31.25 – John, Susy, Mary, Eliza, Harriett, Sarah Jane and Frank Pugh

This is another grouping of Pugh family graves at Christ Church – John and Susy are the parents of Llewellyn Pugh under the school, but Llewellyn wasn’t their only child as we can see here.

John Pugh was born around 1820 in Newtown, Montgomeryshire, Wales. He was a nailmaker who moved for some reason to Todmorden – because it’s so early we don’t really know why. He met Susannah “Susy” Marshall, a Todmorden girl two years older than him, and their banns were first read in 1840 at Heptonstall St. Thomas. Their formal marriage came three years later, the same year as the birth of their first child, Eliza,

John and Susy had ten children total, four of which are also buried here. The family lived at Honey Hole at Bank Top, just over from where the Unitarian Church is now. Back then there were many more terraces and cottages in that area than there are now. Of the three who are also buried here, as we said before, Eliza was the first child and first daughter. Mary was born in 1846, Harriett in 1849, and Frank was their baby, born in 1862. Eliza was 19 when Frank was born – poor Susy must have been very tired by then.

John made nails and Susy raised children, and most of her children went into the cotton mills in some capacity or another. One exception on the 1861 Census stands out – Harriett, whose occupation is given as “mother’s servant”. If you read further over, you see a note at the end of her line; “Deaf and dumb from birth”. Poor Harriett’s life was not a simple one. People with learning or developmental disabilities are vulnerable to exploitation today, and back day was just as bad. In 1865 Harriett was in the newspaper as the victim of an attempted sexual assault by an acquaintance of her sister Mary. Her father John had to use his own means of questioning Harriett and passing along her answers because she hadn’t been taught “the usual signs of deaf and dumb people”. The case was passed to the Salford Assizes, where Whitehead’s initial defense of “I have an alibi” morphed into “I have an alibi but how do you know she didn’t consent to whatever was going on with whoever was ‘assaulting’ her in the middle of Shoebroad Lane?” – apparently a similar incident had occurred to Harriett a few years previously. He was still found guilty in the end, but poor Harriett’s experience(s) must have been a horrible one.

Todmorden Advertiser, September 23rd 1865

Mary, Harriett’s sister who came to her rescue alongside Betty Horsfall and Thomas Greenwood, died two years later in 1867. She had given birth to an illegitimate daughter, also named Mary, on November 19th, and died nine days later. Next Harriett’s father John, who stood by her during the trial and worked hard to get justice for her, died in 1870. The remaining children – even Harriett, now – continued to work in the cotton mills. In 1871 little three-year-old Mary Pugh was also living with Susy and family.

Little Mary died a year later in 1872. We don’t know where she’s buried, but it may be here. For there to be seven adults buried here it must be a double plot, although not marked as such, and a double plot would leave plenty of room for a few more family members.

Eliza died next in 1878, aged 35. She had never married either. It seems as though the family was moving around a great deal – Bank Top to Fair View to Goshen Terrace. In 1881 son Llewellyn and his family lived next door at Castle View so that will have offered some support to Susy. At this point her youngest, Frank, was 19 years old; but there was another grandchild, Betsy’s 5 year old daughter Clara, to look after.

Frank married Sarah Jane Stephenson in 1885. Sarah Jane was six years older than Frank, born in 1856 to James and Jane (Howarth) Stephenson. James made reeds for cotton looms and Sarah Jane was his and Jane’s youngest child, and the last to leave the home. Four years later, Susy died, and Harriett moved in with Frank and Sarah Jane and their daughter Betsy Ellen. Sarah Jane’s mother Jane was also living with them, by this time a widow.

Frank’s first appearance in the news was for being caught with some other boys playing pitch-and-toss (illegal because it was classed as a game of chance) on Hey Head Lane in 1880. He later became heavily involved with the Todmorden and District Weavers’ Association as a musical performer – it isn’t clear whether it was the straightforward musical numbers or the comic ones, but his name is often mentioned as giving well-received performances. Sarah Jane, meanwhile, only makes the papers twice; obviously when she dies, but prior to that, only when she had her pockets picked in 1898.

Harriett may have found the change to her life, at that time of her life (she was 42 in 1891), a hard thing to manage. We assume that after the 1865 assault that Harriett was taught, or tried to learn, the more commonly known precursor to BSL that was around at that time, but maybe Frank and his family struggled to communicate with her. But one thing we genuinely do not know is why she was unable to speak or hear. It was present from birth, and she could communicate, but in 1865 there was considerable discussion during Whitehead’s trial about whether or not Harriett had the capacity to consent to sexual activity or understood other basic concepts. How much was the defense’s attempts to paint Harriett as “simple” and how much was true is unknown, sadly. But Harriett was not living with the Pughs in 1901. She was at Stansfield View, an inmate but also classed as a worker, and not annotated as an “imbecile”. She died a year later in 1902.

The vicar was unsure of her age, and her address in the burial register is Frank’s.

Frank and Sarah Jane only had the one child, Betsy Ellen, and by 1911 she had left home and it was just the two of them left at 3 Shade Street. Betsy had married Wilfred Mitchell in 1907 and started her own family. Those two lived at Commercial Street in 1911, but by the 1920s had moved over to Little Holme Street in Shade, near Frank and Sarah Jane. Sarah Jane died in 1923 with her address given as Little Holme Street, so perhaps she became unwell and they both moved in with Betsy so she could nurse her at the end. She was 67 years old.

After her death Frank continued to live with the Mitchells until his own death in 1934. He left his estate to the two of them.

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