14.27 – Rose Gibson (unmarked)

We stand now by the unmarked grave of Rose Gibson.

She was born Rose Harlow in 1845 in Derbyshire, and the whole family were handloom silk weavers. It was not a great time to be a weaver, as you history buffs will know, but this family set up was typical. Children were set before looms as early as possible, and by ages 12-13 they had their own looms and could help to produce income for the family. This was the case for Harlow family, as Rose, the eldest daughter, was listed as having the profession of silk weaver in her own right in the 1861 census, when she’d have been 16. Also in 1861, at such a young age, she married Joseph Bamford, a cotton stock keeper. They had two children, Sarah Ann in 1863 and Joseph Jr. in 1866.

At some point between the 1871 census and 1879, Joseph, the love of her youth and the father of her children died. Rose was a widow at only 34 years old, and she remarried John Stansfield in Todmorden. In the 1881 census, however, Rose’s profession was blank, and Sarah Ann, 18, was listed as a cotton weaver. The free trade treaty signed with France in 1860, which allowed cheap French silk products into Britain without duty, had taken its toll on our Rose.

Now, John was a whitesmith, which is similar to a blacksmith but is one who works with softer metals and makes more delicate materials, such as locks and keys and other fine working tools. It was delicate, meticulous work, and I suspect, very skilled, so perhaps they did not need Rose’s income. Then again, sometime between the 1891 census and 1898, Rose is again widowed. In 1898, at the age of 53, she remarried a 3rd time to Richard Gibson. He too had been married before, and Rose was his #4.

On the 13th of November 1899, Rose took her own life by jumping into the canal near the Golden Lion Bridge. I don’t think I [researcher Kara] shall ever view that bridge the same way again, now, knowing that a 54 year old woman probably jumped from there to her death more than 100 years ago.

Todmorden District News, 17th November 1899

The local newspaper wrote, “Rumours of a somewhat ugly character were freely circulated, but as nothing of the kind came out in the evidence tendered at the inquest, we shall not refer to them in any way.” Considering how closely Richard Gibson was questioned about the timing of the events on that tragic day, we’ve inferred (on little evidence, we admit!!) that there was some suspicion of him being involved. However, the conclusion that the Coroner and jury came to was sadly so much more mundane.

Rose was said to have been struggling since going through the menopause. She told Richard she had felt “queer”, and was coping with family upsets. A letter from Middleton from her niece which upset her…we do not know what was in it. “The present condition of her daughter”, which will be Sarah Ann, was said to have caused her some anxiety. Again, we do not know what this condition was. But something made Rose get up early on the day of her death and leave the house partially dressed (only a skirt and shawl, no underclothes, according to witnesses who pulled her from the canal), pull the covers up over her sleeping husband, and leave the house to die.

Today we know that as many as 9 in 10 women going through perimenopause and menopause experience mental health problems. One in 10 experience suicidal thoughts. And even in our supposedly enlightened modern times, more than a third said that hadn’t sought help for their symptoms, and 8 in 10 said they had not discussed their mental health issues with their partner. What other contributing factors may have persuaded Rose to end her life? Having lost two husbands? Problems with her daughter or extended family? Financial worries? Problems with husband number 3? We’ll never know, and it truly seems inadequate to end Rose Gibson’s story here.

Rose, we remember you. Mother, daughter, wife and sister. You meant so much to those you left behind. You mean something to us.

If you have been affected by any of the stories we have told today, you can contact The Samaritans. No judgement, just someone to listen. The number is 116 123.

This story was part of our September 2023 Suicide Awareness Month tour.

One Comment

  1. Pingback:V7.9 – George and Alice Ann Morris – F.O.C.C.T.

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