25.39 – Martha, Ada, Robert, Eleanor and Frederick Hopkinson

This story is very common – high child mortality and a bereaved parent not able to carry on. Eleanor (Dawson) Hopkinson is in the burial register next to another suicide, Annie Marshall, who does not have a gravestone but whose story is told alongside Eleanor’s on our Facebook page.

Frederick Hopkinson met Eleanor Dawson probably around 1890, shortly after his first wife Margaret died. Eleanor was living with Alfred and Martha Hopkinson as a boarder. Alfred was Frederick’s older brother, older by nearly ten years. Eleanor was born in 1860 in Prestwich, Bury, not far from where her future husband would be born five years later. Until her marriage she worked as a cotton weaver as did many who are buried here.

Frederick and Eleanor had four children – sadly, only Fred lived to see adulthood. The loss of their other son, Robert, seems to have hit everyone hard…even those outside the family. This in memoriam placed in the Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter by Robert’s friend gives an idea of the sense of loss felt by everyone around him.

Robert Hopkinson didn’t die in WW1, but he still died. Eleanor clearly was not able to handle this third loss, and less than a month later, drowned herself. It seems as well that her husband was not able to handle a wife who felt all these losses keenly, and his own words in the inquest give this away. From the inquest:



Closely following the sensational suicide of a girl of 14, reported in our last issue, another said case of suicide by drowning occurred early on Saturday morning, the victim in this case being a married woman named Eleanor Hopkinson, 56 years of age, wife of Fredk. Hopkinson, iron turner, of 82, Industrial Street, Todmorden. The inquest in this case was held at the Town Hall on Monday morning, and Mr. Edwin Birch, licensee of the White Hart Hotel, was the foreman of the jury.

Fredk. Hopkinson, the husband, was the first witness called. he said he last saw his wife alive between half-past twelve and one o’clock on Saturday morning. She was then downstairs. She had been very eccentric for about a month. He himself had been down with diarrhoea, and the previous Tuesday she commenced to be very “funny.” On the Wednesday night he went to Dr. Southwell for a bottle of medicine for her, because she also had commenced with diarrhoea. She took one dose, but refused to take any more. He asked the doctor to come down the following day, and he said he would. She had not had anything to eat from Tuesday night till Friday dinner-time, and he supposed that caused a certain amount of weakness to come upon her. On the Friday night she seemed to be in better trim. When he went home at tea-time, she asked him what he would have to eat, which she had never done before. He came to the conclusion she was better. After that he went to the doctor again, and the next door neighbour (Mrs. Dawson) came in. He got back home about half-past nine, and asked if their Fred had gone to bed. His wife said she did not know. She then said “I will go to bed now; you will find the bread for his breakfast in the mug.” When Fred [their son] came home, he said “What do you think of mother?” He said that she was fairly well, and though she would pull through. He stayed up till ten o’clock, and then went to bed. She was either asleep, or pretending to be. Some time later she slipped out of bed, and went downstairs. he got up, and went downstairs in about five minutes after her. That was the time he last saw her alive. he said to her, “Why are you doing this? It’s enough during the day; surely you are not going to do like this at night.” He made a gill of coffee, and she had a drink with him, and went to bed again. he followed her, and fell asleep. When he awakened at 7-15 on Saturday morning, she was not in bed, but he did not think much about it, because she had been an early riser all her life. She would be up at four or five o’clock in the morning, and sometimes earlier than that. He listened for a minute, and as everything was quiet, he went downstairs, and found she was not in the house. He searched the house through, both upstairs and down, and then went into Halifax Road, to see if he could see anything of her. he went to the railway station to see is she had booked to Bury, as she sometimes had done, but nobody had booked to Bury that morning. He went back home, and Mrs. Dawson, the next door neighbour, advised him to report the matter to the police, and he did so.

“It’s enough during the day; surely you are not going to do like this at night”? Poor Eleanor.

The Coroner : I think she was in an asylum a good many years ago? – Yes. She went in on January 8th, 1901, and came out on August 10th of the same year. Has she always been rather eccentric? – Yes; ever since we buried our Ada, about 1898. She has been more eccentric during the last six weeks. She would not take the medicine the doctor gave her, except two doses. Did she ever say anything which pointed in the direction of suicide? No; she never threatened anything of that description. By the Foreman : She did not show any signs of this eccentricity before we buried our daughter in 1898.

In 1901, while Eleanor was at the asylum recovering from her grief, Frederick gave his marital status on the census as “widowed”.

John Wm. Sutcliffe, 2 Mount Pleasant, Causey Wood, said he kept a few fowls by the side of New Mills Dam, Folly, and about ten minutes past eight he saw something floating in the water, seven or eight yards from the side. At first he thought it was a dog someone had thrown in. He went a bit nearer, but could not satisfy himself, and fetched his wife out. Still they were not satisfied. The milkman came, and they got two long clothes props and tied them together, and with these they just managed to reach her, and pull her to the side. They saw then that it was the body of a woman. She seemed to be lightly clothed. She had nothing on her head, and her hair was floating in the water. Later he helped the police to pull the body out of the water. The dam was about a mile from her home.

… P.S. Blundy said she left her false teeth, and took her rings off her fingers, and left those at home.

The Coroner said that was all the evidence, and he did not think the jury would have much difficulty in this case. They had first to find the cause of the woman’s death, then whether it was her own act, and if so, whether there was any evidence as to the state of her mind at the time.

The jury at once agreed to a verdict of suicide whilst in an unsound state of mind.”

After all his insensitivity towards his wife’s suffering after the loss of so many of their children, there is a certain irony in knowing that Frederick Hopkinson died in 1926 at Birch Hill House in Wardle, which was an inpatient hospital which treated everyone from WW1 servicemen to those in need of psychiatric help.

This story was part of our September 2023 Suicide Awareness Month tour.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *