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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.”

Blue Ball inn, Blackshawhead (courtesy of Halifax pubs past and present)

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.

The former Blue Ball Inn today

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.

Winter in Blackshawhead

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.”

Main door at Hippins with date stone: IG 1650

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,

Ezra Butterworth – and Jim ?

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,

Stoodley Pike

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.

All that remains of Higgin House, Ezra’s birthplace

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.

Weasel Hall – first home of Ezra and Mary

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.

Oak Villa

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.

So I’m related to George Frederic Handel

I discovered this startling fact just a few weeks ago, and despite my life being filled with coincidences this one took my by surprise. OK, OK. I haven’t told you the full story – not quite. What happened was this: I discovered that one of my ancestors was named George Frederic Handel Halstead and he was born in 1848 at Marsh, a farm high on the hill above Hebden Bridge, just a little below the village of Blackshaw Head. The week after I discovered this fact one of my blog followers informed me that Marsh farm is currently for sale – for 975,000 pounds! There were 30 photos of the property including views across to Stoodley pike and also the inside of the barn with its original framing.

Marsh Farm, early 18th century house with barn added mid 19th century

George didn’t live to see his first birthday, dying when he was just 11 months old, 90 years after the composer Handel had died. But just his name had me hooked on finding more about him and his family. Was there a music connection amongst my Halstead ancestors, I wondered. I’ve traced my lineage from many branches of my family but until I found this little boy I’d never researched the Halstead branch, so off I went spending many an hour online looking through ancestry websites and old newspaper archives.

Marsh farm is close to Winters

George’s father was named Handel Halstead, Handel not being a name I’d encountered before in my family’s story, despite my having documented over 7000 people in my family tree. He was born December 15, 1823 and was baptised in Heptonstall 6 months later. Interestingly on the baptismal register his name is written as Andal but there’s an * by the side and at the bottom of the page it’s corrected to Handel, so perhaps even the vicar was unacquainted with the name Handel.

Handel’s father also had a somewhat unusual name: Bannister, born 1781. I’m guessing that this was an ancestral surname being used as a forename. Bannister’s father, William, was born around 1750 and apart from knowing where he died and the fact that he was buried at Cross Stone church in Todmorden on June 25, 1799 I know next to nothing about him other than on his son Bannister’s marriage certificate he gives his occupation as a weaver. William died at Old Royd, Langfield, just off Kilnhurst Lane where Billy Holt had lived.

Old Royd, Todmorden

So it’s possible that Bannister had lived there too. At the age of 26 Bannister married Sarah (or Sally) Chatburn at Heptonstall church. On the record of the marital banns Bannister’s name has widow in the place where the occupation is usually given. All the other men on the page are weavers. Their marriage took place on December 27, 1807. I can easily conjure up the snow, ice, heavy rain, gale force wind that they might have experienced getting married in the old church in Heptonstall. The newly weds set up home at Rough Head on Kilnshaw Road (or Kilnhirst) and Bannister, in 1808, is recorded as a shuttle maker. In quick succession 1809-1823 – seven children were born – John, Elizabeth, Henry, James, Bannister, Amelia and finally Handel. Henry and James, 1813 and 1816 were recorded as having been born at Machpelah, the row of cottages in Hebden Bridge that my Moss ancestors also lived in later. In 1818 son Bannister was born at Weasel Hall, the hall clinging to the hillside to the south of Hebden and visible from the window above my desk where my ancestor Ezra Butterworth had also lived. In 1834 Pigot’s Directory lists Bannister as a shuttle maker at Bridge Lanes in Hebden Bridge where he lived for the rest of his life, dying in October 1853 at the considerably old age of 71. Following the death of his wife Sally Chatburn he had remarried, aged 60 – unusual for that time – Sarah Walton, the marriage taking place in Halifax minster. On their marriage register it states that Sarah is a factory woman and he is a shuttle maker. It brought to mind the true story of John Fielden of Todmorden, a prominent mill owner who fell in love with a factory girl who promised to marry him if he built her a castle, which he duly did above Todmorden, in the 1860s, and which I’ve been fortunate enough to visit and have an impromptu guided tour. Sarah outlived Bannister by 25 years. But back to the Halstead story.

On to the exploits of Bannister’s children. 3 of his sons set up a shuttle making company under the name of James, Bannister and Handel Halstead making shuttles. According to the Malcolm Bull website ‘The partnership was dissolved in February 1853 as far as regards Handel Halstead.’

Handel Halstead & Sons were manufacturers at Bridge Street Shuttle works, Hebden Bridge, John and William being his sons and business partners. The partnership was dissolved in January 1887. The business was carried on under the same name by John and William and was still at Bridge Street in 1905. John and William were the older brothers of George Frederick Handel Halstead. In 1891 John and his wife Mary Elizabeth (from Walsden) were living at 58 Market Street. His brother William was living next door at 56 Market Street. So a couple of days ago I called in at 56 Market Street. It’s a 2 minute walk from my apartment. It’s now a shop and workroom called Hat Therapy where the current milliner Chrissie King designs and makes hats and accessories.

She didn’t know of the Halstead living there more than a hundred years ago but she pointed me to an alley running at the back of the shop and to a flight of step stone steps running up to Brunswick Street. Wow! That’s the street where my two of my daughters stayed in an Airbnb when they brought my granddaughter to England for the first time last November. Chrissie pointed to a long white painted building on Brunswick Street overlooking her shop.

Rear of 56 Market Street. was the white building on the left Halstead’s shuttle making workshop?

‘That was once a dance hall that burned down. It was subsequently used as an undertakers who built a separate garage for their hearse. ‘ I could hardly believe what I was hearing. The building my family stayed in was called ‘The Garage’ and we had all thought what an odd place to build a garage – and how large it was for a garage. I mean none of the terraced houses in this town have garages. How amazing! I wonder if the ‘dance hall/undertaker’s was once the workroom for the Halstead shuttle making business. I posted a photo of the building on Facebook to see if anyone knew anything about the building but nothing of interest came forth. By 1901 John Halstead had moved from Market Street and was living in a substantial Victorian house on Garnett Street with his wife and family called Uplands. Wait a minute! I’ve found references to Uplands before in my family research.


Another ancestor, Willie Wrigley, an architect had lived in the underdwelling below Uplands. I looked back in my notes and found this: ‘Willie Wrigley and his wife Charlotte had been given notice to quit after the repeated altercations with their neighbours and their landlady Mrs Halstead who lived in the over dwelling, Uplands. It wasn’t until this moment that I realized that this overdwelling is visible from my own bedroom window. The overdwelling is called, appropriately, Uplands and is a large double front house, symmetrical and divided into two dwellings. Obviously built for a Victorian business owner even today it has an imposing presence.’ So the lady who evicted Willie Wrigley was none other than the wife of John Halstead who was the brother of George Frederick Handel Halstead who had been the catalyst for my research into the Halstead branch of my family tree. Willie eventually ended up in Wakefield gaol.

Willie’s home below Uplands

His story and especially his problems with Mrs Halstead can be found in my blog:

But the main focus of my enquiry was the name George Frederick Handel Halstead. Surely there must have been a music connection. He was given that name by his parents so I decided to look through the newspapers to see if I could find any reference to Handel Halstead and music. And there it was! In 1898 I found a newspaper article entitle ‘Organ’s final services.’ After being there for 20 years the organ at Slack Baptist church was to be overhauled, extended and improved. A special service was held to mark the occasion when the organ would be removed and many former members of the church were invited to the service which was to be more than ordinarily musical. One ‘notable personage’ was Mr Handel Halstead who was formerly the church organist there. ‘He presided during the singing of the greater portion of the hymns and though he has passed 75 years of age and has been long out of practice he still possesses a considerable amount of executive skill.’ The pastor, Rev A.K. Archer delivered an address on organs and the references to that instrument in the bible.

Rev. Archer delivered the address in 1898 for the organ’s final service before refurbishment. Handel played the organ at the service.

Amidst the glowing accounts of organs and how they work one damming sentence caught my eye: ‘In that vast abode of stagnation which we call China a sort of prehistoric organ is still to be found.’

Then just yesterday I received the following email from the Hebden Bridge Local History Society in reply to my query about any musical Halstead: In our archives: R HEPB1 S Centenary Souvenir Heptonstall Slack Baptist Church by E G Thomas 1907 – I have noted down that November 1857 dedication of organ at Slack. Mr Handel Halstead appointed organist. John Gibson of Greenwood Lee took over as treasurer from William Marshall in 1862 (he died in 1867 and Handel Halstead took over). 1865 Three elders above were reappointed plus David Dearden, Handel Halstead and John Sutcliffe of Slatering.’ So Handel was not just the organist but had been a treasurer of the church and also an elder.

The church is now a private house. I first visited it on August 14, 2017, before I moved to Hebden Bridge. I was staying in Hebden during the summer and on one of my days out exploring the vicinity and took the bus to Slack. The church and the Sunday school behind it appeared to be in bad state of repair but there was evidence of work in progress. I carefully opening the gate with a path leading to the church entrance.

To both sides were graves. A workman appeared from nowhere, no doubt wondering what the heck I was doing but he offered to take my photo. In 2020 I stopped by again and found that the church had been converted into a home and the resident was working in her garden -cum-graveyard and I chatted with her.

Visit in 2020 with the resident

The history of the building is interesting to me. A small barn built in or before 1617 became the second place of worship for the Protestant Dissenters in the Calder Valley, the first being Rodwell End which I’d already visited in the course of my family research. In 1807 some 40 people who had attended the Birchcliffe Chapel in Hebden Bridge withdrew to found their own place of worship, which they opened at Slack in 1808 at a ceremony attended by seven hundred people. More than a thousand were at the Dedication service on the following Sunday. James Taylor, nephew of Dan Taylor , was the first Minister and he had the Church enlarged in 1819. By 1822 The Church at Slack was the 5th. largest of the 130 general Baptist Churches in the country and the General Assembly was held there. Experience Meetings were being held in 18 different houses.

There were over 500 members by the middle of the Century but there was then something of a decline as the handloom industry suffered and members left to work in factories away from the area. A new schoolroom was opened on January 1st 1864 after much time and effort and money had been spent in obtaining gas!  “The spacious new room, its brilliant sunlight, composed of thirty gas jets, won the admiration of all”. At this time an organ was introduced and house meetings were revived.

1878 saw the complete rebuilding of the Church and it is this building that I visited in 2020. Guess which business was employed to do the slating, painting and plastering of the new church. Yes, my Wrigley painting and decorating ancestors! A special service was held to mark the beginning of this rebuild during which the four corner stones were placed in position. “The mallets (very handsomely turned and finished were made by Mr Handel Halstead.”

Photo from the centenary booklet 1807-1907

2014 – Heptonstall parish website: “The chapel was sold by the Baptists several years ago and is currently owned by an evangelical Christian group, however services have had to be moved because of problems renovating the building. Suggestions to use it as a halfway house for those recovering from drug abuse were dropped after objections from local residents. Could the chapel become a community centre, or could there be other uses for the building? All are welcome to this picnic to talk and find out more.”

