49.54 – Joseph, Betsy and Mary Ann Sonley

43 years sit between the first and second burial here; the two wives of Joseph Sonley, Betsy Forrester and Mary Ann Hollinrake. Two Tod lasses who fell for the same journeyman tailor (although fortunately not at the same time). We’ll also tell some of the wider story of the Sonley family as “how did Joseph get here” is tied up in that.

Joseph Sonley was born in Kirbymoorside in 1844 to William and Ann (Richardson) Sonley. Kirbymoorside is in North Yorkshire, northwest of Malton and east of Helmsley – a good ways away from Todmorden. Father William was a master tailor and Joseph would not be the only one of his eight (eight!) sons to go into the same trade. William and Ann in fact had nine children, so his business must have been pretty good…Joseph apprenticed under his father after his older brother William had moved out and started his own shop and family, and as Joseph took over more tailoring work his older brother Richardson became a saddler’s apprentice and father William also started to make and sell gloves. “Sonley” is a common surname in this part of North Yorkshire and so many Sonley sons must have worried William; both for their own livelihoods and his own in such a small area.

And so William, on the death of his first wife Ann, left Kirbymoorside and ended up in Todmorden. He met and married Elizabeth Forrester Chadwick, one of the daughters of John and Betty Forrester of Bridge End and a widow with three sons. William and Ann had a son of their own, Cornelius, who came with him, and with Elizabeth he would have two more children. He set up at the Oddfellows Hall and made a point of offering a “clothing club” so that working class people could save up and purchase good clothing of their own. A laudable project indeed!

Todmorden Advertiser, September 22nd 1866

…unfortunately it came at a loss, or perhaps other things weren’t well…but in 1868 William was declaring bankruptcy and being summoned to “surrender in the county”. Yikes! He had ceased to trade as a tailor and become a greengrocer to try and recoup costs. Joseph must have heard about his brother’s plight and headed south, and by 1871 he and William were both working as tailors and living at 20 Patmos. What wasn’t possible for one man seems to have been possible for two. It also helped that Thomas Chambers, deputy editor of the Advertiser, was lodging with them we’re sure.

(The Chambers-Sonley connection remained until Thomas’s death in 1905, when he was once more lodging with William Sonley on Longfield Road)

That’s how Joseph got here, and it’s also how he met his wife. John and Betty Forrester were rather fond of the name Elizabeth and its derivations it seems. Elizabeth Forrester was born in 1829, and in 1838 her sister Betsy Forrester was born. Looks like the Sonleys were fond of it too as in August 1871 Joseph and Betsy were married at Heptonstall. Betsy was a weaver like many in her family, and after Elizabeth’s husband Thomas Chadwick died Betsy went to board with her at Cross Street, where Elizabeth had moved after becoming a widow. That helps explain the further close proximity Betsy would have had with Joseph when he arrived in the late 1860s to help William get back on his feet.

Betsy and Joseph would sadly only have seven years of married life together. They stayed busy – Joseph with his tailoring and Betsy with the result of his activities outside the workplace, namely three children. They moved from Patmos to Dalton Street to their own home, with Joseph still working alongside William at the shop along the Lancashire side of North Street. Their last child, Sarah, was born only a month before Betsy’s death from phthsis and “general anasarca” (swelling of tissues, usually linked to heart failure and certainly exacerbated by pregnancy in her case).

Many men like Joseph, with a motherless infant as well as other children, remarried relatively quickly. Joseph waited an extra year though and in late 1880 married Mary Ann Hollinrake. We’ll tell her story and then loop back, because this is an interesting marriage in some ways…

Mary Ann Hollinrake was born in 1838 to Gibson and Betty (Greenwood) Hollinrake of Oldroyd. She was their first child of four and Betty – in a parallel with Mary Ann’s predecessor later on – would die in September 1846 shortly after giving birth to her last child, son James. Unlike Joseph, Gibson immediately remarried, to Mary Bentley of Heptonstall in November 1846. But like Joseph later, Gibson would have no more children. Mary Bentley was eight years his elder and a spinster of 41 when they married, inheriting Mary Ann, Hannah, Esther and baby James from Betty. Given the still high, though starting to fall, rates of maternal mortality due to childbirth in those days it might have seemed like a good deal.

