Annie Marshall (unknown location)

This girl is buried at Christ Church but her burial was not recorded – not the first one from 1916 which appears in the burial register but not the sexton’s book. She was buried the day before Eleanor Hopkinson and it’s tempting to think they’re buried next to each other, but Annie’s grave isn’t marked “new grave”, and the space next to Eleanor doesn’t have a family member in it. The Marshalls were non-conformists, so maybe Annie is with a family friend…under the circumstances, that seems likely. There are many children buried here but Annie may be the only one who is here by her own choice.

Annie Marshall was born in the second quarter of 1902 to Smith Marshall and Harriet Fielden Marshall. Smith and his family were all Primitive Methodists, and his wife and children were all members of Eagle Street Spiritual Church. The 1911 Census shows Smith and Harriet with their three children – Annie, the oldest, then Emily, then Jack. All lived at 12 Cross Stone Road but the family would later move to 4 East Street.

(A quick aside here about the Spiritualist Church movement – this movement believed in the continuous existence of the human soul and in the ability for the living to communicate with the dead, amongst other things. Their version of a Sunday School was called a Lyceum, and we know from the newspaper that Annie was a “Lyceumist” or regular attendee.)

Todmorden Advertiser, August 4th 1916

Smith seems to have been a relatively harsh disciplinarian, perhaps because his children were all working as well as going to school, perhaps because of his religiousness. Annie was having to lead a relatively adult life on top of being a normal child, and it seems as though her workplace, Albion Mill, employed a mix of young people and adults. All these factors combined to produce a series of events on June 27th 1916 that led to Annie’s death.

The coroner’s inquest went into great detail as to what happened, but a brief summary is that Annie had, the day before, gotten home between 15 and 30 minutes late and without the companion in tow that she had been returning from work with, and Smith disciplined her by, in his words, striking her twice across the face. The door was open and anyone could have heard. The following day Annie went to work, and a coworker and near neighbour, Sarah Grindrod, questioned her about a rumour she had heard about her father disciplining her by whipping her. But as rumours do, what Sarah had heard had happened was that Smith had made Annie strip naked before being whipped and that it was because she was always running around with boys. This was from two other neighbours – Annie must have thought the whole street was talking about her.

In case you haven’t already done the maths, Annie was 14 years old. I’m not sure any of us can imagine how it must have felt to hear that all the adults on your street think not just that you’re up to no good, but that you were punished for it in that particular way.

Another coworker, Mary Ellen Hall, heard Sarah discussing Annie with another coworker and came in and asked what was going on, and Sarah told her the whole story – even the bits Annie had refuted. The three discussed it a little longer and then parted ways. Unfortunately for Annie a boy who worked at the mill had overheard the conversation, and the rumour spread across the entire mill. At lunchtime Annie came to Sarah and said “Mrs Grindrod, they have plagued me with that over there” – referring to the section she worked in. Sarah told her to pay no mind.

After lunch, Annie disappeared. The last time anyone saw her was noon. At 3:30, a workman for the Rochdale Canal was walking along near Gauxholme when he saw a man trying to drag something from the canal by the railway bridge, saying that he had been coming the other way and found a pile of girl’s clothing on the bank. The two of them eventually brought up Annie’s body. The woman who took the body in found no marks of violence on her, and a small note was found in her pocket which read “It is all through Mrs. Hall”. Annie had heard from the boy that Mary Ellen had been the one telling of the rumours, not Sarah. It probably didn’t matter. Everyone sharing the story all around was enough.

The jury found that Annie was temporarily of unsound mind because of “tittle tattle” and the coroner placed the entirety of the blame on Sarah and Mary Ellen, as well as the other neighbours who had speculated so freely about what was happening. Repeatedly throughout Sarah’s testimony he asked her why she had told other people and spread the story, and was unsatisfied with her attempts to deflect blame by saying “well this and that neighbour told me those things, I didn’t make it up”. She repeatedly found herself saying “I didn’t think” when asked if she had considered the impact of her words. The coroner even said at the end that an older girl might have been able to defend herself and deflect the gossip, but such a young girl (and let’s not forget her religious family) didn’t have the emotional skills and strength to ride out this sort of humiliation. His exact words were as follows:

The Marshall family left Todmorden not long after this and resettled in Warwickshire. Another daughter, Lena, was born a year after Annie’s death.

We forget sometimes that social media isn’t the beginning of child suicide due to bullying. The child suicide rates between 1992 and 2017 was on a steady fall, but from 2018 onwards it has risen again dramatically. Some of this is due to the burden of proof being lowered in England and Wales but Childline estimates that even so that the official figures are an underestimation. A study in 2010 found that nearly half of suicides amongst children in the UK are directly linked to bullying, and that being bullied made children up to 9 times more likely to self-harm or attempt suicide.

This story formed part of our September 2023 Suicide Awareness Month tour.


  1. Pingback:12.10 – Sarah and Doris Grindrod – F.O.C.C.T.

  2. Helen Stansfield

    So sad that a child who’d already been punished by a strict father for being late home was subjected to gossip in this way. All those grown ups sharing the gossip who “never thought”!
    How obvious are the parallels on social media now. A lesson in stopping and thinking before commenting on what you don’t know for fact

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