But if Handel Halstead had been named Handel by his father would it not therefore follow that his father had some connection with music? It took many hours of trolling through old newspapers online but I eventually found a clue. In the Lancaster Gazette of February 7, 1818 there is a reference to one Bannister Halstead, living somewhere close to Halifax. The date matched with what I had discovered about Handel’s father, Bannister: born 1781 in the Todmorden area, so by 1818 he would have been 37 years old. But not only that – wait for it. . . The article is about his music connection. Here it is in full – it’s too melodramatic and unexpected for me to retell it in my own words. It would reduce its impact.”It is with pleasure we inform our readers, that Mr. Whiteley, the constable of Sowerby, having, through his persevering exertions, obtained knowledge of a secret depot for receiving stolen goods, he immediately obtained a search warrant, and, on Thursday night, took along with him Mr. Brierley. constable of Halifax, and Mr. Wilson, constable of Heptonstall, in order to execute the same. Having arrived at David Wilcock’s house, at Bolton in Holland, near Gisburn, an immediate search commenced, when they discovered upwards of £200 worth of stolen goods, concealed in the false floor, belonging to Wilcock, which they seized and took possession of. It appeared that Wilcock, and his gang, had made a large opening into the false floor, and there concealed the property, having afterwards curiously plastered over the same to prevent discovery, till an opportunity arrived of a removal. It is to be hoped that officers, searching after stolen goods, should be aware of this circumstance. The stolen goods here alluded to, appear to belong to Mr. Dyson, of Barkisland Hall; Mr. Garside, of Elland, and Mr. Hirst of Huddersfield. There was also found during their search, a violin, supposed to belong to one Bannister Halstead, who has lately absconded from Hebden Bridge. On Sunday week, as Mr. W (Whiteley) was returning home by himself, after a very fatiguing march of several days in searching for those five notorious villains who have lately absconded, he met with two of them, Shaw and Dyson, on the turnpike-road leading over Blackstonedge, about six o’clock in the evening : the constable, without giving the least alarm, instantly seized Shaw by the throat, and Dyson by the handkerchief round his neck, which unfortunately giving way, he escaped ; finding himself at liberty, he immediately turned round and snapped a pistol at the constable, which fortunately missed fire; at that instant several gentlemen on their way down Blackstonedge, came to the assistance of the constable. A number of wood skewers, a quantity of packing cord, a flint, lead bullet, and a large knife, were found on him. He has since been committed to the House of Correction at Wakefield, on strong suspicion of being concerned in those extensive robberies that have so greatly alarmed the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood of Halifax. This is the fourth time of the apprehension of Shaw on suspicion of felony, besides having been once tried at Leeds Sessions for a similar offense. We understand that in consequence of Shaw’s uncommon resistance, by the constable grasping him so violently on the throat, it was some time before he came to himself, and he complains much of the part being very sore.” I found it amazing that the only reference I can find to Bannister Halstead, is in connection with his violin. But then another question is raised. Why had Bannister recently absconded from Hebden Bridge? So far I’ve been unable to answer that particular question. He’d been married for 10 years, had 4 children and one on the way. The family had been living at Machpelah but by 1818 the family were living at Weasel Hall which I can see from the window overlooking my desk as I write. So Bannister Halstead, violin player, had named his son Handel, who in turn named his own son George Frederick Handel. ‘What’s in a name?’ you ask. A heck of a lot!

Note to self: George Frederick Handel’s niece, Florence Gertrude married George Haigh Moss jn

RAMBLES THROUGH MY FAMILY – 15 Untimely Deaths – Chapter 12 – ABRAHAM MOSS

Edgar’s sister ,Mary Harwood, married Mortimer Moss, a fustian manufacturer who lived at Nutclough House. How interconnected all these prominent families of Hebden Bridge were. Indeed. Only 2 months after Ada’s tragic death Edgar’s niece Bertha Moss, Mortimer’s daughter, married Claude Redman eldest son of Richard Redman The English Fustian Manufacturing Company had been founded in 1870 by Joseph Greenwood and alongside Redman Bros and Moss Bros ‘it earned a national and even international reputation as the most successful example of co-operative production in late Victorian Britain.’ Wow. That really is some accolade. It was a worker’s cooperative with each worker having an ownership stake in the business and the mill. Redman Bros manufactured the cloth and the Moss bros dyed it.


Abraham Moss

The patriarch of the Hebden Bridge Moss family was James, Mortimer’s grandfather, a former silk weaver, who had moved from Manchester across the Pennines in 1791. Over the course of his two marriages he fathered 15 children several of whom became prominent school teachers operating several educational establishments in the Upper Calder Valley, while the other children followed in their father’s footsteps of working with textiles, developing the fustian manufacturing business and building up an empire that would see their fabrics shipped all over the world. Fustian is a thick, hard-wearing cloth made from cotton and was once the staple fabric used for military and railway workers’ uniforms. There are many varieties of fustian ranging from corduroy to moleskin but it is all characterized by a soft velvety nap or raised pile. The basic cloth had extra looped wefts woven in as it was made. The rolls of cloth were then sent to specialist fustian cutters who were highly skilled craftsmen. In a well-lit room the cloth was pulled tight over benches up to 150 yards long and stretched with rollers at either end. The cutters would then insert a sharp knife with a long guide into the loops cutting the loops in a sweeping movement as they walked the length of the cloth, thus walking many miles each day. Hebden Bridge became synonymous with the manufacture of this hard wearing cloth and was often referred to as Fustianopolis. A fustian knife is the theme of a sculpture in the town square.

Fustian knife in Hebden Bridge’s town square

In 2021 one of the buildings closely associated with the fustian industry came up for sale and so I was able to take a step back in time as I climbed the steep narrow steps to the top floor of a three storey dwelling close to the railway station in Hebden Bridge. Bare stone walls lined the huge room which was well lit even on this rainy winter’s day. The end wall had fifteen long windows specially made to give as much light as possible to the fustian cutters.

The many lighted gable of Machpelah

I realised that I was standing in the very spot where Abraham’s great grandfather James Moss, a fustian cutter, developed his fustian business. From 1806 onwards his children’s baptism records give their residence as Machpelah and according to British Listed Buildings this was built in 1805. The 1805 date is taken from the Guardian Royal Exchange Fire Mark numbered 218779 which belongs to No. 12. This policy was registered 29th September, 1805 when the houses belonging to Rev. Richard Fawcett were described as “4 houses at present empty”, presumably of recent construction. Mortimer began his career as a fustian cutter before setting up as a fustian manufacturer himself, while his brother Abraham became involved in the family business first as a commercial clerk and then as a manufacturer.

Abraham and his siblings

Abraham’s father, Hague Moss, died when Abraham was only 11 years old and by that time the family had moved to Royd Terrace and so that is where I started my morning tracing Abraham’s life story.

Royd Terrace today

Situated at the lower end of the Buttress, that unbelievably steep cobbled pack horse road up to Heptonstall some of the houses in Royd terrace are three storeys tall on the street, yet only the top storey rises above the hillside behind, the lower two storeys actually being built below ground level. This makes the buildings extremely damp and dark. One of the cottages was for sale so I was able to go and see for myself the small dark rooms imbued with an intense sense of claustrophobia. ‘Every man needs a good woman in his life’ so the saying goes. Abraham’s life saw his business flourish, so I think it’s fitting that that lady whom he shared his married life with deserves further comment. Abraham’s chosen partner was Mary Hannah Thomas, a tailoress, and daughter of Thomas Thomas, a coal merchant. I have his photo labelled Grandpa Thomas.

(Courtesy of Elizabeth Thomas)

He sports an unusual beard known as a chin strap where a ruff of facial hair from the sideburns continues underneath the chin. There is no moustache. This gives him a very distinguished air, further enhances by his high buttoned morning coat. Hannah had been born at Royd Terrace in 1860, the same terrace that Abraham was living in in 1870. It’s quite possible that the two families were living in the terrace at the same time and that Hannah and Abraham could have known each other as children, playing together in the street since there was only a year age difference. When I’d first learned that Hannah’s grandfather and father had been coal merchants I’d thought what lowly beginnings she came from, referencing my own great grandfather, a coal merchant with a very humble lifestyle. So I felt somewhat surprised that Hannah had ultimately married one of the most prominent and wealthy men in the district, but then I’d forgotten my history lessons. Hannah’s father lived from 1831-1905, a period spanning the industrial revolution in the Calder Valley. The railway line from Manchester to Leeds had opened in 1841 with 5 trains per day stopping in Hebden Bridge. The railway was both a mode of transport that required coal to power it but it also enabled coal to be brought to the valley to provide steam power for the growing number of factories. The railway brought supplies for the manufacture of the textiles and provided a means of transport for the distribution of the finished products. So to be a coal merchant was to be on the forefront of the industrial revolution. When Abraham’s father, Hague died in 1870 his sons Abraham, James and Frederick Hague took over the business and from that point the firm was known as Moss Brothers. By 1881 Moss Brothers’ business had grown considerably and they had acquired a 3-storey building in Brunswick St for their warehouse. Just three months after their wedding in 1881 the first of seven children was born, a daughter, Beatrice Louise at 13 Melbourne Street situated just above Market Street. Today by the time I reached Melbourne Street the clouds which had looked threatening earlier in the day had decided to release their rain. There was a long row of identical houses on my left, their front doors opening directly onto the street and since there are no back doors the wheelie bins and recycling bags were strewn along the pavement. Flower pots and garden ornaments strove in vain to obscure next week’s contribution to the nearest landfill. I was in search of number 13, where Abraham and Mary Hannah set up home together. I made my way past a terrace of identical houses – 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 that were over buildings. The underdwellings were accessed from Brunswick Street. But at number 11 the regularity stopped and I found myself confronted by a long lower building housing several apartments designated Melbourne House. I was so disappointed but I kept going. After Melbourne House the houses on my left began again, this time beginning with number 13, and yes, the door was open!

13 Melbourne Street

I tried calling ‘hello,’ a few times into the darkened hallway but though I could hear voices inside I didn’t get any reply. As I turned to leave I noticed a man tending a small plot of land on the other side of the street. I explained my quest and he told me that the long low building, now 49 Melbourne House, had once been a mill and had been converted into apartments around 2005. Ah, that was making sense. I’d found the upper entrance to Brunswick Mill with its main entrance on the Brunswick street, the street below. I thanked him and returned to number 13 where, after a few more hellos into the darkness a man came to the door. He was interested in my quest, especially when I showed him a photo of Abraham Moss. “Just a minute. I’ll go and get the house deeds.” A few minutes he returned with papers in hand showing that the building had been built in 1883 and had belonged to Mortimer Moss, Abraham’s eldest brother. I think the man was quite surprised by the yelp I let out realizing that I’d just found Abraham’s house, and Brunswick Mill, the family’s mill and the beginnings of Moss Brothers. For a few moments the man was distracted less by my yelp than by his mother-inlaw coming out to tell him to put on some shoes, since he was in stockinged feet and the rain was now quite relentless. Living next door to Abraham at number 15 was his brother, Frederick, also a founder of Moss Bros. It made perfect sense that the owners of the mill were living literally next door to it. By 1890 they employed over 200 people and traded with America, South America, New Zealand and Europe. They also had a London Office at 1 Trump St. 47 In 1901 they expanded and diversified, taking on dyeing and finishing, opening a dye works at Bridgeroyd at Eastwood between Hebden Bridge and Todmorden.

