13.12 – William, Ann and Herbert Ackroyd/Akroyd

All records spell it Akroyd, their grave reads Ackroyd. Rather than waste time arguing about it let’s find out more about the people in this grave. One, at least, has a great number of records behind him, because he rose through the ranks of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. But was he as respectable as we assume he was?

William was born in Todmorden in 1846 to Barker and Mary (Cummins) Akroyd of Brook Street. Barker was a cordwainer, ie. a shoe and bootmaker who made new shoes and boots as opposed to someone who repaired them. Barker was from Todmorden originally and Mary from Kirby Lonsdale in Westmoreland. William was their eldest son, and he grew up in the area of Brook Street known as  “Oddfellows Hall”, houses that are now demolished but were situated just below the Hall which now houses a newsagents, pharmacy and nightclub. It wouldn’t have been quite so exciting back in the day, but then again, lots of social and educational events were held at the Hall, so perhaps it contributed to his education in that sense.

William Akroyd, circa 1900

The 1840s saw the establishment in Todmorden of its railway station in 1841, and the connection of the town to both Manchester and Halifax and Leeds via the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. The railway was a huge employer in Calderdale in the sense that labourers, navvies, and railway workers themselves all found gainful employment in the building and maintaining of its infrastructure for several decades. So rather than going into the shoe trade, it’s not surprising that William was drawn to this growing enterprise and saw a career could be had in it. When he was 15 in 1861 he was working as a cotton weaver (like most people in Todmorden), but by 1871 he had become a night watchman at the station there. One of his younger brothers, Roger, was also employed there in 1871 as a porter. Porters did everything from help passengers on and off trains with luggage to cleaning the station and working in the ticket offices. It was more of a career-advancing role than that of night watchman, but both William and Roger would advance before much longer.

Detail from 1871 Census

By 1881 Roger had married, moved to Halifax, and become a foreman porter. William was still unmarried and living at home, and had also been promoted to railway guard. Guards were responsible for security at the station and also for ensuring that it was safe to trains to leave the platform, and that they were pulling in and braking correctly. Both roles were important, and this can be shown by a newspaper article from the Halifax Evening Courier in 1897 that gives the history of William’s employment. The census is only a snapshot of a single day; the newspapers can catch anyone at any time.

You see, William may have lived in Todmorden, but he was working everywhere. If you were willing to move around your career progression improved radically. From 1874 to 1879 William was a guard at Mirfield Station, and after that a guard at Halifax station until 1884, and until 1892 a joint inspector there too. We can find evidence that he saw the Halifax and district area as the area he wanted to stay in the most, as on the 1891 Census he was lodging at 7 Temple Street in Halifax while working as an inspector. He had finally made the move out of Todmorden, and committed to his fate.

Brighouse and Rastrick Gazette, 5th August 1893

1892 saw his biggest career advancement – promotion to station master at Brighouse. He moved to Rastrick and for the next five years oversaw the running of the station. Being a station master wasn’t just about managing the place, it was also taking ultimate responsibility for anything that happened. The railway could be a dangerous place, particularly the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway…once described as “the most degenerate railway in the Kingdom”, there were thefts and fights galore, and often railway staff had to appear in court to bear witness to all sorts of brawls and disagreements.

Halifax railway station, circa 1905

1897 was a standout year for William, as he gained his possibly long-sought-after promotion to station master at Halifax and got married for the first time at the mature age of 51. The promotion came first, in July, and his marriage to Ann Greenwood of Todmorden came in October. She was 49, and it was also her first marriage. How long had they known each other? Is there a story there? We’ll get to that shortly. Their marriage took place at the parish church in Rastrick, and it’s interesting to see a reminder that the levels of literacy we enjoy today weren’t always so high – Ann is unable to sign her name.

Ann, or Ann Elizabeth as she appears here, or Annie Elizabeth Greenwood as she is named in William’s probate record, was born in 1846 in Todmorden. Her father William was an innkeeper who died not long after John, his last child, was born in 1848. Ann would for most of her life give her age as two years younger than she really was, but her baptism took place in 1846 and gave her family’s address as Friths Wood Bottom and William’s occupation as spinner. Brother John’s baptism gave William’s occupation as millwright. Maybe he became an innkeeper later, but maybe he didn’t…

Ann found work as a doffer in the mills, and she also found William Akroyd. Remember how we asked if there was a story here? There is. In 1901, in Halifax, William and Ann are living with two sons, Thomas Edward and Herbert Akroyd. Before then they appear as Greenwoods, along with their brother Sam. Sam and Thomas Edward both married, and while Sam left his father’s name and occupation blank on his certificate, Thomas Edward named William as his father. This is a third option for William and Ann’s romance; they knew each other (in more ways than one) for a long time before their eventual marriage. But why wait so long? Sam was born in 1875! There must be more to it than that. But as we will see later, there’s no doubt that the three “Greenwood boys” were William’s sons.

William’s tenure at Halifax was relatively brief, only cut short by his death in May 1905 at the age of 59. He was buried back in his hometown, and his gravestone was paid for by his apparently many friends within the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway – fellow railway staff and even a newsagent connected with the various stations where William had worked.

Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter, 9th June 1905

William’s estate amounted to about £168 and he left it all to Ann. Thomas Edward and Herbert had been living with them in the station master’s house in Halifax, but after his death Thomas Edward married and moved back to Walsden, and Herbert continued…well. Herbert continued. Because Herbert had become severely disabled not long after William’s death, through a terrible accident at his work.

Todmorden Advertiser, February 7th 1908

Herbert had been working at the silk works owned by Clayton, Murgatroyd and Co. in Halifax when he slipped on a walkway in the heat and steam and fell some distance down onto a boiler, hitting the right side of his head. For the following two and a half years he suffered from regular fits that became more and more disabling. Finally, he elected to have an operation to remove some bone from his skull that had entered his brain. A piece two inches by two inches was removed, as well as a section of bone “nearly as big as the palm” of the surgeon’s hand, to relieve the pressure on his brain. A modern day trepanning, in other words! It was either too little or too late, or both, and he finally exhausted himself through near-constant fitting and died as a result. During the course of Thomas Edward’s testimony about the accident and the disability that Herbert had suffered afterwards, he mentions in passing that they were born out of wedlock and that their father was William Akroyd, late station master at Halifax, and they had also gone by his last name while living there. That mystery at least is solved.

Poor Herbert, and poor Ann. Something seems to have been going on with the relationship between the sons and their mother, because not only did Ann die ten years later, but (a) the gravestone is incorrect – she died in April 1918, not 1917 – and her death notice and entry on the burial register has the wrong name on it, Hannah Elizabeth Ackroyd. Both Sam and Thomas Edward were living along Bacup Road but neither had Ann living with them in 1911. Where was she? Already at the workhouse? It seems likely. Her death was also registered under the incorrect name, but her registration gives Sam as her next of kin, and explains that she had “senile decay” although it was varicose ulcers and a cerebral thrombosis (blood clots) that also contributed to her death.

Regardless of the answer as to why those errors were made when she had two sons here in Todmorden who could have made sure the official record was correct, we know for sure thanks to those records that Ann Elizabeth Akroyd of Bacup Road died at the workhouse on April 17th 1918 and was buried here with her husband and son. At least her name is correct on her grave. It seems a sad, abrupt end to such a tale, but sometimes stories simply end…

One Comment

  1. Pingback:54.45 and 13.11 – John, Sarah, Thomas and Barker Ackroyd – F.O.C.C.T.

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