42.58 – Mary, Mary Jane, Albert and Young Chaffer, and Ethel Gill

The patriarch in this grave outlived everyone else buried here despite his difficult and sometimes dangerous job. Young Chaffer certainly didn’t die young (see what we did there?) and his grave is a bit crooked, so enjoy this tilted photo and the story of this family.

Young Chaffer was born in 1838 in Todmorden. His father John was a wheelwright and the family lived at Salford, at the last address on that side of the road before Todmorden Hall. While his sisters went into dressmaking and cotton weaving, Young followed John into the wheelwright business.

Why would doing this be a potentially dangerous job? It involved working with iron and fitting iron bands tightly around wooden wheel frames. You might not be in danger of losing your life, but burns and lacerations were always possible, and of course the age old risk of tetanus from rusty metal. Young seems to have been talented (or lucky) enough to escape industrial accidents of any kind for his entire career, which was a long one.

In 1867 he married Mary Greenwood of Cobden, whose father William was a confectioner. The couple had five children whose names we know as well as the “two infants” mentioned on this stone. The last three were Mary Jane, Ethel, and Albert, in that order.

Mary Jane was the first to die, only a year after she was born, in 1876. Albert was next in 1893 at the age of 14. In between, though, was Mary their mother. At only 44 years old she was rather young, younger than she needed to be. There’s no newspaper mention of her cause of death – it could have been anything from sickness to childbirth. In 1881 their eldest child was 14 and the youngest only 3, so Young would have had to get domestic help to care for them during work hours. This was possible as by this point Young was a “master wheelwright” employing two men.

In a small bit of small-town irony, in 1864 Young and his father John had been responsible for building and presenting John Ormerod of Blind Lane with a new hearse for his funeral director and undertaker business. Did that hearse drive his family members to their burials? Likely so. He will at least have been confident in his work meaning they arrived at their final destinations in comfort and style, you’d hope.

One of Young’s domestic servants was Eliza Lawson, who is buried here in an unmarked grave at 29.22. She died very suddenly in December 1890 at the age of 48, after having what appears to have been a heart attack while shovelling snow away from the family’s front doorstep, and only about five minutes after telling Young’s son John William that she had a bit of a headache.

The following year Young married again, this time to a much younger woman. Jessie Cockcroft was 29 years old, not too young, but also 24 years younger than her new husband. The pair did not have any children of their own. John William followed his father into the family business, and his other son Harold also did so before changing direction and training to be a medical doctor.

Daughter Ethel? She married John Hinchcliffe Gill in 1899. John was a fustian dyer and seems to have been well off himself despite his young age, owning a mill in partnership with a Joseph Ogden. In 1901 they lived at Heath Lodge in Hebden Bridge and he was listed as an employer on the census that year. They didn’t have long together, though, as he died in 1908. Ethel’s own health was not terribly good either and she died in 1913, aged only 36, in Southport where she had gone to convalesce due to ongoing sickness.

Young had in the meantime continued to work, still being listed as a wheelwright on the 1911 Census at the grand age of 73 years old! But in 1915, “owing to poor health” he hung up his hat. He died in October 1921 at the age of 83, leaving his business in the capable hands of John William, the third (that we know of) generation of wheelwrights to operate out of their premises at Salford.

Young Chaffer (centre) and employees, courtesy of the Todmorden Antiquarian Society

Jessie Cockcroft Chaffer is buried with Richard and Susan Chaffer at V3.3 – she died in 1968.

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