Category: Uncategorised (Page 1 of 17)

Tatton Park

So I was off to Tatton Park for the day. I only knew, somewhat vaguely, that it was somewhere in Cheshire – ie – south of Manchester, in the posh bit of the North, and that it comprises a large stately home with a famous set of gardens. I’d deliberately not done my homework, wanting to be surprised. This was the third coach day trip that I’d been on with ‘The Heptonstall Village Team,’ a well organised organisation with whom I’d travelled to Liverpool and Harlow Carr during the previous couple of months.

All aboard
All aboard

The coaches are comfortable, have a toilet on board, and at various times throughout the journey we are fed crisps and toffees and are invited to buy raffle tickets for an onboard raffle, the prizes of which are usually bottles of wine or large boxes of Quality Street toffees, a local delicacy. More than 90% of the people on board were women, as is the case in nearly every event I attend. Perhaps I’ll have to invade Andy’s Man Club in order to find some men to talk to. A few weeks ago going to a poetry reading with a friend we gave a lift to the event to a couple. As I sat next to the man in the car he remarked “Will need a good beer if I’m to sit through listening to someone spout poetry all night.” “Oh,” I jumped onto his train of thought, ” Are you interested in local beers?” And with that the conversation took off and lasted all the way to the venue – best local brewery, where to buy Northern Monk locally, the attractions of Vocation. Once firmly installed in the Dusty Miller our conversation took a turn to football, him being a Liverpool supporter, but I won’t hold that against him – riiiight! How refreshing it was to chat about something other than the cost of parking or the inconvenience of the latest local roadworks.

But back to the coach trip. Speeding through the industrial warehouses and superstores of Stockport we were soon in rural Cheshire. the landscape reminded me of the time when I lived in Cambridgeshire – flat, flat, and more flat. There was no point going for walks around there because you could see everything before you set off. Just before we entered through the impressive park gates we drive along a narrow tree lined avenue edged with mansions, each in their own style, some with porticos, some with huge glass conservatories, others with immaculately tended gardens far too big to be maintained by two pairs of hands. This was the Cheshire that you read about – posh Cheshire. Entering the park land we stopped at the ticket office and disembarked. “We’ll be leaving from here at 4 o’clock. Don’t be late” we were told. It was only 10.30. Good grief. I had 5 and 1/2 hours to kill! A docent from the park boarded our bus. “So yer from ‘eptinstall? In’t that near ‘ebden Bridge? Anybody ‘eard of’t Stubbin Wharf pub? Eee it were grand.” Less than three hours ago I’d booked a table for my daughter, son-in-law and myself at the Stubbins Wharf pub to watch one of the Euro games when they come to visit for their honeymoon in a couple of week’s time. She’d texted me the previous evening about the pub showing the Euro games there now that the pub’s recent refit has big screen TVs throughout. It’s a place that’s been special to me, usually taking my visitors to have dinner or at least a drink there and last time my three daughters and I were all together in England we had dinner there – and that was all before I discovered that one of my ancestors ran the pub in the early 1900s!

The Japanese garden came into view with its lily pond, though they were not yet flowering. Various bridges spanned the pond, and a replica of Mt Fuji stod on the perimeter. I was transported back in time to my trip to Japan in 2006.

The Japanese Garden

Just the previous day I’d attended a lecture about Japanese gardens at the Halifax Arts Society, given by Marie Konte-Helm, OBE, no less. Many of her photos were of gardens in Kyoto and when I told my daughter about the talk she told me that she’d been to many of them, including a fascinating moss garden. Perhaps I’ll incorporate some of the ideas into my garden which I’m in the process of designing at the moment. Having been to the lecture I was able to identify and understand the significance of several of the features before me, including the bridges, the water and Mt Fuji. Some of the maples still had their red hue and the bonsai treatment of the shrubs was well maintained. I chatted to one of the gardeners who were out in force.

She told me that there are about 80 volunteer gardeners looking after the estate. An enormous conservatory was next to attract my attention, built to Lewis Wyatt’s design in 1818 and restored in 2010. Nearby a fernery houses many Australian and New Zealand tree ferns from the Egertons’ travels and a robotic arm was watering them – almost as surreal as the robotic lawnmower in action on one of the lawns.

From New Zealand I made my way Kenya – only a ten minute walk. With the heat of the African sun beating down upon me I took took shelter in the African hut built to console Maurice when he became too ill to visit his beloved Kenya, where he had a private estate that still exists.

The African hut

I made my way to the stables housing the cafe, not to mention some very early motor cars that the Egertons used. It had warmed up and I sat on the forecourt to have a pot of tea – so very English – and imagined the mayhem that must once have played out on these cobbles as the horses were taken in and out of the stables.

It was time to go into the mansion. But as I made my way there I suddenly came face to face with Shaun the Sheep! Now a couple of weeks ago I’d visited the Wensleydale Creamery, home of Wallace and Gromit, where an encounter with Shaun was to be expected, much anticipated in actual fact. But here? Amongst the hoi poloi of British society? In fact there were no less than ten Shauns scattered throughout Tatton gardens and parkland, and if I hadn’t reached the grand old age of 11+ I could have picked up a card and crossed each statue off and got a prize if I’d seen them all.

There was even one in the Japanese garden. It was named Sakura and was complete with cherry blossom and Mt Fuji.


Entrance to the mansion is by a back door, fitting considering my lowly status, and so the splendour of the imposing building can’t be seem from this side. But as soon as I got in I thought to myself how like Sledmere House this is – another stately home that I’d visited with the Halifax Antiquarian Society two years ago.

Can you see me?

The feel of the building itself, the views of the extensive grounds and the room upon room of oil paintings of every size imaginable were so Sledmerean. Minutes later I read ‘Elizabeth Sykes of Sledmere married her cousin Wilbraham Egerton in 1806. Shortly after Wilbraham inherited Tatton. Elizabeth was an accomplished musician and keyboard player and the bookcase houses her large and varied collection of musical masterpieces.’ So naturally I headed off in search of the music room passing the amazing dining room.

Harpsichord in the music room undergoing flood management

In one corner was a harpsichord which had been a wedding present to Elizabeth from her brother Mark Masterman Sykes on her wedding. The room had been badly damaged during a storm about 4 weeks ago. Water had got into the roof and run down the walls destroying much of the silk fabric lining the walls. Major restoration work was being carried out since mould had started to grow, and most of the books had had to be removed.

In another part of the music area a square piano stood. I asked the guide if he knew who the manufacturer was.”Could it be a Broadwood?” I asked. “Ha!” he responded. “I’m part of the Broadwood piano making family.” I told him about ‘Mr Langshaw’s Square Piano’, a book that I’d reviewed for a magazine – a true story about a woman in England discovering that a Broadwood piano had been turned into a chicken coop. He wrote down the name of the book to read it sometime. He tried to take of photo of the writing above the keyboard to see who the manufacturer was. He tried three times but we couldn’t decipher it. I asked if I could be allowed to play it but no, I couldn’t. It would set the alarm off. Well, I’d been fortunate enough to play the piano at Sledmere so I guess that will have to suffice for now. I have been fortunate to play John Ruskin and Elizabeth Gaskell’s pianos when I’ve asked, so there’s no harm in asking. Another piano in the hall had been played by Sir Charles Halle and Gustave Holst had played his trombone there too!

The piano that Sir Charles Halle played

The huge library was next. I always wonder when I see such collection how many of the books their owner have actually read. I suppose many of the books were bought to preserve them. This library was amassed over three centuries with each generation adding their own layer of interest. I read that the ‘earliest book is a treatise in Latin on architecture by Vitruvius dated 1513.’ Last month’s arts society lecture had been on architecture and told of Vetruvius’s book! Wouldn’t you know it? I was beginning to feel quite at home. Then I discovered another connection that was quite unexpected. Tatton Park has some first editions of Edward Lear’s work.Lear has always held a special place in my family ever since I was required to learn many of his poems by heart for my elocution lessons as a child. I passed on my love of his poetry and drawings to my children and I even have some of his work on my bedroom wall, a gift from my daughter. I even adapted one of his poems to be my ‘speech’ at my daughter’s wedding.

I wanted to know more about the family so I headed to the servants’ quarters to an exhibition about Lord Maurice Egerton that commemorates the 150th anniversary of his birth. For 30 years he explored parts of Africa. He kept a detailed journal of his travels, was a keen photographer and brought back many souvenirs.

Photos from Maurice’s travels

His safari camping equipment was on display with its parasol, camp bed, deck chair and rucksack along with his fascinating photos of the people he met on his travels.

I found myself standing beneath dozens of stuffed animal heads.


He must have kept the taxidermist busy. He also visited the Klondike and Yukon territories, another connection with my daughters reminding me of our trip to Alaska together.

It was time for lunch and now it had warmed up to the extent that I could take my winter coat off and sit at the outside tables and have a sandwich. My companion for the next half hour was none other than Bill Bryson, travelling through this small country. When I first read this book it didn’t make much of an impact on me – well, not much did with two 8 year olds and a 6 year old to care for but now that I’m rereading it I find his observations as an American on English life very funny but also very true. Perhaps it was reading this in the stable yard that inspired me to write this little travel blog after a long hiatus.

After lunch I took a look at the little gift shop, book swap and farm stand before heading back into the gardens to try and find the entrance to the Italian garden which opens onto the mansion, by way of a terrace. Designed by Joseph Paxton in 1847 the garden shows off the front facade of the mansion and overlooks the extensive parkland.

View of the Italian Garden

The lower walls of the mansion have been discoloured by the weather and they look like impressionist landscapes – at least to me.

Having seen the imposing mansion in all its glory now in the afternoon sun it was time to board the coach back to Hebden Bridge. The 90 minutes it took to drive to Tatton in the morning was doubled in the rush hour traffic but I amused myself listening to my ‘newly discovered on my phone app’ Jez Lowe, Pink Floyd, The Doors and ELP.

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.

Thomas Kershaw – architect

During my online research into the Halstead branch of my family I came across two Thomas Kershaws, one the grandnephew of the other who was destined to become a well known architect in the Calderdale area. Could this be ‘my’ Thomas Kershaw? I noticed that David Cant, a local historian who had helped me solve several puzzles in my ancestry research was responsible for the section about Thomas on the Malcolm Bull website and as it happened he attended the Hebden Bridge historical society meeting I was to attend that evening so afterwards, in Old Gate, when a few of the members went for a drink I asked David about his entry about Thomas and he got back to me a couple of days later with a copy of his notes. Handel’s daughter, Elizabeth Ann Halstead had married Thomas Kershaw in January 1882 in the registration district of Todmorden though I haven’t been able to find a marriage certificate online. In 1881 Elizabeth Ann was living on Bridge Street, Hebden Bridge and was a dressmaker along with her 2 sisters Mary and Clara. Thomas meanwhile was living at ‘Air View, Wadsworth’ in 1881 as an architect’s clerk. His father, John (born 1834) was a stone mason, a widower. John’s father, also Thomas (born 1807) states his occupation on his marriage certificate in 1831 as weaver but ten years later on the 1841 census he, too, gives his occupation as stone mason. So this interest in masonry and architecture goes back several generations.

Ayre View in the village of Old Town, above Hebden Bridge

Now the name Air View rang a bell immediately. Just to the West of Old Town is the adjacent community of Wainsgate and when I’ve walked along Akroyd Lane the little stone terrace with the most amazing views of Heptonstall and further to Stoodley Pike has always caught my attention. The River Aire is nowhere near here! How could this terrace be named Air View?

View from Akroyd Lane

Besides which, the sign on Air View terrace is spelled Ayre. This strange anomaly is why I’d noticed it. The next terrace is Hebden View – and yes, there’s a perfect view over Hebden Water. Both yesterday and today I’d expected to wake up to snow and ice and though dull, dreary and cold looking when I opened the curtains I decided to go up to Ayre View just to take a photo. I got off the little bus on Akroyd Lane and approached the terrace. Wouldn’t you just know it! Two stone masons were working on some pointing at the right hand house in the terrace, the one I’d determined must have been Thomas’s because it was closest to Wainsgate Lane on the 1881 census.

Current stone masons working on what was, in 1881, the home of the Kershaws, a family of stone masons.

I chatted with the stone masons for a few minutes. It was obvious that they’ve been doing some renovation on various bits of the stonework. And then the front door opened and out popped David, the current owner of the property. Despite the freezing temperature we spent some time talking about the building which has been his home for two years ‘mainly because of the view’ but he didn’t know anything about the history of the property – not even the date when it was built. He did tell me that he’d once been told that it probably dated from 1905 because the next terrace – Waterloo – was built in 1905. He’d been told that Ayre View terrace was ‘a step up’ from Waterloo. I pointed out the leaf carvings on the door lintels. ‘Ah’ he said, ‘I’ve never noticed them before.’ He suggested I came back sometime to chat with the man on the left of the terrace who has lived there since the 1950s and ‘knows all that’s to know.’

Air View is made up of 3 identical stone cottages on the corner of Wainsgate Lane that leads to the chapel where I’ve spent many an enjoyable hour at the annual concert series that now take place in the chapel that is no longer used for worship.

Wainsgate Chapel heritage day. The stark exterior gives no idea of what treasure are to be found inside
Darius Battiwalla playing the organ at heritage day, 2023

The cottages adjoin a taller building that protrudes from the cottages, and then 2 older looking cottages complete the row. In 1881 Thomas was living with his widowed dad, John and his 5 sisters who were all employed in the cotton industry as weavers, winders and spinners. Next door but one was the home of John’s parents, Thomas (stone mason) and Judith, and his unmarried brother, Jonas, also a stone mason and contractor. The next house on the 1881 census is the home of John and Ann Parker, both in their 30s with their 6 year old son John William. Surely they must be related to Thomas senior’s wife whose maiden name was Parker?

So, with 3 generations of the same family living in such close proximity up at Old Town, all pursuing careers as stone masons and building contractors I wanted to find out more about them, and find out more about Old Town, this small village perched on a narrow terrace between open moorland to one side and the steep drop into Hebden Bridge on the other. Dominating the view of the current one thousand residents of the village is the huge chimney built for the Mitchell Brothers mill which was opened in 1851. The mill itself is currently being converted into flats – see my blog:

Old Town Mill from the reservoir

In 1841 there were 14 households at Boston Hill, an area of Old Town. Two of the families who were to become very important in the story of Old Town, the Mitchells and the Cousins, were living there, cheek by jowel with Thomas Kershaw and his wife Judith Parker who he had married on May 5, 1831 across the valley in Heptonstall. In fact, the tower of the new church in Heptonstall dominated the view across the Hebden Valley. The Kershaws must have witnessed its construction as the tower rose up above its predecessor’s.

Boston Hill cottages today

In fact, in 1851 Thomas Kershaw was at number 7 and numbers 8, 9 and 10 were the homes of the Cousins and the Mitchells who built Old Town Mill that very year. In the 1841 census Thomas was 35, a stone mason, his wife, Judith, also 35 was a weaver and they had three children Sarah, 10 John, 8 and Jonas 1.

Map dated 1910 showing Boston Hill House, home of the later Mitchells, built c 1910.
Boston Hill House. Perhaps one of the adjacent cottages had been home to the Kershaws. All the buildings have been demolished and the pond is now the cricket pitch!

In 1851 Thomas was continuing as a stone mason, Judith was a worsted weaver. Sarah, now aged 19 was a reeler in the cotton factory, while John, 17, and Jonas, only 11 years old was registered as a stone mason too. Next door were Mitchells (worsted manufacturer) and next door to the Mitchells were the Cousins (land proprietor).

By 1861, still working as a stone mason, Thomas had moved his family down the field to Fearney Field Farm where he combined farming with his masonary work. The farm was divided into three homesteads and Thomas’s son John had married Mary Ann and they lived in cottage number 3. Between father and son was Nimrod Haigh and his family. He was named Nimrod almost 60 years before Elgar named his Nimrod Variations! Nothing much had changed by the 1871 census except that John’s family had grown to 7 children – all born in the first 12 years of their marriage. The oldest was Thomas, aged 12, a factory operative. At the bottom of the valley, living close to Hebden Water was Thomas Gibson, another of my ancestors whose story can be found in a previous blog, who was operating a photography studio at Dog Bottom at the same time! Chances are that they knew each other being adjacent on the path of the census taker.

But by 1881 Thomas was living at Aire View on the main road through Old Town. I presume that these were new houses at the time. There must have been a strong family connection between father Kershaw and his sons because living next door but one, just as they had been at Fearney farm was his son, John Kershaw, already a widower at age 44, and John’s son Thomas and his 5 sisters. Aged only 22, Thomas is already described as a ‘clerk/architect, surveyor’ – suggesting he is a clerk to an architect. His academic prowess and determination was evident at an early age and he’d already been mentioned in three articles in the newspaper by this time. In 1875, aged 16, he’d taken machine construction and drawing in the Old Town Science Classes, gaining a 2nd class pass in the elementary class. The following year Thomas passed plane and solid geometry advanced stage 2nd class, machine construction and drawing advanced stage 2nd class (self taught) and inorganic chemistry elementary stage first class. In 1878, aged 19 he’d taken exams in Plane and solid geometry scoring A1, and also Magnetism and electricity E1. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find out more about these Old Town science classes but I presume they were on a par with mechanics’ institutes. Indeed the next article in the newspaper were of the results of the science classes at Heptonstall’s Mechanics Institute. But it would appear that Thomas was still busy with his day job for an article in the 1878 paper states that it is “Resolved, that Thomas Kershaw be allowed to get sets in Skip-hill quarry at 2s 6d per yard, and boulders at ls. per yard.” There are many former quarries on Midgley Moor but I think the one near Mr Skip at the top of Wadsworth Lane is probably the one being referred to.

The next big event was his marriage at Slack Chapel to Elizabeth Ann Halstead, daughter of Handel Halstead, a shuttle manufacturer and sometime organists at Slack Chapel whose own story can be found on another page in my blog.

Slack Chapel is now someone’s home.

