33.19 – Orah Marion Stacey (previously unmarked)

This grave was previously unmarked as the cross had gone missing and the plinth unceremoniously tumbled into another plot before decades of ivy grew over it. Rather than tell the story of little Orah, who was 17 months old when she died in February 1888, we will tell the story of why she’s the only Stacey in the graveyard.

Her father George was born in Kent to an educated family. His father was a science lecturer at the Harris Institute in Preston, one brother became a schools inspector, and another the headmaster of a school in Mansfield. So when George became the headmaster of Walsden Board School just shy of his 21st birthday, it seemed entirely natural. And he was a natural, and was very popular with parents and the local school managers and Board, and received many glowing reviews and remarks in the local papers. His wife Orah was also employed in some manner at Roomfield Board School, as we will later see.

However, in early 1888, a schools inspection found a few things wanting at Walsden; mainly issues arising from poor substitute teachers and a temporary issue with teachers leaving and new ones being hired. The inspection came only a month after George and Orah’s little daughter died and he probably wasn’t at his best. Another problem was also brewing – the school was a victim of its own success and barely had enough room for the children who regularly attended, let alone the actual number in enrolment. The Local School Board, which was chaired by Canon Russell of Christ Church and Mrs. Ellen Fielden of Dobroyd, would only allow the managers to choose from plans that would expand the school’s size by 80 pupils, not the larger number that Stacey and the managers feared. This management committee, which included several prominent town councillors such as Barker Crossley and Joseph Dugdale, was ill at ease.

(It’s worth remembering at this point that Ellen Fielden was John Fielden the younger’s second wife, a fancy lady who knew him and Ruth before Ruth’s sad death from alcoholism. The Todmorden and Walsden website’s biography of her tactfully says Ellen “consoled” John after her death and married him within 8 months. She liked parties and enjoyed her status as a wealthy woman and as a Fielden in a town where Fieldens were kings…)

The conflict eventually came to a head in late 1888 not with the plans, but with Stacey. He was sent a letter by the Board requesting that he immediately leave his post at Walsden and move to Eastwood. When he asked why, he was told that he was either going to move or he would have to resign. Quite understandably, he said “fine” and walked. Drama ensued. The management committee demanded to know what was going on, and the Board ignored their letters. Finally, a management meeting was held where all in attendance – including our beloved local historian John Travis – condemned the Board’s actions and resigned en masse.

The Canon and Mrs. Fielden did not take kindly to this. Words were exchanged, and letters to the District News ensued. Crossley was the strongest to complain, making many references to Mrs. Fielden not allowing private schools to be messed about like this, and concluding that “we went into public meeting with our case; they went into committee. The Board have made a mistake, but lack the moral courage to admit it. Instead, they seek to hide behind a false dignity. Let the public judge.”

Later, Crossley writes again to the newspaper saying that he and Stacey have been slandered behind their backs and accused of mismanaging the school fees of half timers, and goes for the throat in his attack on Russell and Fielden’s decision not to cut school fees during difficult economic times because of spurious claims about workers taking too many holidays and buying nice soap. No, I’m not kidding.

Excerpt from Barker Crossley’s letter to the Todmorden District News, 1888

Of Canon Russell: “The Vicar of Christ Church surely forgets where his luxuries come from, and that he every day of his life has more than many of these people have in a year; also the Master he should emulate, the Lord Jesus Christ, who went about doing good, and concerning whom it is more than evident that in the whole course of His life he had not as much money as one year’s stipend of the vicar.”

Of Mrs. Fielden: “Mrs. Fielden clearly forgot herself when she allowed such a carping spirit to take possession of her that she would deny to her poorer sisters a cheap toilet soap … and a kind motherly spirit in one who is blest with great wealth, and the means of obtaining any luxuries she desires, would have her think more kindly of the toiling poor who have helped to make her wealth, and would have commended and encouraged the use of any soap that would improve the complexion of the girls, whose complexion, if not lost, is often impaired in the factory.”

Having had their fill of the valley, George and Orah moved down to Tunbridge Wells, and then, from a distance, had to agitate to get copies of the inspector’s report in order to prove the injustice of the situation so as to continue teaching (George) and to get the money owed to them for their wages that school year (Orah). Once they left it seemed the Board was determined, due to the embarrassment, to make life hard for them. The District News remembered their struggles though, and printed a kind notice in 1909 saying that “many people will remember G.F. Stacey being head master at Walsden Board School away back in the eighties, and still cherish memories of his genial personality” and making mention of his many successes as a headmaster in Tonbridge and celebrating his election as chairman of Tonbridge Urban District Council. I guess he had some good examples of courageous councillors to inspire him…and maybe also an understanding that you need people with principles in these sorts of positions. Walsden and the town seem to have lost a dedicated and enthusiastic teacher, all because of shortsighted reluctance to spend money on schools and to support teaching staff.

A story for our times, perhaps…

And that’s why little Orah is here alone. Her sisters Ruth and Henrietta and her parents rest elsewhere. Maybe if things had been different, they would have all been resting in peace together.

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