11.37 – Jesse Hiley and family (unmarked)

Thanks to family member Christopher Hiley for contributing this article – you can find his family history blog here.

Jesse’s grave

Jesse Hiley occupies an unmarked grave, 11.37, in the churchyard at Christ Church, Todmorden. He died on 15th July 1901, aged 8 months, and was buried on 17th July. The death certificate shows the cause of death as measles (3 days) and convulsions (12 hours). The Informant was John Speak, Jesse’s grandfather, and Jesse died at John’s house, Oak Cottage, in Todmorden.

Jesse’s family

A few months earlier, Jesse’s name had appeared in the 1901 census. The address given was 164 Knowlwood Road and living in the household were his grandparents, John and Sarah Jane Speak, his mother Grace Highley (nee Speak), and Grace’s siblings Emma, Alice, Greenwood, Harry and Mary. On the night of the census Jesse’s father John Henry Highley, a Chemical Operative, was recorded as living at 3 William Street, off Rochdale Road.
A huge number of different spellings were used for the Hiley surname in the 400 years following the first reference in 1297 but it was not until the late 1700s that the spellings finally narrowed down to the ones which appear most often today, i.e. Hiley and Highley. Well into the 1900s a person might find his or her name recorded with both spellings in official documents

Even in Jesse’s short life we find his surname spelt as both Hiley and Highley – Hiley on his death certificate and in the Sexton’s record, and Highley on his birth and death records and in the census. After many years of family research Jesse is the only Hiley I have come across who bears this forename.

John Henry and Grace

John Henry Highley married Grace Speak on 14th April 1900 in St Peter’s Church, Walsden. John Henry was 23 and Grace 21. John Henry was the 2nd oldest of the 12 children of John and Mary Ann Bray (nee Wills). His father John, in common with most of the Hileys living in Todmorden and Walsden at this time, was a Weaver. Mary had been born in Launceston in Cornwall and at some time between the 1871 census when she was working as a servant in Cornwall and her marriage to John in 1874, she had made the long journey north to Walsden. The family lived in Throstle Street in Walsden.
Jesse was born around the end of 1900. John Henry and Grace had two more children – Herbert, born in 1910, and Jack, born in 1913.

It appears that John Henry and Grace had a stormy relationship, at least early on in their marriage. In December 1900, under a heading of ‘An Ill Matched Walsden Couple’, The Todmorden District News reported on a case where John Henry was summoned for assaulting his wife. Grace had gone to the Conservative Club where John Henry was playing billiards in order to fetch him home. She claimed that her husband had hit her outside the club and then again when they got home, all of which John Henry denied. He claimed that Grace had got her mother, brother and sisters to come and take all their wedding presents away to her mother’s house. The case was dismissed and the Mayor said that they must go home and live together again.

The 1911 census shows John Henry, Grace and Herbert living with Grace’s father John (now a widower) and four of Grace’s siblings at 7 Rock Terrace, Todmorden. John Henry was now working as a Cotton Weaver.

John Henry in WW1

This photo of John Henry Highley was taken on the sands at Blackpool, ‘when deceased was basking in the sunshine with his two children’, and appeared in the Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter on 4th December 1914.

John Henry enlisted to fight on 22nd August 1914 in Manchester, shortly after the outbreak of War. He joined the 1st Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment as a Private and was given the service number 8012. His regiment was part of the 11th Brigade in the 4th Division. Following service on the Aisne in September, the regiment moved to Flanders in the sector on the French/Belgian border north-east of Armentières and stayed there until the Spring of 1915. The Battalion was heavily involved in the Battle of Armentieres (19th October to 2nd November 1914).

John Henry’s gravestone at Trois Arbres cemetery in France

John Henry died at the 10th Field Ambulance at Le Romarin on 1st November 1914 of wounds received in action, and is buried at the Trois Arbres Cemetery at Steenwerck near Armentieres in northern France. He had been in France for only about 2 months and was aged 37. The Todmorden Advertiser described him as ‘a sturdy, well-built man’.

This plaque was sold to an unknown bidder at an auction in April 2018. It’s called a ‘Dead Man’s Penny’ or ‘Death Penny’. A Memorial Plaque was issued after the First World War to the next-of-kin of all British and Empire service personnel who were killed as a result of the war. It came to be known as the ‘Dead Man’s Penny’ because of the similarity in appearance to the much smaller penny coin.

The 12 children

Two of John Henry’s brothers, Charles William and Ernest Jackson, were also killed in the War, both in 1917. Two other brothers, Thomas Arthur and Richard, fought in the War but survived. Two brothers, James Edward and Fred, died in infancy. Of his sisters, Sarah Alice and Martha both died in infancy, Mary Hannah and Beatrice Annie married and had children. Another child, not yet identified, also died in infancy.

The 12 children of John and Mary Ann Bray were born between 1875 and 1896. The 1911 census (for the first time) showed, for each couple, ‘the total children born alive, children still living and children who have died’. For John and Mary Ann the figures were 12, 7 and 5. By the end of the War there were only 4 of their 12 children still alive.

John Henry, Charles William and Ernest Jackson are all commemorated in the Garden of Remembrance in Todmorden. None of the other brothers and sisters were buried at Christ Church. Their parents John and Mary Ann were buried at Calderbrook Church in Littleborough.

John Henry Hiley commemorated in the Todmorden Garden of Remembrance

After the War

On 13 May 1921 Grace, together with Herbert (aged 12) and Jack (aged 7), left Liverpool for a new life aboard SS Melita bound for Quebec in Canada. On Grace’s passenger declaration form for arrivals in Canada, she stated that her object in coming to Canada was to settle down with relatives. This seems to have been a cousin, a relative of her mother whose maiden name was Gledhill. Amongst her other declarations on the form was that she could read and write and was not an anarchist!

The family settled in London, co. Middlesex, Ontario. Grace married again in 1929 and Jack married in 1933.

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