53.54 – John, Charlotte, Betty, John, and William Crabtree

We got to this stone just in time. Some small details are unrecoverable, but the majority was, and we’re glad we could get what we could before it became too late.

John Crabtree the elder was born in Todmorden in 1803. His future wife, Charlotte Taylor, would be born six years later in Bacup. Both the Crabtrees and Taylors were cotton weavers and when the Taylors made their way down Bacup Road to Gorpley and Friths Wood it was hardly surprising that John and Charlotte formed a connection.

Their first child, Hannah, was born in 1832, four years before her parents would have their banns read at St. Chad’s; John and Charlotte did make it legal, though, and more children followed. In 1841 there was Hannah, Sarah and Thomas; by 1851 all three of those children had died but Betty, James and William Henry had been born. The family still lived at Gorpley Mill and carried on despite their so-far 50% child mortality rate. By 1861 they had moved a short ways to Jacob’s Well, but still well within sight of the mills that lined Gorpley Clough all the way down from Dulesgate to Gauxholme.

Detail from 1888 town plan map of Halifax Road showing Garden Street and Queen Street

The Crabtrees eventually left the Bacup Road area and moved towards the town centre…and some of them back out again, up past Millwood towards Castle Grove and the old gasworks. This came with some of the children’s age but also with work. Betty moved to Garden Street to lodge, James married Mary Barker and moved in with her parents and siblings at Queen Street, and John and Charlotte stayed in the town centre on Ridge Street with William Henry. Betty, sadly, fell ill and died at the very end of December 1870. Her siblings had been buried with John’s family at St. Mary’s, but by 1870 the plots there were all full, and the Crabtrees purchased a new one here at Christ Church for themselves.

December proved to be a fatal month for the Crabtrees and December 1873 proved doubly so. The burial register shows three burials two days apart: John Jackson Firth, John Crabtree, and John Barker Crabtree. The first man was one of the Crabtrees’ neighbours, and the last was James Crabtree’s son and John and Charlotte’s first grandchild. Something must have been in the air, or in the water.

And less than a year later William Henry was dead. Charlotte was left with only one of her six children. Not a single one had made it past 27 years old apart from James, who was then 28. When she died in 1879, 70 years old just like her husband six years earlier,

One wonders if some of this was linked to their work spinning and carding cotton. Plenty of life-shortening illnesses could be traced to the mills, from testicular cancer to anthrax and many, many lung complaints. Maybe it’s no coincidence that in 1881, James Crabtree was no longer a carder, but had become a stationer and bookseller…

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