Bridgeroyd Dye Works

In the summer months Bridgeroyd would employ 70 people, whereas in the winter it employed 150. It was said that workers were willing work this seasonal pattern because Moss brothers were consider[ed] to be good payers.48 In 1902 Bridgeroyd became part of a group called the English Fustian Company Ltd. A workers’ cooperative which had been formed in 1870. By 2004 it was the last remaining mill in England making fustian and corduroy, employing just 8 people and in July 2004, Prince Andrew visited the company to present a Queen’s Award for enterprise in international trade to the company. I walked back into the centre of town and followed the course of Hebden Water as it flowed beneath the ancient packhorse bridge. Just beyond this ancient footbridge built in stone around 1510 I could see the familiar structure of St George’s Bridge, its elaborate cast ironwork painted cream and red supported by several carved stone piers with bratished stone caps. This Grade ll listed structure was built in 1892 with public subscription bridge.

Abraham’s name on St George’s Bridge

One of the panels reads “St George’s bridge erected by public subscriptions with the aid of a grant from the West Riding county council committee – John Crowther, George Pickles, Abm Moss, Joseph Greenwood, J B Brown Sec.’ So Abraham was not only busy with the family fustian business he was highly involved with the running of the town and a member of the council. By the 1901 census Abraham is listed as a cotton fustian manufacturer, an employer and later that year a daughter, Phyllis Margaret was born, the last of seven children, born when both parents were in their forties. Their previous daughter, Vera, born seven years previously had died aged two. By this time the family had moved to ‘Brooklyn’ on an elevated street of large Victorian residences called Birchcliffe Road though known locally as ‘Snob Row.’


Brooklyn had nine rooms and the family had a live-in general servant. What a difference from Abraham’s early life on High Street in the densely packed housing. Soon after I moved to Hebden Bridge one afternoon I had climbed the steep hill of Birchcliffe Road. I don’t use that manner of motion flippantly. An indication of the steepness of the hillside is that its former name was Burstcliffe suggesting that there may have been a landslip there in former times. I had been in search of several buildings that had been lived in by, and in some cases specifically built for, my ancestors. So as I searched the street perched on the side of the hill with one of the best views in town, located above the smoke and smog of the valley I saw a sign on a gate: ‘Brooklyn. Please use the back door. These steps are dangerous.’ I’m not sure what caused me to take a photo of the sign on the gate but I was to find that these steps had played a very important role in the life, or rather, death of Abraham Moss.

All the other imposing houses in the row had names like Hebden Hey, Riverdale, Oakleigh so perhaps it was the American name on this gate that had drawn my attention. The multicoloured stained glass panels in the front door glowed radiantly from an interior light. The bay window of the parlour extended to the upper storey and the view from the front extended over the Hebden Valley as Lily Hall peeked out at me from behind the trees. Through I contacted some descendants of Abraham Moss and from his grandson I received this email: “I was given to understand that Abraham travelled to America sometime during the 1890s. It was after this visit that he named his house Brooklyn.” Not long after this exchange a copy of the photograph appeared in my inbox. There on the ship’s deck sits a moustachioed Abraham gazing out to sea from a cane deckchair.

(Courtesy of Geoff Moss)

Like the other men around him he’s wearing a thick woollen or tweed suit with waistcoat, a pocket watch peeking out, and the peak of his tweed cap is shading his eyes from the sun. I had been able to view the architect’s plans for Brooklyn at West Yorkshire Archives though each leaf fell apart in my hands as I opened it.

Architect’s plan for Brooklyn – showing the steps

It would appear that the plans were drawn up by John Sutcliffe, the same architect who had drawn up the plans for Ezra Butterworth’s house, Oakville, five years earlier. However, sadness and tragedy were just around the corner for the Moss family. Abraham’s daughter Phyllis died, aged 13. She had been taken ill at the boarding school she attended in Skipton, had been brought back home by motor car and had recovered well enough to have a ‘pleasant sojourn at Blackpool’ but succumbed to influenza shortly afterwards. Just three years later Abraham himself died, aged fifty seven. Imagine my horror when I read in a local newspaper that he had died as a result of falling down those very steps I had photographed. I do wonder, from a morbid sense of curiosity, if the people who put the notice on the steps know of Abraham’s accident. “Fatal fall at Hebden Bridge. Sad end of a well-known gentleman. We very much regret to have to announce the death of Mr. Abraham Moss, Brooklyn, Hebden Bridge, and especially so considering the melancholy circumstances under which happened. The gentleman on Wednesday evening was found laid in an unconscious condition at the foot of the steps leading to his own house, with a deep gash on the side of his head, and from this injury he died at two o’clock yesterday morning without regaining consciousness. So far as we can gather from particulars collected from various sources the circumstances are these: Mr. Moss had been down in the town and parted from Mr. A. Moore at Top o’ th’ Hill about ten o’clock on his way home. In the course of half an hour or so, Mr. T. Fenton Greenwood was on his way home to Eiffel Street, and when he got opposite to the gate the residence Mr. Moss he heard some deep breathing, but as he had no means of making a light and the night being very dark, he could not make out any object. Mr. Ernest Whiteoak, Eiffel St., came up almost immediately afterwards, and struck match and the light revealed Mr. Moss laid at the bottom of a flight of dozen steps, with his head resting in a large pool blood and perfectly unconscious. On the right side of his head there was a large wound from which the blood was issuing. Mrs. Moss was acquainted with the fact and her husband was carried to the house and Dr. Sykes summoned, and that gentleman found that Mr. Moss was suffering from fractured skull. Whether he had fallen from the top of the steps or not does not appear clear, but the sloping asphalt from the top of the steps was very slippery. Judging from the position the body it would appear that Mr. Moss had fallen backward and his head had either struck the wall or the steps in his fall. The facts have been reported to the Coroner. The news of the sad occurrence created quite sensation in the town yesterday morning. Mr. Moss was well known in Hebden Bridge and district. He was the younger son the late Mr Haigh Moss, and many years was associated with his brothers in the fustian manufacturing, dyeing and finishing business at Brunswick Street, Lee Mill and Bridge Boyd, up to few years ago, when he retired, and since then he has not followed any occupation. He was one the directors of the English Fustian Association up to the time his death. He took great interest the affairs of that body, and for a term was its chairman. For many years he was a very active member of the Hebden Bridge Commercial Association. He was an enthusiastic member the local Angling Club. He took interest in electricity, and according to his own story, he along with the late Mr. S. Blackburn installed the first telephone in Hebden Bridge, connecting the house of one of his brothers to the firm’s premises. Mr. Moss, who was 67 years of age, leaves widow and five children. Two his sons are serving in the army, Walter Edward in France and Reginald in India.” I thought of Mary Hannah. Both sons were miles away from home serving in the first world war and her husband had died suddenly and tragically on his own doorstep.

Abraham with his son Reginald (Courtesy of Geoff Moss)

She continued to live at Brooklyn for the rest of her life, outliving Abraham by 30 years and their daughters Beatrice Louise and Edith Martha both remained unmarried, living with their mother at Brooklyn until their deaths in 1955 and 1961 respectively. Marian married Joseph Redman, a raincoat manufacturer, who had also grown up on Snob Row. In later life they moved to Ilkley where, in honour of their earlier life they named their house “Hebden.” Reginald, returning from India became a cotton manufacturer and was an accomplished pianist.

Gunner Moss WW l

He lived with his wife Francis in Mytholmroyd. When Abraham died he left just short of £ 40,000 to his wife. Today that money would have be worth about £ 3 million.


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.

Ruins of the 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.

The farm on the wild moor

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.

Sitting ‘in’ the farm

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.

The path to Greave

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.”

Shackleton Hill

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.

Within these walls

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.

The Pack Horse today

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.

Scene of the inquest into James’s murder

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.

Isabella and Thomas Shackleton

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.

Paying my respects

RAMBLES THROUGH MY FAMILY – 15 Untimely Deaths – Chapter 6 – Frank Taylor

Spencer Lane leading to Old Chamber

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.

Farming continues at Old Chamber

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.

Steps above Bridge Lanes

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.

The Fox and Goose today

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.

Fox and Goose in 1960s – a photograph showing the adjacent cottage, now the beer garden

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.

Stubbing Wharf

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.

The weir close to the school

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.

Scarborough, here I come

Day 1, Scarborough

I’m sitting in the restaurant of The Grand Hotel, Scarborough, with a perfect view out to sea with Scarborough castle perched on the cliff top beyond the harbour.

The impressive looking Grand Hotel

At least the trains were on time today AND the taxi turned up so I arrived in Scarborough on time, right at 2 p.m. Even though it was well before noon when I set off my fellow travellers were already in party mood, and I thought back to my train journey through Scotland just 2 days ago where it is illegal to consume alcohol on trains, something I wasn’t aware of.

Fellow travellers bound for Leeds

I knew that checkin at the hotel wasn’t until 4 p.m. and according to their email this was ‘strictly enforced.’ As I was in the process of booking my stay I’d briefly noticed a video on YouTube describing the hotel as ‘The worst rated in Europe?’ and I dismissed it as another crank’s hyperbole, but it had mentioned that the lines for checkin can be over an hour long, both with the high number of guests and the gross incompetence of the staff. So I decided to take my time and I found a handy shoe store on my walk through town since last week in Stonehaven the strap had broken on my beloved Jambou sandals and was irreparable. The main street was busy, busy, busy and I had to pick my way around push chairs, dogs, toddlers on reins and mobility scooters as I wound my way to the hotel. It was only just gone 3 o’clock but my backpack was too heavy to cart around and sight see. The building is impressive to say the least. As are the list of previous guests: Frederick Delius, Gracie Fields and The Beatles, along with Sir Winston Churchill, Edward Vlll and Ramsay MacDonald, England’s first labour prime minister. And, if the Daily Express is to be believed ‘ADOLF HITLER dreamed of converting a seaside hotel into his personal palace if he had invaded Britain. The fuhrer planned to hold court at the spectacular Grand Hotel in Scarborough which towers over the North Yorkshire resort’s Golden Mile.’

There were three receptionists at the checkin desk and just one person in front of me. I waited 20 minutes and then I was called to the desk. Everything was going along nicely. He assured me that my room was ready and suddenly a supervisor appeared and announced a change of shift. Even though the receptionist was halfway through checking me in he had to stop and I waited for another person to log in to the computer, find where my booking information was and eventually complete the transaction. My room was on the fifth floor which was fortunate because that’s as high as the lift goes. I hadn’t paid extra for a sea view but I had paid extra for a window! There are many rooms named ‘city rooms’ without windows if you can believe that! It was already quite warm in my room with its west facing aspect so I went over to the window to open it.

View through my window

Couldn’t. I immediately had visions of me roasting alive since the temperature was expected to reach 90F – or more. Hmm.

15 minutes after setting foot in my room I went off to start exploring the town – that’s so ‘me’ when I’m travelling. As I waited for the lift an employee was waiting too. “I can’t seem to open my window,” I began. “They all open,” he replied. “Can you show me how?” I felt as if I’d just turned into Emma Thompson in the movie I saw last week ‘Leo Grand’ so I took him back to my room and he worked his magic, and in moments the window was open to its full 6” capacity.

I made my grand entry into the lobby down the majestic staircase, designed specifically so that two ladies wearing crinoline dresses could pass with their escorts without impediment, and headed for the terrace, overlooking the sea.

Seagull poop is a major problem here, along with their shrill cries and propensity to want to come and eat or drink anything you have in your hand. In fact, the entire town has a major seagull problem and signs keep reminding people not to feed the birds, even at tuppence a bag, but I saw many people doing just that.

My bird’s eye view from the terrace

Each morning I would see someone with a giant hose pipe hosing down all the exterior flat surfaces to keep fresh poop from setting hard.

Man with giant hose

As I sat there watching the birds’ antics I began to differentiate the swooping calls of certain birds and then I heard little tweets and looked up at the amazing brick facade of the building above me. At the time of its construction this was the largest brick building in Europe, and the largest hotel in Europe.

