Month: February 2024

Sally Wrigley, 1816-1886, my great, great, great grandaunt

What goes around comes around – from Lily Hall to New Zealand and back!

I began my day looking up at the Heptonstall hillside above Hebden Water. Lily Hall’s eyes were firmly fixed on me. I could feel them asking me a question, Well, what about Sally? I needed to find an answer and until I did so I wouldn’t be able to rest. 

Lily Hall

My 4th gt grandfather James Wrigley,1778-1846,   lived in Lily Hall and his son, Abraham was living there when, in 1837 he married Sally Nicholson, a straw bonnet maker, also living in Heptonstall. Both signed their name  on their marriage certificate very clearly and with apparent ease which was somewhat unusual for this time period. In the mid 1800s straw bonnets were fashionable for both men and women and plaiting was the process of braiding several strips of softened wheat straw into lengths up to twenty yards. During the boom years the earnings of a wife and her children from straw plaiting could equal the husband’s income from farm labouring. The only requirements were a supply of treated wheat straw, a straw splitting tool and nimble fingers. The straw was cut into 10 inch lengths, fumigated and bleached using sulphur fumes, known to irritate the nose, eyes, throat, and lungs. The next step was feeding each length of straw through an opening in the straw splitting tool to produce thin strips of straw that could then be easily worked into the lengths of finished plait.  Plaiting was not without its hazards. To improve the suppleness of the bleached straw, each length of straw was softened with saliva by running through the plaiter’s mouth. This led to sore lips, abrasions and mouth ulcers. 

So there sits Sally making her bonnets while Abraham carries out his weaving.  The view of the rolling hills from this elevated spot have not changed since their time. Did they admire the view over the valley or is their work so labourious that they have little time to appreciate it, especially with a growing family.

View of Hebden Bridge from the interior of Lily Hall

Over the course of the next twenty years they went on to have nine children. I have a lovely formal photograph of Sally, taken in a photographic studio wearing a dress with bishop sleeves,   full, long sleeves gathered into cuffs at the wrists.

The shape of her dress would have required a long-fronted, bust-flattening corset which was popular until the mid 1850s and the full skirt is pleated and must have required a lot of material to fall around the hoop. Perhaps she’s wearing a crinoline petticoat stiffened with horse hair, also in vogue at that time. 

I have a photo of Abraham with his arm around a little boy’s shoulders and clasping his hand. His son looks to be about 7 years old. Unusually for the time period Abraham is smiling in the photograph. This, and the way he’s clasping his son’s hand is very endearing.

Abraham with son John, born in 1838

Like the photo of Sally it  has been taken in a photographic studio complete with what appears to be a painted backdrop of classical columns and a framed painting of a landscape. It must have been taken for a very special occasion. For a little while Abraham kept a grocer’s shop on the high street in Heptonstall. Today the only shop in the village is the Post Office which sells a small selection of food items for which the village residents have been highly appreciative during the pandemic, though it was closed for a time when the shopkeeper tested positive for Covid19. When it reopened during lockdown I counted more than a dozen people standing in line outside the shop, socially distanced but in danger of getting too close to traffic, especially the wide delivery lorries. Following the death of two infant children the Wrigley family moved to Bury, close to where I was born and grew up but by 1849 they were back in the Pennines, this time taking up residence in Todmorden where another son died in his first year of life. Abraham had become a carpenter working for John Nicholson, Sally’s dad. After their move to Todmorden three more children were born , the last being born when Sally was 41, a veritable geriatric mother. By this time Abraham had become a master joiner and cabinet maker, employing a dozen boys. John Nicholson, Sally’s father, had a house and shop on Cross Street next to Myrtle Street in 1860 and Sally and Abraham were living just a few doors away also on Myrtle Street. By 1861 Sally’s father was calling himself an architect.

