50.55 – Sarah and Betty Ashworth

This plot marker labelled B. A. denotes a grave belonging to Benjamin Ashworth of Shade. In it is definitely his sister Sarah, and probably another B. A. – his wife Betty. But what of Benjamin himself? Read on…

Sarah Ashworth was born in 1815 in Chadderton to William and Ann Ashworth. She was the eldest child, twenty years older than the youngest, and ten older than her brother Benjamin, the owner of this plot. William and Ann had moved to Todmorden by the time Benjamin was born (1824) and William was then working as a servant, although we don’t know who he was working for. William seems to have been a labourer for the most part and the family was resident at Gauxholme from at least 1824 to 1841, so he was probably employed with one of the mills along the bottom of Bacup Road. In 1841 he was a carter and all the children bar Joseph, the youngest, were cotton weavers.

By 1851 William had retired from the carting business and Sarah, William Jr., Benjamin and Mary were all at home working to keep the household going. Sarah and Benjamin were both cotton power loom weavers. William died in 1858 and Ann in 1861, and the household split up…apart from Sarah and Benjamin, who stayed together. They first moved to Pexwood and then to School Street at Shade and for most of the last 15 years of Sarah’s life continued to cohabit. She died from heart disease in February 1876 aged 60 and was buried here, in this 1876-78 row, in a grave paid for by Benjamin and marked with his initials.

Benjamin had apparently been the subject of a great deal of teasing from teenage boys (at least according to the newspapers) and in 1875 had to take some to court for assaulting him in the way that teenage boys usually do – name calling leading to throwing things leading to a punch up. By this point he and Sarah had taken up separate lodgings but he was described as going to School Street that day…probably to visit her, since it was about two months before her death…it doesn’t sound as though he was having the best time of it.

Todmorden District News, December 10th 1875

Losing his sister and lifelong companion must have been difficult, especially if he was something of a pitiable figure. In 1880 he had a chance at happiness though and married Betty Tillotson Varley, a spinster 17 years his junior, who brought with her an illegitimate 14 year old daughter named Nancy Ann. From a quiet life with his known-quantity sister to a younger wife and a teenage stepdaughter must have been quite a big leap for him!

Betty didn’t always live an “exciting” life. Born in 1842 in Heptonstall, her mother Nancy (who she would name her daughter after) died when she was young, and the family moved from there to Brear Brink, near Horsfall. You might not know where those places are, but think about the Horsfall railway tunnel, and that will help you place yourself. Brear Brink was between Horsfall and Cinderhill, and Betty’s daughter would be born at Lob Mill in 1866. John Varley Sr. disappears from the record here, and when Betty got married he had already died, but whether Betty had been thrown out or not is debatable. In 1871 she and little Nancy Ann were living with her brother John and his wife at Stansfield Bridge. Betty’s lack of exciting life isn’t down to life events so much as it is to her absence from the newspaper records. Whoever Nancy Ann’s father was, either he and Betty came to an agreement quietly, or she never pursued him for an affiliation order and child support.

Betty and Benjamin’s married time was short; she died in November 1883. She’s buried at Christ Church so it seems reasonable to assume that she’s here with Sarah, as no one else in her family is buried here and Benjamin owned the exclusive rights of burial in this plot. All deaths are tragic to someone but Betty’s death seems a little sadder than many. She and Benjamin were about to welcome a child together, his first at 58 years old and her second at age 40. But when she was seven months along she contracted enteric fever, otherwise known as typhoid. She was sick for a few weeks, rallied, but was exhausted; three weeks after her recovery from typhoid she went into premature labour and died as a result.

Betty died; but on October 11th 1883 she did give birth to a daughter named Mary. Mary’s birth wasn’t registered until November 5th, three days after Betty died, likely due to Betty’s ill health and what must have been a month full of worry and frantic activity and occasionally fearful paralysis. What would Benjamin do? Would Betty pull through? She didn’t, but miraculously, Mary did. She went to live with Henry and Mary (Ashworth) Dyson in Castleton and would stay with her older cousin Mary Ellen after her aunt and uncle passed away, eventually living with her and her husband Albert in Rochdale and helping them with Albert’s post office and general store.

Benjamin would stay at Brook Street but didn’t live much longer, and died in 1890 at the age of 65. Curiously, the only burial record we can find for him places his body up at King Cross Wesleyan Chapel. Why there? Why not with the sister and wife he loved? That’s a mystery we hope someone else can solve.

Nancy Ann would go on to have a son, Arthur, out of wedlock in 1891 who would sadly die in late 1892 and is buried at Cross Stone – interestingly not with her mother. She went on to marry William Henry Wilson in Halifax in 1895 but we aren’t sure what happened after that.

Leave a Comment

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