20.19 – Henry, Norah, Edward, Mary and Alice Sefton, and John Holt

Henry was one of the children of James and Alice Sefton, buried under the school; he caught our attention because when he grew up and married, he named several of his children after siblings who had died when young. It touched us, so we wanted to learn more about him. His story is a sad one, and a reminder that when we roll our eyes about H&S, we shouldn’t. It exists for a reason.

Henry Charles, or Harry as he was known to all, was born in 1868 on the Yorkshire side of Todmorden, the second child of his parents. His elder brother Edward James had been born and died before he himself came along, so for all intents and purposes he was the eldest child and eldest son.

His future wife, Mary Howarth, had been born a year earlier on the Lancashire side of Todmorden. Her father Charles (who can be found with his family at 57.61) was a master stonemason, with employees and everything – a step up from James Sefton. Interestingly, though, at the same ages she was working as a card room hand while her future husband was still a scholar. Maybe it was work ethic, maybe it was gender roles, maybe it’s nothing at all…

Henry and Mary were married in 1890 at Christ Church. By then Henry had gone into the same line of work as his father and become a bricklayer. The pair moved to 79 Longfield Road and three children came along – Edward James, Norah Margaret, and Alice. Remember brother James Edward who died young? In a painful coincidence, this Edward James also died at 11 months old. Norah Margaret was also named after a sister who died in her infancy. It’s a small, touching thing. Henry was a nice young man. But don’t they say only the good die young?

In this case, it seems true. Henry and Mary had six years together before his tragic death. And we aren’t exaggerating on that. Henry rushed for a bus one morning in July 1896 to get out to Frostholme Mill in Cornholme, where he had been part of a team rebuilding the mill’s chimney which had caught on fire in January. His job that morning was to be lowered on a rope inside the chimney to plug some holes left by the wooden beams used to scaffold the interior of the new chimney, which was apparently an unusual thing to do, and which someone else was expecting to do that day, except that Henry got there first…

The rope which raised and lowered Henry was made of wire, and while slowly ascending through the chimney to the top, Henry used his legs to turn himself around to face all the holes that needed plugging. As he finished, he would allow the rope to untwist back to straight, and then call down to be raised up a little more. All went well until he was on the final set of holes, near the very top of the chimney. Then the wire rope, which had been weakened and strained by the repeated twisting and untwisting, snapped. The witness said that Henry must have tried in some way to stop his fall because the end of the rope came down before he, the planks he was strapped to, and the counterweight hit the ground. His injuries indicated that he had hit the wall a few times on his way down. The man at the bottom said that he may have drawn a single breath after hitting the ground but that he thought he had died instantly, and his injuries seemed to indicate the same. The inquest ran to nearly five whole columns, with much of the evidence relating to the fitness of the tope and the unusual decision to plug the scaffolding holes. Not a single worker, though, said they would have done anything differently regarding moving themselves around with their legs and letting the rope untwist each time. It seemed to be determined that it was the rope being wire that meant this action weakened it so badly that it snapped. A verdict of accidental death was returned.

Mary was left a widow, with younger daughter Alice only 6 months old. His loss hit the whole family hard. The In Memoriam at the top of this post was placed by his mother Alice in the newspaper seven years after his death. And Mary’s sources of support were dropping away; her father Charles had died three years earlier, and her mother Mary Jane died three years later in 1899. She moved from Longfield Road to 12 Queen Street, where in 1901 she had three of her brothers also living with her for financial support. This setup continued into 1911, when one brother had left but the other two were still present in the house. By this point, both Norah and Alice were working as machinists at a ready-made clothing factory.

Meanwhile John Holt was living just a few doors down, at 9 Queen Street. He had been born in 1878 and his father Edward was a plasterer. He was also from a different religious background, having been baptised at Patmos Congregational where his mother (also Mary) was a member. By 1911 Edward was dead and Mary was living with her three sons for support. John was the youngest and had become a letterpress printer.

John joined the 17th Manchester Regiment in 1915 at the age of 37. His army intake record makes it sound as if he’d had a bit of a life already – his distinguishing marks are scars on the right side of his head and on the bridge of his nose. His war was a short one, because after 12 days (12 days!!!) at the Manchester depot he was discharged, with the cryptic note “not likely to become an efficient solider”. The newspapers helpfully elaborated on this when covering his recall a year later and his employer’s application for him to be exempted; John had a defective toe.

Todmorden District News, May 5th 1916

I (researcher Sarah) would pay good money to see a photo of that toe. He was recalled several times but each time exempted again, if not on toe-related grounds then on the grounds of his work for the newspaper, which was considered an exempted occupation. This allowed him to marry Norah at Christ Church in November 1917.

The couple stayed at 9 Queen Street, while Alice and Mary continued at number 12 Alice worked for Dickensons Brothers at Salford. Also in the house at that point was Frances Jane Sefton, Henry’s youngest sister, and Mary’s loyal brother John William who had continued living with her ever since she was first widowed. John and Norah Holt never had children of their own.

John was the first to be laid to rest alongside Henry, when he died unexpectedly in 1930 aged 52.

Todmorden District News, September 26th 1930

We know precious little about Alice’s life, except that she never married, and that she continued to work in the clothing trade. In 1939 we can find her still at 12 Queen Street with Mary, and now also with Norah who has moved back in with them as well as (still) John William Howarth. Alice is now a “sorter and booker” for a wholesale clothing company, while Norah has gone back to her machinist work. Alice was the next to die, in 1947. Mary followed her in 1954, and last, Norah in 1966.

This cross is now in three pieces, but at least all three pieces are still there. If it can be repaired, we will do it.

(PS. John William Howorth is also buried at Christ Church, location unknown – he died in 1952)

One Comment

  1. Pingback:57.61 – Richard Newsome and Charles, Mary Jane, George and Alice Howarth – F.O.C.C.T.

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