16.17 – Agnes, Eleanor, and Thomas Wilson

As part of the transcript update/rechecking process, as we’ve gone along I’ve added the address info from the sexton’s book (or, if missing, from the burial register) into each entry, so if you want you can find your street/house on there and see if anyone was buried at Christ Church. When I got as far as the Wilsons in row 16, I had seen a fair few known hospital/asylum names, but here was a new one: Hammond House, Reddish. Agnes Wilson, who died there, was only 16. Google told me it was a “Wesleyan Preventative Home for Girls”. The story that emerged is one of choices, consequences, and no doubt some deep and bitter regrets.

Agnes Wilson was born in 1887 and her birth was registered in Wooler, Northumberland. Her parents were Thomas Wilson and Euphemia Groundwater Woodcock – what a name! Euphemia died when Agnes was two and her father remarried a year later, this time to Eleanor May Paxton. Thomas was a tailor and draper, and the family made their way south to Oldham and then Crumpsall. On the 1901 Census he, Eleanor, Agnes and Agnes’s older sister (also Eleanor – Eleanor Woodcock Wilson) are living at 100 Hurst Road, Oldham. Agnes and her sister are both working alongside their father as trainee dressmakers.

Eleanor Paxton was born in 1867 in Whitfield, Northumberland, about 15 miles southwest of Hexham. Her parents were John Paxton and Elizabeth Henderson. As time went on the family became fragmented – by 1881, 14 year old Eleanor is living with her uncle and grandparents while the remaining children (aged 9 and younger) are still with John and Elizabeth. Eleanor is listed on the census as a scholar, but maybe she was helping at home with her grandparents’ care. We don’t know. But in 1890 she and Thomas were married, and at some point after 1891 his daughters returned from the homes they’d been living in temporarily and the family unit was reformed. Eleanor worked alongside Thomas as a dressmaker before the girls returned, and afterwards returned to home duties as their stepmother.

We know that their move to Crumpsall came between Jan/Feb 1901 and January 9th 1902 – because on that date, Agnes was admitted (committed?) to Hammond House. The House was meant to be a home for girls with behavioural issues or learning disorders, or sometimes just poor girls or orphans, where they could escape difficult surroundings and learn how to be good servants. Back then it could be a stable life for a young girl, and the Home seems to have tried to place girls with Wesleyans who were connected to the place or who agreed to sponsor and keep teaching a girl once she left. Records showed girls being admitted for being thieves, or for being not very bright, for being lazy or possessing filthy habits – one girl was described as being “simply alive with vermin”. At Manchester Central Archives I was able to see the entry for Agnes’s admission. She was 14 years old, and the entry reads:

“Father and mother living at 11 Elm Street Crumpsall. Sent to Home for being dishonest and untruthful. Her family is very respectable.”

Intake book from Hammond House records, courtesy of Manchester Libraries Central Archives

Agnes was at Hammond House for 19 months, which from the records I looked at was a VERY long time. Most were there for 6-12 months before finding a placement. The last thing we know about Agnes is that on August 14th 1903 she died from tubercular meningitis after slipping into a coma. She never went back home. Her family had moved to 54 Victoria Road in Todmorden in the meantime and Thomas had set up a tailoring business at Paris House on Rochdale Road, just down from the library now. The death registration shows that her stepmother Eleanor was at her side when she died.  Her death was never announced in the newspapers for Todmorden or Manchester. Shame? Who knows. At least they brought her to their new home to bury her and didn’t chuck her into a common grave where she died. And she didn’t die with nobody near her. You do wonder whether Eleanor and Thomas had any regrets about sending Agnes there for what seems like such a minor problem.

Death registration for Agnes Wilson, 1903

Daughter Eleanor by 1911 had moved out, and Eleanor Paxton was back to “assisting in the business”. Thomas and Eleanor were active within Patmos Congregational Church, giving married ladies’ dinners and sitting on committees in their spare time. There is one last heartbreaking detail to this story which can be found on the 1911 census: Thomas and Eleanor had a single child together, at some point, who died. Research revealed that his name was John Paxton Wilson, and he died aged 5 weeks old from gastroenteritis on August 1st 1892.

Eleanor Paxton died on October 4th 1929 – her said that she had suffered from poor health from some time, and that she was one of Patmos Congregational Church’s most active workers – a Sunday School teacher, deaconess, and member of the ladies’ guild. Her story is a perfect illustration of how no one’s life is black and white, and that people can do good and bad things – we have to take her story as we find it. She married a man with two small children and raised them like her own; the only child she and that man had together died; she took part in a decision that had fatal consequences for one of her stepchildren; and she sat with that child at the very end.

Thomas Wilson’s tailoring business expanded to several locations within Todmorden alone, and he died relatively wealthy in October 1935 – £3000 more or less, split between his accountant, the company director for his business, and his surviving daughter Eleanor. Eleanor never married and died in November 1966 aged 80, and is also buried at Christ Church, although we have not yet identified where.

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