41.18 – Murdoch Campbell

Murdoch is an enigma in the graveyard. His common-for-the-time name makes it hard to pin down his origins; he is not mentioned in any official records of the work he did; his cause of death poses nothing but questions. But he’s here, and with a magnificently carved stone, so this is what we know:

“This modest Stone, What few vain marbles can, May truly say, Here lies an Honest Man.”

Murdoch Campbell was born around 1782 in Contin in Ross-Shire. This was a poor part of the Highlands and Campbell must have been intelligent and lucky to escape the area and gain the sort of education and experience that allowed him to become a contractor on the Manchester and Leeds Railway. But what was he doing in Todmorden?

Between 1838 and 1841 the Summit Tunnel was built, which finally connected the two railway lines between Leeds and Manchester. He may have been involved in that, working alongside engineering experts who were putting everything they had into building this complex tunnel. And don’t forget the workers; the 41 who died during the construction of it, particularly. Murdoch wasn’t one of those.

His death registration has him resident at Castle Grove in Millwood, and the sexton’s book as living at the Swan Inn (later the Swan With Two Necks), so another possibility is that he was working on the building of Todmorden’s train station. The station opened at the same time as the opening of Summit, in March 1841. Or was he working on any of the railway line going towards Hebden Bridge? There are some elevation maps and other items relating to the building of the railway to and through Todmorden, but none of them have Campbell’s name on. Frustratingly, we know enough about why he was here to know where to look for him, but he never appears.

And finally, his death registration. Where the cause of death is normally written in, we instead have simply “found dead on a sofa”. Registrar, please, why?!?

Maddeningly vague death registration for Murdoch Campbell

We can only return to the stone which was placed by, presumably, his coworkers. Whatever it was he was doing, he was an honest man.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *