13.25 – Helen and John Richards

Their son, John William, lies under the school; they lie here. Think of John next time you get a free book in the train station office, and think of Helen next time you nip into Boots.

John Richards was born in Manchester in 1852. His parents Evan and Elizabeth were both from Shropshire and Evan was working as a labourer at the gas works, living on Gould Street near where Angel Meadow Park is now (to your left as you head into Manchester Victoria). In 1871, aged 18, John had left school and become a clerk.

Meanwhile, Helen (or Ellen, sometimes) Chaffer was born in Todmorden on the last day of the year, December 31st 1855 Her family home at the Oddfellows Hall in 1861 sounds like the middle part of a crime drama; she lives with her mother Emma and her stepfather, Robert Buckley, a chemist, and her three full siblings and three half-siblings. Helen’s father Robert Chaffer was a chemist and druggist in Todmorden, and had passed away in September of 1856. Who stepped in to console his grieving widow? His apprentice, Robert Buckley. He married Emma and took over the business. Now, you’d make a miniseries investigating all this! Then, there must have been other circumstances which meant no one was bothered about it.

Helen became a milliner, or hatmaker, and in 1871 the family had moved to Willow Bank. There, Helen waited for John to arrive in Todmorden. We don’t know how he did, but we know that he found work at the Smith & Co. bookstall (or newsagents) at Todmorden Railway Station, and that he was involved in Christ Church. That’s because on their marriage in 1875 they were presented with a black marble mantel clock as a wedding gift in recognition of their mutual service to the Sunday School.

Todmorden Advertiser, August 13th 1875

John and Helen both continued to be involved in the church, with John serving as an elected member of the Church Institute and helping to audit the church accounts. He also got to go to a fancy dinner in London to celebrate his employer’s son’s coming of age (a proud parent indeed).

Todmorden District News, January 10th 1890

In the meantime, he and Helen had three children – John William, James, and Jessie. The family moved to Albert Terrace, then to 16 Victoria Road, where Richard had some houses built in 1881. Helen came from a well-off family and no doubt this helped, but his ability with numbers meant he was a valuable person to have around and he no doubt did more work than just the voluntary church auditing and his day job running the newsagents.

Helen died in March 1900, only 44 years old. Her children were more or less grown up; she didn’t leave them young like her father had, but it will still have been hard.

After Smith & Son’s had a restructure (presumably under the direction of the Son) and made redundancies, John found himself without a job and left Todmorden, with daughter Jessie in tow. We hope that ceremonious dinner he attended in London for said son was a nice one to make up for it. He must have enjoyed his work because he carried on in the same business, just elsewhere. In 1911 the two were living on Baggholme Road in Lincoln, with John described as a shopkeeper and newsagent and Jessie as a housekeeper. This will have been January 1911; John died in April 1911. Probate went to his two sons. In stark contrast to Helen’s death notice, John received a glowing obituary detailing his achievements.

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