It was designed by Cuthbert Broderick who designed the grand edifice of Leeds Town Hall and in whose memory I have been known to raise a glass at the nearby Wetherspoons, named after him. Cuthbert paid amazing attention to detail. The intricate moulding around the rounded arched windows is beautiful. He even personally designed the metal downspouts.

Attention to detail

This evening, perched above many of the windows were nests, and the fluffy baby seagulls were tweeting to their parents “It’s tea-time, mummy.”

Leaving the hotel I took the steps at the side, running the length of the Victorian funicular railway, leading down the cliff to the beach. Known as ‘seagull’ alley the steps were deep in white guano. The road along the seafront was packed with people, most of them with young children, eating fish and chips and queuing at the fresh seafood stalls. The beach was a mass of people, some with beach umbrellas but many, many people in as few clothes as possible getting burned by the intense sun but women in saris seemed to have the best idea with loose fitting clothing but with all skin covered, especially those wearing burkas.

On hearing that I was bound for the seaside my morning taxi driver from Islamabad had recounted his recent visit to Turkey with his caucasian girlfriend who insisted in getting as tanned as possible. “In Pakistan we cover up when the sun is strong,” he called. “She cried all the next day because the burns hurt so much.”

Fried human
I was tempted but I didn’t!

I passed Scarborough fair full of screaming children enjoying the rides and headed towards the lighthouse which was less densely populated affording me great views of the castle and the bay, entire dominated by the Grand Hotel. Colourful tourist boats vied for position with the fishing boats and the two arms of the jetty were packed with prawn creels – all very picturesque.

By 6 o’clock I was back in my room, and after checking that the tv remote was present, and that the tv worked, and that the shower worked, I set off to find dinner. I’d booked dinner at the hotel (by accident) and I soon regretted it, although I hadn’t seen any places to eat dinner part from fish and chip stalls so far.

The Grand Hotel dominates the view

The dining room was absolutely enormous capable of seating several hundred people but there were only about 20 people having dinner. I had to show my room key to the receptionist who told me I could sit anywhere. I sat down at a table by the window and waited to be served – and waited, and waited. Eventually I went back to the check-in desk. A different receptionist looked up from her desk which I noticed had an interesting sign attached – on her side of the counter!

Sign attached to the dining room receptionist’s desk

“Oh, didn’t she tell you? You serve yourself from the buffet table.” Got it.

Just one half of the dining room

It was a hot buffet. Just what you need when it’s the hottest day of the year. The serving spoons in the dishes of macaroni cheese, breaded pollock and roast pork slices had heated up under the heat lamps to the point where I was in serious danger of burning my hands if I used them. All the food had been sitting there for 2 hours under these heat lamps and there was only one cold dish – lettuce and cucumber slices. Dessert proved to be somewhat better with cool cheese cake available in several different flavours. The glasses for water were so tiny I had to go and refill mine 4 times during my meal. Coffee (instant) and tea were served in the lounge.

The exterior of the dining room – such a contrast from the interior

After this wonderful experience I took a walk to the south side of the bay passing the original spa building which was what sparked off the development of Scarborough as a town for wealthy tourists rather than just a fishing community. Adjacent to the building is an outside area with deck chairs and a bandstand that I’d seen on my previous visit to Scarborough in 2018 when I’d taken a special excursion steam train direct from Hebden Bridge.

An attractive sea wall close to the Spa

A notice drew my attention. The Spa Orchestra was giving an outdoor performance here tomorrow morning at 11 o’clock. What fun it would be to sit in a deck chair, open to the elements, overlooking the sea listening to the orchestra in the covered bandstand. Farther along the promenade the seafront wall was edged with local rock, wonderfully weathered.

I returned to the hotel via the blue bridge that was constructed to allow access to the Spa from the rest of the town and my passage was accompanied by very persistent seagulls. I poked my nose into the cabaret taking place in the ballroom. As the website states: ‘LIVE entertainment is available every night in the hotel’s stunning ballroom, with dazzling cabaret shows featuring professional dancers and entertainers dressed in stunning costumes.’ Here a solitary singer was singing to a backing track while a grandad entertained his grandchildren on the dance floor.

Cabaret anyone?

I purchased a booklet about the history of the hotel from the front desk and retired to the almost empty lounge for my ‘happy hour,’ reading about the history of the building and writing my journal.

Poo steps

Day 2

I slept remarkably well considering the thinness of the walls and the screeching of the seagulls through my open window. My breakfast companions were a group of heavily tattooed Belgian motorcyclists on one side and a table with two mums and five children under the age of three. One of the little ones had a piercing scream which she used to good effect and even when she had been whisked off out of the restaurant her cries could be heard from the level above. Going back to my room there were two men in the lift when we were joined at the next floor by a woman in uniform. “Yer work ‘ere, luv?” one of them asked her. “Yes.” “Well it’s raining in our room, pourin’ in through t’ ceiling. ‘Ere, look. A’ve taken a video,” and he pulled out his phone to show his movie. Well. I had woken up to strong winds, rain and heavy clouds which had completely taken me by surprise.

Enjoying theSpa orchestra

I called the Spa to find out if the outdoor concert would still be held outside. I wasn’t interested in attending if it had been moved indoors because of the rain – I wanted the experience the special ambiance of the outdoor setting. I was assured that since it had now stopped raining the concert would go ahead in the courtyard so I made my way down to the Spa. There was a small coffee stand in the Sun Court and a long line beside it. There was one person making the tea and coffee and dealing with the money. Coffee? I can’t honour the bitter brown drink that I was served with by that name. Hot water had been poured on the contents of the sachet of instant brown stuff that passes for coffee in many establishments in England. Ugh! Anyway, I found a comfy looking deck chair and plonked myself down to relax beneath the racing clouds.

Although the repertoire wasn’t my cup of tea (more like the coffee) the standard of performance was excellent, many of the instrumentalists doubling up on a second instrument. The orchestra consisted of ten members and the director who had a degree from York University. It’s the last remaining professional seaside orchestra in the country and performs 8 concerts a week during the ten week season. Although almost without exception the audience were grey haired the orchestra were definitely not. In fact, the trombonist appeared to be in his mid twenties. The concert finished at 12:30 and then I followed my plan of catching the bus and spending the afternoon in Robin Hood’s Bay. The bus ride took 50 minutes mostly through rolling countryside where the corn, oats and barley were golden in the sunshine which had made its appearance during the concert. The heather on the open moorland was just beginning to show its purple colouration. I hadn’t been to Robin Hood’s Bay since hiking 39 miles of the Cleveland Way from Saltburn to Scarborough in 1982. I saw a sign pot for Boggle Hole youth hostel where we had stayed.

I was here -at this very spot in 1982, heading to Boggle Hole Youth Hostel

The village is also the starting/ending point of the famous Wainwright’s Coast to Coast footpath, 117 miles of which I hiked, beginning at Richmond and ending at St Bees. Since we were hiking both to and from the village I hadn’t remembered that there is no traffic allowed in the village – or perhaps there was when I went before, but the bus stopped at the top of the village in a large car park with toilets available. I popped in to use the facilities but popped out again immediately. You needed two 20p coins to access the facilities and I didn’t have a single coin in my purse. Fortunately I soon found someone to give me change. I thought pay toilets were a thing of the past.

Suitably refreshed I set off down the one street that leads to the sea. It’s so steep in many places that steps have been put adjacent to the road to assist the heavy foot traffic, and busy the village was.

In its terrain it is similar to Hebden Bridge but with its golden stone and picturesque bolt holes the village has a much prettier feel to it – less Yorkshire Grit, more Yorkshire colour. I recently watched a travel program about the village’s history and the bolt holes were escape routes and places of hiding for the pirates who made this almost hidden village their headquarters. These side streets were wonderful with their nooks and crannies, buildings on top of other buildings, covered passageways and tiny well kept gardens in full bloom at the moment. If you look up Robin Hood’s Bay on the web you are confronted with page upon page of Holiday Lets. A very small proportion of the houses are owner occupied but there are some interesting tourist shops and lovely pubs.

I took a look in the dinosaur ‘museum’ which, alongside the dinosaur skeletons has fossils to purchase. I bought another ammonite necklace in honour of my ancestor, Samuel Gibson, (1793-1849) a notable fossil collector from Hebden Bridge whose fossil collection I have been to see in the back rooms of the Manchester Museum. He lived for a while in Mytholmroyd, keeping a pub in which were displayed his collections. I had to clarify with the shopkeeper that this was a genuine ammonite fossil since it was only £1. And them I just had to buy a lapis lazuli bracelet, £6, and two more stone bracelets.

From one of the little shops I bought a fresh crab sandwich and wound my way down to the beach at found a spot on the cliff wall to sit and eat my picnic.

Hmm, I wonder what these are in the sea wall

I didn’t realise it at the time that a tunnel from my sitting spot into the cliff wall was actually a smugglers’ tunnel leading to one of the tiny streets with the cottages so that the smugglers could take their goods directly from the boats to their homes. I took off my new shoes and paddled through a few rock pools, got an ice cream from the van parked on the sand and then an iced latte.

Yum Yum

On the way back up I explored the mosaics on the cliff wall and then headed up to the bus stop at the top of the village. I didn’t have long to wait and in 50 minutes I was back in Scarborough, the view having been better from the upper deck of a double decker.

I spent an hour or so wandering around the town, suddenly seeing a hotel whose name seemed familiar – the Falcon Inn. It looked closed up but the front door sported a handwritten sign saying ‘Please ring the bell for service. Don’t knock.’ well, I tried but no service appeared. It looked abandoned but some of the windows were open. I asked a couple of my taxi drivers but they didn’t seem to have heard of it despite it being quite a large establishment. one of my ancestors, Stansfield Gibson married, in 1901, as his fourth wife the widow of the man who kept this hotel. His story can be found on another post in my blog.

The Falcon Hotel

Eventually I took up temporary residence at an outside table at the King Richard lll inn, and spent an hour people watching. As the pub’s website says: ‘We take our name from THE King Richard III! It has long been believed Richard III stayed in the Grade I listed building whilst on naval business in Scarborough back in the 1400s.’ Some of today’s people’s summer outfits were stunning. Back in the hotel I had a quick shower, chatted to Anna from the terrace about how her new job is going, being serenaded by the seagulls throughout our conversation

Serenading seagulls

and headed to the hotel restaurant for dinner. After writing my journal in the bar I headed off to my room by 9:30 and watched a couple of quiz shows on tv before switching out the light.

Day 3.

On waking up next morning I was relieved to find a coolish breeze issuing from my open window. I watched a YouTube video about the history of my current residence, and after breakfast took a little stroll into town to judge the severity of the heat since the government’s extreme red alert health warning was still in place. The highest temperature ever recorded in England would be today, 104F which was why I had selected Scarborough as my destination, where it was only predicted to reach 80F. And, oh yes, I bought another pair of sandals from the same shop since the blisters I incurred yesterday were very painful. All three of my Jambou sandals have worn out and my only remaining pair of sandals are on their last legs.

