16.28 – Richard and Martha Ann Chaffer, and Hannah and James Stansfield

Richard is one of those who died elsewhere and is commemorated here; after researching him, we wondered who had loved him enough to bother.

Richard was a wheelwright from Knowlwood who was not very good to his wife and children. He married Martha Ann Greenwood in Oldham in 1867, although he was a Tod lad and she had been born in Hebden Bridge. They were likely in Oldham at this point because they had had a daughter out of wedlock, Elizabeth Alice, in 1864 – so moved away for a spell, only getting married when their second child was on the way. They moved back to Todmorden before 1871 and were living with Richard’s parents at that point.

But Richard wasn’t the husband she probably had hoped for. Poor Martha Ann had to take him to court in 1882 for having sold all their furniture and leaving her and their six children with nothing but “two beds and a cradle”. Not for the first or second time, but the fifth time. What a prince!

Richard decided to try his luck in the United States, and left for Rhode Island in 1884 with his brother Thomas and mother Elizabeth. The newspaper article about his death says that he intended to send for his wife and six children once he was established, but after three years, fate established Martha Ann and the children’s fates as being firmly rooted in Walsden. It wouldn’t be fair to say that three years was plenty of time; in America the 1880s was the age of Haymarket and the Golden Age Industrialists, where if you had money you had lots of it and if you were a worker you were fighting (sometimes at the cost of your life) for a livable wage let alone a decent enough one to keep a family. But Richard was definitely spending his pocket money on drink, and his death was one of the sad strange accidents that can befall alcoholics. Our researcher for this grave wrote “when I first started researching Richard the impression that I got was that he was a man trying his best to earn money and eventually welcome his family to join him in America. I imagined how different Martha and the children’s lives would have been if they had ended up in the United States rather than stay in Todmorden. As research progressed though and I found an earlier snippet from the Todmorden news, I realised that perhaps they were never destined to join him after all.”

Richard’s (mis-spelled) death certificate from Providence, RI, 1887

Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter – Friday 04 November 1887




(From the Providence Evening Bulletin).

A mysterious accident was brought to light early on Sunday morning, Oct 9th, and one which will undoubtedly call for a very strict investigation. About 1-45 Officer Gotes, of the Second Police Station, was patrolling his beat, when he saw a man lying with his head and shoulders on the curbstone, and the rest of his body in the gutter, on the southern side of Smith-street, about 500 feet west of Orms-street. His first impression was that the man was drunk, and he tried to rouse him, but without success. He looked at the man more closely, and noticed that he had a cut on the right side of his head just above the ear. The officer repaired to the station house and notified Lieutenant O’Niell, who, hearing the facts of the case, summoned the police ambulance. The unfortunate man was conveyed to the Central Police Station, where, after a slight examination from his stertorous breathing, Lieutenant Stevens saw, that instead of being drunk, the man was badly injured. He at once sent word to Police Surgeon Palmer, who, without seeing the man, ordered him to be taken to the Rhode Island Hospital. On his arrival at the hospital the injured man was examined, and it was found that he had sustained terrible and fatal injuries. In addition to the cut on the head his right thigh was badly crushed; there were two long gaping cuts, from three to four inches deep, and his back was terribly lacerated from the left groin to the reptum. The wounds were dressed without delay, but it was seen at once that death was inevitable. As soon as the nature of the man’s injuries were ascertained, the police authorities began to seek for the cause. It was learned that horse car No. 62, of the Elmwood route, left Ruggles-street, at the Slurth Hill end of the route, at 11-45 on Saturday night on the last trip to the barn at Elmwood. The car was in charge of Conductor Isaac Downs, with Frank Cottle as driver, both old and efficient employees of the Union Railroad company. There were only two passengers on the car at this time, and the vehicle was going at the usual rate of speed. At about 11-40, or about four minutes after starting, the car struck an obstruction, which the conductor and driver both say they thought was a stone. The car was thrown off the track and ran obliquely to the gutter on the north side of the street, and from there without stopping ran diagonally down the hill and regained the track several car lengths below the spot where the obstacle was struck. Both the driver and the conductor say they saw nothing on the track, but this might be accounted for by the absence of lights, the night being one of those known in police parlance as moonlight night, when the gas lights are extinguished at an early hour. The place where the horse car left the track was opposite the place where the injured man was found two hours later in a dying condition. It is believed by the city officials who have been investigating the case that the man was lying on the track, and that though unseen by the driver, he was seen by the horse, who, in endeavouring not to step upon him, swerved sharply to the left, derailing the car, but unfortunately not sufficiently preventing the wheels from running over the unfortunate man.

At 9 o’clock the following morning, Police Surgeon Palmer called at the Rhode Island Hospital to see the injured man, and found him still unconscious. He remained at the bedside several hours. Dr. Palmer said he thought the wounds on the back had been caused by the excessive pressure of a heavy body on the thighs which had caused the flesh to burst open. While he was not prepared to say that the man had been run over by the horse car, he remarked that the wounds were in every way similar to wounds inflicted upon persons who had been crushed upon railroads, many of which he had seen. He had visited the scene of the supposed accident, and had found a pool of blood, six inches in diameter, at a distance of 14 inches from the railroad track at the point where the car was derailed. While on the sidewalk where the man was found, which is nine feet from the track, was another and much larger pool of blood. Dr. Palmer said the man could not live, and he expected to hear of his death at any time. In the meantime, detectives Swan and Murray and Mr. Joseph Tetlow, of the Union Railway Company, were engaged in ascertaining as far as possible the facts of the case. Detective Swan and Mr. Tetlow examined the car on the Sunday morning for the purpose of seeing if there were any scraps of clothing adhering to the wheels, as Mr. Chaffer’s clothes were badly torn, but none were found. Mr. Tetlow says that after the car was run into the shed at 12-25 on Sunday morning it was not touched until after it had been examined. Detective Swan found something on one of the wheels which looked like blood, but not sufficiently clear to make it positive.

The Second police officers were able to establish the identity of the injured man, and it was discovered that he was Richard Chaffer, aged 42 years, a machinist, in the employ of the Rhode Island Locomotive Works. Mr. Chaffer is an Englishman, and went to America about three years ago from Top-o’th’-hill, Walsden, where his family, consisting of a wife and six children, now reside. It was his intention to have sent for his family so that they might have been with him by next Christmas. He is spoken of as a man of good habits, and he has been boarding with his mother, Elizabeth Chaffer, who resides at No. 4,. Danforth-street. He had a brother named Thomas, who is also a machinist, residing in Pawtucket. Mrs. Chaffer was prostrated when she heard of the terrible accident to her son, and it was with great difficulty that she was able to give any answer to the questions propounded to her. She had very little to say beyond the fact that her son went out shortly after supper on the evening in question, saying that he was going to get shaved, but she did not know what barber he patronized. She said that her son had been paid on the Saturday afternoon, and had given her all his wages except one dollar, which he kept in his pocket. He had told her that he would be home about 9 o’clock, but she had seen nothing more of him. In the course of the conversation a piece of what may prove important information was received, Mrs. Chaffer saying that her son was subject to fits, having on several occasions become unconscious. Mr. Chaffer was on the right road to his home, Danforth-street being some distance above the point where he was found, and his infirmity may have caused him to fall unconscious while crossing the street, in which condition it would have been impossible for him to avoid the car. But what appears inexplicable is how the injured man could have lain for two hours on a thickly settled and well travelled street, especially on Saturday night, and not be seen by citizen or police officer. How he got from a point within fourteen inches of the track where the first pool of blood was found to the sidewalk is a mystery. His injuries were of such a nature as to make it impossible for him to drag himself such a distance, but still he may have done so. On the other hand, he may have been seen by some person who, deeming him to be drunk and in a perilous place in the road-way, drew him to the sidewalk, and left him in peace.”

This last supposition was correct, by the way – after an investigation and witnesses were found, it was determined that Richard passed out while drunk on the rails of the tram car, and the last tram of the night ran him over. The conductor and driver, wanting to get home, got the tram back on the rails and kept going without bothering to look. Another man passing later thought Richard was unconscious and moved him off the tracks to keep him safe, not realising it was too late.

Martha Ann passed away 11 years later, but her children were mostly old enough by then to be able to support themselves. Her daughter Hannah married James Stansfield, both of them weavers, at Walsden St. Peter’s in 1906.

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