 I got off the bus in the centre of Todmorden and crossed the Halifax Road heading towards the market. Right now the indoor market is closed but there a few stalls open on the outdoor market, reminding me of the first time I visited – with Rachel in 2015. When I moved back to England I wrote a funny monologue about a visit to this market in the pouring rain and was invited to perform it at Todmorden Literary festival in 2019 held in the imposing brick edifice of the Todmorden Hippodrome. Today the only things left to recall where Abraham and Sally lived are the street signs, Myrtle and Cross which now form access roads into Bramsche Square comprising a small garden and car park. 

Abraham died in 1879 and is buried at Lumbutts Methodist chapel. This interestingly named place is a mere hop and skip from the even more astonishingly named Mankinholes. The word has Celtic origins and means ‘fierce wild man, while  Lumb means pool and butts means land in Old English. Both villages lie on the shelf of land half way between the bottom of the valley and the hill tops, providing flatter land for pasture and grazing, not to mention flatter land on which to erect buildings. 

Lumbutts chapel (from my visit in 2017)

There is a long-established history of dissent in the Upper Calder Valley – dissent from established religion and always a fight against authority. In its religious aspect this showed itself in the number of  ‘alternative’ religions such as Quakerism and Methodists. Quakers, formed in the mid 17th century would meet in people’s homes and at the time this was illegal and prosecutions were common. One of these early meeting houses was Pilkington Farm in Mankinholes.  Later John Wesley, founder of the Methodists, visited the tiny settlement in 1755 and by 1814 there was a thriving congregation and a Methodist chapel was built to serve Mankinholes and the adjacent settlement of Lumbutts. But dissenters not only broke away from the established church of England but they also had disputes within their own congregation and, hard as it is to believe looking around the scattered cottages and farms clinging to the hillsides in front of me this was even the case in  ‘out here.’ By 1836 so grave was the dispute within the congregation that a break away group set up their own rival chapel at Lumbutts in 1837 only half a mile away! As I stood there on the grassy shelf overlooked by the eagle eye of Stoodley Pike I listened in my mind’s ear for the resounding sound of  the church organ because, strange as it may seem, the disagreement had been sparked by the installation of an organ in a chapel in Leeds. The majority of Wesleyan Methodists were opposed to music during the service seeing as a distraction from God.  In fact Wesley wrote 

Still let us on our guard be found,

And watch against the power of sound,

With sacred jealousy;

Lest haply science should damp our zeal,

And music’s charms bewitch and steal

Our hearts away from thee.”

Charles wrote over 9000 hymns. Lumbutts chapel prospered so much so that demand outgrew the building and so in 1877 a much larger building replaced it, complete with a school underneath. The building’s symmetry with its surrounding carpet of neatly mowed grass gives it a very artificial look on these moors where groups of buildings cluster together at all angles and levels to protect themselves from the storms the area is subjected to throughout the year. With its steeply pitched roof and rectangular footprint today it stands abandoned. In 1904 the church underwent major renovations and the crowning point was the installation of a new organ which became known as  The Old Lady of Lumbutts – a huge 3-ton organ. The inaugural recital given on May 6 was given by one W. A Wrigley (!) Mus. Bac. Oxon, the resident organist at Todmorden parish church and the complete refurbishment of the church’s interior was carried out by Messr. Wrigley and sons of Todmorden and Hebden Bridge, direct descendants of non other than Abraham and Sally Wrigley.  It is one of very few left in the country and was renovated in in 1989 when villagers raised £11,500 to repair it is still inside I don’t know. Today the damp blue slate roof acted as a mirror reflecting the occasional bursts of sunlight breaking through the wet mist. So the new chapel was only two years old when Abraham was buried in the cemetery at Lumbutts Chapel.