Enjoying a paddle in the North Sea

Back in the hotel I set off to explore the ‘hidden’ rooms- the premier restaurant, the cricket room and a couple of completely empty lounges with furniture that looks as if it’s never been sat in. My attempts to call a taxi from the free taxi phone in the foyer took a while but I eventually got a response and so after an iced frappe and a poppy seed muffin in the

At the Cat’s Pyjamas. Could I order fried man on toast?

courtyard of The Cat’s Pyjamas I got the taxi to take me to Peasholme Park from where I could hop on a miniature railway to take me to Scalby Mill,

The engine on the turntable at the end of the track

Abandoned carriage

reminding me of the little railway I took with Anna in the Bois de Boulogne on my last trip abroad before Lockdown. The ride was only ten minutes long but I saw the extent of the park with its boating lakes full of dinosaur boats – certainly a place worth exploring on a cooler day.

The dinosaur boats looked like lots of fun

I took a little wander around the north bay with the same view of the castle we had when we were just completing our Cleveland Way hike. I thought about going to Sea Life aquatic centre but many of the animals are outdoors. In normal circumstances I’d have walked back along the beach into town passing the brightly coloured beach huts and climbed up the cliff to the castle and the church where Ann Bronte is buried but with such heat I didn’t think that would be wise.

Sign at the entrance of the Grand Hotel

So I walked back to the little railway station and waited for the train in a covered area serenaded by birds nesting on the ledges above me. I had a hot dog (ha!) in the park but it was just too hot to explore the park though I did pass the giant outdoor arena seating 8000 where big names were being advertised. I was surprised to see Simply Red are appearing there this month and also George Ezra, two of my favourite acts. Built in the 1930s and revamped in 2010 it has played host to Elton John, Brittany Spears and Noel Gallagher.

Open air theatre and boating lake

Back in town I tried to book a two hour boat trip to Whitby passing Robin Hood’s Bay but despite the heat, it was currently 85F, apparently there was too strong a wind out at sea to run the trip, so I settled for a short half hour sail around the harbour. As people boarded the little boat I really felt like Jacques from As You Like It- an observer rather than a participant. The volume at which many of the people speak to each other (with no alcohol involved), and the yells and screams every time the boat swayed or bounced over the wake that the speed boat in front of us made me cringe. They were so intent on taking selfies too. Of course I was the only person of the 20 of us on board traveling alone which gave me the opportunity to watch the British, mostly Yorkshire folk, at play. One man looked remarkably like Mark Twain!

The ship’s mate pointed out the headland of Filey Brigg to the South and we could just make out Flamborough Head beyond. As the boat turned and headed back north into the harbour I found it quite incredible to think that I’d walked the entirety of the cliffs in front of us.

From the boat

On the way back to the hotel I wandered around the Bolts, the back streets of what is left of the fishing village of Scarborough, providing me with my daily fix of abandoned doorways and rusting bannisters on well-worn staircases connecting the old streets, here all encrusted with guano.

Dinner in the dining room was a very hot, gloomy, uncomfortable affair since the management had closed all the windows and drawn the heavy curtains in a vain attempt to stop the heat getting in. A hot buffet was just what I needed for dinner 🙁 Back in my room I was treated to a lovely golden sunset.

Sunset from my room

Day 4

The weather forecast was for it to be the hottest day ever recorded in England, and the met office got it absolutely right. While the temperature in Hebden Bridge was forecast to be 98F

I was to enjoy the comparative cool of 89F in Scarborough. So faced with the prospect of a considerable hiked up to the castle so I plumped for an hour’s bus ride hoping that the open windows of the bus would give me some semblance of a breeze. Bridlington’s high was predicted to be a mere 76F .

Riders of the bus – with apologies to The Doors

The bus wound its way through the Yorkshire Wolds through loads of caravan sites! These vast places were something else with their own bus stops (sometimes 2, so extensive were the sites), boating lakes, playgrounds, indoors sports dome, supermarket, fishing lakes, and at one I even saw a tractor pulling a train taking residents of the park up from the beach since all the caravans are perched on the cliff tops.

The most famous of these sites is The Blue Dolphin with 350 sites for touring caravans and tents and 1000 static caravan, and this was just one of the sites the bus drove through.

I’d never been to Bridlington before and I’d imagined it as a fishing town so I was expecting an industrial town centred around an active fishing industry. No way! The place is a Mecca for tourists with its huge bay and welcoming sands, fish and chip shops in every second building – not what I expected at all. My first stop was a stroll around the harbour and an iced coffee at Tilly’s coffee shop, the name of my kitty.

Every shade of blue imaginable

Many of the boat tours had been cancelled due to the strong south east winds causing rough sea conditions further out to sea than I could see. I watched a pirate ship, complete with its Jolly Roger flag sail from the dock but it was only a 15 minute ride.

After picking up a seafood platter at one of the ubiquitous seafood shops I found one of the few benches in the shade. I’d just sat down to eat when I found myself looking at a dead seagull chick in a shop doorway. The ladies on the next bench told me they’d heard it fall late last night (!?).

I decided to walk along the South Promenade. It sounded so grand, and indeed, there was a Spa that’s now a theatre. Various water features were scattered along my route, pools in full use and an artificial water course for paddling on concrete. I selected to go for a paddle in the sea and its coolness was very much appreciated. At one point I was passed by a land train and every so far a train logo was painted on the promenade, so despite the heat I thought I’d walk the full length of the promenade knowing I could take the land train back into town. It ran every 20 minutes so when I’d had enough walking I sat on a bench and waited for the train at the next painted logo. I stuck out my hand as the train approached. It slowed down. It stopped. The driver leaned out of his cab. “I can’t pick you up. The nearest place to get on the rain is a mile further along, at the Spa.” I pointed to the logo painted on the promenade. “Oh, that’s just to warn people to beware of the train. Sorry luv.”

With heavier steps I headed back into town and made my way to the bus station which wasn’t easy since it’s in a residential neighbourhood and completely surrounded on all sides by Victorian terraced houses.

I couldn’t decide whether or not to break my journey at Filey on the way back. I’d only ever been there once and that’s when I was 6 years old and I went with my dad for a week at Butlins holiday camp. My mum wouldn’t go. Very odd. I think she thought Butlins was “common.” Knowing I’d be in the vicinity I’d watched a YouTube video about the old camp. It closed down many years ago, its station, where I suppose we must have arrived, abandoned and houses built on the site. I also found out that Butlins had once owned the Grand Hotel where I was staying. Anyway, I thought I’d give it a whirl so I got off the bus at Filey bus station and found my way down the steep hill to the beach. Nothing much attracted my attention, or maybe I was just hot and tired. I’d no recollection of going in the sea but I did find a photo proving that I did, all those years ago.

At Filey in 2022

Age 6 at Filey

I didn’t stay very long. I got the bus back to Scarborough and relaxed on the terrace with “Enduring Love’ my chosen book for this trip. Again the restaurant was really too hot for me to eat in and I asked the receptionist if I could take my dinner out onto the terrace. She replied that she didn’t know what the rule was about that. “Well, I’ll just do it and see what happens,” I replied. I filled my plate with food that had been sitting under the hot lights for over 2 hours, covered it with another plate and headed onto the terrace. It must have been 20F cooler there but I did have to recover my plate with the spare plate immediately between every bite otherwise the seagulls would have whisked every morsel away.

I had very little packing to do, mainly the two pairs of new shoes I had purchased. Next morning I took at taxi back to the railway station and had an uneventful journey back to Hebden Bridge.

Lifeboat activity

The bizarre life of Stansfield Gibson. 1839-1917

Some of Stansfield’s descendants in the Moorcock Inn

Yesterday I met up with 4 people, who, like me, are descendants of Stansfield Gibson. They and their spouses had lunch, chatted, shared books of photographs and family tree charts and generally had an amazing time, all in the Moorcock pub that had been operated by Stansfield’s son Herbert in 1901. Before lunch I had been invited to visit Fielden farm close to the hilltop pub where Herbert had lived as a farmer after giving up the pub until his death in 1932. It’s an isolated farm and today, like every day on Blackstone Edge moor it was blowing a gale. Ominous clouds scudded across the sky but managed to hold onto their contents until I reached home!

Fielden farm, an isolated building on the hill above Littleborough, with Hollingworth lake in the distance.

One name that takes up more newspaper columns than anyone else in my Calder Valley family. It that of Stansfield Gibson. He was a butcher and innkeeper like his father, and like his father he took his own life. But in that life he married five times, fathered seven children, was accused of child molestation, purchased a chapel and owned 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 provided 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.

St James, Hebden Bridge

Harriet was not from the Calder Valley but from Liversedge, a full 13 miles away. It was quite a rarity in my family for people to marry someone from outside the Upper Calder Valley at this time. She was the daughter of a wire drawer, someone who pulled hot metal through different size template holes to produce wire of varying thicknesses, a dirty and highly dangerous job. By the time she was 13 Harriet was a live in servant for a cardmaker (someone who made combs for carding wool) in Hartshead, the village where Patrick Bronte had met his wife Maria Branwell in 1811, when he was parson of the  church there. The Bronte’s two eldest daughters Maria and Elizabeth were born there but today there’s little focus on its Bronte connection, Haworth being the main focus of Bronte mania. Indeed, today Hartshead is primarily known for the Hartshead Moor Service Station on the M62. It seemed, however, as if Harriet Walker was following in the steps of the Bronte family because when Harriet married Stansfield Gibson at St James’s church in Hebden Bridge, the 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 their marriage 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 and Harriet’s marriage certificate with Sutcliffe Sowden’s signature.

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 his tragic demise. In Stansfield’s case it was the presence of the 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.

Blue bells on the former High Street

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.

Louisa – courtesy of John McKay

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.

Cross Stone church

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.

Calder Valley from Cross Stones cemetery

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.

Colden Valley from Blackshaw Head’s Bow Lane

The wonderfully named villages of Lumbutts and Mankinholes are perched on the shelf on the opposite side of the valley. On my journey I’d passed the picturesque Hippins Farm, scene of Ezra Butterworth’s ‘Death by Chamber Pot,’ – a story told in another chapter. 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 Mrs. Patrick Bronte. 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 correctly1.

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.

For sale- the former school – and jail!

This large two storey building which also has a roof level with the roadway 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 easy was sixpence and “rithmetic” was one shilling and eight pence. 2 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 unruly behavior 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. 3

Inside Todmorden market hall

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.4 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 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 pounds, bound over to keep the peace for 6 months and ordered to pay the costs.5

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.

The New Inn

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. But soon after the family moved to the New Inn Herbert was involved in a serious accident when “sustained severe injuries by being thrown from a horse. He appears to have struck the wall heavily with his head, and was so stunned as not to recover consciousness until next morning.6

I felt concerned for the young lad and I checked the newspapers for any update, worried that I might find a dreadful ending to the story. What I found surprised me, happily. Following his marriage to Elizabeth Lumb, herself the daughter of an inn keeper, the couple took over the Moorcock Inn on Blackstone Edge, that ancient paved road connecting Lancashire and Yorkshire, thereby becoming a third generation innkeeper. I’d ventured to the inn several times to sit it the beer garden high above Littleborough. The views into Lancashire are unrivalled and on clear days the high rise buildings in central Manchester are visible.

My visit to The Moorcock on a sunny day in 2021

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, 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 he had around twenty lodgers living 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. 7 I wonder if Polly had been the pony who had thrown Herbert from her back just three years before.

Halifax horticultural show

When Stansfield’s wife Susannah died a couple of days after Christmas in 1894 the newspaper carried this memorial to her:

‘She is gone, she is gone to the region of light

She was with us today, she’s in heaven tonight

Though to part with our mother was a trial severe

Yet it is better that she should be yonder than here.’

She 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 for the cortege to make 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.

