52.61 – Jane Firth, Elizabeth Taylor, and Agnes and Thomas Roberts

This grave spans 51 years and tells a lot of stories in and around the stories of those buried here. We’ve tried not to get sidetracked.

Jane Firth and Elizabeth Taylor were both born Hudsons, to Anthony and Agnes (Smith) Hudson of Kendal in Westmorland. There were nine Hudson children and the family were weavers, two things which added up to potential financial hardship. Jane left to go into service, ending up working for publican John Hoggarth at the Oddfellow’s Hall in Kendal. That’s where she was living in 1851; Elizabeth, ten years Jane’s junior, was still at home.

At some point the Hudsons made the move to Manchester, settling at Gorton. This is where Jane met Sam Firth, a young druggist who came from a very good family indeed. Sam’s father Nathan had been the farmer at Steanor Bottom in 1851, farming 26 acres and employing two men. He had come to Manchester to learn the trade and probably hoped to find work there, or back in Todmorden, in what would have been a respectable and educated occupation. The two met, they were married in September 1860, and their first child Tom was born by the end of the year. No time wasted!

In 1861 they were living in Gorton along with Jane’s parents, four of her siblings, and her niece. Elizabeth meanwhile had moved to Longsight and was working as a cotton doffer and lodging with the McNully family. She was busy having an uncomfortable for those times adventure of her own; also on the 1861 Census at the McNully’s was 6-week old Agnes Kenney. This was Elizabeth’s daughter, born out of wedlock and legally Agnes Hudson as a result (but Elizabeth made sure the father was named somewhere, somehow, and it was here on the census return that she managed it). Six years later she married widower Joseph Taylor at Manchester Cathedral. He already had a son, Joseph, and he and Elizabeth added to their blended family with two more sons, William and Frederick.

Detail from the 1871 Census for Jane Firth

The Firth family also grew during the 1860s with Walter, William and Agnes following along, but Tom died young and was buried in Manchester. By 1871 the Firths had made the move back to Todmorden and were living at Waterstalls. Meanwhile Joseph Sr. was conspicuously missing from the 1871 Census and Elizabeth and her children – Joseph Jr. included – were living with her widowed sister Margaret and her son. Margaret was a laundress and Elizabeth was helping out, her occupation given as “washer woman”. Baby Frederick was only a year old.

Detail from the 1871 Census for Elizabeth Taylor

Where did Joseph go? It’s not very clear at all. By 1881 Elizabeth was listing her marital status as “widowed” and working as a laundress, with Agnes, William and Frederick still living with her (and working where they were able). A fourth child had also appeared, 8 month old Richard. Was he Elizabeth’s son, or was he Agnes’s son? Census returns were often a little vague on these points. Elizabeth had taken the opportunity to name the Agnes’s father obliquely in 1861, but in 1881, Richard’s surname was merely a “do.”, signifying it was Taylor…but it’s anyone’s guess without ordering his birth certificate. For the rest of Elizabeth’s life Richard was named as her son, so we’ll assume that this was the truth.

In the meantime, Elizabeth lost one more sister. Jane died in 1879 at the age of 45. The Firths by this time had moved down to Crescent, which is just past where Salford lies on Rochdale Road – think Morrisons and Hall Ing area. Sam was left with three children on hand and, unusually, he didn’t marry again straight away. 1881 found Sam and the children at Crescent with Agnes at home as the housekeeper. 1891 found them still there, and now with another person in the household – Elizabeth’s daughter Agnes Hudson. Both she and Agnes Firth were now working, the former as a cotton weaver and the latter as a cotton spinner. That same year Agnes Firth married Thomas Roberts, a chemical labourer from Littleborough, and then there was only one Agnes left in the Firth household.

(And there would stay one in the household, because in 1892 Agnes Kenney Hudson married her cousin, Walter Firth…but that’s another story eh?)

Sam Firth had become a “chemical worker”, using his druggist training in a different field than perhaps he’d originally intended, and this seems to be how Thomas met Agnes as he was also working with sulphate chemicals. Thomas was born in Chatburn in 1864 to William and Betty Roberts, and grew up in Calderbrook for the majority of his life. William was a general labourer who tended to work mostly in quarries, and Thomas and his siblings all started out as cotton weavers. Either Thomas had moved into chemical works before his marriage, or moved into it because of his marriage, but either way that would remain his career after 1891.

Thomas and Agnes had no children of their own, and moved to Bottomley Road, just near where the railway line goes into the Summit Tunnel. They remained in that area of Walsden for over twenty years. In the meantime, aunt Elizabeth had died in 1905 and been buried with her sister Jane, and after a while Agnes and Thomas decided for whatever reason to move back towards Littleborough. Agnes’s health wasn’t good, and in 1929 she died at home and was buried here with her mother and aunt. It’s interesting to look at the funeral notice in the newspaper, because so many of the names are familiar faces when you look at the 1891 Census. The Laws, the Fieldens, “Walter, Agnes and Florrie” (her brother, cousin, and niece)…all former neighbours and perhaps coworkers too. Those ties clearly remained very strong.

Rochdale Observer, September 14th 1929

Thomas died a year later, and was buried with his beloved wife. No notice went into the newspapers for his death but at least, unlike so many others who we know are buried in the yard here, his name made it onto the stone. Sometimes when you’re the last one left it doesn’t happen.

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