29 April, 1881. Todmorden and district news. 

LUMBUTTS. 141 persons partook of tea at this place. The tables were supplied with the choicest well-cooked meats and delicacies by Mrs. Wild, of Mankinholes. The health of Mr. John Fielden, Dobroyd Castle was proposed, and carried most enthusiastically, with musical honours and cheers; “The health of Mrs. John Fielden” and “ Success to the firm of Fielden Brothers ” were duly honoured. After these preliminaries the time was spent in dancing, music and games, in turns. Mr. Young Mitton played on the piano in very good style, and accompanied the singers. The following is a list of songs rendered at intervals: “You never miss the water till the well runs dry,” The twin brothers,” “Camomile tea,” “Verdant fields,” and almost twenty more. During the evening a very nice refreshment stall, provided by Mrs. Holt, of Lumbutts, was placed in one of the class rooms; no intoxicating drinks were admitted. Mr. and Mrs. John Fielden paid visit during the afternoon, and were most heartily cheered. The whole affair was conducted with order and good will, and is likely to be remembered long as a very pleasing circumstance in personal history. Honest John Fielden donated the land.

Grave of Abraham in 2017

I’d visited the chapel twice before, once with my children, and had found the grave of Abraham, and his daughter, Mary who died when she was 17 in 1868. There’s a little zippy bus that somehow manages to negotiate the steep road and the hairpin bends up to the village from Todmorden  though if it meets an oncoming car someone has to give way and back up. I’d grown up knowing the name Mankinholes because my mum had stayed at the Youth Hostel there in her twenties. I was delighted to be able to visit it today, even though of course, it’s closed due to coronavirus. It’s a wonderful old stone building and today you can book a 2, 4 or 6 bedded room with adjacent bathrooms,  all comparative luxury to when my mum was there in the 1940s when there would have been one dormitory for men and another for women, and an outdoor toilet! 

Mankinholes youth hostel where my mum stayed

As I left the village and started my descent back into the valey my attention was drawn to a large stone with the sign ‘Mankinholes  2000’ carved upon it, together with an engraving of Stoodley Pike, the monument on the hilltop  overlooking the village. On either side of the sign were two  blocks of stone carved to represent two larger than life sheep with wrought iron horns. As I stopped to admire them and take a photograph a couple came along the path. “Do you like the sheep?” the lady asked. “They’re lovely” I replied. “They were carved for the Silver Jubilee. Me husband made ‘em, didn’t you, dear?” So here I was talking to the sheep carver in person! 

After Abraham had died Sally moved in with her unmarried daughter Hannah, 34, a  cotton weaver, and her son James, 23, a joiner in a terraced house on Brook Street in the centre of  Todmorden, now demolished and a car park. And then in 1883,  the three of them are on a boat going to New Zealand! This is remarkable. At the age of 66, Sally boards the ship named Westmeath with her two unmarried adult children, Hannah, 36, a cotton weaver  and James 25, a joiner. Not only is this uncharted waters for the three Wrigleys but it’s uncharted waters for the ship for this is her maiden voyage. Built in Sunderland, once dubbed the world’s largest ship building town, on 15 March 1883 The Westmeath sailed from London with cargo and emigrants and a number of saloon passengers, via the Cape bound for Auckland and Port Chalmers. For a  time assisted passages were offered by the New Zealand government and between 1871 and 1886 more than a quarter of a million people flooded into the country, three quarters of them sailing directly from the United Kingdom although about 40% of them took a look and moved on.

On more exploration I discovered that Sally’s decision was not so unexpected. Her son Edmund had already emigrated to New Zealand in 1862 at the age of 19 before the mass flood of immigration and her son John followed the following year when he was 25, also a joiner in 1861. Through the wonders of the internet I found Zena Wrigley, an ancestry hunter living in New Zealand whose husband was Abraham and Sally’s  great great grandson. Her husband’s father had personal recollections of the Wrigley brothers who emigrated to New Zealand,  John, his grandad was a Quaker, a very religious man, and Dad often spoke of him in an endearing way. A gentle man who loved looking after Edward Wrigley (Zena’s father-in-law) as a child, Edward found his own father a strong disciplinarian and found him hard to relate to and so did not speak much about him. Edmund, John’s brother, on the other hand was very much involved with Masonry and so I would imagine Quakers and Mason’s probably would not have had much in common!! The third brother was James, a Methodist minister, his work in those pioneering days is well documented in the Methodist archives and was instrumental in establishing churches throughout the North and South Islands. From Zena I obtained photographs of minister James, Abraham and son John as a child, Sally, John as  an old man, Hannah in studio. 

