52.51 – Hannah, Samuel, Sarah, Sarah Jane and Amos Kershaw

The first thing you’d notice when reading this gravestone is the quick succession in which people were laid to rest here; the first three burials represent a span of less than 24 months, and all five (because there are five here, not just the four on the stone) cover 13 years from beginning to end.

Samuel Kershaw was born in 1804 in Buttershaw, Lancashire, and we know very little about him until his arrival in Todmorden and first appearance in the records here, in 1834. That was when widower Samuel married local lass Hannah Dawson. Hannah was born in 1806 to William and Sally Dawson of Lightbank (on the canal side of Gordon Riggs) and by 1834 was herself unmarried but with a four year old illegitimate daughter named Mary. Mary stayed with Hannah into her marriage, and in 1841 and 1851 is living with the Kershaws still.

Samuel was a stonemason and quarryman, and Walsden made sense as a place to stay given the easy access there to work. The Kershaws settled at Lock Street in Shade and Samuel and Hannah had six children together. Amos, the oldest, didn’t follow Samuel into the masonry business but instead became a sort of general labourer. Starting in the cotton mills, he would eventually work as a railway signaller and pointsman and in a tanning yard. But we’ll get onto that later.

In 1856 Amos married Sarah Gibson of 16 Market Place, Shade. Sarah was the daughter of Charles and Ann Gibson, the second of eight children, and all working members of the family in the cotton trade. Amos was at this time working as a self-actor winder, so perhaps they met at work at Wadsworth Mill or Fielden Bros., or one of the other mills nearby. The couple settled on Cannon Street and started their family.

1868 rolled around and this grave began to fill. First, Hannah died, on Valentine’s Day. The following year saw Samuel die, and a few months later, Amos’s sister Sarah Jane. Sarah Jane was only 24 and her death certificate tells us a story; she died from debility and diarrhoea following “confinement” for one month. Confinement, of course, refers to recuperation from childbirth. What happened to the baby? We don’t know. All that’s left of Sarah Jane in public records, apart from her birth and death, is her signature as a witness to her and Amos’s brother James’s marriage in 1867, two years before she died.

Sadly, Amos and Sarah’s daughter who was named after her would die in 1871, not outliving her aunt for very long at all. But don’t ask us where she’s buried because we don’t know. The Kershaws were non-conformists, as you can guess from their location within the graveyard, and they worshipped at Wellington Road Baptist Chapel. Some non-Anglicans would be buried at Lineholme or Eastwood or Shore, although others are indeed here at the parish church.

In 1874 medical advancements (or lack thereof) caught up with Sarah Gibson Kershaw at last, and she died aged 38. An unfortunate predecent was set by Sarah Jane’s death, and Sarah’s death was from a similar root cause. She died from a ruptured uterus, most likely due to traumatic childbirth although this isn’t specified in her death registration. Other options do exist though; ovarian cysts can rupture and cause internal bleeding which leads to death. Cancer would likely have been discovered and specified on the registration so there are few realistic options outside of childbirth.

She left behind five children, the youngest (that we know of) only two years old at the time. As such Amos waited the usual amount of time and then remarried a widow, Rebecca Preston Crossley, and she brought her son to the household and went on to have two more children with Amos. Amos was still making probably relatively decent money working on the railway, but that came to an end in 1876 when he got into an altercation with another pointsman over some “hard words” after a train was delayed by a few minutes due to a misunderstanding. That’s why by 1881 he was working in the tanyard – definitely a step down on the career ladder.

Todmorden District News, July 21st 1876

Don’t call Amos an old woman, or he’ll strip off and fight you!

Amos’s name doesn’t appear on this stone, but he was buried here in 1881 when he died. Poor Rebecca was left with a number of children in her care but she also died a few months afterwards, also at a young age. She’s buried with her family at Walsden St. Peter’s.

The Kershaw children were, in a sense, twice orphaned, and the youngest four (Ann, Samuel, Elizabeth and James) went to live with neighbours William and Ellen Sutcliffe. Sadly Sarah’s last child, Samuel, drowned in 1883 while either larking about or tussling with another young boy on the canal bank just past the school. His resting place at Christ Church, but we don’t know where. So many unknowns in the story around this grave.

Todmorden Advertiser, September 14th 1883

If any budding researchers fancy a challenge, then help us find out what happened to the “missing” children of Sarah and Sarah Jane.

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