5.7 – Rachel, George and Tom Brammah

Some gravestone epitaphs leap out at you and scream that there’s a story to be told here. There’s certainly one here.

George Brammah was born in 1835 in Cudworth, near Barnsley. His father George was a quarryman and no doubt was working in one of the many mines or mine-adjacent industries in that part of the Pennines at the time. George was one of many siblings, whose names we will see repeated later – Joseph, Frances (later Francis), and Thomas, the eldest son of George Sr. and Martha Brammah. By 1851 George’s mother Martha had died and his father had remarried. George Sr. had also become a carpenter, and brother Thomas had moved back home, along with a Brammah grandchild and two grandchildren of new wife Elizabeth. Our George was probably starting to feel a bit crowded and so he scarpered all the way to Heptonstall, where he met and married Grace Shackleton of Higher Lee in 1854. George’s occupation was given as “man-servant” and while we can’t be certain of who he was serving in 1854 we can start making guesses as of 1861, when we find him, Grace and their son William living at Hallroyd and his occupation as “gardener”.

George Brammah is one of many in this graveyard who made his living off of working directly for the Fielden family. George’s employer was at first Joshua Fielden, but later would be “Black Sam” Fielden at Centre Vale. Grace died in 1862 and he remarried in 1866, this time to Rachel Chittey, and moved from Hallroyd up to Kitson Wood Road in Lydgate to start afresh.

Rachel Chittey was born in 1840 in Harpham, near Bridlington on the east coast. To complement George’s sister Frances, her father’s name was Francis, and she grew up on a farm where he worked along with her mother Hannah and her sister Bessey and brother Hodgson. Helping to look after her nephew William Lovell Chittey, Rachel stayed at home rather than learned a trade, but at some point between 1861 and 1866 she went into service and ended up far from home living in Lydgate, where she met George. They were married in February 1866 and began to sort their own family out – along came Joseph in 1867, Tom in 1868, and Francis in 1876.

George became a coachman and by the 1870s was definitely employed by Sam Fielden of Centre Vale. Known as the most volatile and bad-tempered of the three sons of Honest John Fielden, he was almost certainly not the easiest man to work for. But George managed it and managed it for quite some time. 1877 was a stressful year for many, involving one of the largest floods the area had ever seen, and in that flood George and Rachel’s middle son, Tom, nearly lost his life by being swept into the river at Victoria Road and only fetching up and being rescued when he got to the Fox and Hounds, aka what many in Tod know as the Acorn Centre – a hell of a long way to be swept along at age nine. And a bit of foreshadowing is in there too but we’ll get to that in a bit…

Halifax Courier, September 22nd 1877

Tom Brammah was an athletic young man who acted as a “hare” for the Todmorden Harriers in his youth. He was still the son of a working class man though, and at age 12 was working as a cotton spinner in the mill just like his older brother Joseph. By 1881, when this was happening, the family had moved again to Centre Vale Lodge, so George could be in closer proximity to Sam and Sarah Fielden. He would have been their personal coachman at this point, a job that held some prestige and came with nice accommodation but was still a service position. The 1880s would see a change for the Brammah family though; George would change employers and Tom would change location. In late 1886, Tom left Todmorden along with his friend William Sutcliffe, and the pair went to the east coast to find their fortune (or at least some work) on fishing trawls on the North Sea. Did Tom hear stories about the coast from his mother or did the boys just seek adventure? His half-brother William had married a girl from Market Rasen in 1878 so there was a second family connection to the area that also could explain the move. Around the same time as Tom’s departure, George left Sam Fielden’s employ and went to work for Walter Lord at Adamroyd. Sam Fielden was near the end of his life so it’s possible that he was downsizing his staffing, or maybe something else was going on behind the scenes that caused him to leave.

Either way, the 1880s would not be kind to the Brammahs, because in 1888 Tom died. He died, and the grave here reads that he was “lost in the North Sea”, because he was indeed lost. His body was never recovered. The boy who survived a near-drowning at age 9 did not escape it at age 19.

Todmorden District News, March 16th 1888

Looking into John Gidley showed a man whose arrangements with sailors were informal at times; his ships were several times brought up for not having signed proper forms and contracts with the sailors they took on, with one of the possible consequences as detailed by magistrates being that there was a risk of sailors being lost at sea and the families having no recourse to prove they were on the boat in the first place. That didn’t happen for Tom, but it seems in that one single sense he was lucky. Obviously not in any other sense.

(A side note: William Sutcliffe stayed on in Grimsby and in 1891 was lodging with a family there, still employed as a trawler, but after that we can’t be certain of his whereabouts or actions)

George and Rachel carried on, and Tom was not forgotten. When Joseph got married his first son, who was born in 1892, was named George Tom Brammah. George and Rachel stayed living in the Meadow Bottom area, finally moving along to Stansfield Hall Lodge, where in 1901 George was described as “living on his own means”. The Lodge there was owned by Joshua Fielden Jr. so whether George went to work for him near the end or whether the younger Joshua had fond memories of him is unclear, but if he wasn’t working then clearly an arrangement had been made which was workable for the couple. Confusingly a daughter named Frances, a dressmaker, was supposedly living with them in 1891, but no birth registration exists for her and so we have to assume that there’s a misunderstanding of some sort. Perhaps she was a niece of George’s. In 1901 their granddaughter Betsy (Joseph’s eldest child) is living with them as some sort of home help or support. Not that they needed it; George was very well off, possibly the recipient of a bequest or two from his former wealthy employers

Rachel died in 1909 aged 68, and George followed her in 1922, leaving £531 to William. Their other two sons are buried at Christ Church, Joseph having predeceased them both in 1901 and Francis dying in 1930. William died in 1924 in Rochdale and his burial location is unknown.

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