S2.9 – Herbert, John Robert, Betsy and Arnold Cunliffe, and Jack Uttley

One of the first stories we told from under the school extension was that of the Dodd family – that was because on the two out of their three sidestones, which are unaccountably resting on the outside of the school extension, one included a hitherto unrecorded family member. Since then we’ve found unmentioned people, stones that were moved, stones that only had initials but that could be identified, and stones with details on that we only know because of passing mentions over 120 years ago in newspapers. Like the Dodds, this is a family whose memorial has been scattered to the four corners of the extension. And like Ernest Thomas/”Thomas Ernest Law”, this is a family where at least one person has been lost in translation. And most of all, this is a family who proves in more ways than one the necessity of a group like ours who is willing to shine a light into every corner to ensure that the mistakes of the past aren’t repeated in the future.

Betsy and John Robert Cunliffe’s stone, next to Amy and Andrew Dodd’s stones

John Robert Cunliffe was born in 1871 in Stacksteads, the son of Cunliffe and Jane Cunliffe. Yes, Cunliffe Cunliffe. Sometimes you had so many kids you just ran out of names. Cunliffe was a weaver from Rawtenstall and Jane had been born in Todmorden, so John’s migration in this direction made sense on several levels. When Cunliffe died in 1888 the family began to break up. We can’t find John on the 1891 Census, but his sisters Alice and Lily had made the move to Walsden by that point, one married and the other living with them as the sister-in-law. He was definitely here by 1895, living at California, as that’s when he married Betsy Greenwood at Christ Church.

Betsy Greenwood was a year older than John, born in 1870 to James and the interestingly named Asenath (Scholfield) Greenwood. James was a cotton spinner, and like Cunliffe Cunliffe, died while his children had only just become adults. In 1891 Asenath was a widow and living at Bond Street in the town centre, while her two youngest children Betsy and James worked to support her and themselves.

John and Betsy had six children, four girls and two boys. Ruth, Herbert, Laura, Alice, Arnold and Eva. The family moved to Cinderhills on the Halifax Road side of town, and then back to Pickles Court in time for the 1911 Census. Eva, the baby, was born in 1912 so doesn’t appear on that census. We can see there that the children followed the tradition of leaving school once they hit 13 to go to work – Ruth and Herbert are working in the cotton mills and Laura, only a year younger than Herbert, is still a scholar.

Herbert Cunliffe

WW1 arrived, and Herbert joined up. He had a very eventful war, involving multiple wartime injuries requiring treatment in London, and at one point in 1918 actually going missing. He wasn’t a big man – when he joined up in 1915 he was only 5 foot 1.5 inches tall and with a 32″ chest when expanded. His war consisted of episode after episode of boils and impetigo on his back, gunshot wounds to the face on two separate occasions over the course of a week, and a three-month stint as a German POW. He was lucky to survive. Brother Arnold, born in 1908, was of course too young to serve.

Todmorden District News, October 4th 1918

Herbert wasn’t content after the war to return to the life of a weaver, in a house full of weavers, in a town full of weavers. Having survived what he survived, maybe he wanted to do something unexpected with his life and take control of his fate again. Whatever the reasons, in March 1922 he set off for Australia. Strangely there was no newspaper coverage, but then, there’d been quite a lot of “excitement” in the past seven years, and maybe he wanted to quietly start a new life rather than have a fuss made. His ship was the S. S. Baradine and he disembarked in Melbourne. Sadly he just missed the birth of his nephew and death of his sister Ruth Mitchell, Eric Mitchell (the CWGC grave next door’s) mother.

Meanwhile life ticked on for the other Cunliffes. The 1930s brought excitement and sadness for the family. In 1932, Eva married Jack Uttley, a commercial driver from Walsden who drove transport vehicles for Temperley’s Pipe Works on Bacup Road. It’s possible he worked with Arnold, as both had the same occupation later on the 1939 Register. Jack was a little too desirous of excitement, and we find him in the newspapers mentioned more often that not for charges of reckless driving! It’s amazing he kept his license as long as he did (he did lose it briefly in 1933, but had it back in 1934, because he ran his truck into a Rawtenstall Corporation Omnibus later that year).

Todmorden District News, September 14th 1934

Their wedding was the highlight of the decade though. In August 1935, word came from New South Wales that Herbert had died. The following year, John Robert Cunliffe also died. The family grave was opened, but only for John – Herbert was buried in Australia. Interestingly, we know because of Herbert dying intestate (without a will) that he was going by an alias at times in Australia, “Herbert Miller”. We wonder if his family knew anything more than that he had died, given that by March 1936 neither they nor anyone else had come forward to present themselves as his heirs.

The Argus (Melbourne newspaper), March 9th 1936

Due to the difficulty in accessing public records after this point there’s little more we can say. In 1939 Jack and Eva were living at Fair View in Honey Hole with their two children, while Arnold and Betsy were living together at George Street. Nineteen years passed after John’s death before this grave opened again, this time to admit Betsy. And two years later, it opened to admit…


..it says on the 1980s Youth Opportunity Scheme transcription of this area that Jack died next, in 1959. If you’ve been reading along with us for any length of time then you know that the previous transcripts weren’t infallible. Under the school, doubly so. And while it says here that Jack Uttley died in 1959, it’s wrong; Eva died in 1959, aged 47.

Which raises a very interesting question: what does that stone actually say? There are two possibilities, one is more plausible than the other but both are instances we’ve already seen repeated many times each. Option 1: the stone actually reads “Eva, the wife of Jack Uttley” and the teens in the 1980s missed off Eva’s name. Option 2: both Eva and Jack are there and dates have been swapped and a name lost. The can of worms that would open will be discussed at the end of this post. Anyway, we don’t know why Eva died in Bradford, but she was cremated in Rochdale and buried here in her “own grave” (this denotes a grave owned by a single family and not a separate single interment).

Last that we know of was Arnold. Arnold died in 1960, only a year after his mother who he had supported for so long.

Arnold’s sidestone, under the school (photo passed to FOCCT)

Last that we don’t know of? Jack Uttley, who died at his home on Lacy Avenue in Walsden on November 6th 1977. The only evidence we have that he probably isn’t under the school extension is that an interment in 1977 would have prevented permission being granted for a building to be erected over the graveyard. But only going under there and transcribing the stones will allow his presence to be ruled out. Herbert is named on these stones but isn’t buried here; there are many stones who remember a name but explicitly state they’re buried elsewhere. If Jack is named on one of these stones it may well be that his final resting place is also specified to be elsewhere.

The final irony here, of course, is that the Cunliffes being buried at S2.9 means that their graves were already situated outside of the footprint of the school extension, and it’s actually stones being moved under the first extension’s footprint that has meant we cannot examine them all to be certain who is meant to be here. Their actual resting place is by the drop to the Cricket Club’s property, just about where Eric Mitchell’s CWGC stone is currently placed.

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