52.55 – Sally Greenlees and Sarah Coop

When a stone has been nearly destroyed, it’s easy to make mistakes. And we made one! Thankfully, time spent at St Mary’s graveyard allowed us to be able to correct it. We thoughts this was Sally and Sarah Crossley, although that made no sense because of the supposed dates; after hours of research we’ve determined that actually it’s Sally Greenlees and her daughter Sarah Coop, two women who died too late to join their families elsewhere.

Sarah Mitchell, also known as Sally, was born in 1788 to Robert and Susan (Chatburn) Mitchell. She was a twin, and her and her sister Mary were both baptised at St. Mary’s in August of 1793. This wasn’t uncommon, to be baptised well after birth, and it may speak to a possible non-conformist background (especially given the location of this grave within Christ Church graveyard itself, with other known non-Anglican families). In 1812 she married Samuel Greenlees, a saddler or leather craftsman, and one of the witnesses to their wedding was William Hardaker, further strength to the notion that at least one of the wedding parties was a non-conformist (the Hardakers were Quakers).

The age of these records makes it difficult in places to trace the Greenlees family, but in 1841 we can find them at King Street near Cockpit, right where Longfield Road now meets Rochdale Road. At this point two of their children were still living with them – Charles and Sarah, the Sarah mentioned in the title of this post – as well as a niece of Sally’s named Mary Mitchell. By this point Samuel and Sally had been married for almost 30 years though and to fill in more of the gaps we need to jump to a gravestone just down the road at St. Mary’s…

The top two thirds of the stone at St. Mary’s…
…and the bottom third of it!

Sally and Samuel had six children between 1813 and 1828. Not all of them made it to adulthood; Anthony and Alice died only one or two years old each, and this left a gap between Charles Hamer Greenlees and Sarah Greenlees of eleven years. They were the first two buried here, along with son James’s wife Betty who died in 1847. The following year Samuel died and was buried here. And in 1854 James died and joined his father, wife, and two siblings in this grave. This left Sally living with Charles (who had been widowed in 1848 just like his mother), his daughter (who was also named Sally), and Sarah, who had become a milliner and dressmaker. Sarah was about to begin the first of her three stints as a married woman, with ironmonger Thomas Scholfield, an acquaintance of Charles’s, waiting in the wings. This first stint would be a brief one. They married in February 1853; Thomas died in July 1854; their one and only child, Mary Alice, was born in September of that year. She would also be Sarah’s only child.

1861 arrived and found Sarah living with Charles, as well as his new wife Sally and their children. Mother Sally meanwhile had moved in with her other son, the also widowed Thomas, and his many children and lodgers. Sarah’s (and Sally’s) next move seems surprising, but it makes sense – enter George Houghton, a “livery stable draper” from Blackpool. Remember that Samuel Greenlees had been a saddler, and that his many descendants would for generations remain in the leather or farrier industries. George must have met up with the family at some point and he and Sarah caught each others’ eyes. However it happened, in May 1863 the pair married in Blackpool, and Sarah brought Sally and Mary Alice with her to their new home at the coast. As with her last marriage, brother Charles was her witness.

George mostly worked as a cab driver but in 1868 saw his chance to become a coal merchant, and took it. He sold his equipment and dove in. One hopes he enjoyed it, because he died a year later aged 44. A year earlier, Sally had died, and her body brought home to Todmorden to be buried. But not with her husband and their lost children…because that plot was full. It needn’t be that she was buried in Christ Church since there were still spaces in the double Greenlees vault, and even Thomas Scholfield had been buried at St. Mary’s and (we had assumed) in a plot that still had some space in it. Whatever the reasons, Sally didn’t share in the spaces there that her son Thomas and some of his family would later fill. She went here, on her own. Did Sarah think “this won’t do” and resolve to join her later? Did she not intend to join her later and have other plans? George’s death and burial with his first wife may have figured into that decision, or maybe it didn’t. The dead’s motivations are as hard to pin down as living people’s sometimes.

At first Sarah stayed in Blackpool with Mary Alice and took over George’s coal business, and in 1871 they had been joined by her niece and nephew, Gilbert and Sarah Sutcliffe. Their presence must have been friendly rather than necessary since Sarah was able to afford a servant. Sarah Sutcliffe was also a dressmaker so perhaps was getting some support and training from her aunt. Sadly no mention of Sarah as a businesswoman appears in the Fleetwood or Blackpool newspapers so it’s difficult to know what her next steps were. We did find, though, that she made one more marriage. In late 1872 she married former publican William Coop. Sarah was only 44 at this point, still young, and she did have a life ahead of her. She also knew that Mary Alice was getting older and might move on soon, which she did, getting married herself in 1874. William and Sarah left Blackpool for Manchester where William found work as a joiner and Sarah became a shopkeeper (the nature of her shop left unspecified on the 1881 Census). When William’s son in law William Rigby died, his daughter Fanny moved in with them.

What happened next? We don’t know. William and Sarah disappeared from the public record. Mary Alice disappeared. Fanny Rigby disappeared. All we know is that on January 15th 1886, Sarah Coop was quietly buried at Christ Church along with Sally Greenlees. No notices appeared in any newspapers anywhere. And thanks to this stone’s particular qualities and the particular weathering that took place on it, both their names began to fade much faster than those around them…but we’ve figured them out at last.

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