33.30 – Arthur, Emily, Sam and Elizabeth Gibson

This unassuming grave, like so many others, had quite a story behind one of the deaths it announced. In chronological order, we shall begin…

Arthur Gibson was the first of two of Sam and Elizabeth Ann (Greenwood) Gibson’s children to be buried here. Neither he nor Emily were baptised at Christ Church but their parents were active with the Wellington Road Baptist Chapel which may explain it. He was the second son and second child, with Emily being the next one along. Arthur’s life was short and he died in April 1887 – seven months before Emily’s birth. Emily herself was the first daughter. Her life was longer than Arthur’s but still short, ending in August 1888. Sam and Elizabeth were left with just John. The inscription on the grave under Emily’s name reads “safely sheltered from the storms of life” and it makes perfect sense for their grieving parents to choose as an inscription as they came to terms with their loss.

Sam and Elizabeth had married in 1884. Sam’s father Robert’s occupation as given in 1881 was a “fish merchant”, with Sam and his brother Joe both working as “fish hawkers”. Robert’s shop was on Water Street and his advertisements in the Todmorden and Hebden Bridge Almanack are very attractive…if you like fish, or game, or both, he could supply your needs.

Sam kept going in the fish business and became known as a cheerful and energetic hustler. That might seem like an odd way of putting it, but making a living hawking fish when you live inland wasn’t a case of waiting for people to come to you. Sam would deliver to your door as a way of keeping his customer base as wide as possible. Sam was also known for something other than his keenness in business – he was disabled in some way to do with his mobility (and was casually referred to, in the manner of times past, as a “cripple”). All these things figured into his end, which came in a shocking incident in January 1903. The story of what happened was published in the Todmorden & District News:


On Tuesday evening, Mr. Sam Gibson, fish and game dealer, 48 Wellington-road, Todmorden, met with a terrible accident while hawking in Eastwood district, from the effects of which he succumbed at Halifax Infimary about 8 o’clock the following morning. News of Mr. Gibson’s unfortunate fall, and the subsequent information as to his death, caused quite a shock throughout the district, for deceased was one of the best known and most highly respected tradesmen within the Borough. Although a cripple Mr. Gibson was fairly active and could skip about with his arm-crutch; he was a very steady man, seemed to have a pleasant word for everybody, always manifested a genial disposition, and was straightforward in all his dealings. These characteristics brought him a large circle of friends, with whom he established a good business connection from his shop in North-street, Burnley-road.
The circumstances attending Mr. Gibson’s death are of the most painful and distressing character. Following his usual custom, he went out hawking in Eastwood district on Tuesday afternoon; one of the last places for him to visit was Jumble-hole-road, which is situate just outside the Borough area, in the Parish of Blackshaw. He went as far as Spa-hole, and was returning along Jumble-hole-road when the fustian cutters employed by Messrs. Stead Bros. were leaving Spa-hole mill, at 6 o’clock. The night was very dark and somewhat misty. This particular road has long had the reputation of being dangerous, Jumble-hole clough, which runs along one side, being wholly unprotected, the road also has several turns, and at certain points is exceedingly narrow. But Mr. Gibson was quite accustomed to travelling it, and, in his usual genial manner, called upon the cutters to follow his cart down the road. Of course, he had a lamp attached to the cart, and he sat with his legs down the right hand side of the cart, facing the clough. All went well until the horse reached a point about 15 or 20 yards below the by-wash. Here there is a very sharp turn in the road. Mr. Gibson, however, must have mistaken his bearings, for the next instant, without the slightest warning, horse and cart and driver fell headlong into the clough. The fustian cutters who were following close behind could not see what actually happened; they simply heard the crash, and knew that Mr. Gibson had disappeared, also the horse and cart. An alarm was at once raised, but no response to the shouts which were made could be got from the clough. Numerous lanterns were quicky forthcoming from Jumble-hole dyeworks (Messrs. Stead) together with plenty of willing helpers. The work of extrication, however, proved a very difficult task. Mr. Gibson was found lying between two small pieces of rock in the clough, face upwards, and part of the horse seemed to be across his chest. When an attempt was made to release him the horse began kicking. Ropes were therefore obtained from Jumble-hole dyeworks, the horse’s legs were tied, and by a supreme effort the horse and cart were eventually pulled aside and Mr. Gibson was rescued from his perilous position. But he was quite unconscious and seemed more dead than alive- indeed, the wonder is that he was not killed outright. The injured man was taken out at the far side of the clough, and was carried down the fields on an improvised stretcher to the residence of the Misses Stead, Sandbed, where every possible attention was paid him. Meanwhile a telephonic communication had been made to Todmorden, from Eastwood railway station, for medical assistance. Dr. Currie hurried down with all speed, and found that Mr. Gibson had sustained a fracture of the base of the skull and internal injuries. A special messenger despatched to Hebden-bridge caused the ambulance carriage to appear on the scene shortly before 8 p.m., and a few minutes later the sufferer was on his way to Halifax Infirmary, accompanied by Dr. Currie. But the hopes of recovery were very faint and by nine o’clock on Wednesday morning the sad news had been circulated throughout Todmorden that Sam Gibson had died at Halifax Infirmary from the injuries he had received by falling into Jumble-hole clough. He never regained consciousness. To those who had not heard of the accident the news came with startling suddeness, and on all hands one heard expressions of sympathy and condolence with the widow and four children in the sorrowful experience through which they are passing. Deceased was in his 41st year.