Waterside restaurant on the Rochdale canal, formerly The Railway

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 entireity 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 longsettle 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.

In July 2022 I headed out to Scarborough for a few days to escape the record temperatures expected throughout England. It seemed that Scarborough would be about 20F cooler than Hebden Bridge so off I went. As I was wandering around the town I suddenly caught sight of The Falcon Inn in quite a prominent place in the town, at the back of a town square filled with coffee drinkers from the local cafe. And I suddenly recalled that this place was connected to Stansfield. At first glance it appeared to be closed up. The front door was securely closed but a sign read ‘Please ring the bell. Don’t knock.’ I did as I was bid but to no avail. Some of the windows on the upper floors were open so perhaps it’s not closed permanently. But this chance encounter led me to do some research into Maria Ann who seemed to make a habit of marrying beer merchants and brewers.

The Falcon Hotel, Scarborough

Only four years after his marriage to Maria Ann (whose second marriage it was) Stansfield was widowed again.

The call of the Calder Valley appears to have stretched the entire width of Yorkshire because Stansfield moved back 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 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. The poet laureate Ted Hughes was brought up in one of those homes


Was a building blocking the moon.

Its wall – my first world-direction-

Mount Zion’s gravestone slab.”8

But it was the earlier, former 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 and 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.

Back street in Todmorden – 2022

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 sepia photographs of the various back streets less then 8 feet wide housing a confusion of wheelie bins and recycling baskets.

1 Anchor street

In 1914 while living at Halifax road he was entitle 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, King Street, Hebden Bridge.’ Hospital?

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 characterise the town. The newspaper article on 17 November, 1917 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.

40 Cameron Street Burnley

At the time the occurrence the son-in-law heard a noise downstairs. Going down found the prisoner crouched 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 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 the 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. Three weeks later, however, Stansfield passed away, perhaps from his injuries. In August 2021 I went into Burnley to find 40 Cameron Street. It’s in an area of densely packed terrace houses. The paint around the door was peeling off and the stonework has been painted cream. A black taxi cab was parked outside, perhaps the driver lives at number 40. I took a stroll around the back street and immediately stepped back in time at least 50 years. The street is close to the ruins of a mill, possibly Cameron Street mill and the Leeds Liverpool canal lies at the end of the street.

He died at 112 Bridge Lanes in Hebden Bridge, near the bluebell and he’s buried at Todmorden Christ church – a very sad end to a man who lived a ‘thrilling’ active lived life to the full etc.

Christ church Todmorden is now a house. A double murder took place in the vicarage there in 1868

Note: 11 Ap 1891 On the 11th inst at the Parish church Heptonstall by the Rev E P Powell vicar, Mr Stansfield Gibson of Mt Pleasant Todmorden to Miss Annie Howarth of Bank bottom Todmorden. Died 1894.

1 The Grimshaw Family by F. Baker – Halifax Antiquarian Society transactions, 1945, p.55







8 Mount Zion, by Ted Hughes in Remains of Elmet

Blackshaw Head moors, the Upper Colden Valley, and a connection I didn’t expect

On the last day of March 2021 I had made my first exploration of the hillside between Blackshaw head and the Upper Colden valley and a week later I had the opportunity to revisit the area – with a friend – with a car. I wasn’t sure of the terrain and whether the paths would be clearly visible or whether a footpath sign would point randomly to an open field and there’d be no sign of a path. This was the area I’d been looking at from my various trips to Edge Lane on the other side of the Colden Valley so we set off following a cart track called Moorcock Lane,from the Long Causeway.

Picnic spot

Almost immediately we had to reverse a considerable distance to let two cars pass on the single track path. At Moorcock farm the track became significantly less passable for a car and I noticed that there was a postbox at the side of the track, presumable for a farm further along that even the postman didn’t venture to drive to.

Greenland Road

We found ourselves on a well maintained track (at least for walking) sunken between two walls and so we didn’t get the views we had hoped for. The walls were fragmented in places and had been reinforced by wooden posts and barbed wire. This gave us glimpses into the fields beyond where we saw baby partridges and could see an hear curlews calling out. Just like the previous evening there was an amazing sky and when we arrived at the top of the track, rightly named Four Gates, the view was spectacular. We were on top of the world and in the 360 degrees before us the only buildings were the ones clinging to Edge Lane on the other side of the valley. One of the gates leading to High House Farm was blocked by a large digger which seemed to have been there for a considerable amount of time. In fact it’s in the exact same position on Google Earth!

Is this just blocking the gate or trying to take the gate away?

We took the next track to our left , Dukes Cut,in the direction of a group of pine trees which have obviously been planted. In their midst was a strange contraption like something from a science fiction movie and I discovered that that’s almost what it is. It’s a device that assists planes in changing direction! Wow.

We could see a hiker taking a much narrower, steeper path down towards the river and when I followed his progress I could see two ruined farm buildings. From Edge Lane I had seen a couple of isolated buildings on this hillside but couldn’t tell from that distance if they were still in use or ruined. I was also interested in finding two farms, one called Scotland and one called Greenland since I’d already located Egypt on the Edge Lane side of the valley.

The hilltop above Edge Lane appeared to have several standing stones popping up against the wonderful clouds and my map showed that the hill is actually called Standing Stone Hill. That’s convenient – and also confirmed my map reading skills. Then I spotted a series of turquoise markers on the moor immediately to my right so I set off to have a closer look. Each had a letter painted on and the ‘floor’ consisted of a plastic pallet with a raised wooden fence around three sides.

Grouse hide

There were about 15 of them all in a straight line close to a long wall. Before the first one there was what looked the remains of a ruined sheepfold but it was very small. We sat on the wall and consumed our lunchtime snacks. These were grouse hides, showing that grouse shooting is still live and well on these isolated moors. One of my ancestors, Ezra Butterworth, was a game keeper on Lord Savile’s estate which is only a few miles from where these hides were. Close to the sheepfold – or could it have been the remains of an older hide that the wooden ones – was a large very rusted metal container which, on further examination seemed to have a fire- retardant fabric. This may have been the ammunition box, just left in place next to the first in the line of hides.

Ammunition cache?

As we retraced our steps we were overtaken by a hiker who had hiked from Cornholme and was ending her walk in Mytholmroyd. She was able to answer some of my questions about the whereabouts of Greenland and the names of the ruins I could see – Noah Dale. She also told me that what we had taken for standing stones on the moor top are in fact, isolated trees. But presumably there was one standing stone which gave the hill its name.

Heading off into the unknown

An hour later as we sat in the park enjoying our well deserved bacon butties it started to hail, and in fact, before midnight it snowed quite heavily and I awoke the next morning to sun a sunny morning making the covering of snow glitter and shine.

Hmm. Next time I need a brush I’ll know where to find one

Of course, I’d spent the evening finding out more about what I’d see, in particular Noah Dale, and though I hadn’t yet seen it – Scotland.

I began with the two ruined farm houses that I’d seen. One was called Noah Dale, as my fellow hiker had mentioned, the other was Pad Laithe. Noah Dale is a stream that flows through Noah Dale. Around 1806 Gamaliel Sutcliffe and James King constructed a dam in Noah Dale. Hmmm. Gamaliel Sutcliffe: I’ve met him before. He lived at Stoneshey Gate on Widdop Road. as for James King he built Mytholm Mill and rebuilt Mytholm Hall. Only this very morning I walked past the site of Mytholm mill. The site is being cleared for proposed housing causing quite an amount of controversy in Hebden Bridge at the moment. Mytholm mill was fed by Colden Water, the name given to Noah Water further down the valley. A catastrophic collapse of the neglected dam at the head of Colden Water in the 1930s carried the core of the dam downstream. The story of this disaster was told by David Smalley in a Hebden Bridge History Society lecture in 2015:

“The dam itself was built between 1805 and 1810 so that water supply could be guaranteed to the spinning mills of the Colden Valley. Dave has established that the original dam was well built but it was shallow and could not hold enough water to supply all the mills. The owners took an enormous loan of £7000 in 1810 but in 1826 needed to invest in making the dam bigger. This raised the wall using rather shoddy engineering and was probably the cause of the dam’s ultimate failure.

Examination of the landscape shows that the original dam had made use of existing landscape features, but had diverted the course of the Colden. The odd knoll is not a ‘floating plug’ but just  part of a larger mound that was cut through by the navvies to keep the Colden flowing well.

A century later there were concerns about dam safety and new regulations demanded that the dam be kept in good repair. Those responsible were loath to spend more money on this, paying a waterman just £5 a year to inspect and maintain the structure. A report found a gap in the wall of the dam that had been raised, a fault that would cost £2000 to put right. The failed dam was left to decay further.

Stories have always suggested that the dam burst because of a serious rain storm – but the rainfall statistics don’t support this theory. It seems that after a steadily wet year in 1938, the reservoir was beginning to hold water again, and the owners decided to dismantle it, probably by collapsing a tunnel. All the archaeology seems to support this surmise.”

One of the mills for which the dam would supply and ensure a consistent water power was Land Mill. I hadn’t heard of Land Mill before but last year I had taken a new route back from Edge Lane and passed Land Farm. Close to the farm and almost obliterated by ivy was the base of a mill chimney. Now I searched for a photo of Land Mill and though the building is long gone the photo shows it with a dwelling house attached. Built in 1796 by John Greenwood for cotton spinning. In 1851 it employed 15 people. In the 1860s the mill was still in the Greenwood family and had been extended to include a weaving shed and warehouse.

Chimney at Land Mill

“In 1811 Land Mill was included in Samuel Crompton’s survey of cotton mills with four mules and 960 spindles. Samuel Crompton had invented a spinning machine which he called a ‘mule’ because it combined the principles of Hargreaves’ spinning jenny and Arkwright’s water frame, both invented a little earlier. Because Crompton had never patented his invention a large number of variations on the mule were used, all based on his design. Crompton travelled through the north of England in 1811 and was eventually voted a pension by Parliament.” (

Now Samuel Crompton had lived very close to where I grew up. It’s now a museum, Hall i’th’ Wood and in 2017 Sarah and I had visited his birthplace in Firwood Fold, Bolton. When Crompton’s family moved to the mansion it was in a state of decay. His father died when he was 5 years old and so he was set to work spinning yarn by hand. He supplemented his income by playing the violin in the Bolton theatre. The spinning mule he invented could spin both hard and soft fibres and used 48 spindles, a six fold improvement on the spinning jenny invented by Richard Arkwright.

Firwood Fold, birthplace of Samuel Crompton

Back at Land Mill – by the 1870s the mill was owned by William Barker who lived at Scotland, the farm I’d hoped to be able to see from my walk. In 1861 Barker was living at Wood Top (a frequent favourite walk passes the flock of goats there) and his wife and two daughters began to sew clothes by hand.

Wood Top goats

 He has been described as the Father of ready made clothing. He leased first Hudson Mill (where my ancestor Giles Sunderland lived) then Mayroyd, ( where I spent a summer in 2016) and then also Land Mill where he wove fustian cloth.

When I looked up Scotland – which I had thought was a ruined farm I couldn’t have been farther away from the truth. It’s a 6 bedroom, 4 bathroom holiday let with a hot tub! I wonder what William Barker would have thought of that.

