S1.1 – Catherine Armistead

The farmer’s daughter who became a nurse and was one of several sisters who came to Todmorden. We can’t see her stone, but we can learn a great deal about her life.

Catherine was born in 1839 in Arkholme, in the parish of Melling in Lancashire, just south of Kirkby Lonsdale. Her father John was a farmer from Thornton, near Bradford, who had moved the many many miles to Arkholme to farm a property which in 1851 the census tells us was 114 acres; not a small feat. Catherine was one of seven children, and the youngest girl. In 1851 the farm is named as Cowkin Farm – sadly we cannot work out where this is now. The Armisteads seem to have done relatively well for themselves as farmers (tenant farmers? John isn’t specified as a landowner), but by 1861 the 114 acres had shrunk to 74 acres, and most of the children had left home.

In 1861 Catherine was one of the children who had left, and she can be found working in Walmersley, Bury, as a servant for the incumbent of the parish church there. That vicar was named Thomas Ramsbotham, and if you know anything about Todmorden’s history, that surname will make little lights start flashing in your brain. This, indeed, is the Todmorden link! Isn’t it?

If you don’t know, we’ll save you having to google it: the Ramsbothams were wealthy millowners, and in fact were the owners of Centre Vale before selling it to “new” money John Fielden MP. Thomas here wasn’t one of THOSE Ramsbothams but from a less wealthy but still esteemed offshoot. However…curiously…in 1871 Catherine wasn’t in Todmorden, or with the vicar and his family even. Instead she was a waitress, living at Farmfield in Toxteth Park, one of many servants of a 77 year old spinster named Jane Yates whose occupation is given as “landowner”. In 1881 she’s with yet another employer, this time William and Hannah Melland of “Moorfield” in Withington. If the Ramsbothams provided the Todmorden link, the link will merely have been something intangible and delayed, maybe only a mention of the place. Because Catherine didn’t get to Todmorden for another 40 years.

After many many years, the Armistead family began to cohere again, and in 1891 a more traditional looking household appears. In Toxteth Park, Liverpool, at 187 Mill Street, we find a Mary J. B. Armistead, spinster dressmaker, living with her unmarried brother and two sisters. Also in the household are three aunts, Alice, Jane and Catherine. Alice and Jane are retired publicans, and Catherine is a “retired professional nurse”. Nurse is not a term that has been applied to Catherine before then, but looking back, she was found after 1861 in households that had an older, if not elderly, principal family member. But Catherine’s employment record is varied and inconsistent. In that vein, come 1901, and Catherine is finally here in Todmorden. She’s living at 193 Rochdale Road, and she’s working as a dairy maid. Strangely, in 1881 and 1891 Catherine’s sister Mary was living in Todmorden and working as a dairy maid too – she married Thomas Greenwood in 1894 at the age of 57 but they moved to Rosegrove Farm near Burnley before 1901 when Catherine arrived in town.

Having parted ways before 1901, when Alice and Jane were found in Wavertree near Liverpool, the three sisters reconvened in 1911 with Catherine joining them in Liverpool, and again giving her occupation as retired nurse. In 1921 Jane had passed away, but Alice and Catherine still lived together at 36 Egerton Street.

Catherine died in 1931, living at 47 Stansfield Street, at the age of 92. What drove Catherine’s constant movement about the northwest? Why Todmorden, so briefly? And why is she buried here? The answer can perhaps be found in her probate record…

The answer is also to be found under the school, at S2.2 with the above John and Ada Ireland. Because as you can see, Ada is one of the two beneficiaries of Catherine’s estate – and she’s buried there too. But who was she? And who was she to Catherine?

You can find out more (and also get a fresh new question to ponder) here.


  1. Pingback:S2.2 – John and Ada Ireland – F.O.C.C.T.

  2. Pingback:S2.9 – Herbert, John Robert, Betsy and Arnold Cunliffe, and Jack Uttley – F.O.C.C.T.

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