usual kitchen and culinary requisites. Also a capital wicker work bath chair with cushions, etc., complete, nearly new. But why was he selling all his possessions? Less than a year after Fanny’s death he was getting married for a fourth time, to a widow named Maria Ann Winfindale. Her husband had been the landlord of The Falcon Inn in Scarborough on the coast in East Yorkshire and around 100 miles from Littleborough and so he was selling up and moving East.
Only four years later Stansfield was widowed again. The call of West Yorkshire appears to have been strong for Stansfield moved back to the Calder Valley and I find Stansfield mentioned in the newspaper in perhaps the most unexpected of all his appearances. In June 1908 Stansfield bought a chapel! “A fairly good company assembled at the Dusty Miller Inn on the occasion of the premises formerly used as a chapel and school by the Primitive Methodists being offered by public auction. After some spirited bidding £151 was reached. And Mr 16 John Greenwood was the purchaser. Yesterday John Greenwood resold the property to Stansfield Gibson at a nice profit.’ Now whether he bought it merely as a financial investment I have been unable to ascertain and it took many hours of research both online and wandering around the streets of Mytholmroyd before I located the building – or rather, the site of the building for it no longer exists. A chapel and school had been built at Sunny Bank by the primitive Methodists in 1837 but when the congregation grew larger a New Chapel, Mount Zion, was built, which opened in 1888.
This second chapel was an enormous building almost at the bottom of Midgley Road and overshadowed the houses around it. But it was the earlier chapel that Stansfield purchased and at the end of Sunny Bank terrace there is an area of unkept grass. I clambered over a wall onto the grass. Above me I could discern the outline of a roof on the gable end of the existing terrace of cottages which would have been the chapel or school roof. I was standing inside Stansfield’s chapel. From the lack of further references to the building or Stansfield’s connection with it I presume that he purchased it as a financial investment. The following year, 1909-1910 Stansfield was living in a rented house 14 Brook Street in the centre of Todmorden. From the site of the New Inn it was only a minute’s walk to Brook Street. No houses remain on that road now just a post office , a discount store and a charity shop. But by 1911 Stansfield, now 73, was living at 1 Anchor Street, just a couple of minutes walk away. The census firmly states that he is living apart from his wife but with a housekeeper, Mary Dearden, ‘a widowed servant’ aged 69. 1 Anchor Street is the middle section of a three storey building, the front of which, facing the main road now houses Buttylicious snack bar which must have been Stansfield’s butcher’s shop, so I called in for a cup of tea to takeaway with me as I went to take vintage style photographs of the various back streets less then 8 feet wide housing a confusion of wheelie bins and recycling baskets.
In 1914 while living at Halifax road capitalise he was entitle[d] to vote in the elections of Mytholmroyd the description of his qualifying property being Mount Zion! Five years later Stansfield decides to shut up shop for the last time and on 18 Aug 1916 the following advertisement appears in the local paper: ‘To let or sell – Butcher’s shop and house #139 Halifax Road, Todmorden; suitable for any business. Apply S. Gibson, Hebden Bridge.’ The following year Stansfield was making headlines in the newspaper again, and again for a disturbing reason. He was living at 40 Cameron Street, Burnley, with his son-in-law, a home close to the canal and in the middle of one of the long rows of terraced stone houses that characterize the town.
The newspaper article on 17 November, 1915 makes sad reading: ”Old Man’s Attempted Suicide. Old man, named Stansfield Gibson was charged with attempting commit suicide by cutting his throat with a table knife about 2-30 a.m. on Saturday, November 6th, 40, Cameron Street, where he lived with his son-in-law. At the time the occurrence the son-in-law heard a noise downstairs. Going down found the prisoner crouched at the bottom. He asked him what was the matter, and prisoner said: ” I have cut my throat.” The son-in-law picked him up, put him in a chair, and sent for the police. The police rendered first aid and took the man straight away to the hospital, where he had been until that morning when was discharged. Supt. Hillier said that the prisoner had become depressed through failing eyesight, and his home had been broken up at Todmorden about three months ago. The case was dismissed on the prisoner promising not to attempt anything of the kind again. Two years later Stansfield passed away. He died at 112 Bridge Lanes and he’s buried at Todmorden Christ church – a very sad end to a man who had certainly lived life to the full.
Winter was turning into Spring. At least the calendar told me so though I was somewhat skeptical since the temperature was in still in single digits. But at least it was sunny as I set off to find the appropriately named hamlet of Winters, once the home of John Gibson, the founder of a dynasty of innkeepers, spanning several generations. The Gibson family, who had married into the Whitham family has some of the most colourful characters in my family’s history but also some of the greatest tragedies. In 1834 at the age of 57 John Gibson was a shopkeeper and retailer of beer in the tiny hamlet of Winters, a small community that had grown up around a cotton mill, and appropriately named for my chilly but sunlit excursion in 2020. John was an important man in this sparse community of around thirty people clinging precariously to a steeply sloping hillside above the Calder Valley between Hebden Bridge an and Todmorden – for not only did he run the only shop in the village but he also had a license to sell beer. He’d moved up to this remote spot after twenty years of being the landlord at The Bull Inn close to the centre of Hebden Bridge and it was at The Bull that John and his wife Sarah Crabtree had raised their four children, two of whom were to become innkeepers themselves and one was to marry an innkeeper. To assist me in arriving at the start of my walk I caught the little Zippy bus up to Blackshaw Head, only three miles from Hebden Bridge, but three very steep miles and the bus laboured, puffing and panting, as it climbed the 800 ft to Badger Lane.
It’s a road well travelled by me for its wonderful views as it hugs the contour. Its name always brings a smile to my face. I’ve taken many photos of bleating lambs and mooing cows, and even a llama, but there’s never been a badger in sight. To find the tiny hamlet of Winters from Dry Soil I needed to find Marsh Lane, a well used bridle path on the north side of the valley, heading down towards the river Calder. Dry Soil, Marsh Lane and Winters. Hmm. The impact of the landscape and seasons was impossible to ignore.
I found a path that I thought was the correct lane but there was no road sign to confirm my suspicions but a man walking towards me along Badger Lane was just turning onto it with no hesitation and so I called out, “Is that Marsh Lane?’ “Yes.” I crossed over the road. “Do you mind if I join you for a little while? I’m looking for Winters Mill.’’ He knew the place and so we followed the path down towards Winters together. “I’ve always wanted to move to Hebden but my wife finds it depressing,” he confided in me.
I didn’t anticipate being able to locate the precise house that had been home to the Gibson family in the 1830s but I knew the view from the village would not have changed and I was looking forward to getting a feel for the remote location they’d called home. Winters Mill had been built in 1805 though virtually nothing remains of it today. The mill was both a spinning mill and a weaving mill. Originally it had been water powered and so I hoped to find the mill pond where water would have been stored and used to power the machinery at dry times of the year. Indeed, the first evidence I found that I’d actually arrived in Winters was the very pond, today shining a luminous green with its covering of duckweed.
Though now surrounded by a well kept garden the pond appeared to stretch to the very back doors of the cottages. I followed the lane around to the front of the cottages, neatly labeled ‘Winters Cottages’ as if for my benefit. At that moment a car drew up beside me and its owner rolled down the window. “Can I help you?” I explained my presence and she was very helpful. “We’ve just bought the end house, but haven’t moved in yet. Would you like to come in and see it?” I didn’t need to be asked a second time because this could easily have been John Gibson’s shop and beer retailing business listed in Pigot’s commercial directory of 1834.
We entered a house that was delightful in its preservation of original features. The interior walls had exposed stone and the rooms retained their stone flag floors. The ceilings were not more than 6’6” high and the stone fireplaces were intact, though they now had stoves inset. The lady took me into her back garden and within 6” of the back door was a small gully running with fast water over which a simple stone flag led into the large garden, half of which had obviously been the mill pond. An old water pump remained at the side of the pond. The cottage had been built around 1730 so even if John Gibson did not live in this cottage he would have known it well. As I took my leave the lady pointed me in the direction of the site of the mill. I slipped and slided away down the leaf covered cobbles knowing John and Joshua must have traversed these very stones.
When the mill was purchased by William Horsfall in 1830 he converted it to steam power to increase productivity and thus be better equipped to cope with competition from other manufacturers and it must have been around this time that John Gibson moved his family to Winters. Perhaps he wanted to take advantage of the anticipated increase in the population that the steam powered machinery would bring. He was closely associated with the mill, indeed his very livelihood depended upon it in the form of customers who were mill workers and when, in January 1834 some of the mill machinery was to be auctioned it was John’s son Joshua who arranged the viewing. The older part of this spinning mill used mules to spin yarn and the newer part contained looms which wove fustian cloth and so by 1842 the mill was capable of turning raw cotton into finished cloth having facilities for carding, spinning and weaving. Sateen, a mock silk made from cotton, and dimitie, a cotton cloth featuring raised woven stripes or checks used for making for dresses and curtains were manufactured here. As I stood on that remote hillside I found it bewildering to believe that this mill was said to be the largest manufacturer of sateens and dimitie cloth that was sent into Manchester to be distributed around the whole of England. In the 1841 census 32 men, women and children were listed as living in Winters, all but one, John’s son Joshua (listed as a farmer) working in the mill. I came upon a detailed inventory of the various rooms of the mill showing the extent of the operation: scutching room, card room, throstle room, three mule rooms, taking in room, counting house, smithy and mechanics shop. The mill even had its own school educating children from the hamlet and the surrounding hillside farmsteads– useful for Joshua’s 5 younger children while the older three, then aged 15, 14 and 12 were already employed in the mill. I tried to imagine life here in the 1830s when Winters was a tiny but bustling community with children going to school, people working in the mill, and shopping at Joshua’s shop cum beer house. Of all these once busy places of cloth making only a picturesque stone arch with initials and date carved above remains for when the mill went bankrupt in 1880 as the export of slave-grown cotton from the United States dried up. I learned from local historian Ann Bennett who used to lived in one of the cottages that the mill buildings were completely dismantled and sold for stone which was then used to build houses on King Street in the valley.
Another section of the inventory gave a more personal view of community life in 1842 as it listed farm animals and implements: Old white cow, red and white cow and roan cow, the new cow, old stable manure, bay mare, shaft and trace, general farming utensils and 3 stable buckets, 2 pack carts, box tubs, lumber, wheel barrow and hand barrow, 2 water tubs. 8 The beer cellar contained 10 ale barrels, racking of barrels, pots, cooler and 5 black bottles valued at £1.18s. When John died in 1837 his son Joshua had taken over as the shop keeper and beer seller at Winters, and he also ran a farm and was a butcher. Surely then, the beer cellar with its contents and the farm animals and implements listed in 1842 must have been Joshua’s. Joshua’s son John, aged 15, is a carter and so the bay mare with its shaft and trace would have been for his use. Meanwhile on being widowed his mother, Sarah, had moved back down into Hebden Bridge and had returned to the Bull Inn as innkeeper, along with her daughter Sarah. On his mother’s death in 1845 Joshua moved back into the valley and took over the pub whilst continuing to farm five acres, and slaughtering the animals for his butchering trade.
It was time to head down into the valley following Joshua and Sally’s footsteps. I’d checked with the locals that my planned route was easy to follow and I wasn’t going to find myself sliding down the hillside on my bottom, or needing to climb gates. Winters Lane is just about negotiable for vehicles but it ends at a five barred gate and turns into a tiny track called Dark Lane.
This was more like Dark River today but my new hiking boots were up to the task. Dark Lane led back onto another lane that was just about passable by car, though very, very steep. Bags of salt were stationed every ten yards for icy weather. The sound of traffic along the Calder Valley rose up to me and the whistle of the train blended in with the birdsong from time to time.
It reminded me that it was the coming of this very railway line in 1839 that meant that Winters mill could more easily obtain raw cotton from Liverpool and send finished goods to Manchester much quicker. Eventually the lane led to Rawtenstall Bank, another very steep road with several switchbacks. Though slippery with wet leaves I decided to stick to the road and not take the short cut down a well worn flight of stone steps neatly signed Cat Steps! Reaching Hebden Bridge I passed the site of the now demolished area of town known as Bridge Lanes, Joshua and Sally’s home in 1844. The densely packed community of Bridge Lanes at the west end of town was once a conglomeration of streets, almost literally on top of each other connected by several flights of stone steps. The whole development was demolished in the 1960s and apart from the stone staircases nothing remains of this once bustling part of town. Almost adjacent is the former Bull Inn, now a private house, where John, his wife Sarah and his son Joshua and daughter Sally had been landlords for over thirty years.
A lady was refurbishing the front door and so I paused to ask if I was correct in thinking that this had been The Bull. It had, and she explained that under normal circumstances she would have invited me in when I told her that one of my ancestors had lived there. It was only then that I realised that I’d actually been inside this building before. It’s now the home and studio of a wonderful artist, Kate Lycett, and I’d visited her in her home studio during the town’s Open Studio event the previous year. At the time I’d no idea that the building had been the home of my ancestors.
Joshua operated the Bull Inn for more than ten years but in 1855 at the age of 49 he gave up his alcohol license soon after his wife Sally died. Joshua continued as a butcher, living at Bridge Lanes, but I was shocked to read that the following year he hanged himself on May 30th, 1858 and was buried at Heptonstall church three days later. The article in the Leeds Intelligencer reads: ‘On Sunday afternoon last, between three and four o’clock, Mr Joshua Gibson, butcher, of Hebden Bridge, was found dead in the chamber of the house, deceased having hung himself. The cord by which he had been suspended had broken, but not before he was dead. Gibson had been drinking for some days previously.’9 There’s a note in the burial record, written by the minister at Heptonstall church ‘he hanged himself in his slaughterhouse.’ Apart from the comment about drinking heavily in his final days we don’t know why Joshua took his own life in such a deliberate manner but there are many many accounts of suicides by hanging in the local newspapers of the time. His eight children survived him. One of them was Stansfield, who was nineteen at the time of his father’s death.
The pub closed its doors for the last time in the 1970s when much of the town was abandoned. On 1st January 1978, fire broke in the former pub out and the bodies of 2 men (possibly squatters) were found in the attic of the empty building.