S4.4 – Jane Stead

Jane is one of the oldest residents of the burial ground underneath the school extension, having died aged 89. The first online record we found for her, after her burial record, was the 1939 Register where she appears living in Colne and with her occupation given as “unpaid domestic duties”. At 88 years old?!

Jane Stead was born on February 16th 1851 in Fairburn, northeast of Castleford and northwest of Knottingley. Her father John was a shoe and boot maker, and she was the youngest (at that point) of four girls, named after her mother Jane. She would later be joined by another sister, Fanny, born in 1857.

By 1871 Jane had left Fairburn to seek work and was working for the Fryer family in Huddersfield as a domestic servant. Edward Fryer was a “commercial traveller” from Rastrick who was living on the west side of the city with his wife, several children, and his mother. From 1871 to 1881, when we find Jane in Walsden, we have no idea where she has been or what she’s been doing…in 1881 her occupation is now “formerly domestic servant”. She is also joined in the home by her sister Fanny, an unmarried cotton weaver, and Frederick and Anne (Stead) Sweeting. The Sweetings are visitors but Fanny is living with her. Fanny had previously been living with their sister Sarah, now Sarah Pilling, and her family in Walsden in 1871. Jane wasn’t the first of the family to make the move to our town.

Also living with them is Agnes Stead, aged 11 months old.

Agnes is Jane’s daughter, or rather, was – Agnes died in 1884 from an obstructed bowel. Their address then was 35 Garibaldi Street and Jane was working again. Jane would later, in 1891, be joined by her widowed mother Jane (who died in 1895) and her two children – Thomas William Hall Stead (born 1877) and Mary Stead (born 1884). That makes three children born to Jane out of wedlock.

Detail from Thomas’s baptism register entry, Ledsham 1877. Interestingly, the child above him is his cousin; Elizabeth Balmforth, daughter of Mary Stead Balmforth

Another point that has us wondering about the family is that in 1871, Jane’s widowed mother Jane was living in Pontefract with her granddaughter, Janey, who was 7 years old at that point. She would have been born in 1864. It feels unlikely that our Jane was having children aged 13 (at least we hope so…) so perhaps Janey was the daughter of one of the other, older sisters.

Thing is, if our Jane was “disgraced”, she was not dramatically or controversially so; women had children out of wedlock all the time back then, and while there was more of a moral sniffiness about such things, people continued to go about their business all the same. Her pregnancies didn’t make the newspapers so who would have cared so much? Not many. It may have hurt Jane’s employment options, though, as in 1891 and 1901 Jane had become a laundress or charwoman. This was dirty (literally) work, and physically very tiring. We do find a mention of Jane in the newspapers shortly before this time, when she had a short spell in the Fielden Hospital due to typhoid. Again, think of how this would have weakened her, think of the work she did…and then think of how old she was when she died. Jane was a tough cookie.

Todmorden Advertiser, June 2nd 1898

Come 1911 and Jane has gone to Burnley with her daughter Mary and her son-in-law William Scholfield, as well as their little son Thomas Richard. William was a chemist (pharmacist) and shopkeeper from Walsden who had married Mary in 1907. He was already working in Burnley, and after their marriage the family went there.

Back to the initial, easiest to find record for Jane – we wondered who she was living with and what she was up to. She was simply with her daughter and family, being supported as most mothers do; it was just that she had never married that threw us off the initial scent. This is why it pays not to assume anything!

As for Jane’s family; daughter Agnes and mother Jane are both buried at Christ Church. Fanny Stead died in 1922 and is buried at Christ Church too. Sarah Pilling and Anne Sweeting are buried elsewhere, as is Jane’s other sister Elizabeth Barraclough. We don’t know where Fanny or mother Jane are buried here…maybe with Jane? Who knows. We will say for certain that Agnes is buried with her mother, though, because the two graves to the left of Jane’s contain interments from 1884 in them; as the rest of Christ Church’s “ordinary graves” are laid out in a grid, with each row containing fresh interments from the same year, it makes perfect sense to conclude that Agnes was buried here first. Just like William Sutcliffe in the previous row, someone who on the face of it is buried alone is often not as alone as we might first think.

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

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