Mary Ann grew up at Oldroyd her entire life and it seems as though things weren’t easy for the Hollinrakes. Gibson was a spinner and Mary stayed home to look after the children. The girls stayed in school until 13 or so, with Mary Ann being the first to go into the workplace as a throstle piecer. By 1861 all four children were working in the mills. Mary never went back to work after marrying Gibson and kept the house until her own death in 1868. This came at no small cost as in 1864 Gibson had to apply to the Guardians for poor relief; his name appears in the Relieving Officer’s report under the “regular and casual poor” column due to insufficient earnings. Were there health issues within the household that meant not everyone could always work, or regular medical bills, or a combination of the two? Gibson buried Mary Ann with Betty at Cross Stone in what is now the old ground around the church itself. James moved out and Gibson became the housekeeper for his three working daughters. 1871 found the family of four still at Oldroyd and the three daughters – all women now, between 29 and 33 – described as weavers.

Gibson died in 1878 and suddenly, free of the responsibility of looking after their widowed father, Mary Ann and her sisters were able to consider…something else. For Mary Ann and Esther this was marriage. December 20th 1880 was a double wedding; Mary Ann married Joseph, and Esther (who was illiterate and as a result is named as “Hester”) married Dawson Southwell. Hannah (again…named as “Ann”) was their witness.

You’d expect us to find Joseph and Mary Ann living with the children on the 1881 Census, but for reasons we can’t determine, this family unit is missing from the records. Only one fascinating detail can be found; that little Sarah Sonley, born just before Betsy’s death, is living all the way up in Kirbymoorside with Joseph’s sister Mary Ward and her husband Andrew (also a tailor). She was very young to be so far away from home, and Joseph, Mary Ann, Ann and John William aren’t in the area. Neither Ann nor John William are found with any of Joseph’s other siblings either, because of course we checked William and Elizabeth first…and they aren’t with any of Betsy’s siblings either.

Detail from 1881 Census

While William Sonley is prominently in the Todmorden newspapers during the 1880s, 1890s, and beyond, Joseph’s name isn’t seen again until the 1920s. In 1891 the Sonleys were back in Todmorden, at 3 Victoria Road (and with Hannah Hollinrake now living with them) and Joseph is still a tailor, but he must have been working under William rather than as a partner in the business. Ann and John William grew up and married, and in 1901 Joseph, Mary Ann and Sarah were living at 18 Nutfield Street. Then Sarah got married, and finally it was just Joseph and Mary Ann.

Joseph eventually retired and he and Mary Ann moved to Burnley, living off the rental income from the houses they’d bought over the years at 14, 16 and 18 Nutfield Street. All three of their children had left Todmorden and two had gone to Nelson and Colne, so Burnley made sense for being around to see the majority of their grandchildren. Mary Ann died first, in 1921, and Joseph followed in 1928. The fact that they came back here to be buried fascinates me (researcher Sarah) given that so little remained in Todmorden for them both. Their families’ graves, yes; but Mary Ann’s Hollinrakes were all at Cross Stone, and there were no lost children (that we know of) for either her or Joseph in this grave. William and Elizabeth Sonley are buried at Christ Church (her in 1900 and him in 1914) but in an unmarked grave whose location isn’t known to us. Are they actually here? Or was it simply that Mary Ann died first, Joseph buried her with the other love of his life, and when he died his and Betty’s children made sure he was resting with their two mothers? Because, as we see below from the “in memoriam” posted in 1929, Mary Ann was as much their mother in their hearts as Betsy.

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