Unfortunately I cannot find a copy of their marriage certificate but their only child, a daughter named Florence Evaline, was born on June 13, 1882. In 1912 she was to marry Arthur Dobson, a gas engineer living at Stannary Hall in Halifax. Unfortunately the account of their wedding in the newspaper is poorly reproduced and difficult to decipher: The marriage took place this afternoon at Halifax Parish Church of Mr. Arthur eldest son of Mr. Wm Dobson,of Stannary Hall and Miss Florence Eveline Kershaw, only daughter ofMr. Thomas Kershaw, Trinity Place. . The bride, who was given away by her father wore a beautiful gown of ivory satin Oriental, having a full length train falling from the waist caught up at bottom with . . .

Thomas had been initiated into the Lodge of Probity, the oldest in the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1901, and I was curious to know if the Freemasons’ Hall in St John’s Place where his daughter’s wedding reception was held still existed. And yes, it did, in a rather unique way.

This was what it looked like when Florence and Arthur held their wedding reception there

And here is a current view. The Halifax Civic Trust urged the Department of the Environment to block the demolition of the hall, a listed building and subsequently although the rest of the building was demolished in 1988 the front facade was incorporated into offices of the Halifax Building Society.

A number of the Dobson family lived at “Stannary Hall” in Lewis st, Halifax. Originally from Barnard Castle, Durham, Nicholas, Matthew, Graham, and William Dobson were all managers at Crossley Mills. But I’ll save my research into the Dobsons of Stannary Hall for another day.

In the same year that Florence and Arthur were married Thomas submitted plans for the erection of 4 dwelling houses on the Hangingroyd estate in Hebden Bridge. Three years later a similar plan for 4 dwelling houses on Brunswick Street was also passed.

Brunswick Street

By 1891 Thomas, his wife and child had moved from the wild open moorland of Old Town to the built up area of Halifax known as King Cross.

15 Queen’s Road, Halifax where Thomas and his family were living in 1891

In the census of that year he gives his profession as architect’s assistant. By 1900 his skill as an architect was beginning to be recognised and he was responsible for the design of some large buildings in the centre of Halifax that I’ve often looked at but had no idea of my connection to their designer. Take for instance the bus stop on George Street where I’ve spent many a time waiting for the bus back to Hebden from Halifax. Directly across the street from the bus stop is a large ornate four storey building on the ground floor being occupied by a building society and a bank. It’s a perfectly symmetrical building with a central arched doorway with the words District Bank Chambers engraved in marble. In 1908 this building housed Thomas’s architect’s office. He had been engaged in the redevelopment of George street in 1900, removing a whole street of buildings to open up the street into a ‘square’ with gardens providing a picturesque entrance to the town from the West.

George Street before its redevelopment

The central street of houses were demolished to make the garden square.

In 1908 he is recorded to have a practice at Bank Buildings on Commerical Street, the main street of Halifax. There are several ornate bank buildings on that street and it took me a while to discover that the building where Thomas worked belonged to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank and is now occupied by Harvey’s, an upscale clothing and department store. I thought it would be appropriate if I purchased my mother-of-the-bride’s outfit from there, so off I went and found my perfect outfit for Anna’s upcoming wedding.

Harvey’s on the corner of Commercial and Rawson Streets where Thomas had offices in 1908

In 1904 Thomas announced plans to build 13 houses at Scarbottom in Mytholmroyd. I haven’t found them. Did he build them?

I found a reference a project back in his home village of Old Town in the middle of November 1905. In fact, it was on the very street where he had lived. Aire View is on the corner of the unpaved lane leading to Wainsgate Chapel. The graveyard at Wainsgate Chapel was fast running out of available space for new graves and so an additional acre and a quarter was added, fenced in along gentle slopes, enough room for an additional 1000 graves, 8 ft by 4ft each. The ceremonial opening of the gates to the new graveyard was performed by two of the Redman siblings whose connection to the chapel go back 5 generations. My family married into the Redmans too! The minister, Rev James Jack assured the gathered crowd that there was nothing sorrowful or pathetic about the ceremony but much to rejoice over. After opening the gate which was secured by a strand of vari-coloured ribbon each Redman was given a bible donated by Miss Mitchell of Boston Hill. Following a short meeting in the chapel the chairman of the extension committee, Mr Redman, presented the financial statement of the project, naming the architect as Thomas Kershaw who received  £21-2s 1d for his work. However, when all the contractors had been paid for their work there was still a  £210 deficit in spite of various contributions from various benefactors. But with 1000 grave spaces bringing in revenue of  £1 per grave he was confident that the scheme would redeem itself.

Inside Wainsgate chapel

Another church project was his work on the complete renewal of Heywood Chapel in Northowram in 1908, a chapel that had been in existence since 1673 when Oliver Heywood, a popular but controversial minister, first established a chapel in his parlour at Northowram House.

Photos from Alan Burnett. Heywood Chapel

Yorkshire Industrial heritage site has an article and photos of a very different building that Thomas designed just four years later. Wellington Mills on Quebec Street in Elland, a town halfway between Halifax and Huddersfield had two steam-powered cotton-spinning mills. A five-storeyed thirteen-bay built in 1860 burned down in 1875 as did the four-storeyed fifteen-bay mill built in 1868. In 1912 both mills were rebuilt both of fireproof construction to the designs of Thomas Kershaw,

Wellington Mills, Elland

Thomas’s next big project was to design a cinema in King Cross, just above Halifax. I’m amazed by the diversity of this man’s projects: a cemetery, a cinema, a church and a huge mill! From I read that The palladium cinema opened on 30th March 1914 and was designed by a local Halifax architect, a Mr Kershaw. It seated 895 patrons in stalls and most unusual balcony. This occupied only two thirds of the width of the building and barely projected over the stalls. It had the appearance of a giant private box but contained approximately 7 rows of seats. Sightlines cannot have been great as the ceiling above the main hall was lower than that of the balcony and an interesting lions head plaque decorates the drop wall from balcony to stalls ceilings. It must have given the effect of watching a film through a letterbox opening. It had a tiny foyer and a wide, clearly altered for cinemascope, proscenium opening. A barrel vaulted and segmented ceiling over stalls with muted decorated plaster bands.Owned by Star Cinemas from around 1944/45 it was re-named New Palladium Cinema. It closed on 18th April 1962 with Bobby Darin in “Come September” and went over to use as a bingo club. It is substantially intact and in a fair condition although the façade has been altered and the glass canopy removed.

I went along to look at Thomas’s former cinema. Downstairs is now a much used Cash and Carry, which always has its forecourt strewn with errant trolleys and crates of empty bottles.

It appears to do a roaring trade. However, upstairs is very different. It’s a fabric and yarn store stocking the most beautiful sari fabrics of silks, cottons and synthetic fibres. I climbed the stairs thinking about all the footsteps that must have trodden these stairs before me. It’s one huge room now with nothing to identify it as a former cinema. I chatted to the couple in charge and they knew all about the building’s former life as a cinema. What an array of buttons, threads, ribbons, and trimmings. It felt very appropriate that one of my ancestors was now connected with fabric art, a craft that both my daughter, Rachel, and I engage in prolifically!

Thre’s obviously a lot more research needed into Thomas’s architectural accomplishments. In March 2023 I set off to find Thomas’s grave. It wasn’t difficult. Slack Top cemetery is well maintained and has a beautiful view over Hardcastle Crags to Shackleton Hill. Thomas’s grave stone is an elaborate affair in keeping with his status in society.

From the centenary souvenir of Heptonstall Slack Baptist church 1807-1907 I found the poem and photograph of the church. As I prepare to play at Heptonstall Methodist church for a Christmas gathering it seems fitting to include this photo of a church that played such an important role in the lives of the Kershaws and the Halsteads.

A day with Mortimer Moss

A day with Mortimer Moss. 1846-1899

Mortimer and his siblings, shared with me by James Moss

On the 29th of March 1846 Mortimer Moss entered the world, the son of Hague Moss and his wife Martha who had married at St John’s Halifax exactly 9 months before. Hague was 20 and Martha 21 when they married, typical ages for marriage in the mid nineteenth century. The couple would go on to have at least seven more children. The family set up home in Garden Square in Hebden Bridge, an area now occupied by the Town Hall that was once the garden attached to The Hole in the Wall pub. There’s no evidence of a ‘garden square’ in the centre of Hebden Bridge now but I found this reference to it. In 1927 an article in the Hebden Bridge Times contains the following reminiscence: “Going up Lower Scout one is reminded of the narrow strip of land and Pitt Street where a few cottages and a smithy stood between the old bridge and St George’s Bridge. Then a fine garden, full of fruit trees, extended from the old buildings  by the Council Offices right on to Messrs. R. B. Brown’s works. It was a picture to see, but even that was once darkened by tragedy, for while the gardener  and some of his children were in the garden someone threw a stone from the Scout, killing one of his sons.”