According to Zena “Edmund and John were both builders and saw migrating to NZ as a big plus!! To my understanding they paid their own way, John actually travelled with his wife to be and her father.  Most early settlers came out in groups through land ownership schemes that promoted pioneering opportunities to buy land and start a new life.” John was a joiner in  1861 census. Before the mass migration in the 1870s there was little to attract prospective immigrants, although some people did. When Mary’s father died in 1840 he left a trail of debt, and Mary became convinced she would benefit from starting all over again by emigrating to New Zealand.  Her youngest brother William Waring Taylor emigrated to Wellington in 1842, but Mary first spent several years studying music, French and German, and teaching in Germany and Belgium, before eventually joining him in 1845. Charlotte Bronte  wrote of her friend’s departure: ‘To me it is something as if a great planet fell out of the sky’. Not long after her friend’s arrival in New Zealand, Charlotte helped her out by sending £10 to buy a cow.

 People were put off by the bad reputation of New Zealand’s climate, its dangerous ‘natives’ and the high costs and perils of the journey. But in 1871 an engineering firm of John Brogden and Sons, brought out 2,712 labourers to work on railway contracts. From 1873 the fare of £5 per adult was waived and travel was free. In addition, New Zealand residents could nominate friends and relatives to come and join them. In England and Scotland local people such as  book sellers, grocers and  schoolteachers were recruited to spread the word about the benefits of emigration while newspaper advertisements and posters called for married agricultural labourers and single female domestic servants, provided they were ‘sober, industrious, of good moral character, of sound mind and in good health.’ As might be expected 80% of immigrants were under the age of thirty five. “Around that time there was the discovery of gold / coal / beautiful native timbers and so this brought in the miners, the pioneers, the builders, etc.

Where John and Edmund’s family came and settled was in Auckland a thriving city which offered such a huge potential to succeed.” I, too, was under thirty five when I emigrated to the USA. Many emigrants came from Scotland and the Scottish islands and the poet John Betjeman later commentated:

‘All over Shetland one sees ruined crofts, with rushes invading the once tilled strips and kingcups in the garden. “Gone to New Zealand” is a good name for such a scene, because that is where many Shetlanders go, and there are, I am told, two streets in Wellington almost wholly Shetland’. However, by the 1880s the promised land had not lived up to expectations. Those who had come out in the 1870s sent less positive messages home, and free passages were ended. The 1890s became known as The Long Depression and people began to leave. They went particularly to Australia, where ‘marvellous Melbourne’ experienced a boom in the 1880s.

But my story of Sally Wrigley ends where it began, in Lily Hall, for in the summer of 2019 a current resident of Lily Hall spotted a couple looking around the village of Heptonstall. They stopped to take a photo of Lily Hall and so she chatted with them. Knowing that I had ancestors who had lived at Lily Hall  named Wrigley, some of whom had emigrated to New Zealand, she immediately contacted me and later that day I found myself in the company of a lady who has the same great great great grandfather as me – James Wrigley, 1778-1846, Sally’s father-in-law.

“My great grandfather was John Wrigley born at Heptonstall, my great, great grandfather was Abraham Wrigley, and my great, great, great grandfather was James Wrigley. I am the daughter of Edward Nicholson Wrigley, whose father was William Wrigley, son of John Wrigley.All born at Heptonstall, so it is a special place for me.” wrote Ruth Morgan.

Lunch in Stubbing Wharf with Lily Hall’s current residents and two branches of descendants of the Wrigley family whose ancestors lived in Lily Hall

An hour later saw the current residents of Lily Hall and James Wrigley’s descendants, two from New Zealand and one from Bolton via the U.S.A having tea in what had been Abraham’s home in 1837 when he married Sally at the church five minutes walk away. 

