56.64 – Betty and John Forrester

John and Betty rest here, and hopefully they are resting. The end of John’s life in particular held a particular sort of embarrassing heartache.

John Forrester was born around 1805 on the Lancashire side of Todmorden, as was his future wife Betty Ratcliffe. We know nothing of their lives prior to their marriage apart from that John was a spinner and that they both lived near each other – John at Knowlwood and Betty at Bridge End. Their marriage took place in 1824 and the pair settled at Bridge End to start their family. They had six children that we know of between 1826 and 1847, with a nine year space between their last daughter Betsy and their last son John Kay (who is important to the story).

John was a hard working or lucky man, or a combination of the two, because he worked his way up to overlooker and also somehow came into possession, or at least management, of a number of properties. We aren’t certain whether Betty was from the Ratcliffe family of local publicans and landlords, but if so then she will have probably brought a few pounds to the marriage. The Forresters moved around a lot – Wood-Shade, Butcher Hill, the National School (possibly John was the part time caretaker on top of his day job?), Victoria Terrace…they stayed at Victoria Terrace for a while, actually, before eventually moving to Smales in Walsden.

By 1861 when the Forresters had arrived at Victoria Terrace, only John Kay was left at home and John had become the manager at the cotton mill he worked at. We don’t know which one as his retirement was not marked in the papers, and his only newspaper appearance before then was when the watchmaker his son was apprenticed to tried to sue him for not paying his installments towards the partnership. John had stopped payment because the watchmaker had gone bankrupt and John Kay had had to go work for another man to finish his training. John was successful in avoiding liability and John Kay finished his training and became an actual watchmaker, opening up his business at Hanging Ditch in 1871. Meanwhile by 1871 John had retired and he and Betty were still at Victoria Terrace but preparing to make the move back to Walsden.

It’s good that Betty got to see her last child find success – she died in 1876 at Smales aged 71 – and maybe also good that she didn’t see what happened next. John Kay had married Sarah Walton Helliwell in 1867 and while they didn’t have children by 1871, they had two sons in 1872 and 1874. Something was going on in their marriage and maybe also the business that wasn’t right and in 1878 John Kay did something quite unexpected; he closed his shop and he left the house and went to Sowerby Bridge. It seems he was working while there but the problem of his wife and children (if you could call them problems) wouldn’t go away so easily. Not only did they become chargeable to the Board, but the Board decided to recoup the costs from John Kay and Sarah’s fathers. William Helliwell and John Forrester, neither of them working men anymore, were now on the hook.

Todmorden District News, September 27th 1878

John Kay was apprehended and brought back and ordered to pay the arrears he owed for supporting his family, and in the meantime was also accused of stealing a watch from a customer (although this was handled fairly amicably in court and never seems to have come up again). The scandal died down, but there was a sad conclusion to the tale – his wife Sarah died in April 1879, less than a year afterwards, aged 33. And the following year John died too aged 76. He had been living with his eldest daughter Sarah (now Stephenson) and her family at 18 Roomfield Lane. His estate amounted to less than £20. His debtors were contacted, his assets shared amongst the children or liquidated, and he joined his wife here just behind one of the places they had lived in happier times.

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