Our Eastwood correspondent writes as follows : The point where the accident happened is about 40 yards below Spa-hole mill. The lane in question, at the best, is dangerous, and the fact that it was both dark and misty made it all the more so. Mr. Gibson was found under the bind part of the horse, and was held almost like a vice between the rocks; when eventually freed, he was still breathing, but unconscious. Pending the arrival of Dr. Currie he suffered greatly from bruises to the head; he was also bleeding from the ears. Although a messenger was despatched for the Hebden-bridge ambulance carriage about 7 o’clock, it was five minutes past eight before Dr. Currie and his patient were able to commence the journey to the Halifax Infirmary. Many expressions of protest and indignation have been uttered in the village at the difficulty alleged to have been experienced in procuring the requisite signature for the ambulance to turn out and the consequent delay. The process to be gone through is described as “red tapeism.” The Blackshaw Parish Council, the Todmorden Rural District Council, and the adjoining property owners, have also come in for a good deal of criticism, though as yet it is not clear who is really responsible for neglecting to provide necessary protection for the road.

A “News” representative paid a visit to the scene of the accident yesterday, and had short conversations with three or four persons who, if not eye-witnesses of the mishap (owing to the darkness and the fog), were on the spot immediately. The depth of the clough at the point where the horse walked in was measured, and was found to be exactly 9 feet; of course, Mr. Gibson was sat on the cart at the time, and the drop would be several feet more than this, first among the branches of a tree and then on to the huge stones which form the bed of the clough. The width of the road just here is 14ft. The wheel mark of Mr. Gibson’s cart could plainly be seen close to the hillside, and it is the general opinion that fearing he might upset if he got too far up the hill, and thinking that the sharp turn had already been passed, he pulled the rein to his right at the most awkward point possible and the horse walked off the side into the stream. Another couple of yards or so and all would have been well. The horse suffered little or no injury whatever, but the cart was smashed to pieces.

Enoch Greenwood, fustain cutter, Woodbottom, Eastwood, had actually hold of the tail of the cart when it tilted right over. He states that some of the workmen at Spa-hole mill have made a practice of carrying lamps on a dark night. Gibson knew this, and as he was passing just as they came out he called for those who were without lights to follow his cart down the road. Three or four of them did so and he (Greenwood) had hold of the cart when it went down. But, being lame himself, he did not go into the clough to render assistance. He did what he could in other ways. He is not aware that any fatal accident has happended in Jumble-hole clough before.

Fred Gill, fustain cutter, Underbank, Blackshaw, says that Gibson made a passing remark of some kind, and he and four or five others followed down close behind his cart. The cart seemed to topple right over. He at once hurried down to Jumble-hole dyeworks for some lanterns. It took a bit to get the injured man out, as the horse was laid on him. He knew that Gibson was well accustomed to the road. He too is not aware of any fatal accident having occured there previously.

Mr. W. Jackson, fustain cutter (chairman of the Blackshaw Parish Council), was another of those following down behind the cart. Someone asked “Who’s that?” and the reply had only just been given “It’s Sam Gibson,” when a loud crash was heard in the clough. When they got to him they found he was alive, for he was seen to breathe; but he was unconscious and never spoke. A workman fell into the clough last winter but, like many others, he was fortunate enough to get out without being badly hurt. On June 20th, 1899, the Blackshaw Parish Council passed a resolution to the following effect : “That the attention to the Rural District Council be called to the dangerous unfenced state of the road (on the clough side) from Jumble-hole to Cow-bridge.” The clerk to the Rural District Council drew the attention of the landowners to the lack of fence, and suggested that one be erected by them. But the suggestion was not acted upon. On the same night as the accident occurred the Blackshaw Parish Council met, and passed another resolution asking the Rural District Council to try and arrange the matter with the owners, even if it should mean that the Rural District Council will have to contribute something towards the fencing of the dangerous place.

The inquest ultimately concluded that Sam died in an accident, but recommended that steps be taken to prevent further tragedy. This was easier said than done. Because Jumble Hole Clough formed the boundary between Todmorden Rural District and Blackshaw Parish Councils, there were disputes for months afterwards regarding who should be at the expense of fixing the path, and what efforts should be made. You can even see in the account of Sam’s death that prior accidents had occurred there and that the two councils had already been arguing over who should foot the bill for repairs. An article in the Todmorden Advertiser the following month mentions that each council was still writing to the other asking them to spend money on it, and in the meantime one of the landowners stopped up the footpath with barbed wire causing complaints began to be made about the stopping up of an ancient footpath. A rather stereotypical rural local government squabble, really.

Elizabeth and son John, who had been working as a clerk with the Rochdale Canal Company before his father’s death, continued the fish business and succeeded for a time in keeping the business going, but eventually John changed careers again and became a bus driver with the Todmorden Joint Omnibus Corporation. Elizabeth outlived her husband by 27 years, eventually dying in 1930 and being reunited with her husband and two lost children here at Christ Church.


  1. Alison Greenwood

    Sam was my great grandfather. His daughter Sarah married James Greenwood, shuttlemaker, of Salford Todmorden. They had a son Vincent and a daughter Joyce. Their son John left the Todmorden Joint Omnibus Company and after working as a coal merchant, opened a toy shop in Keighley before moving to Duck Hill above Hebden Bridge when he retired.
    Sam had two more daughters, Edith and Annie. They both worked as weavers in Cornholme before marriage. Edith married Walter Woodhead, a prominent member at the Hippodrome Theatre and Annie moved to Littleborough after marrying Fielden Butterworth.

    • This is a great bit of additional information, thank you Alison! It’s always nice to see an older family’s roots stretching forward to the present.

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