Hague was a fustian cutter, by profession, as was his father, James, before him. On July 6, 1851 Mortimer was baptised in Heptonstall church along with his sister Mary Hannah, and brother James. Mary Hannah was 3 years old at the time and James was just a few days short of his first birthday. It was a common occurrence for several children from one family to be baptised at the same time. By the time of their christening the family had moved to Machpelah where Mortimer’s great grandfather, James Moss, had set up a fustian making business in an upper room which I had the fortune of visiting recently when the property went up for sale.

Photo showing the long line of windows necessary to bring light into the fustian cutting room.

By 1861 Mortimer’s family had moved yet again, this time to live in the tightly packed area of High Street now demolished, and his father Hague was now listed as an employer of one man and two boys as fustian cutters. On the same census Mortimer, now aged 15, is a cotton fustian cutter so it’s possible that one of Hague’s employees was his own son. During their time living on High street two of Mortimer’s brothers had died. John Whittaker was 16 months old and he died 11 months before his brother, Abraham was born. Another brother, Samuel, was 3 years old when he died in 1864 but his mother was 38 at his birth and would have been classed as a geriatric mother and she didn’t have any more children after him.

On April 14, 1869 Mortimer married Mary Harwood in the same place that his parents had married. Mary was the first of nine children born to James Harwood and his wife Mary Ann nee Ashworth. James was a whitesmith living at Foster Clough, a cluster of half a dozen houses high above the Calder Valley near Midgley. By 1851 James had added ‘shopkeeper’ to his whitesmithing business and by 1861 the family had moved to Stocks House Midgley.

The rear garden of Stocks House

One weekend in 2021 I’d been to the Midgley Open Gardens and had the pleasure of wandering around the rear gardens of Stocks House.

Stocks House from the main road

The year following their marriage the first of Mortimer and Mary’s eleven children were born. At first the family lived at Wood Bottom close to Foster Mill. Mortimer was a fustian cutter, a skilled job, but by 1881 the family had moved into the centre of Hebden Bridge and were living on Brunswick Street and Mortimer is listed as a fustian manufacturer although the word ‘employing’ has been crossed out. The 1881 census mentions that 3 houses were under construction on Brunswick Street and 6 were newly built. 5 more children would be born. 2 were twin baby boys who died during their first year, born when their mother, Mary was 41. How amazing it is that when my own twin daughters came to visit in November 2022 bringing my granddaughter to meet me for the first time they selected a place to stay on Brunswick Street, having no knowledge of our ancestral connection to the street. A few doors along from Mortimer’s family was the family of Handel Halstead, another ancestor whose story is to be found on another chapter in this blog.

Houses on Brunswick Street

An incident in the Spring of 1880 illustrates the level of achievement Mortimer had reached within the Hebden Bridge community while at the same time shows the plight of many of the workers in the town, especially the prevailence of misfortune due to intoxication. Mortimer was foreman of the jury into an inquest into the death of George Crabtree whose dead body was found in Colden Beck. Presumed he fell down a steep scar at Ragley above Eaves Bottom mill while in a state of intoxication. The body was washed down the clough the next day there being an unusually strong current and was recovered at Eaves Bottom and from there removed to the Bull Inn. Evidence given by PC Eastwood (the same policeman who had dealt with the drowning of Paul Taylor’s son in Colden Beck just a month before) ‘Only last week I was cautioning him I told him that he would some day be either getting killed or drowned if he continues to come home from Hebden Bridge the worse for drink. The road from valley up to the hilltop village of Blackshawhead runs along the side of a valley which is precipitous, the road being unfenced in places. A witness on Bridge Lanes saw him ‘badly drunk. He was staggering.’ A woman was wringing some clothes by the window when she saw the body in the river. She alerted some men at Eaves Bottom silk mill and the men pulled him out.

Colden Beck at Eaves Bottom

George, a widower, had worked as a scutcher tenter . According to a website explaining the various jobs in a cotton mill “Scutching is the separation of the valuable fibres from the woody seeds of the raw cotton. Considered one of the worst jobs in the mill – very low status!”

Later that year on the 6th of August 1880 6 year old Alfred Cobbe was found drowned in the canal at Hebble End wharf. Alfred had been playing with his a 6 year old friend James Heap around 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Alfred had a syringe and as he knelt down to fill it he overbalanced and fell into the canal. James ran to tell Alfred’s mum but when they got back to the canal they couldn’t see him. While they were searching for him Mortimer came upon them and learning of the situation he turned back for the grappling irons and started to search. He was on the opposite side of the canal from the tow path and the 4th time of casting in the grapples brought the body to the surface. The body would have been in the canal for ¼ of an hour. An inquest held at the Bull Inn, the same inn that George Crabtree’s inquest had been held in, returned a verdict of accidental death.

The former Bull Inn, now the home of artist Kate Lycett

The cafe at Hebble End is often where I can be found in the early evening on sunny summer days, sitting outside the cafe overlooking the canal with a glass of cider reading a book while keeping one watchful eye on the geese while a large flamingo stares down at me!

Afternoon relaxation at Hebble End

The building is part of Hebble End Mill and now houses some small shops and art studios, along with the cafes. In the Spring, during mating season the geese are aggressive and will actually attack the unsuspecting person out for a gentle stroll but by May the goslings hatch and one such evening I sat and watched 6 furry goslings trying to fit beneath their mummy’s wing. Once I learned of young Alfred’s unfortunate demise in this very spot I found myself always remembering his early death when I sit by the canal.

View from my table at Hebble End

From Hebble End it’s only a five minute walk to Brunswick Street where Mortimer was living in 1880, having been living at Wood Bottom since his marriage to Mary Harwood. Opposite the terraced houses is a large four storey former fustian factory that’s been converted into apartments. This was Brunswick Mill, built in 1883 owned and operated by the Moss Brothers. In the National Archives I found the following description: “The business started about 1867 although the Moss family were engaged in the neighbourhood for some time prior to that date. Mr H Moss died in 1870 and from that point the firm was known as Moss Brothers. The original site of the business was at Hebble End, Hebden Bridge, between the canal and the River Calder. (The current site of the Coop). In c1881, however, as business improved they acquired 3-storey premises in Brunswick St for their warehouse and a factory in Market St and dye works at Bridgeroyd, Eastwood, Todmorden (the building is still there and used as a warehouse). They produced a variety of fabrics including corduroy and moleskins. 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, King St.” The upper floors of Brunswick Mill are accessed by the street above and so I pulled myself up to Melbourne Street. As 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 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, Abraham Moss’s home. I made my way past identical houses – 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11. But there the regularity stopped and a long low building, designated Melbourne House had two doors with buzzers alongside for several apartments. I was so disappointed. I looked further along the street and recognized the spot where I’d taken a photo of a man standing on a wall hanging out his washing when I’d stayed on the next street in 2016. I’d ended up composing another movement for my piece for concert band – Liquid Sunshine, so I headed towards this inspirational washing line! What I found surprised me, but it was unconnected with the washing line. The houses on my left began again, this time beginning with number 13, and yes, the door was open! 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 between the houses 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 first mill and the beginnings of the English Fustian Association. For a few moments the man was distracted less by my yelp than by his mother-in-law coming out to tell him to put on some shoes, since he was in stockinged feet and the rain was now quite relentless. Just as I took my leave a young man carrying some shopping bags came up the street. “When was the mill converted?” asked my man directing his question to the newcomer. “Well, me and me mates used to play around in there when it were derelict – and I’m 28 now. Eee, we ‘ad a reet ol’ time in there!” Living next door to Abraham at number 15 was his brother, Frederick, also a fustian manufacturer. It made perfect sense that the owners of the mill were living literally next door to it, and Mortimer just across Brunswick Street.

The current owner with the house’s deeds in hand

An 1885 report in the Todmorden and District News was very pertinent to the Covid pandemic of 2020 when four families were brought before the Todmorden petty sessions because they had not had their children vaccinated. Members of three of the families appeared before the sessions, raising conscientious objections, and pointing out how their previous children had previously suffered after receiving vaccinations. They were ordered to get their children vaccinated and pay the costs. In the case of Mortimer Moss, who did not appear at the sessions, a fine of 5/- and costs was imposed. Mortimer’s brother James, who was present at the sessions said, “I shall not have my child vaccinated, and I will pay all the fines you put on me.” In 1867 it had became law that all children under the age of 14 needed to receive the smallpox vaccine but there was much resistance to this law. For some Victorians these laws marked an infringement of civil liberties for the sake of improving public health and mass demonstration were held in many places throughout England. In 2021 several times I looked from my window in the centre of Hebden Bridge to see people gathering in the street below with placards urging people not to get vaccinated against Covid.

Nutclough House with Eiffel Street behind

In several issues in February and March 1889 of the Todmorden advertiser a detached house was advertised to let with or without stable and coach house. This was Nutclough House. In Bryan Moss’s extensive research he states that it was taken by Hague Moss but by 1891 Mortimer’s family had moved in back to the Nutclough area which was above the smoke and grime of the factory chimneys in the valley bottom.

1891 November 13 Arthur Wood farm labourer of Ferney Lee Midgley was charge with stealing game without a license to do so. According the the report in the newspaper Mortimer Moss’s wife, Mary testified –the defendant came to my house and wanted to sell her a brace of grouse. He wanted 5/6 for them and she gave the money to him and her took the grouse out of his pocket. No gun license. Said he had found the birds. Had tried the landlord of the White Swan and also to a game dealer in HB but they wouldn’t give him the asking price. Fine of 10s for each bird and 15/6 costs. The original Nutclough cotton spinning mill was built in 1797with water from the stream known at Ibbotroyd Clough providing the power. By the mid nineteenth century firms of dyers and finishers were taking over fustian cutting, which was still a hand craft, but meant that fustian cutters were losing their independence. A group of local fustian cutters, including Joseph Greenwood and James Moss were keen to start a cooperative workshop, becoming first signatories of the rules of the Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing Society registered in 1870. The Manchester Co-operative Congress had taken place shortly before this, and this influenced Greenwood and others who were already supporters of the principle of profits to labour. Having set up their first workshop in Crown Street, they were very active in persuading cooperative stores in the valley to give them orders. In 1873 Nutclough Mill was purchased by the growing Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing Society. HIn the 1880s and the 1890s it was extended and converted to steam power. As I passed the imposing building today I noticed for the first time a sign on the door The Nutclough Hotel.

Nutclough House was a hotel

I knew that it had become a hotel after the Moss family left but I’d never see the sign before. It’s a large two storey detached house on the Keighley Road, close to the river running through Nutclough woods and the reservoir that once provided the water for Nutclough mill directly opposite.

It still retains the name on the front door

Behind the house is a retaining wall, taller than the building, above which are up and over 4 storey houses on Eiffel Street. I went up to Eiffel Street to see if I could see into the rear garden of Nutclough house since I had found many references to Mortimer’s wife being a successful gardener. In 1892 she won 5/- for hand bouquet of wild flowers that she entered in the Hebden Bridge floral and horticultural annual show. Two years later it was Mary’s turn to present the prizes at the Hebden Bridge Sports Day, accompanied by music provided by the Black Dyke Mills band for whom I have a special affinity having seen them in rehearsals and concerts during one of which the conductor introduced me to the audience as a ‘rich Californian!’

With pictures of Mary’s beautiful colourful prize winning flowers in my mind’s eye I was fortunate to find a resident of Eiffel Street attending the potted plants outside her front door. She told me that the houses on Eiffel Street were built in 1898, and I thought of the difficulty of building these four story houses on the near vertical hillside. I jested with her that these retaining walls must have been well built unaware that in the very same year the retaining wall at the rear of Nutclough’s garden shunted into the yard.

Looking down on Nutclough House from Eiffel Street

As the newspaper reads: “October1898 For some time the wall had been noticed to be giving way but how to remedy it was a difficult problem. When the collapse came happily there was no one in the way although only a few minutes before several children had been walking on the new burr wall which was almost completed and partly railed. The collapse is described by an eye witness as terribly startling. This can easily be imagined seeing that tons upon tons of debris including stones weighing several hundredweight fell many feet. If any of the occupants of the house had happened to be passing they must have been killed outright and buried. The debris filled the yard behind crashing down four or five hen cotes and damaged 700 or o winter bulbs which were laid ready for potting. The only living things sacrificed were poultry; it was at first feared that a valuable dog had been buried in the rubbish but the animal was found to have been elsewhere at the time. A rough estimate of the damage put it at from £200-300.”

The following month in a further landslip Nutclough house was again the receptacle of several carts of soil. It was noted that ‘Mr Fleming, his groom, made good his escape.’ Presumably the construction of the houses on on Eiffel Street had destabilised the ground and after heavy rains in the autumn the weight of the water-soaked soil caused the landslides.

The same man, Mr J. E. Fleming, had, on Tuesday evening, February 4th, narrowly avoided being drowned. He was at Nutclugh feeding the hens and a pullet had got into a slam. Fleming tried to reach it and in doing so slipped and fell into the water himself. Fleming tried to reach it and in doing so slipped and fell into the water himself. He screamed out for help and Mr Harwood Moss, Mortimer’s son, tried to effect a rescue by means of a broom handle. This Fleming pulled into the water but Mr Moss managed to recover it and as Fleming rose for the second time was successful in leading him to the shallow part so that he could get out.

By 1894 it appears that Mortimer has entered the property market. An article in the local newspaper reads: ” The plots submitted by Mr. Mortimer Moss for the intended erection of 10 dwelling houses on the Hangingroyd estate, are rejected, on the ground that they do not conform to the Board’s bye-laws with regard to the width of new streets.” But by the following year, 1895, Mortimer had successfully purchased the vacant land on Hangingroyd lane from Mr J Sutcliffe, the Lee. 1100 yards – paid 1 pound per yard. “Various rumours have been circulated as to what Mr Moss purposes o do with the land but nothing is known”. Three years later Mortimer was the owner of Eaves Wood at the lover end of the Colden Valley. Five Hebden Bridge lads were charged with setting fire to it and were fined at Todmorden petty sessions.

Later the same year, 1898 one of the sons of late Mr Mullens, a water diviner, was engaged in searching for water in the same Eaves Wood for Mortimer.

One of the most famous British water diviners. He was born at Colerne, near Chippenham, Wiltshire, on November 12, 1838, into a family of 11 children. His father was a stone mason and Mullins followed the same trade. At the age of 21, while employed by Sir John Ould to build a house in Gloucestershire, a dowser (water diviner) was employed to locate a water supply. Various people present tried their hand with the divining-rod, including Ould’s daughter, who was frightened when the rod suddenly turned over violently. An abundant water supply was found at the spot. Ould was most impressed and later asked all the workmen on his estate, about 150 men, to try divining with a rod. When Mullins tried, the rod moved so violently it snapped in two. Thereafter Mullins was considered a dowser, although he continued in his trade as mason. He married in 1859 and continued his trade as a mason, however he devoted the last twelve years of his life to dowsing and well-sinking. He was immensely successful, locating over five thousand sources of water. After his death in May 1894, his business was carried on by his sons, one of whom was a dowser, although not so successful as his father. The firm of John Mullins & Sons was one of the most famous businesses of its kind, claiming royal patronage. (from So John Mullens’s son came to Hebden Bridge and sought a water supply in Eaves Wood. “He succeeded in spotting 14 or 15 places where water could be found and none of them at no great depth below the surface. The system employed was the same as that adopted by his late sire – the forked hazel twig.”

1912 March 22- Eaves estate had been purchased for 3500pounds from the executors of late Mortimer Moss by a number of persons who found themselves out of employment during the cotton strike of 1907 with the idea of starting a manufacturing concern on co-partnership lines to be named Eaves Self-Help Limited. It is proposed to erect a weaving shed behind the larger mill. A large portion of the site is suitable for dwelling houses, there being stone quarries on the site for building purposes. Pennine Horizons tells of the fate of the self help concern: The Eaves Mills, Upper and Lower, had been silk mills but ceased trading early 20th century and were taken over by a workers co-operative for weaving but the venture failed and the mills were eventually demolished after the First World War and the site became a housing estate.

By the time he was 45 Mortimer is listed as a fustian manufacturer in his own right. Like most of the leading industrialists that I’ve researched not only was Mortimer a leading business owner but he made significant contributions to other areas of society, for, after all, his employees deserved looking after. Like many of the business men Mortimer was a free mason, as was my own father. In 1889 Mortimer had taken a leading position in Littleborough being installed as worshipful master at the Littleborough masons Benevolence lodge, an acting master of the lodge. Also of note is the strong affiliation that many of these business owners had with the masonic lodges, though it must be a mere coincidence that the school building that the Moss family constructed on Hangingroyd Lane later became a masonic hall – and is currently up for sale for £150,000, less than a one bedroom apartment sells for in Hebden Bridge, because it’s been deemed structurally unsafe. (Update: Summer 2023. It’s been purchased by a developer and is being converted into apartments.)

The former Moss School on Hangingroyd Road that later became the Masonic Hall

I find it remarkable that every one of these men are related to me in some way – but then again, perhaps it’s not so remarkable since all the leading fustian families in the town intermarried. On December 10 1894 five Fustian Manufacturers stood for the Council as Temperance Candidates including Mortimer, his brothers Abraham and James, and two relatives by marriage Richard Redman and Charles Lord. The wives of these prominent figures in town were also hard at work and highly visible in the life of the community. The summer of 1895 saw the fifth annual gathering of united choirs from the particular baptist churches of Lancashire and Yorkshire. Hope Street Sunday school (now the town’s library) was kindly lent for tea purposes and more than 500 friends turned up. “The visitors were highly pleased with their tea and the ample manner in which they had been served. Heading up The trayholders were Mrs Mortimer Moss, Mrs James Moss, Mrs Fred Moss, Mrs Abraham Moss,” along with another nine ladies. After tea they should have adjourned to Zion Chapel but it was too small for the 500 attendees so they obtained permission to use Hope Chapel for their renderings of pieces from Handel’s Messiah and Haydn’s Creation. This chapel, less than a minute’s walk from where I live is still the venue for many performances. I’m currently looking forward to seeing The Spooky Men’s Chorus perform there next week.

