33.41 – John Joseph, Mary, John, Sarah Ellen, and Charlotte Turner

This story was told as part of our “Dead for the Holidays” 2023 tour.

I love this story for one main reason—John Turner was a teacher.  It seems he was not just any teacher, either… he was someone who was absolutely dedicated to his profession, and had an impact on many lives.  It is all any teacher can hope for.

John was born on the 30th March 1839 in Rochdale.  He was, according to accounts, a precocious and ambitious student, and became a student teacher at his Parish church at just 13 years of age.  He went away to train at St John’s Training College at Battersea, and then took up a role as headmaster in Somerset, with his own student teacher working under him.  The 1861 census shows him still here, and late that same year, aged 22, he married Charlotte Susannah Fox.  Charlotte had been born in 1839 in Somerset to Tobias and Patience Fox. Tobias worked at the rather excitingly named “vitriol works” and Charlotte had briefly worked as a servant in London before returning home, meeting John, and falling in love.

They went on to have 3 children: Mary in 1863, Sarah Ellen in 1864 (who sadly died at 15 months old and is named on this stone), and then James in 1867. 

It was around the time of James’ birth that John Turner took up his appointment right here at National School in Todmorden.  He was apparently eager to return to this part of the country, but upon visiting he was ‘favourably struck with the beautiful situation of the school.”  The family moved to Burnley Road in Todmorden and John had found the community he was to serve for the remainder of his career.  National School was a large one and served a wide area, but John still found time to be part of the church choir and even as choirmaster.

John and Charlotte did have one more child soon after moving to Todmorden, John Joseph in April of 1869.  John Joseph was an intelligent and talented young man who frequently won awards for his performance at school, the last one coming in October 1887, only a few months before his death. He died in December that year aged just 18 and is buried here at Christ Church.  Our researcher found his burial records but these don’t list a cause of death, so this remains a mystery for the moment.

It sounds as though he experienced a lot of educational change in his time… nice to see some things don’t change.  Let me pause and roll my eyes before I continue.  He was head of the day school; he witnessed the establishment and abolition of the School Board; he oversaw extensions to his school buildings, including one in 1897 which meant he had to give up the school house that he and his family had so long occupied; and  the family moved to Bath Street.  Charlotte died in 1903—again, we have no information on why she died, but they had been married for more than forty years, and he must have missed her dreadfully.

He continued to work at National School until he retired at the age of 66, when he was honoured and feted at his retirement by the mayor, the Bishop and many others.  Soon after, he remarried a widow by the name of Mary Newsome Williams in September 1904, but she died tragically just before Christmas of that year after ‘a short illness’. 

Mary Newsome was born in 1839, the same year as Charlotte Fox, and hailed from Rochdale originally. She had married John Williams in 1864 and had four children, including the fantastically named Sir William Williams. Widowed by 1881, she had continued running her household alone until meeting John, meaning he seems to have passed a quality control test that no others had come even close to managing!

The one thing Mary left John at the end of their short marriage that he seems to have valued above all others was her daughter, also called Mary.  Throughout the next years until his death on Christmas Day in 1912, his health gradually deteriorated, and his stepdaughter served as his housekeeper and eventually his nurse.  She was said to have been devoted to him, and that he spoke of her always with admiration and gratitude.

I wanted to include some of the tributes that were made to him and the impact he had on other’s lives:

‘One of Nature’s gentlemen’

‘His eyes brightened as he talked of his old scholars who had done well in the great school of life’

And finally…

‘For what do you remember John Turner?  For what will you day school teachers who listen to me be remembered in the days to come?  Not because you taught this detail in history or that point of arithmetic, but because of your character, your influence, your personality; for what you were rather than for what you taught.”

May such things be said of us all one day.  I salute you, Schoolmaster John Turner.

John Turner, 1911

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