35.1 – John William Yourn

If you walk past without looking closely, you’d think this was just part of the border of the path. But it’s not – it’s someone’s burial marker. We looked closer.

In memory of John William Yourn of Marshall Street, Lydgate who died May 25th 1914 aged 39 years.

John William Yourn was born in 1875. His father, William, was originally from Chacewater in Cornwall, near Truro. His mother Betty was a local girl. John William grew up in Eastwood with his parents and siblings and became a scutcher and later under-carder at Robinwood Mill as an adult. He married Mary Ellen Dawson in 1900 and moved to West View in Meadow Bottom before moving to Lydgate, where he did well enough for himself to buy two properties, one on Brewery Street and one on Marshall Street. They had no children. He was later described by those who knew him as a conscientious and “energetic” man who threw himself into his work, the Sunday school, and other neighbourly ventures.

Sadly, John William seems to have thrown himself into helping others because he struggled to help himself. As Mary Ellen would tell a coroner’s inquest, John William suffered from what used to be termed “melancholia” or “bad nerves”, which we now would call severe depression, and had for a long time. He also had a difficult beginning to the decade; his mother died in 1911, his father in early 1912, and his brother Fred towards the end of 1912 – just six months after getting married. Those losses would have been hard.

In 1914 things had become so difficult for him that he and she both took two entire months off work and went to stay with Mary Ellen’s parents on Stansfield Street – him so he could have some time away from a job that one newspaper said had heightened his depression because of “newly acquired responsibilities”, and her so that she could give all her time and attention to him and look after him properly. The longest article describing his inquest comes from the Todmorden News and Advertiser, 29th May, and states that:

“Deceased … who was 39 years old, had had indifferent health since November, his nerves being bad … a fortnight ago they went back home, as deceased was better than he had been. He had not given witness any hint that he might do away with himself, except that about three weeks ago he told her that he kept dreaming of water…”

John William seemed fine after they got home to Marshall Street, but then one Monday morning, he went out to work and never came home again. Mary Ellen began to worry late that evening after he ought to have returned from a club he sometimes frequented after work, and went on foot to her father’s house to see if he was there. He wasn’t, and she tried for a few hours to get hold of a constable to sound the alarm. She eventually was able to report him missing around midnight. The next morning a young woman named Grace Snowden found a coat and hat on the side of a “lodge” (a dam) near Butt Stones, where the golf course is. A constable put two and two together and began dragging the lodge, and John William’s body was found. The inquest jury returned a verdict of suicide while of unsound mind. Many regional newspapers picked up the story and printed it with a variety of extra little details, but I’ve left them out for the most part as some of them seem like romantic embellishments (nothing in his pockets except a lady’s glove, a vicar having to attend to support the distraught widow, etc.)

From the minutes of the Young Men’s Association, whose membership covered Christ Church and Harley Wood, mentioning Yourn’s death

The TAS memorial transcript from 2009 notes that the side stone with John William’s name on was found near the base of a “seemingly unconnected” stone with the Dawson family name on, and at the time the connection wasn’t able to be made between Yourn and the Dawsons. Remember that John William and Mary Ellen went to stay with her parents for those final 8-9 weeks before he died, and remember that the first place she went looking for him was at her parents’ house…the stone is for the plot owned by and containing Mary Ellen’s parents and three of her siblings. Mary Ellen herself never remarried, and died in Rochdale in 1958 at the age of 82. We’ve not been able to trace her final resting place.

John’s in-laws; Sarah, Thomas, Herbert, Annie, and James Wrigley Dawson

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