Spooky Men’s chorus performing in Hope Chapel in 2022

On September 2nd 1895 Notice was given that the partnership between the four Moss brothers, Mortimer, James, Frederick Hague, and Abraham Moss carrying on the business as Fustian Manufacturers, Merchants, Dyers, and Finishers at Brunswick Works Hebden Bridge, at Bridgeroyd Dyeworks, Eastwood, and at No 1 Trump Street, in the city of London (!) and elsewhere under the name of ‘Moss Brothers’, was dissolved by mutual consent so far as regards the said Mortimer Moss, who retires from the firm. All said businesses will for the future be carried on by the said James, Frederick Hague, and Abraham Moss, under the name Moss Brothers. Mortimer was just 49 when he retired which suggests ill health, and sure enough four years later he died at the family residence of Nutclough Clough house on March 25, 1899. He died somewhat unexpectedly though the local newspaper mentions that during the previous few days he had suffered from bronchitis. The cortege left Nutclough House, bound for Wainsgate Baptist Chapel high on the hillside in Old Town.

Wainsgate Chapel – An unassuming exterior gives little idea of the extravagant decoration inside

According to the chapel’s website: Today the chapel is a Grade 2* listed building hidden away amongst the trees and hills above Old Town. It is home to various artists who have their studios or workshops in the adjacent Sunday School building, whilst the main Sunday School room is currently used as a rehearsal space, part-time art gallery and as a venue for community events. It is also available for hire. The Chapel itself seats up to 300 and is used for special events, the occasional funeral and for an annual series of concerts held between April and October.

The intricate marble pulpit in Wainsgate chapel

(Update: I attended one last weekend and am looking forward to the history open day tomorrow, especially since I’ve recently discovered that one of my Kershaw ancestors was responsible for the extension and redevelopment of the graveyard adjoining the chapel).

The walls are in desperate need of repair

The newspaper account of Mortimer’s funeral read: In front of the hearse walked members of the Littleborough Benevolence Masonic Lodge followed by seven mourning coaches. As the cortege passed many of the neighbours showed respect by drawing their blinds. The coffin was pitch pine and walnut, with heavy brass furnishings. His fellow masons bore the body into the chapel and to the grave side. The Rev. Joseph Smith, pastor of Zion Particular Baptist church, read the 90th Psalm, after which the Rev. W. Jones of Hope church, offered few remarks. concluding with prayer. At the grave side Mr. Smith addressed the company concluding with prayer. The Freemasons filed past the grave, each dropping a spray of acacia on the coffin. It was finding Mortimer’s memorial at Wainsgate Chapel quite by chance in June 2022 that led me to find out more about this man whose estate at the time of his death was worth £20, 108 2s 5d, an equivalent of almost £3 million.

The grave of Mortimer, his wife and his daughter.

Just three weeks later Mortimer’s only surviving son Harwood, named after his mother’s maiden name, died at Nutclough House. Harwood was in business with his father on Crown Street working as a bookkeeper – the street I currently live on. Apparently they had a warehouse at 11 Crown Street. The building currently holds Weighsted, a sustainable food product shop, and Blue Sky Bakery. According to the newspaper “The deceased who was 26 years old had had a severe cold for several weeks. On Monday night, feeling rather worse than usual, he went to bed early. The following morning be began to be delirious and he continued in that state until his death.” His death certificate records the cause of death as Inflammation of the lungs and pneumonia. Like his father he was buried at Wainsgate Chapel and his name was added to his father’s memorial.

Harwood’s memorial

Mary found herself head of the household, still living at Nutclough House with her four daughters. Her brother, Wallace, moved in, perhaps to give support to the family. He was carrying on the Harwood family tradition of whitesmithing. However, Wallace passed away just three years later at the age of 42.

By 1909 Mary was living at Ibbotroyd, an imposing mansion on the steep road to Old Town, when she attended the funeral of Ada Harwood, her brother Edgar’s wife, who had fallen to her death from the trestle bridge at Blakedean.


Abraham Moss, her brother-in-law had been the foreman of the inquest jury. Ibbotroyd had been the home of the Hoyle family for at least two generations – another family I can trace back in my own ancestry. By 1911 Mary has moved to Heath Hall, Mythom, an imposing stone building divided into two dwellings. In one, a 7 roomed dwelling, lived Mary and her unmarried daughter Florence, now aged 36. In the other half of the house, containing a massive 13 rooms, lived John Crowther, a retired wholesale fustian clothier and his family of a wife, two daughters and also two domestic servants. One half of the house, presumably Crowther’s, with its 7 bedrooms and 3 reception rooms recently came up for sale for £550,000.

On March 31, 1918 Mary died, aged, aged 70. According to probate records she was living at Sandy Gate, on the road from Old Town into Hebden Bridge. Today Sandy Gate comprises a Victorian-looking terrace of 6 houses and a much older building, now painted white, containing 2 dwellings. Both

Sandy Gate

She left her money to her daughter Florence – all £46 15s 1d of it. That’s equivalent of just less than £3,000. Where did the rest of the money go? Mortimer’s £3 million had been left to Mary and her brother James Harwood. Hmm, when James, a shuttle tongue maker died he left £730 in his will to his wife. Where had all Mortimer’s money gone? That’s the million dollar question! Or perhaps it’s the 3 million dollar question.

Pencil note on the back says Sandy Gate 1880s-1900

But what had made me started thinking about Mortimer yesterday? With rain forecast for the next few days I wanted to take full advantage of the sunny but windy morning so I headed out to Old Town with thoughts of sitting in the cafe and reading a book (Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon) for an hour and then walking back down to Hebden. Once on’t’tops I decided to have a wander around the cemetery at Wainsgate chapel. I had read that many of my ancestors are buried there but I’d not come prepared with a plot chart or indeed trowels or brushes to help with deciphering inscriptions. As it happened the first inscription that I recognised was that of Mortimer Moss inscribed on an elaborate plinth along with several members of his family. So with the expected rain pounding on my windows the following day, renewing my regard for the accuracy of British weather forecasting, I sat down to write the story of Mortimer Moss, focusing not on his manufacturing concerns which can be found in other sources, but on his family.

Destined to be leaders of the community here are the multi millionaires to be!

Cut out tickets

Building close to Manchester Victoria station- July 14, 2019
Concert, Leeds Town Hall
Midland Hotel, Manchester, October 2, 2019
Concert at Bolton School Girls’ Division
Statue of Ghandi, Manchester, July 26, 2021
Rear view IOU at the Piece Hall, Halifax
Jardin Nelson Mandela, Paris, January 26, 2020
Ticket to The Catacombs, Paris
Sinclair’s oyster bar, Manchester, November 10, 2017
Leeds International Piano Competition, 2018. Leeds Town Hall

Harvey Nichols, Manchester, August 11, 2017
BBC Proms, Leeds Town Hall

Statue taken from Castle Carr, now in Trevelyan Square, Leeds, January 19, 2020
The movie, Fleabag, Hebden Bridge Picture House
Henry Moore gallery, Leeds, November 15, 2017
Turn of the Screw, Opera North, Leeds
Busy bee, Chinatown, Manchester, September 14, 2018
Square Chapel, Halifax
Frederich Engels, Tony Wilson Place, Manchester, March 8, 2018
Rick Wakeman’s piano Odyssey tour, Victoria Theatre, Halifax
Oxford Road Station approach, March 8, 2018
Milton Jones – Is Out There, Victoria Theatre, Halifax
Marsax, Malta, October 18, 2019
Boarding pass from flight to Malta
Open gardens in Midgley, Calderdale, August 1, 2021
Ardal O’Hanlon, Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal
Statue First Street, Manchester, March 20, 2019
Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester

Castlefield Manchester, March 20, 2019
Judith Weir, Master of the Queen’s music, Hebden Bridge Town Hall


WALTER EDWARD MOSS 1888-1940 Abraham’s fourth child, Walter Edward first attended Stubbins Junior School, just steps away from Brooklyn but whose position halfway down the incredibly steep Birchcliffe hill appears to defy gravity.

Walter with his father Abraham

He was subsequently sent to a boarding school just outside Leeds. The name of Fulneck Boarding school may not be as recognisable as Eton or Harrow but it can number in its role both a future prime minister – H.H. Asquith, and a future Avenger – Diana Rigg. As would have been expected Walter subsequently joined the family’s thriving fustian business. Germany was the centre of new advances being made in the development of synthetic dyes and so, in 1906, Walter went to Germany to learn dyeing at the Leopold Cassella Company of Frankfurt, a company which, by the outbreak of the war had 3000 employees and was the world’s largest producer of synthetic dyes. On leaving Cassella Walter was presented with a gold watch which is still in the family’s possession. I obtained a photo of it from Walter’s son Geoff and the inscription reads “In commemoration of your stay at the factory of Leopold Casella & Co Frankfurt am Main.”

By 1904 the Moss family was running Lee Mill for weaving, dyeing and finishing and it was there that Walter worked on his return to England becoming the head dyer in the Moss textile company by 1911.