Newton Gibson, photographer

One afternoon during lockdown I was determined to find Primrose Cottage. Even though, according to Google Maps it was only 0.1 miles away from where I live I’d failed to find it on two previous attempts. How could it possibly be so difficult to find? Well, much of the town of Hebden Bridge consists of houses that are on such steep hills that flights

Steps adjacent to Primrose cottage

of steps, often obscured by trees, connect the streets, making it difficult to see both
the houses themselves and the way of access to them. It appeared that access to
Primrose cottage was either up such a staircase, or up a steep cobbled road that
appeared to dead end in a high wall. I wound my way along the cobbles and today
my luck was in because a man was weeding the wall. “Am I close to Primrose
Cottage?” I inquired. The man pointed to a doorway at the bottom of a high three
storey wall, and there, above the door was a sign bearing the house name, decorated
with yellow primroses – of course. The man looked at me, questioning my inquiry. I
guess I didn’t look like a delivery truck driver. “An ancestor of mine used to live
here” I explained. He relaxed. “Ah, they’ll be right glad to see you, luv. Just go up
them steps round th’ back.” The steps led up to a lovely patio and sitting in the shade
of a colourful patio parasol were a couple quietly reading and enjoying the warm
afternoon sunshine. It reminded me so much of my patio in Santa Cruz where I
would often sit and read in the afternoons. The view from this patio however,
unlike mine, was expansive, taking in much of the centre of town and looking across
to the hills on the other side of the Calder Valley. I introduced myself and explained
my mission. They knew that Newton Gibson, my first cousin 4 times removed had
lived there. “But for this wretched virus we’d invite you in. Come back when it’s all
over,” they proffered.

Primrose cottage

Newton Gibson, born in 1848, was the son of Thomas Gibson and Sally Wrigley.
Sally was 18 years old and living at Lily Hall in Heptonstall when she married the 19
year old Thomas. Thomas was a whitesmith, as was his father, Samuel, making small
parts for machines, a indespensable profession during this period of industrial
expansion. Newton was born in one of the cottages at Foster Mill, a large cotton

Foster Mill about 1880 on the left with its chimney – all now demolished

spinning mill six storeys high with 17 windows running its length where his father
was head mechanic. The mill even had its own school set up by the mill owners in
1844 but Newton received the benefit of an education at Heptonstall Grammar
School, a school with a reputation for high standards. It’s now the Heptonstall Museum where I sometimes volunteer. I’d begun my day with Newton
at the former site of Foster Mill since that’s where Newton began his life. On what
was once Foster Mill Lane new houses sit on the site of the old mill and the mill
chimney was demolished. When Anna was here in May 2018 we’d gone to
have a look at a house for sale on that very street – Spring Grove, houses on flat land
a complete rarity in Hebden Bridge. Foster mill had been worked on extensively by
my Wrigley builder ancestors. In 1842 the mill chimney had been plastered by Thos.
Jas. & Geo Wrigley for Wilm & Jas Saga – 14.5 days work. Another day when I passed
an old disused two storey building on the mill site a man was planting some
bedding plants in some waste ground. On impulse I asked if he knew if the building
had once been connected with Foster Mill. “Perhaps,” he said. “That very old building on the
left, just before the bridge was the stables for the mill.”

The old stables of Foster Mill

I’d taken several photos of
that building since I’d moved to the town, simply because it had some great doors
with flaking paint – one of my specialities. “There used to be a row of cottage where
we’re standing. I have a photo of them. Would you like to come in and see it?” and with that he led the way over to one of the houses on Spring Grove. The photo was
framed and on display in his living room.
At the end of the road a small hump backed bridge, retaining its cobbled pathway
leads over Hebden Water. Built in the late 1700s this was part of the packhorse
track leading up the hill to Heptonstall and it’s a path I take frequently throughout
the seasons. The bridge is smaller but simlar in construction to its more famous
counterpart in the centre of town being very very steep, narrow, cobbled and with
very low parapets. The horses that used these Pack horse bridges were laden with
bolts of woven fabric which hung from the saddles and these needed to clear the
height of the parapets.

