24.30 – Richard, Elizabeth, John and Mary Ellen Greenwood

This grave caught the eye of one of our researchers because of Richard and Elizabeth sharing the same date of death. The story was a surprise, and another example of how there is no dignity in death when it comes to popular media.

Richard and Elizabeth lived in poverty and may have also had some complex mental health issues. You like to think that they’d have had more support nowadays, but, well…

Because of their common surname, we haven’t been able to trace their marriage date. We do know that they were “somewhat notorious” in the area, and that Richard’s nickname was “Dick Noppy”. We found a great deal of information about their living conditions at their time of death, and it’s repetitive and sad to read. Below is an excerpt from the Todmorden Advertiser :




Last Wednesday evening week, Elizabeth Greenwood, aged 60 years, of Mill-street, Cobden, died suddenly at the Todmorden Union Workhouse, and on the following (Thursday) morning her husband, Richard Greenwood (better known as “Nobby Dick”), also died suddenly at the same place. Both persons were well-known characters, spending most of their time in the streets, and were eccentric in manner. He had for some years been employed at the Todmorden Railway Station as an outdoor porter, and had occasionally gone out hawking. His wife was a person that had never done any work, and had made a practice of watching all the funerals and marriages that she could; she also often attended the Police Court, and formerly used to pay considerable attention to the outdoor performances of the Salvation Army. Their home at Mills-street was scarcely ever visited by anybody but themselves, and strangers seemed to have been purposely debarred from entering the house, the condition of which was very dirty and filthy and unknown to the public. In fact the people themselves were in a dreadful state for filth and dirt, these discoveries only being made shortly before their death. For a period of about three weeks the woman had been poorly at home, but had never been attended by a doctor, both parties pretending to have a strong dislike for doctors. The man, however, had had a very short illness, having been seen in the streets two days before death, at which time he did not appear so very well. On the 13th ultimo, Relieving Officer Bancroft discovered Greenwood’s house to be in the condition already decribed, and he requested both Greenwood and his wife to go to the workhouse. They both refused to go to the workhouse, and according to the evidence given at an inquest held on Monday the deceased had several times expressed themselves against the workhouse, having said that they would “die on the road before go to the workhouse.” On the 26th ult., however, the parties consented to their removal to the workhouse, and an order was made for their removal on the 27th ult. The order was duly attended to, both the persons being conveyed to the workhouse last Wednesday week in the morning. After being cleaned and attended to, the two were taken into separate hospital wards at the workhouse, and the same night the woman died there, the man dying on the following morning. Dr. Thorp visited the deceased on the afternoon of their arrival at the workhouse, but he was unable to certify the cause of death, and a post-mortem examination was afterwards made.”

Detail from the burial register, showing another coroner case buried just prior. A busy time of year.

Who was John Greenwood, then? Who is buried with them, along with his wife Mary Ellen. He was born in 1855. Now Richard was born in 1838, which would make him 17 when John was born. He could be either a brother or his father; either age makes sense. We forget that before birth control you would easily get a family where there were children spaced out over the course of 20 years between just two people, let alone a second or third husband or wife.

We dug some more and found Richard and Elizabeth in 1861, at School Street, Shade. Richard, a shoemaker, was apparently born in Halifax and Elizabeth in Rochdale. However, in 1871, he was born in Heptonstall and her in Langfield, so take all this with a pinch of salt. Most importantly though, they had no children at either time. John must be a brother.

John and Mary Ellen led much less “interesting” lives – both lived in the Shade/Pexwood area prior to marriage, were cotton weavers, they had two children, both children lived, and they led quiet lives without appearing in the newspaper for any reasons at all apart from their marriage in January 1886 at Knowlwood Primitive Methodist Chapel. Their children, Ada and John, were still living at home in 1911. 24 year old Ada wasn’t working, and 22 year old John was a sub postman. They also lived nice long lives; 80 years old and 88 years old. But who were they in relation to Richard and Elizabeth? If you know, let us know…


  1. Jill Wadsworth

    Might have connections with the woman I this grave

    • Hi Jill! If you find a connection and have any information to share, please let us know. We’re always keen to make the stories of those buried here as well-rounded as possible and the more we can find out the better.

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