Lee Mill (courtesy of Pennine Horizons Digital Archive)

Initially the weaving looms were housed on the fourth floor of the mill but Mrs Moss read a novel by Thomas Armstrong,‘The Crowthers of Bankdam’ about a mill owning family who had looms on the top floor of a mill.50 Tragedy struck when the mill collapsed under the weight and it was only then that the Moss family built a separate weaving shed. The Moss family also had an expansive dye works at Bridgeroyd situated conveniently for the workforce between Todmorden and Hebden Bridge. It was managed by Walter’s uncle, Fred.

Bridgeroyd Mill today
‘A scene of devastation following a large and spectacular fire at the dyeing and finishing works at Moss Bros Bridgeroyd Mill on Sunday 17th July 1898. In less than an hour thousands of people had arrived on the scene.’ from Roger Birch’s pictures of Todmorden

When not at work Walter and his brother Reginald were heavily involved with the Caldene Hockey Club for which they played until 1914 when they were called up for military service. Crowds gathered to see local territorials march off to Halifax through Hebden Bridge and brass bands gave the recruits a true Yorkshire send off. But today there was no brass band accompanying my walk back into Hebden today. Walter served in France throughout the war and Reginald was posted to India. In April of 1916 he wrote a letter home from somewhere undisclosed in France, describing vividly his first hand experiences of aerial combat. “On Monday I had the pleasure of seeing a German aeroplane brought down. The guns that brought it down had only fired 6 shots when down came the aeroplane with such a smash. Needless to say the two Huns were killed outright and the machine was like so much old scrap iron. There was a great rush to the place for souvenirs, and hundreds of soldiers collected round but another aeroplane came and tried to drops bombs on the crowd. Luckily he missed his mark. They were both officers in the aeroplane one being a colonel and the other a major so it was a fine bag. . . Last night we were wakened up suddenly by a hooter and bells ringing. It was a warning to be prepared for a gas attack. We closed the windows and got our gas masks ready for use. However, when the gas came along it was very weak. But many put their helmets on. The madame and children at the house where we stay got the ‘wind up’ properly and were walking about all night with their helmets on. The weather is beautiful and hot now and we all wish we wore kilts. The Scotties are all right this sort of weather. I understand Blackpool has been very busy during Easter.” In another letter “I have had a letter from Reggie and he seems all right in India, and got settled down to the different life. I should not mind being out there. Fritz sent a few shrapnel shells over last night and this morning. One burst over the building a few of us were in and the slates came rattling down on top of us. However, nobody in our lot got hurt but a few fellows lower down the street were wounded.”

Walter in uniform

The juxtaposition of his lighter comments about holidays in Blackpool and Scottish kilts with tales of being gassed and bombed is poignant. His son told me that his father suffered from the effects of a gas attack. My own paternal grandfather did too, but as was common, such injuries were very rarely spoken of within the family. And his glee of the bringing down of the German plane reflects the attitude of wartime combat. How ironic that he had spent time in Germany in 1906, learning the craft of dyeing from the experts. Living in a large detached house whose steep gables rise proudly above the serried ranks of terraced rooftops and only a couple of minutes’ walk from Brooklyn, was one of the leading business owners of the town, John Edward Wrigley, of Wrigley & Sons Painters and Decorators. His three daughters were all to make prestigious marriages, two to wholesale clothing manufacturers and one to a bank manager. One cold dark afternoon in January 2022 I met up with the wife of Walter’s great nephew. Liz Moss had already shared with me many photographs of the Moss family and she had something special to gift to me. It was a bible that had belonged to Phylis Wrigley, one of John Edward Wrigley’s daughters, signed in her own hand, May 17, 1908. She would have been 15 at the time, living with her family on New Road, unaware of her future life with Walter. The announcement of Phyllis’s wedding in the Leeds Mercury on January 23, 1919 says it all; The wedding took place yesterday at Salem Wesleyan Chapel. Hebden Bridge, of trooper Walter Moss, Brooklyn, and Miss Phyllis Wrigley, Beech Mount, representatives of two of the best-known families in the district.”

The now demolished Salem church where Walter and Phyllis were married (Courtesy of Pennine Horizons Digital Archive)

The Todmorden Advertiser gives a little more detail of what would have been a very grand affair. Headed ‘Khaki Wedding’ it reads: ‘The bridegroom is home on short leave from Germany so a short notice wedding! The bride was given away by her father in white charmeuse and Georgette with chenille embroideries. The bride had a wreath, veil and carried a sheaf of lilies and chrysanthemums. The luncheon was held at the White Horse Hotel and the couple honeymooned in London.’ Unfortunately both the chapel and the reception buildings no longer exist. After the marriage the couple set up home at Stoodley Range, Hurst Road, Hebden Bridge and it was only a ten minute walk from Brooklyn for me on this gloomy afternoon. I’d had a hard time locating this house since it’s since been renamed Nab Scar but today impressive stone gate posts taller than me with curlicue lettering carved atop an imposing wrought iron gate assured me that I was in the right place.

Nab Scar/Stoodley Range

The gate was open so I peeked in. Recently it was put up for sale with the following description ‘ unique gentleman’s residence: six bedrooms. Rarely does an opportunity to rent such an exceptional residence present itself and the only true way to appreciate the accommodation is via an internal viewing.” Ah, if only. I secretly hoped that the current resident would come out and ask me my business, but no such luck today. I later learned that until recently it had been the home of Little Hill People, a business specializing in ‘Edgy Urban Tribal Fashion wear made from Fairtrade Handloom and Genuine Leather.’ I wonder what Phyllis would have thought of that. It was here at Stoodley Range that their son Peter Edward was born the following year. Only a couple of minutes’ walk from Stoodley Range is my next stop in the family’s story, Cliffe House where the family lived from 1925-1932, and where their second son, Geoffrey, was born in 1931.

Courtesy of Geoff Moss

It was from Geoff, who passed away in 2021, that I gained much information about the Moss Family and in whose possession his mother’s bible had been. I followed a footpath leading through a dense wood which, on early maps is named John Wood, but by 1934 for some unknown reason it became Joan Wood. The path came out close to the entrance of the long private drive to Cliffe House. I’d passed these imposing gateposts several times during lockdown. One afternoon I’d even looked up the name of the house chiselled into the stone, Arnsbrae, thinking no, that’s where Cliffe House should be. What drew my attention to the opposite post this rainy afternoon I don’t know. Perhaps it was the sodden stone reflecting the light differently but there, etched into stone but only just discernible were the words Cliffe House.

I followed the wide drive up and around the hill. This area of Hebden Bridge is called Wood End, and I verily wished that the wood would end so that I could catch a glimpse of Walter’s former home. I came at last to the end of the drive and the house came into view but it was tucked away behind more gateposts and walls. The front of the house was facing away from me, with a bird’s eye view of the town below. Just visible high above the town, peeking out from the trees I could just make Lily Hall, its weavers’ windows reflecting the rain which was now coming down in earnest. I stood at the side of the Cliffe House with a two storey arched window opening onto a cobbled courtyard bounded on three side by other large buildings, one looking as if it could have been a possible stables long ago.

Cliffe House

This courtyard must have been where Walter housed his car after its sad encounter with a dog in the summer of 1929. ‘The defendant, Walter Edward Moss (41), dyer, Cliffe House, Hebden Bridge, was summoned by the police for driving his motor car in Todmorden Road, Burnley, on June 8th, at a speed dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances. He pleaded not guilty. The defendant’s saloon car rounding the bend below Brooklands Road at a speed which he estimated at 35 to 40 miles hour. As the car was coming round the bend a mongrel dog was crossing at the same place as Greenwood, and the motorist ran straight into the dog, and carried it about ten yards before slowing up. Then the dog got free from the car, and went into Brooklands Road and died. The fact that the dog was killed was in itself no evidence of excessive speed. In these days there were so many accidents due to motorists swerving to avoid dogs, that a great number of them would not swerve for dogs, on account of the risk to the lives of passengers.’ Today two bright yellow sports cars were in occupation in the house’s forecourt. 15 ft above them a large iron bell hung, swaying silently in the driving rain. A semicircular drive fronted the house from which there was an uninterrupted view of the terraced top and bottom houses in the valley built for the mill workers. Walter would have been able to see Nutclough House, the detached home of his uncle, Mortimer Moss, another family member who made his fortune as a fustian manufacturer. By 1933 Phyllis, Walter and their two young sons had moved to a house with perhaps even more curb appeal than Cliffe House, and certainly with much more history for they have moved three miles East to Brearley Hall.

Brearley Hall

This beautiful stone mansion set in spacious grounds above the little village of Brearley is believed to date from 1621, encasing a much earlier timber framed structure which can still be seen in the rare timberwork in the open hall’s sling-brace roof, which according to the Halifax Antiquarian Society goes as far back as the 14th Century. In 1913 Arthur Comfort described this building in his book The Ancient’ Halls of Halifax: ‘Few homesteads are more pleasantly situated than Brearley Hall, which stands on an eminence between Mytholmroyd and Luddenden Foot. Dr John Fawcett, Baptist Minister, lived here for 20 years, and ran his private academy from here training future Ministers.’ Branwell Bronte, brother to his more famous sisters, lodged here when he was ‘clerk –in-charge’ at Luddendenfoot railway station. * branell statueWhen it was advertised for sale in 1928 the house was described as a ‘Fine old Residence with entrance hall, reception hall, dining, drawing, breakfast and billiard rooms, 8 bedrooms, w.c., bath, cottage, etc., with or without farm, about 18 acres.’ And now Walter, Phyllis and their son Edward, now a wholesale clothing manufacturer in his own right, are living in this mansion along with two other wellto-do families, one headed by a solicitor and the other by a civil and structural engineer.