Foster Mill pack horse bridge

Once over the bridge and past the ramshackled huts
scattered in the allotments by the stream all is quiet, the trees dense with leaves
now. To the right of the stream is the mill goit chanelling the water to the mill and
close by is the former mill pond. One day I was drawn to the pond’s edge by an
unusual sound, and, clambering over moss covered stones I could see dozens of
frogs floating peacefully in the water, their head just above the surface, serenading
me. The pond is part of The Delph, an area of green space and allotments,
specifically designated for the recreational use of the mill workers and their families
including hot houses complete with boilers enabling prize chrysanthemum growing.
The millpond itself, was used not simply as a vital part of the mill’s functioning to
supply the mill steam engines with water, but also by locals for fishing and picnics.
In good weather I often pass picnickers here, children paddling in the stream and
there’s even a rope swing that will allow you to fly over the water. Overlooking this
idyllic scene is Dog Bottom the house Newton’s family had moved to and where his
father set up his photography business (story in another chapter).

A dog enjoying a paddle at Dog Bottom

By the time he
was thirteen Newton was apprenticed to Mr Charles Warner, a watchmaker in
Hebden Bridge. He did not serve his full time as an apprentice instead joining his
brothers in the manufacture of sewing machines which the family had started fifty
years before and took great pride in being the first firm to advertise and supply
various metal parts called castings for sewing machines. Ten years later Newton and
his brothers James and Samuel were living on Crown Street, as did I when I wrote this,
and was part of a sewing machine manufacturing business . They developed the ‘Z’
type whipping machine which created blanket stitches to neatly finish the edges of
blankets. The Science Museum in London holds one of their machines.

‘Gibson ‘Z’ type industrial blanket whipping sewing machine.’ The Science Museum

advertisement in the local paper in 1881reads “Gibson Bros. Sewing machines on
the Singer principle. Parties requiring sewing machines on the singer principle can
be supplied direct from The Works at considerably below the Agent’s prices.
Gibsons patent sewing machines for manufacturing purposes are the only machines
worth having as they are warranted to to double the amount of work of any other.”
Their business flourished and by the mid 1870s the family owned three houses, a
warehouse and a workshop all on Crown Street. If these buildings remain I must
pass them every day. Perhaps I can even see them from my window but I’ve not
been able to pinpoint them so far.
In 1888 Newton married Elizabeth Clegg. Surprisingly Elizabeth had not been born
in the Calder Valley. With very few exceptions almost every person in ‘my Hebden
Bridge family’ had been born, lived and died in the Calder Valley, and so it wasn’t
until lockdown that I had begun to explore another valley, that of Cliviger Gorge
which runs from Todmorden over to Burnley, following a geological fault line.

Buildings in Holme Chapel village

The terrain and landscape are quite different from the Calder Valley and I’d begun to
explore the small communities of Holme Chapel and Shore.

I began my day in the
small village of Holme, just over the Lancashire border, having recently read about
Holme Hall, a place dating back to 1340 when Richard de Whitacre arrived in
Cliviger. With several extensions by 1431 the building had become a manor house of
40 rooms, remaining in the Whitaker family until 1950.

Holm Hall

I found the building easily
enough, now converted into apartments after a devastating fire in 2003. It’s light
sandstone colour glowed in the afternoon sunlight. It still retains its stone slated
roof and mullioned windows. A gabled porch lies in the centre of the façade flanked
by two gabled wings. Then I discovered something totally unexpected. Rev
Alexander Whitaker of Holme Hall sailed with Sir John Dale in 1611 to the colony of
Virginia in Chesapeake Bay, becoming known as The Apostle of Virginia. My
goodness. From here to the U.S. (or at least what would eventually become the U. S.)
in 1611! Two years later Pocahontas, the daughter of the native American chief, was
captured and placed under Whitaker’s care where she was taught English and the
Christian religion. She was given the honorary title ‘Princess’ and it is generally
believed that this minister from Holme Hall officiated at her baptism and eventual
marriage to John Rolfe, the founder of the Virginian Tobacco Industry. Wow! The present church stands close to the site of a 16th century chantry chapel that had fallen into disrepair and had to be demolished (1788) – the present church being built upon the hill through the benefices of the Whitaker family of Holme, Cliviger, between 1888-1894, in particular Dr T. D. Whitaker, the eminent historian and antiquarian. (‘Journal of Antiquities’)

