52.56 – Timothy and John Roberts

For what was supposedly some sort of business dynasty, the Roberts family left little trace in public records; but this lovely, now flat, and unique gravestone reminds us that they were financially a cut above many others in this part of the graveyard.

John Roberts Sr. was born outside of Yorkshire but had made his way to Todmorden by 1803 when he married Tod lass Susan Farrow. John was a tailor and draper – and a good one – who quickly started a business here. A family was started slightly less quickly. John Jr. (the one buried here) was born in 1811, Thomas in 1814, Timothy in 1818, and Caroline in 1821. It may be that there were earlier siblings but pre-GRO and with older baptism records being fitful in places, we don’t know for certain. What we do know is that the Roberts family were tailoring powerhouses. All three sons went into the business, and Caroline married William Catley, another tailor who lived on North Street (aka Burnley Road), in 1848. There was also an Edward Roberts on North Street who was also a tailor, just to confuse things. If they were related, then John Sr. was the superior tradesman – William had an apprentice, but John had an apprentice and a servant. It’s the little things.

The Robertses lived and plied their trade at the first shop on Burnley Road after White Hart Fold. That corner used to be where the Yorkshire Penny Bank was located, and the next door along was the Roberts storefront. When Susan died in 1847 and John Sr. died in early 1849 the three brothers stayed together at the address along with servant Susan Sutcliffe. 1851 found John Jr. employing five men apart from his two brothers in the business. Thomas would soon leave Todmorden and leave John Jr. and Timothy wholly in charge.

Sister Caroline Catley died in 1858 and brother Thomas in 1860, and by 1861 Timothy was still alive but not in Todmorden anymore. John Jr. is still at North Street with Susan Sutcliffe. Frustratingly there was a Timothy Roberts living a few doors down from John Jr. who was a cabinet maker and who is frequently mentioned in the newspapers, but not our man. We know at least that he was back in Todmorden by 1871 and living with John Jr. and their niece Louisa Catley. That same year John became a constable under the Poor Law Guardianship system.

When Timothy died in August 1871 the mention in the newspaper was sure to include that he was the son of John Roberts of North Street. Their father’s memory was obviously a very clear one, either that or they were very proud of it.

John Jr. continued to tailor and drape, and when Louisa Catley married and moved out his other niece Susan Ann Catley took her place as his housekeeper and home help. He seems to have operated purely on the strength of word of mouth, with not a single advertisement appearing in the newspaper or the Almanacks that we could find. He did so well, in fact, that he could bear to leave one debtor unprosecuted for fourteen whole years, although the circumstances were special; the Joseph Crabtree mentioned here was a very poor man who lived at Blind Lane whose son Thomas – the son in question the suit was supplied for – had died fourteen years previously aged 21 and is buried at Cross Stone. The magistrate gave Joseph another five years to pay out of pity.

Todmorden District News, December 21st 1883

When John Jr. died in 1888 he left the shop to Sarah Ann, and his generation of siblings was gone. If any readers have very long memories and know anything about why this family’s business had been held in such high regard, please let us know!

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