36A.31 – Pearson and Alice Smith

This stone is for many members of the Stansfield family, and maybe anyone here who has walked past and noticed it have noticed the mention of a son who died in America at the bottom. This is the story of just two of the many on this stone, because it’s long and because it’s sad. Yet another suicide whose cause is still seen today – the lack of support available for unpaid carers.

Pearson was born in 1865 in Sharow, part of Ripon parish. His father was a blacksmith and farm labourer and the family moved here and there around Yorkshire before settling in Liversedge. Pearson initially went from school into the coal mines, but that was a very dangerous job, and he was lucky enough to find his way out of the mines and into better paid work on the railway. That’s how he came to Todmorden. In 1888, he appeared in the newspapers as one of the main witnesses to a drunk man’s refusal to get off the train, describing how the man kept getting off the carriage and then getting back on demanding to be taken to Littleborough and refusing to give his name.

How he stayed in Todmorden was his wife, who is also buried here. Alice Stansfield was born as Alice Greenwood because her parents, Luke and Mary here, didn’t marry until after she was two years old. This meant she legally had to go by Greenwood, which is a little misleading, but we know she was definitely their daughter. Pearson was 25 and Alice was 32 when they got married in 1890, and Pearson was working as a foreman porter at the train station. Pearson had been living at 10 Wellington Road and Alice at 14 Queen Street, and after getting married they lived with Alice’s mother and siblings at first before moving to Doghouse Lane in 1901.

Pearson appears in the news more than a few times, but for good reasons. He was a member of St. John’s Ambulance and of the “Good Intent” Friendly Society. His membership of St John’s Ambulance is interesting, because one of his newspaper mentions is of an accident on the railway in April 1901. One of the train marshalls was hit by another train while directing a goods train onto the “Burnley triangle” just over the viaduct, and had to be rushed to Halifax Infirmary in the company of Pearson. The man barely survived. It’s in 1904 that we find mention of Pearson passing his final re-examination for SJA. Did the incident inspire him to get proper first aid training? It’s tempting to think so.

It’s tempting, in fact, to think of Pearson as someone who was willing to help others. Some of this might be because of Alice. We couldn’t find any mention of why Alice was unwell, but we know that for “some time” she was an invalid, and in fact by 1913 was confined to a chair of some sort and pretty much wholly dependent on Pearson. We found the answer as to why Alice was unwell in her death registration; Alice’s primary cause of death was given as lateral sclerosis. This condition is known today as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease and is a progressive degenerative neurological illness that causes paralysis and a great deal of pain. Alice had been working as a cotton weaver in 1891 and 1901, but no longer was at work in 1911, so we can track the onset of her illness as starting between 1901 and 1911. We also know from the 1911 Census that the couple had no children.

Some of you may have heard of the term “compassion burnout”, or know about how hard it can be to care for a loved one who is totally dependent on you. It’s hard when you’re well. Pearson, unfortunately, wasn’t always well. By 1911 Pearson and Alice had moved to Duke Street in Eastwood, across the main road from Bridgeholme Cricket Club, and Pearson had become a dyer’s labourer, probably working quite nearby. Some time in 1912, he was diagnosed with bowel cancer and had to have an operation. He was in a lot of pain afterwards, and had to quit work. That sets the stage for October 8th 1913. From the newspaper article about his death:

This is enough of the heartbreaking article. In short: Pearson had hung himself in the kitchen and Alice, not being able to get into that part of the house unaided, had been sat waiting patiently, unworriedly, but then anxiously for him for some time; not realising he was dead in the next room.

The jury found him to have been temporarily of unsound mind due to stress and his cancer, and that’s why he’s buried here and not elsewhere. Unsound mind absolved the person of responsibility for their act, and allowed them to be buried with their loved ones in consecrated ground. These verdicts might represent the true facts, but as often as not, they were gestures of kindness towards the bereaved left behind.

After Pearson’s death, Alice had to move back home with her mother, because her health condition as we heard meant that she was completely unable to live alone. Due to her mother’s own age, though, it wasn’t long until Alice was living with her sister back in Eastwood. Alice didn’t outlive Pearson for very long, and died two and a half years later in 1916. The houses where Pearson and Alice died are no longer standing – all those houses on that side of Halifax Road were knocked down.

Studies have been done worldwide into the mental health of those in caring professions or working as unpaid carers. In the UK, in caring professions, suicide rates are three times the national average. 71% of unpaid carers have had suicidal thoughts, and at any given time one in ten have already attempted to commit suicide. There are currently no targeted interventions aimed at identifying and preventing suicide risks for adult carers in paid or unpaid situations. If Pearson had been alive today, a charity such as Overgate could have helped him with coming to terms with his cancer, and perhaps even with end-of-life planning and making sure that Alice’s care could be handled after he was gone. But in those days you only had family, as we said, and without children many older people left alone or left in a state of poor health ended up at Stansfield View or a similar place if they were lucky.

As we said, a sad story, best left divorced from the stories of the others buried here. But if you know someone in either Pearson’s or Alice’s situation, check on them and see what support they need. It’s important.

This story formed part of our September 2023 Suicide Awareness Month tour.

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