Holme Chapel

Another chapel now drew my attention. Above Holme Chapel and back in Yorkshire
is the tiny hamlet of Shore, meaning ‘steep sided valley.’ Just over 1000ft above sea
level it has a derelict church in its midst and I’d spent a wonderful afternoon in the
roofless chapel, its floor strewn with pews, the plaster moulding around the lights
still visible. I’d found an old film made in 1971 about a year in the life of this church
showing people arriving by taxi (yes, the road is REALLY steep) , singing in the
ladies’ choir, the children’s choir, the Sunday school prize giving, tea parties, the
annual coach trip.

The roof of the chapel fell in years ago, after the church had been
declared unsafe because of dry rot. With a bit of prodding the wrought iron gate
opened and I was able to see inside the chapel since the front wall has gone. It’s
interesting to note how mill gates and chapel gates are so similar. Someone
had made a bonfire of their rubbish in what had once been the nave. The coving
around the light fittings could clearly be seen and the wooden planks strewn over
the floor had once been pews. I’d read about a flight of stairs at the West side of the

Steps leading from the church to the river for baptisms

The church is perched right on the edge of the cliff and so the extensive
graveyard appears to be falling down the hillside. 122 steps with an iron rail still
present in places goes down to the Wattenstall River and, this being a Methodist
church, people went down the steps to be immersed in the River as part of their
baptism ceremony. Then they would climb back up the stairs for the service in the
church. The General baptist Repository and Missionary observer of 1865 records that “on June 10th Mr Gill baptised 41 people, 21 men, 20 women, the youngest
candidate being 15, the oldest being 77.” 126 Some baptisms took place on Christmas
Day when the ice on the stream had to be broken. It wasn’t until 1871 that the
Baptistry was installed inside the church!
Across the stream, once the hive of so much activity, is the track leading to Blue Bell
farm and this is where Elizabeth, daughter of John Clegg, a farmer, was living at the
time of her marriage to Newton at Heptonstall church in June 1888.

The path to Blue Bell farm

I had noticed a stone datestone on the wall at Primrose Cottage. Yes, 1888. So I presume Newton
had the house built for him and his new bride. Perhaps he knew that Elizabeth was
used to having a good view from her parlour above Shore and he wanted to give her
something comparable. Newton and Elizabeth lived at Primrose Cottage for the rest
of their lives and it was there that their only child, Samuel, was born in 1894.

Newton develped an interest in photography is not surprsing. His father had started
off life as a whitesmith but by the time he was 42 he gave his profession as
photographer. While never becoming a professional photographer Newton was a
prolific photographer and painter. Unlike other members of his family he was of a
retiring disposition and took no part in public affairs. His obituary states “He will
not be remembered primarily as a business man but it was in his pursuits in his
spare time that he gained most recognition. With watercolours and oils he was a
painter of no little skill. He created cartoons and sketches of a particularly heated
election in the town, but it is as a photographer that he excelled, having some photos
hung in both the Royal Photographic Society and the Academy of Photography in
London. His “candle light” pictures found their way into journals in France,
Germany, Austria, Italy and America. Many of these are now reproduced on
postcards. He excelled in ‘table top photography’ too, that is the creating of outdoor
landscapes on a table. Mountains were made of crumpled paper, for snow fine sugar
was used. He often got good water scenes by placing the models on a sheet of tin
which reflected the models realistically. The horses, cows, sheep, cats and dogs were
simply wooden images. He and his brothers were the first to travel about the district
showing their images by a magic lantern.’ Several of his glass lantern slides are held
in the Hebden Bridge Local History Society Archive. He was president of the the
photographic section of Hebden Bridge Literary and Scientific Society of which I am
a member and during lockdown I received acclaim for a photo that I’d entered into
the society’s annual contest. The prize was to have the photo printed and be shown in
the exhibition to be held at the town hall. But on the day of the opening a national
lockdown for Covid was announced and the exhibtion is awaiting rescheduling.
Perhaps Newton’s most famous photograph is ‘Angel over Hebden Bridge.’

