51.60 – James and Amelia Fielden and Sarah Midgley

This entry is short, partly because some of these names are very common and distinguishing them was difficult; and partly because of the all-too-common casual erasure of women from public record, unless they were distinguished or naughty enough to get columns.

Amelia Dawson was born in 1812, or 1815, depending on which record you look at. This is unhelpful as there was another Amelia Dawson born around 1815-1816 and that, coupled with her marriage being by banns and not recorded on a full certificate, means we can’t pin down her birth or life prior to marriage. The same goes for her future husband James Fielden. He was born in 1813 and grew up to become a stonemason and quarryman, and sometimes carter, and generally a labourer. We think he was the son of Enoch and Betty Fielden of Pighill, baptised at Christ Church in August 1813, but his marriage prior to the census beginning means we can’t place him at a residence with them (or anyone else) as a youngster.

The pair married on May 28th 1837 – that at least we can be sure of – and they settled at Watty Hole where they would more or less remain for the rest of their lives. James undoubtedly started off working in the quarries and maybe even mines or clay works that lined Bacup Road. They went on to have five children, all daughters – Alice, Betty, Sarah, Ann and Jane. Sarah is the daughter who joins them here in this grave.

The Fieldens moved around a lot – from Watty to Peel Terrace and then to Stoneswood Bottom. The daughters all worked until they left home and Sarah became a slubbing frame tenter, working with cotton fibre and straightening it prior to spinning in order to get the cleanest, smoothest, best quality thread or yarn out of it.

Amelia and James are both impossible to find outside of public records. A James Fielden who was a carter for Friths brewery was fined for not having control of his house, but was it the same one? None of the marriage records for his daughters call him a carter, although they do place the family residence at Friths Wood Bottom. Amelia doesn’t get a newspaper mention even as Mrs. James Fielden. Amelia died in 1879 and James in early 1880, and all that we have is their death notices. Lives that flew almost entirely under the radar.

Sarah was the last daughter left unmarried after her parents died and in August 1880 she made a very good marriage – Luke Midgley the younger of Wood Cottage. The elder Luke Midgley was the manager of a cotton mill and the younger was a joiner. All the Midgley children worked but still, a good family, right? And Sarah seems on paper to have had an uneventful marriage. Luke doesn’t appear in the newspapers for abandonment or beatings or drunkenness. They had a single child, which itself seems curious, but fertility issues existed back then too…Ruth was born in 1883 and that was that.

Sarah died in 1897 and was buried here with her parents, and that begins the final period of her erasure from the record. Because three years later Luke remarried, to Emma Downsbrough. That’s not the trouble – he didn’t need to be a widower forever! – but when Ruth Midgley died in 1910 she was buried with Emma’s father up at Cross Stone and her inscription reads

“Also of Ruth, daughter of Luke and Emma Midgley, of 56 Bacup Road, died July 17th 1910, in her 28th year.”

To have looked at that stone alone you wouldn’t know Sarah had ever existed. Ruth was 14 when Sarah died, not too young to remember her mother…and Emma will have filled a hole in Ruth’s life after her mother’s death, but this inscription tells us more confidently of how Emma viewed her stepdaughter than it does how her stepdaughter viewed her. The choice to bury Ruth with her grandfather and (eventually) father rather than with her mother is an interesting one too. Regardless of the motivation what’s left carved in stone here tells us only of the second wife and not of the first. Apart from the stone at Christ Church, you almost wouldn’t know these three people existed at all…

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