Blackshaw Head to Cross Stones

My Crabtree connection

Stoodley Pike from Upper Eastwood, home of the Crabtree family

CHARLES CRABTREE – manufacturer – and his son, Walter of Stansfield Hall

Charles Crabtree 1832-1912

There are certain family names in the Calder Valley that are so ubiquitous that people researching their family history pray that they won’t find them in their family tree.  Greenwood is one. Sutcliffe is another. A third is Crabtree, so it was with some trepidation that I embarked upon digging into the roots of Walter Crabtree. Walter’s parents, Charles and Ellen, are a perfect example of the confusion such names can cause the genealogist. They were married on April 6th, 1865. Ellen’s maiden name was Crabtree. She married Charles Crabtree. Both their fathers were named Abraham Crabtree! Charles’s father was a greengrocer. Ellen’s father was a farmer. And to further confuse matters on June 16th 1867 an Abraham Crabtree of Chapel House, a grocer and farmer drowned in a dam at Cockpit, Todmorden.  (annals of Tod) p24. This didn’t bode well, but I knew that a certain Charles Crabtree, who was a distant relative of mine was a man who had made his mark in Todmorden, both as a mill owner and a benefactor, so perhaps I would be able to distinguish this particular Charles from all the other Crabtrees in the vicinity. He is connected to my family through Edith Wrigley who married his son, Walter Crabtree in 1906.

 Charles’s obituary dated 1912 reads  “Beginning life in a humble way, with no apparent advantages over his fellows, he rose by industry and enterprise to a position of a large employer of labour.” Charles was born in 1832 at Upper Eastwood, a small cluster of houses centred around Eastwood old hall that I’d explored last year. Apart from the group of buildings around Eastwood Old Hall with its datestone that reads John Eastwood, 1630, the hillside leading up to Great Rock is criss- crossed with paths and dry stone walls amongst which are scattered isolated homesteads with only rough cart tracks leading to them even today. Sitting high on the hillside with uninterrupted views across the Calder Valley to Stoodley Pike is one of these isolated dwellings, Greystone, where Charles aged 9 was living with his parents, Abraham, a worsted weaver and his mother Ann in 1841. From  Greystone a track leads through two fields to two adjoining cottages named Chapel Houses.

1851 map showing Grey Stone, Crabtree Lane, Eastwood cotton mill, Chapel House and Mount Pleasant
Little has changed

As its name suggests this building was originally a chapel, Benthead Chapel constructed in 1719 and capable of holding 200-300 people. I still find it mind blowing that on such a remote hillside a chapel capable of holding so many people was required.

According to the Charlestown history page “ From the mid 18th century, the chapel went into decline due to the ‘exceptional mortality in the district’. Hmmm. I wonder what caused this ‘exceptional mortality” in this area. Could it possibly have been caused by inbreeding? On one page in the 1851 census 14 out of 19 people listed are Crabtrees. The congregation dropped to a handful of people” and the building  was subsequently divided into cottages. On the 1851 map the lane connecting these three locations, Eastwood, Greystones and Chapelhouses, all closely associated with my Crabtree ancestors was marked Crabtree Lane! A description of the place on the Charlestown history site which the site states was probably written in the 1840s reads:
“It must not be imagined from what has been written so far, that the inhabitants of Eastwood were all upright and honest citizens. There were evil doers in those days as there are now, and laws against theft or damage to property were much more drastic. Tradition has it that representatives of the village were sent as convicts to Australia. Stealing was by no means uncommon and occasionally cloth was taken from the handlooms. Hand weaving persisted for a long time after the coming of the power loom, and the weavers sometimes took precautions against theft by tying the warp ends to their feet before retiring for the night……The less reputable amongst the population indulged in such sports as cock fighting, rabbit coursing, clog fights or wrestling for wagers. The Non Conformists on the other hand, still strongly under the influence of puritan tradition, looked askance at such pleasures and regarded them as enticements of the Devil”.

It was the beginning of March, 2021. We’d had a few consecutive days of Spring weather – meaning it hadn’t poured with rain and the temperature had stayed above 32F, so I set out find Greystones where Charles, a boy of 9 was living with his father Abraham, a worsted weaver and mother Ann in 1841. As I took the bus up to Blackshawhead the sun won the battle with the clouds and by the time I got off at the bus terminus 1000ft above sea level it was a lovely sunny Sunday morning. Opposite the bus terminus is the former Blue Ball pub where Ezra Butterworth had rather too much to drink one night and staggered home down Davey Lane to his home at Hippens, where he went to bed, fell out again in a drunken stupor breaking the chamber pot and dying from his wounds. His story is told on another page of this blog. I followed Davey Lane with its wonderful views across the Calder Valley across to Stoodley Pike, passed the scene of Ezra’s demise. Today I noticed an ancient paved trail leading West from Hippens bridge alongside Hippens Clough which looked interesting to explore some other time.

I reached Great Rock which I’d noticed is marked as Grisly Stone on the 1851 map. Sometimes it’s been known as Devil’s Rock. It’s an outcrop of millstone grit that’s been weathered into a fantastical shape, similar to Bridestones which is close by. I even found my maiden name etched into it along with dozens of others.

Devil’s Rock

At Great Rock I took a pathway of Eastwood Lane. It’s surface reminded me of a patchwork quilt of stones and bricks obviously constructed, reconstructed and patched over many many years, centuries.

To my right a smaller track was signposted to Greystone Farm (only) and I could see a long stone building across the field. I headed for the farm which faces Stoodley Pike and though I stopped to take photographs for several minutes no-one came out to talk to me. I was disappointed.

Greystones from the back
Front of Greystones.

According to Historic England the earliest deed of the property is 1675 and the single storey gabled porch bears date 1789. The farmhouse is to the left, then comes the barn which still has its semi circular cart entry and then on the far right the cottage has a higher roof line. On an 1851 map I’d traced a track to the side of Greystones which led to Chapelhouses, but I’d not bargained for such difficult walking conditions. The path was sunken between two walls and was really no more than a stream. That would have been OK if the stream had had stones at its bottom. My boots are waterproof. The problem was mud! Mud in which my boots almost disappeared, so deep was it. It was very sticky too, and trying to lift up my foot out of its clutching grasp was no easy thing. I found myself clutching at various branches and grasses to steady my slips but all that resulted in was getting hands full of blackberry thorns. Luckily this track only lasted for 15 minutes. I wondered if was an ancient holloway like Bow Lane which connected Hudson Mill Road to Blackshawhead where the amount of that path has sunk is commensurate with its age.

I found myself in a more open area and adjacent to the gable end of a building. If I was correct this should be Chapelhouses, originally Benthead chapel. My luck was in. A couple were enjoying the sunshine in their garden and I explained my presence. There are two buildings now, one Chapelhouses and next door Chapelhouse Farm. Both buildings are Grade ll listed and it was the building on the left that was one Charles’s home. According to Historic England it was built in the late 17th or early 18th century and was used for non-conformist worship in the mid 18th century and was converted into four cottages in the mid 19th century.

The original Benthead Chapel

They were interested in my Crabtree story and soon went to find the person next door who lives in the part of the building that was actually the chapel. I learned that around 1900 the building had been left empty and it wasn’t until the 1980’s that it was restored and made into four dwellings. (Just like Lily Hall). I was able to take photos of the building and just make out the datestone by the door though it’s impossible to decipher. Apparently these is an old photo before the renovation but I haven’t been able to find in online. There is no mains water still here, and water is obtained from a nearby spring.

Chapel houses

By 1851 Charles was listed as a cotton weaver living with his parents in Eastwood, though in this census the names of many of the houses are not specified. But six homes away in the old Bentwood Chapel which was being shared by 6 families was another Abraham Crabtree, a grocer, with his wife Mary and three daughters, Mary Ann, 20, a cotton weaver, Ellen, 18, a dressmaker and Betty, 16. Also living with them was Young Barker a grandchild, aged 10. Being ten years old Young Barker is obviously not the illegitimate son of one of Abraham’s daughters which is usually the case. (see wikitree). It was almost a case of marrying the girl next door because two days before Christmas in 1852 Charles and his betrothed Mary Ann Crabtree made what must have been a cold journey into Halifax to be married at St John the Baptist church. They were one of seven couples who were married there that day. After their marriage they set up home in one of the sections of Chapel houses – now the home of five different Crabtree households! The first ten years of their married life saw the birth of a son, Barker, and a daughter Ann, named after her grandmother. But not only that, Charles had become a cotton manufacturer, employing seven men, a major step up from the weaver he was on his marriage certificate. Everything seemed to be going well for the young family but then Mary died. She was just 33. The couple had had two children and I wondered if she died in childbirth. Just over a year later he married Ellen Crabtree at St John’s in Halifax, the same church as his first wedding. Not only that but and together they had five children. Charles, Mary Ann and Ellen all had fathers named Abraham Crabtree! This is why I was reluctant to begin any research into my Crabtree ancestors! It took me a while to figure out that Ellen was none other than Mary Ann’s younger sister. I think that the writer of the register was as confused as I was, because in the margin he has added Chapelhouses, which convinces me that I have the correct people! Together Ellen and Charles had five children. Perhaps my suggestion of inbreeding possibly causing the usually high incidence of mortality in this vicinity was not too far from the truth.

Charles’s family demonstrates succinctly the development of the textile trade in the Calder Valley. His father, Abraham, had been  a handloom weaver living at Greystones high on the hill above Eastwood but by the time Charles was 18 his family had moved down the hill into the small community of Eastwood and both father and son were employed in cotton  manufacturing. In fact a cotton manufacturer, Thomas L. Sutcliffe was their immediate neighbour in Eastwood and it’s likely that it was in Sutcliffe’s cotton spinning mill in Eastwood that the father and son earned their living. Eastwood Shed was built between 1833 and 1848 for cotton weaving. The addition of this weaving shed to the spinning at Upper Mill created an integrated cotton manufacturing unit. An earlier small water powered cotton spinning mill in Higher Eastwood. The mill had been built by the Eastwood family and then leased to a number of manufacturers over the years, one such being the Sutcliffe Brothers.

Two years ago I’d taken a hike up the steep road to Eastwood and seen all that remains of the mill today. A friendly resident of Rose cottage was, of course, pruning his roses and offered to show me round. The three storey mill shed, which once housed the waterwheel is now used as a cow shed. I peeked in to see the heavily worn stone steps of a spiral staircase, its rusted handrail, the peeling whitewashed walls – all very spooky. The man led me above the mill site to view the original mill ponds now the site of some lovely gardens.  This was later replaced by a horizontal Lancashire steam boiler which was dragged up the hillside from the bottom by 12 chained horses. Though Edward Cartwright had invented the weaving machine in 1784 several decades of refinement were necessary  and it wasn’t until 1842 that the semi-automatic Lancashire Loom came into being taking weaving from a home-based artisan activity to a steam driven factories process.

In December 1860 Charles Crabtree  launched out as an employer running a business with John Marshall, operating a few looms at Burnt Acres on the valley floor employing 7 people. So the employment – just like the chapel, has moved from the hillside in Eastwood to the valley bottom, giving access to the canal for both the shipment in of raw materials and the shipment out of finished goods, as well as the river to power looms before the advent of steam power.  This mill was to be my first stop on my ‘Crabtree day.’

The site of Charles Crabtree’s mill  was easy to locate being sandwiched on a narrow strip of land between the Calder River and the Rochdale Canal in Eastwood but the mill that occupies the site now is not the original Crabtree mill. Charles gradually increased his business and he moved with Ellen into the centre of Todmorden. Unfortunately their home on Dale Street hasn’t survived. In 1884 he acquired Ferney Mill with 614 looms.