Angel over Hebden Bridge by Newton Gibson

I’d seen this
photograph during my research into the Gibson photographers but it wasn’t until I
was standing on the patio at Primrose Cottage overlooking the town that I realised
the photo had been taken from this very spot. The distictive former cooperative
building can be seen with its diagonal doorway. Looking over the town is an angel
with outstretched arm, as if in blessing. I don’t know the date of the photograph but
in Victorian times, as today, audiences were fascinated by visual special effects.
Skilful projectionists using specially designed lantern slides were able to create the
illusion of movement or gradually transform a Winter scene into a Summer one or
day into night. The devices used to achieve this could be simple, such as one piece of
glass with a painted picture on it moving in front of another or very complex slides
with levers, pulleys and rack and pinion mechanisms. The slides shown are known
as ‘dissolving views’. This might not sound wildly exciting now but when first
introduced in the 1820s it was magical and mysterious. In 1881 an evening’s
entertainment of dissolving views of Egypt that Newton gave was the talk of the
town. “A very successful exhibition of dissolving views took place in the upper room
of St. Thomas’s School on Saturday evening last by Mr. Newton Gibson, of Crown-
street, Hebden Bridge. The views were chiefly of places in Egypt, These were
followed by scenes of local interest. Views of the interior of St. Thomas’s Church,
Heptonstall and of St. James’s, Hebden Bridge especially delighted the audience. The
proceeds (which amount to a handsome sum) will be devoted towards defraying the
expense recently incurred in providing the Sunday Schools with new seats and other
Like his grandfather, after whom he was named, he had a desire for natural history
and was fond of literature being a particular admirer of Shakespeare with whose
entire series of plays he was thoroughly familiar.
Newton died in 1915 and I wondered if ‘Angel over Hebden Bridge’ which appears
to be a ‘contact print’ – made of two negatives sandwiched together – is perhaps a
symbol for wishing safety for the town and its inhabitants during the the first war.
It may seem strange today to think of Hebden Bridge participating in World War l
but it certainly played its part. Newspapers of the day carry obituaries of the town’s
young men, killed in battle. In the town itself men who were involved in essential
service industries could apply for exemption from ‘signing up.’ On Aug 4 1916
Hebden Bridge local military tribunal considered 80 applications for exemptions
ranging from poultry farmers to one Ernest James Sowden of Crown Street who
claimed to be ‘indispensable for shoeing horses.’ Greenwood Pickles, a fish and
potato frier, likewise a plumber and sanitary enginner and a watch, clock and
jewelry maker all applied for exemption as key workers in their local community.
Some were refused. Newton’s nephew, Edward Binney Gibson, a surgeon/dentist
claimed that since 1908 his work load had doubled and his father, Thomas, with
whom he ran the business in Croft Terrace, could no longer manage without him,
and that the business would have to close completely if he was not made exempt. He
was given a temporary expemption, likewise John Willie Horsfall, a hairdresser on
Bridgegate. Samuel Gibson, Newton’s only child, was given exemption for 3 months
in August 1916 as head of the firm of Gibson Bros. But the following year he was
summond to appear at Todmorden court and for not answering his telephone. But
this was no ordinary call. This was a test call in case of air raids etc. “At 12.05
midnight on the 20 th inst the firm were rung up and did not answer, whereas they
were bound to do so within 15 seconds. Two more rings were given without getting
a reply. Defendant pleaded that he took reasonable precaution and left a manager in
charge who declared that he never heard the bell ring. The Bench characterized the
offense as a very serious one, and fined the defendant 40s and 5s witness fee.”
Newton’s high standing in the Hebden Bridge community was aptly illustrated in his
extensive obituary in the local newspaper after his death May 1915. Following a
service at Primrose cottage Newton’s own car was used as the hearse and headed up
the steep hill to Heptonstall church, followed by ten coaches. Employees of Gibson
Brothers acted as bearers and amidst the numerous wreaths was one from the
photographic section of Literary and Scientific society.