31.36 – Margaret and Kate Plunkett (unmarked)

As researcher Holly put so much care and compassion into her FB post about this grave, it’s been copied over in full here.

Located not far from the middle pathway to the school is row 31, along here at plot number 36 is an unmarked grave (one of many unmarked). From the sexton records we know the names for two people who rest here. The first name is Margaret Plunkett. She was buried on January 1890 aged just 2 years old and the address given in the burial record is Fiddler’s Well – just past Robinwood Mill in Lydgate.

The story here is not a happy one, I’ll be honest. Let’s begin with the marriage of Margaret’s parents in Athlone, Ireland, the date being 7th February 1886, this is Catherine (Kate) Bergin’s wedding day. Kate is 26 years old and was born in Athlone, she is the daughter of Lawrence Bergin, a mason, her new husband is Matthew Plunkett (a soldier), the son of James Plunkett a stone cutter. Matthew is 30 years old and originally from Glencullen, Ireland.

What thoughts must have been racing through Kate’s mind on that day? What were her hopes and dreams, what was her vision of the future with her new soldier husband? The possibilities were endless, exciting perhaps. I wonder if she really knew Matthew at this moment, did she have any suspicions of what was to come and at what point did the realisation strike that perhaps this union wasn’t the best idea after all?

We know that by 1888 Matthew and Kate have moved to England, Rochdale in Lancashire to be precise. We know this because births are registered in Rochdale for two boys named Lawrence and James. We also know that by this time little Margaret is also in existence (although this researcher at the time of writing has been unable to find her birth registration).

The first sign of trouble comes from a snippet in the Rochdale times published in March 1889. “Desertion of families”, “Matthew Plunkett, 31, Stonemason, Windy Bank, Littleborough”, “One Guinea Reward will be paid for such information as will lead to the apprehension of the undermentioned persons against whom warrants have been issued for neglect of their families.”

Matthew was subsequently discharged after promising to pay the money out of his army pension due in April, but Just a couple of weeks later he is in the paper again, the headline being the ‘Green Eyed Monster’. – “At the Rochdale County Police Court yesterday, Matthew Plunkitt, a stone mason, was charged with assaulting his wife, Kate Plunkitt. She said that prisoner on Monday night came home drunk and jumped on the top of her whilst she was asleep. He also struck her in the eye, discolouring the flesh. On Monday evening she had to stay at a neighbour’s house. On the following morning prisoner again got drunk, and came home, broke the cradle, and kicked the child that lay in it. He had behaved most harshly, having nearly starved to death both herself and her children.”

Unfortunately, we have to now discuss burials, from these we know that the family had then moved to Fiddler’s Well in Todmorden. The first death was little James, he died on 17th December 1889 and is buried at Christ Church at an unknown plot location. Margaret died not long after on 9th January 1890, and James’ twin brother Lawrence died 15 days after Margaret on 24th January 1890. Poor Kate had 3 children and then just like that they were gone … I can’t even begin to imagine what she must have been going through, the babies that she’d grown and cared for now gone; stuck with a violent husband and presumably few to none friends or family to offer her love and support. We know where Margaret is buried, the assumption is that James and Lawrence must be close by and most likely in the same plot, but we can’t be sure as Margaret’s name is the only one that makes an appearance on the Sexton’s list.

Things don’t get any easier for poor Kate, in March 1890 just a short time after burying her children, Matthew was charged again for assault on his wife, “Without any provocation he at once kicked her on the back, and struck her three or four times on the back, and struck her three or four times on the back of the head with his fist.” We also learn that he has threatened to take her life, and that there is talk of him living with ‘another woman’. Painfully, we also read this reference to the three children that had not long since died: “She had had three children by him, but none of them were living. Two of them (twins) were as good as murdered by him, and the other was a dwarf, and disfigured from its birth, also because of his cruelty.” We also learn that Kate at this time is pregnant again.

The statement that they were ‘as good as murdered by him’, without doubt raises questions. There are no inquests for the children’s deaths, so we can assume nothing was seen as suspicious at the time of their deaths. The conclusion maybe pointing to his sheer neglect as being the cause of the children’s deaths? The information that Margaret was potentially born with achondroplasia is also an interesting one, although how this could be attributed to his cruelty is perhaps overzealous. Upon obtaining the death certificate for Margaret the cause of death is given as ‘phthisis’ (tuberculosis).

Matthew and Kate have a further four children together: Mary Elizabeth (1890-1896), Matthew Max (1893-1895), Annie (1896), and Helen (1899-1890). Out of 7 children, just one (Annie) ‘makes it’, and her experience as being Matthew’s daughter wasn’t a happy one either. This account from 1908 when Annie was 12: “The child was so much afraid of him that she has asked her mother to sleep in the closet rather than go to bed.” Matthew had also made threats to his daughter Annie that he was going to kill her mother as well as himself, that one day she would come home and find herself the only one left. What a childhood …

There are many accounts and descriptions of Matthews violence, alcohol would get the blame as well as Kate’s ‘jealously’ of him being with other women.

Matthew died on 18th August 1915 and is also buried at Christ Church, although again the exact location is unknown. In the 1921 census, Kate and Annie are living in Bispham, Lancashire at what appears to be a hotel. Kate is a chamber maid and Annie is a waitress. Kate died at Moss Side in Manchester in April 1929 and her body was brought back to be buried here with Margaret, and maybe her other two lost children.

When I’m next walking past the graveyard I will think of Kate and her 6 children. Kate who must have hoped for so much more, the children who seemingly were just not given a chance, the odds of survival stacked against them from the moment they were born. And then there’s Annie, the last one left…this researcher has not found out the ending for her yet, perhaps just for now it can be left that way in the willing hope that she went on to find happiness.

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