2.11 – John Mitchell

2.11 has traditionally been marked, at least with a stone, as the resting place of Arthur Marshall, one of our seven CWGC graves at Christ Church. But as you’ll know if you’ve read Arthur’s story, he isn’t actually buried there. Who is? John Mitchell of 113 Knowlwood Road, who was buried there on September 20th 1915. For a man supposedly so loved, he is conspicuously lacking a stone, and it’s the lack of a stone that led to the CWGC making their error in the 1960s that led to Arthur’s portland stone monument being placed there instead. Who was John?

Todmorden District News, September 15th 1916 (the “who died … 1916” in the printed text is an error)

John Mitchell was born in about 1856 in Clitheroe, the second child of his parents James and Sarah (Hodgson) Mitchell. James and Sarah had varied employment histories – weaving, beer selling (her), stonemasonry…they did what they had to. James and Sarah had four children total, three girls and a boy.

In 1871 James and his older sister Margaret made the move from Clitheroe to Walsden, although it’s unclear why because their parents and siblings stayed in Clitheroe. Margaret was only 17 and John 15. Both were boarding with John and Jane Halstead at Inchfield Fold. The Halsteads were themselves born in Pendleton, near Clitheroe, so perhaps there was a family connection. John Halstead was a farm labourer, but Margaret and John Mitchell were both working in the weaving industry (her as a factory operative and him as a picker maker).

John married Grace Hollinrake at St. Peter’s in Walsden in 1877. Grace was a Walsden lass from birth, and interestingly her brother George is buried just a few plots down from John at 2.6. Relatives in life, neighbours in death. Grace’s parents Joseph and Charlotte were weavers, as were most of her siblings. Her family was large – she was one of eight – and she and John kept up the tradition with an incredible 11 children born to the two of them between 1877 and 1902. A 25 year span of childbearing…poor Grace!!

Large families had a dark shadow looming over them, that of child mortality rates. The Mitchells had 11 children, but only 7 made it past the age of four, and one died after that too. All three of the children they had between 1877 and 1881 were dead by the time the 1881 Census was taken, and the daughter born to them that year died three years later. In 1881 only John and Grace are living at the house at 35 Knowlwood.

1901 brings a happier picture. The Mitchells now live at 117 Knowlwood Road and there are five children alive and well at the address. 1911 brings them to 113 Knowlwood Road, the address where John would end his days. The census information has a few sobering points hidden within – first, the figure of only six children still living and five having died. Secondly, the section where the number of rooms in the house is to be listed. The rooms that are to be counted include the kitchen and the front room. 113 Knowlwood Road had three rooms. Think about it. John, Grace, daughter Janey, and sons Percy, Frank and Willie, all share two rooms that could conceivably be used as bedrooms. Did someone sleep in the kitchen? It’s a reminder for us that many of the houses that were pulled down in the 1940s-1960s were pulled down for a reason.

The Mitchells were spared any more losses as their three sons were too young to serve in WW1, or otherwise had exemptions. John did not survive the war though. He died in September 1915 and was buried here, and as far as we knows rests here alone. Look at the in memoriam at the beginning of this grave story. Strange that a man with so many children and who was so loved would have no stone. Grace never remarried and died in 1939 – she’s buried at Christ Church but without a marker. Several of the Mitchell children stayed in Todmorden and married, and started their own families, but they aren’t buried at Christ Church

We wish we knew more about him, but the common nature of his name means we haven’t been able to be certain of anything else about his private life, the things that made him unique. If you know anything about him or his family please let us know, so he doesn’t get completely forgotten.

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  1. Pingback:2.6 – George Hollinrake – F.O.C.C.T.

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