I continued along the canal towpath, reminding myself of its important role in Charles’s business, and once in Todmorden I took the road out towards Burnley. Only a mile from the town centre I located Ferney Mill Road but the mill itself is no longer there.

I put a posting on Todmorden Past and Present Facebook page and received the following response from Rebecca Marshall: “My father bought the mill and demolished it and built the houses there now. However I did find a career poster dated around 1950 to attract workers. At that time about 400 operatives were working at Ferney Mill: “Good wages, good conditions and good employee services are proffered for employees while engaged in the manufacture of  Florentine and Satin Drills and ring Weft yarns specially spun for the local drill trade. There is a weaving school and a training school covering the spinning processes, a research and welfare department, cricket and sports clubs and social committee. As an added incentive Tea and sandwich service is available for the morning and afternoon rest breaks!” I wandered around this area in Todmorden where vast areas of wasteland surrounded by ruined walls topped with razor wire are all that remain of the huge textile mills that once covered this valley. Today many are used as dumping grounds and one had an amazing array of unwanted children’s furniture and toys including a large pink and white unicorn. Farther along Ferney Lee Road a former mill building had been converted into a suite of studios and workshops and the name Grumpy’s Mill was emblazoned in fancy ironwork. Was this part of Charles’s mill I wondered?  When I got home I ran this question on the Todmorden Past and Present Facebook page and within a few hours I got the following response; I wasn’t aware of ‘lee’ being in the name but certainly Ferney Mill. Its mine!” And from a lady “I worked at Crabtree Mill when I left school.”

At work in Ferney Lee mill

Charles appears to have been well liked by his employees and when he died in 1912 his obituary read: Last year, on the attainment of his jubilee as a manufacturer, Mr. Crabtree gave a treat to his employees, and they in return made a presentation to him of a walking stick, and of an umbrella to Mrs. Crabtree. For a long number of years, Mr. Crabtree attended Heptonstall Parish Church and officiated as sidesman for Stansfield. He was also identified with St. Paul’s Church, Cross Stone, and he had close ties with Myrtle Grove Congregational Church, Eastwood where he had been baptised. I was keen to visit the chapel but like so many others in this ‘Valley of a Hundred Chapels’ (the title of Amy Binns’s book) so many of them have been demolished or are used for secular purposes. The only thing remaining of the chapel is its graveyard. From the Charlestown history site: By the early 1800s, with the coming of industrialisation, the population was moving from the tops into the valley bottom. Discussions about moving the chapel began in about 1805 and local gentry settled endowments for the new chapel to be built. The new chapel opened in the summer of 1807 was called Myrtle Grove and stood on the site that later became Eastwood Railway station. It had a capacity of 500 people. The congregation again declined from about 1820. In 1838 the railway petitioned to include the site of the Chapel and it was purchased by the railway company in the following year. Another of my ancestors, Thomas Butterworth and his wife Alice (nee Jackson) had their 6 children baptised together at Myrtle Grove chapel just two years after Charles.

Though not able to view the actual chapel itself I was able to get a good three dimensional view of the 1840 chapel from a very unexpected source which rather amused me. Again, from the Charlestown history site: A few years ago one of the group was taking stuff to the tip at Eastwood and saw a small wooden model in a skip. She rescued it and later we discovered that it was of Eastwood Chapel. Who made it, when or why, we don’t know. It’s a three storey stone building. .

After Charles’s second marriage in 1865 he and Ellen went on to have five more children, the youngest being Walter who was born in 1875.  Cross Street where Walter was raised was in the centre of Todmorden but is now partly a car park and partly a garden area, from where I’ve watched the Lantern festival. It leads to the imposing Market Hall which was built in 1879. But I thought I’d pay a visit to where it once stood, to see if anything remained.

A double fronted house numbered 37 with a small iron railing around a flagged area barely two feet wide on the main Halifax Road seemed to be positioned close to where Cross Street once was, and, yes, lo and behold, on the side of the house high on the wall was an old street sign – Cross Street. A similar sized building had been added to the rear of the building and the side was adjacent to the car park. Could this possibly have been number 1, Cross Street, home of Charles Crabtree for at least the last 32 years of his life? When I got home I was eager to find if anyone could verify that number 37 Halifax Road was once 1 Cross Street, the home of the Crabtrees. I posted my question onto the Todmorden Past and Present FaceBook page and within 24 hours I’d had over 40 responses, two from former residents of the building. I learned that the house had once been called Galen House and after the Crabtrees left it had variously been the office for a local plumber, a toy shop, and the home of a family who operated a taxi business. One former resident, Sam Woodworth-Barnstone wrote “I always wanted to rip off the Cross Street sign when we left but always came round to the thought it’s been there over 100 years. Let’s see how many more years it can survive.” He then describes the inside of the house: “The best room was the attic. No-one ever looked up there but after everyone had moved out I had a peep. It extended the full size of the house with four original stone pillars in the middle with a skylight looking down on Halifax Road.”  Charles and Ellen would remain living at Cross Street for the rest of his life, Charles dying in 1912 at the age of 80 and Ellen in 1919 at the grand old age for the time of 86. They are both buried at Cross Stone church high above Todmorden.

At the far end of Cross Street is the river with a footbridge. I crossed the bridge and found myself in a park with a children’s playground. It surely takes the Darwin award for the best park name: Tipside.

By 1891 two of the 5 Crabtree children were teachers, one was a warehouseman in a cotton factory – I wonder if it was his dad’s factory – and one was a dye machine maker – presumably an engineer. Walter was still a scholar at the age of 15, when most young men of his age at that date in time would have been earning a wage. In fact, on the same street in the 1891 census there is Willie Brocock, throstle spinner in a cotton factory, aged 11, Tom Halliday, a moving carrier aged 14, Emily Sparks, cotton spinner aged 12, and yes, another Crabtree family containing John, 13, a cotton weaver. I think it’s interesting that my Crabtree family is living cheek by jowl with their employees, rather than in a manufacturer’s mansion up a hill and away from the smoke and grime of the town. That this area of Todmorden, known as Roomfield,  was not all sweetness and roses is born out by thus 1876 Nuisances inspector’s report. “In the first place 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, (another ancestor who I write about) has a very offensive midden on the side of the street leading up to the back houses, and be is also in the habit of slaughtering sheep and lambs in a place behind his house, which has not been registered as a slaughterhouse. Sarah Horsfall, of York street, has a privy on her premises with a defective box in, and the liquid runs on the door and out at the door bottom, and is very offensive.”

Walter enrolled at Owens College, Manchester, an  institution that  had been founded in 1851, named after a textile merchant, John Owens who had gifted  almost 100,000 pounds for is establishment. Owens college eventually became the University of Manchester. What an amazing coincidence. My daughter, Anna, decided to study abroad for a year while she was pursuing a psychology degree at the University of California in Santa Cruz. The University she selected was Manchester and she was housed at Owens College, where I visited her in 2009.  I love the following quotation from Wikipedia: Since the later 1800s many notable people have worked and studied at University of Manchester as, for example, Benedict Cumberbatch. Unlike Cumberbatch Walter studied not drama but medicine and in 1899 he received his MB ChB, a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery. He became a house physician at Manchester Royal Infirmary and on October 30, 1906 he married into my family by taking as his bride Edith Wrigley, the daughter off Thomas Henry Wrigley, whose granddad had lived at Lily Hall in 1841 and whose great great granddad was none other than James Wrigley, my great great great great granddad.

A distressing account was to be found in the Todmorden newspaper on Dec 23, 1904 when Walter was at the home of his future wife as her mother was getting ready to go to chapel.  At the inquest held at Todmorden Town Hall Edith related the story,  “I was the sitting-room (upstairs) when I heard a bang. I went with Dr. Crabtree to see what was the matter, and we found my mother laid at the bottom of the attic stairs. She was lying face downward, with her feet on the bottom step. She was conscious, and said” I think I must have gone dizzy.” My father was not at home at the time. The stairs are not very steep. We lifted her on to the bed.” Walter takes up the story: I found she was paralyzed below the shoulders. I came to the conclusion that the spine was severely injured, probably with dislocation or treatise. Dr. Currie was, sent for, and with him I made an examination. I found the two lowest cervical vertebra and probably one or two of the dorsal vertebra displaced. Under such circumstances recovery was scarcely ever known.  Death occurred rather suddenly at the last. The jury returned a verdict of ‘ Death from injury to the spinal cord, caused by accidentally falling downstairs.” The house where this happened was almost adjacent to the Town Hall, on part of Halifax Road that was  known as York Street at the time of the accident. She was buried at Cross Lanes Chapel where, two years later Walter and Edith were married.

Cross Lanes chapel – long demolished

It’s one of the many churches which no longer exists, though the cemetery remains, barely clinging to the steep hill overlooking Hebden Bridge. The newspaper article seems to imply that there was  an element of  secrecy to it: An interesting wedding was solemnised on Tuesday afternoon at Cross Lanes chapel.  It was kept as quiet as possible but many friends watched the ceremony . The contracting parties were Dr. Walter Crabtree, of Nelson, youngest son of Mr. Charles Crabtree. cotton manufacturer, Todmorden. and Miss Edith Wrigley eldest daughter of Mr. T. H. Wrigley (Messrs Wrigley and Sons, painters and paperhangers, Hebden  Bridge and Todmorden). The bride, who was smartly attired in brown silk crepe de chine, with cream velvet hat, was attended by her sister (Miss Annie Wrigley). and was given away by her father. Mr. H. Cockcroft. of Woodlands. acted as best man. The newly-married couple afterwards left for London and Bournemouth to spend their honeymoon. They have received many handsome wedding gifts.

The couple settled in Nelson, Lancashire and three years after their wedding war broke out. As a medical man Walter’s expertise saw him involved in some of the fiercest fighting of that war. He offered his services to the war effort and in December 1915 he was granted a commission as lieutenant. According to the Todmorden Advertiser Six weeks after leaving Nelson he was at an advanced dressing station in France, and has been so engaged ever since except for a short period, when he was attached to one of the battalions of the Scottish Rifles. He was at one of the advanced dressing stations in the Somme operations. Wounded men would be sent to an Advanced Dressing Station after receiving an initial diagnosis at their front line Regimental Aid Post The ADS was normally run by a Field Ambulance, the name given to a mobile medical unit, not a vehicle. It was better equipped than the RAP, but could still only provide limited medical treatment. More serious cases would be referred to a Casualty Clearing Station, a larger and better-equipped facility that normally provided medical care for an entire division. In 1918 serving with the 93rd field ambulance in France Walter was promoted to Major and in July 1919 he was awarded the military cross, in recognition of his distinguished and meritorious service in battle situations. His father had died in 1912, and his mother in March 1919. What a pity they couldn’t have known about his military recognition. At the age of 48 Walter’s wife, Edith died and three years later he remarried. I am indebted to Jane Hall, the great great niece of Janet Junor Mackenzie, Walter’s second wife for the following information. Apparently Walter and Janet met on a cruise and were married at the Palace Hotel in Inverness on April 29, 1926. Janet was a lecturer in needlework, possibly at Aberdeen Teacher training College. Walter and Janet travelled a great deal throughout Europe before the second world war broke out and she kept a diary of their travels. Jane  remembers visiting Walter & Janet at Stansfield Hall.

After Walter’s death in the summer of 1956 Janet moved back to the village of Avoch in the Black Isle Scotland, she moved into Rose Cottage the house where she was born, and she lived there until she died in 1968. Walter left 8000 pounds , close to 200,000 in today’s money.

For an account of my visit to Stansfield hall:

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