I obtained the following recollections of living in the house from Walter’s son Geoffrey; “As for Brearley Hall we must have moved there in 1932 or 1933. We occupied the central and larger part. Our part had the main entrance, the back staircase, four bedrooms of which one was generally used by the maid, the drawing room, the dining room, kitchen, cellar, scullery, larder.” It was in this place of seeming peace and tranquility that Walter died on the 19th of July 1940, aged just 52, when he fell out of his toilet window. It is believed that he was leaning out in order to clear a blockage in the waste pipe from the bath or sink. The bathroom window did not open so Walter was leaning out of the toilet window and was using a stick to prod the waste pipe. According to the newspaper account while his wife was making breakfast Walter was in the bathroom shaving.She called out to him and on receiving no reply she looked out of the window and saw her husband lying on the path, unconscious. A doctor was summoned from Hebden Bridge which must have taken a considerable time and after receiving medical attention he was taken to hospital in Halifax where he died. He had suffered a fractured skull in his fall. Walter’s son Geoffrey shared with me his personal recollections. “This month July 2020 being the 80th anniversary of my father’s death on Friday July 19th, when I was only 9 years old, I have tried to recollect the happenings at that time. I was still at school in Birkdale Southport, Bickerton House School. I should have been collected by my parents and taken home on the 26th. I was informed by the headmaster that they could not fetch me. No reason given. As the headmaster had a caliper on one leg he did not drive and it was arranged that he would hire a taxi and take me to Huddersfield where we would be met. I have a vague recollection of being met by Mother and Peter who was home on compassionate leave from the RAF. I now assume that while we were travelling to Huddersfield the funeral was taking place at Rochdale crematorium. From what I can make out between Friday the 19th and Friday the 26th a considerable amount must have been hastily arranged: post mortem, inquest on the 22nd, and cremation.”

In January 2022 I found Walter’s grave in the cemetery at Wainsgate church near Pecket Well, along with his father, Abraham, and wife Phyllis.

Brearley Hall along with its 44 acres of formal gardens and woodland and paddocks. was purchased in 2019 as a children’s home providing specialist care and education for disadvantaged children. Phylis survived Walter by twenty seven years, spending her final years at Westfield Cottage in Mytholmroyd.

Westfield cottage in 2022

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.

RAMBLES THROUGH MY FAMILY – 15 Untimely Deaths – Chapter 11 – EDGAR HARWOOD

Ada’s grandfather, James Townsend had been a wood turner and shuttle maker in the 1840s and 50s, so surely it was no coincidence that her husband-to-be Edgar Harwood was a shuttle tip maker. The tips of the wooden shuttles were made from forged steel and were then fitted on the wooden shuttles to prevent the wearing down of the wood and causing them to snag on the yarn. The steel tips then had to be smoothed on a rotating grindstone to iron out any tiny imperfections that would prevent the shuttle from flying through the yarns from one side of the loom to the other. I own a shuttle that I bought many years ago and it wasn’t until I learned about Edgar’s occupation that I looked closer at my shuttle and noticed the two metal shuttle tips, almost bullet-like at their point.

Edgar’s family had been whitesmiths for several generations dating back to his great great grandfather John, 44 born in 1730, making Edgar a fifth generation whitesmith. The Harwoods had all lived and worked on the appropriately named Heights Road which runs almost at the top of the Midgley Moor on the North side of the Calder Valley. At a dizzying 1000ft above the valley this road is the home of spectacular views of latticed farmland with seams of dry stone walls, some well maintained and in current use while others stand neglected and ruined but still speak of the hands that placed stone upon stone centuries ago.

View from Heights Road

“If I pay the roots of the heather

Too close attention, they will invite me

To whiten my bones among them”

( from Sylvia Plath’s poem Wuthering Heights)

Houses are scattered along the road and when I first explored this area I was amused by a building named Rough Bottom and it wasn’t until I began to research my family connections to this windswept moor that I discovered that Rough Bottom had once housed the Harwood family, and the attached building that projects from the Western end was the whitesmith’s smithy.

Rough Bottom

The land behind the building is open moorland, ‘Rough’ to distinguish it from the managed farm fields, and above the building is Rough Top farm.

Rough Top Farm

The next group of buildings span Foster Clough, a fast moving stream. Foster Clough was home of the Harwoods until Edgar’s father moved into the centre of Midgley village, opening a grocer’s shop after his marriage in 1847. It was at that time that he established James Harwood and Sons, whitesmiths.

Stocks House

By 1861 he was living in Stocks House, a beautiful roadside cottage with his nine siblings until the family moved down into Hebden Bridge, part of the migration to the valley bottoms for the faster mills and by 1871 they were living on my street, Crown Street. In 1891 they were at 11 Crown Street and along with his brothers they have specialized their whitesmithing business and are now registered as shuttle tongue and tip makers. The tongue is that part of the shuttled that is hinged like a pocket-knife, so that it projects out from the mortise when inserting a fresh cop of yarn. Meanwhile Edgar’s shuttle tip business continued to flourish. His father built Malvern House on Crown Street, across the street from me which now houses Boots chemist.

Malvern House’s name engraved in the stonework of the current Boots chemist, Crown Street

In 1892 it moved to larger premises close to Foster Mill retaining the name Crown Street Works. There were 35 employees and they exported to many parts of the world. As many of the successful manufacturers Edgar played a prominent role in the Hebden Bridge community. He headed up the masonic lodge was the worshipful master and was a leading member of the liberal association. He was a member of Birchcliffe choir and was a deacon the chapel for six years, the beautifully preserved building where he married Ada, just across the road from their marital home at Hurst Dene. He served on the Hebden Bridge council for eleven years becoming the chairperson, an office which his father had held before him, being termed “mayor” in the local newspaper. During the first world war he sat on the military tribunal and in 1923 he swore the Oath of Allegiance as a Justice of the Peace in Todmorden Town Hall. But there was time for relaxation too in Edgar’s busy life. Judging from the prizes he won in the Hebden Bridge Horticultural shows over several years Edgar was a keen gardener, his fine aspidistra and plate of tomatoes gaining him two first places.

Halifax fair

In the summer of 1922 Edgar and his second wife took a cruise from Liverpool to New York on the Laconia, a ship that would be sunk after a torpedo attack by a German U-boat in 1942 with a loss of over 1800 lives of soldiers and prisoners.

In 1927 Edgar was killed at work when a grindstone burst at the Crown Street works. His brother James who worked there was the first on the scene of the accident. Edgar had been grinding peg points on a large sandstone grindstone. There was no fencing around the rotating stone because the men had to have easy access to it. Apparently Edgar had fitted a new pulley to make the grindstone rotate quicker just a minute before the accident when a large crack was heard. An eye witness related: “Mr Harwood was lying on the ground. He had been killed instantaneously, part of his skull was blown away and part of his right hand.” An inquest revealed that the grindstone had been operating at 75% above a safe working speed but nevertheless a verdict of accidental death was returned by the jury. The funeral service at Birchcliffe Chapel was conducted by the Rev A. Windsor who had been a close friend of the Harwoods. Indeed he proffered that ‘nobody else knew him better. ‘ He described Edgar as ‘an unpolished diamond’ ‘There was a mixture of strength and tenderness in him.’ The shock had been so intense for his wife, that she was unable to attend the funeral though the list of mourners and floral tributes took up an entire column in the newspaper.

One grim February afternoon with snow still clinging to the roads and a heavy cloud of fog obscuring even the closest hills I came across a photograph of the former Crown Street Works online taken ten years ago. It’s entitled ‘Former Crown Street Iron Works, Spring Grove, Hebden Bridge,’ and it was with a jolt that I realized that I knew the place. The skeleton of this large building had attracted me since moving to the town and I found several photos of it that I’ve taken of it over the past few years.

All that remains of Edgar’s Crown Street works where he was killed

Something about it had intrigued me. It’s on a small piece of derelict land, roofless and for the past year has had a ruined car with smashed windscreen and flat tyres just outside one of the doors. The wide double door at the side was usually firmly closed and locked, presumably to prevent people wandering in and coming to some harm but one day the doors were open and I was able to see inside. There’s not much of interest, just piles of odd pallets and boxes Adjoining the building are the derelict stables which are currently for sale. Last year I had even made a piece of fabric art from the photograph I took of the stables. As I took a closer look at the stables a man emerged from a house opposite. He owns the stables which once served Foster Mill and he showed me photos of the cottages that once stood on the site of the modern houses which now form Spring Grove. My thoughts when I pass this place in future will now be filled with Edgar’s ghost wandering in this ruin while his wife’s ghost floats above Blakedean Bridge.

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