S4.9 – Nathan Ogden

This is another one of the plot markers under the school which we feel confident in identifying – or, at least, half identifying. R. G. we have a strong hunch about, and we think was the owner of the plot. N. O. we can definitely identify as Nathan Ogden. Nathan died of natural causes in circumstances that had us certain of unnatural ones, until we ordered his death certificate. 36 years old, rheumatic fever, pericarditis as a secondary cause…but two weeks after the conclusion of probably one of the most humiliating experiences a person can go through: a public bankruptcy.

Nathan Ogden was born in 1848. His mother was then 17 year old Susan “Susy” Ogden, and his father was John Law. We know this from his marriage certificate later, but tracking down which John Law of dozens it was has proven impossible as Susy didn’t marry him later on. Nathan grew up with his mother, aunts and uncles, and grandparents at Toad Carr. The whole family were weavers and Nathan became a power loom weaver on leaving school. That’s his occupation on the 1861 Census, when he was just 13 years old.

A year later, Susy married Richard Greenwood, a weaver who lived at Lobb Mill. The pair had no children of their own, and we know that Susy died some time before 1876 (when Richard remarried), but little else is known about her from this point onwards. Did her new husband have any sort of relationship with Susy’s son? Perhaps. Remember, the plot marker had two sets of initials on it. And remember how we said that plot markers sometimes had the owner’s initials on and sometimes the initials of the first person buried there? R. G. is almost certainly Richard’s initials.

In 1870 Nathan married Caroline Delaney, a weaver nearly ten years his senior. Caroline’s family were also all weavers. On her marriage certificate she named her father as James Delaney, soldier, deceased. He had married her mother Mary Scewith in Bolton in 1832 and was a Serjeant in the 35th Regiment of Foot Cavalry. Curiously, though, when the first child came along, Mary baptised her alone and gave her own status as “spinster”. James is also no longer in any picture by the 1851 Census, with Mary calling herself a widow, so perhaps not everything is as straightforward as it looks. Regardless, Caroline grew up in Todmorden, and after her marriage to Nathan the couple settled at Willow Bank.

In 1873 Nathan began to get active in local educational societies, and even chaired a performance by the humourist and comic actor George Grossmith (who would later co-author Diary of a Nobody with his brother Weedon) on behalf of the educational department of the Co-operative Society. He continued to be named in relation to education in the area until 1878, when he was hired on as the caretaker at Roomfield School and provided with room and board for himself and Caroline, on the proviso that their house retained two empty bedrooms for trainee teachers. The role of caretaker wasn’t just of looking after the school buildings and grounds, but also other duties as directed by the Education Board.

Todmorden District News, October 31st 1873

Between Roomfield School and the Co-operative Society’s educational committees, Nathan was a busy man. Nathan was also a trusted man, and became the treasurer to the Co-operative Society’s education department. Nathan also developed some bad habits, such as occasionally getting drunk and being easily led to make foolish purchases or to gamble lightly. The money he lost began to outstrip the 24s (£125 today) he made per week as caretaker and, as there was no transparency or double-signature required for the recording of money taken in and money banked for the Co-operative, he began to not bank as much money as he was taking in at different times. He also developed a taste for speculating in shares and futures. It was inevitable that things would come crashing down, and in late 1883 they did. Nathan owed money to Peter Ratcliff of the Golden Lion and George Uttley of the Royal George, both for drinking and because they repeatedly loaned him money. Uttley even encouraged him to spend money while drunk, or as Nathan phrased it, “on the spree”. One of his colleagues at the Co-operative, Thomas Hargreaves, was his partner in investing in stocks, but gave him less than he expected when they sold what they held together. He claimed he hadn’t obtained more debt after becoming insolvent, but he had, and in March 1884 he applied for bankruptcy.

The process was bruising and is hard reading. The public humiliation of having a transcript of your entire hearing published in the newspaper cannot be underestimated. Creditor after creditor made their claims and the process of getting more and more drunk, losing grasp of the situation, borrowing against losses, borrowing to satisfy those who found him out, Caroline’s unhappiness and refusal to take on the weight of his debt, the loss of his job as caretaker…all was made public. As the case was adjourned for a month, it also spanned two newspaper editions. At the end Nathan’s debts were discharged but his reputation was in tatters.

Stress affects your immune system, and after the debt was discharged in late April 1884 and the Ogdens moved to Ferney Lee, Nathan developed what we now call strep throat. He was too unwell to fight it off properly, and of course there were no antibiotics back then. Strep developed into rheumatic fever, and he died suddenly in May 1884 at only 36 years old. He was buried where the extension is now, in a grave that was paid for (either well before the time, or out of sympathy at the time) by his former stepfather Richard Greenwood.

Caroline was left widowed while still reeling from her husband’s public disgrace. We can’t imagine that people didn’t view his death with suspicion, either. The death certificate and lack of a coroner’s inquest speaks for itself; Nathan died of natural causes. But there must have been talk. Todmorden had more people living in it back then but it was still a small town! She remained on her own for some time, but in 1891 remarried to William Gibson, also a widower. She outlived him too, and eventually moved in with her widowed sister Matilda and survived on what was left of some sort of pension paid from a benevolent fund after William’s death in 1906. Caroline died in 1913.

Where Susy Ogden is in all this, we don’t know. She must be buried somewhere with her parents. Richard Greenwood’s whereabouts are also unknown. Was he added to the plot at a later date by his widow and a full stone never placed? Maybe she barely remembered Nathan, or didn’t know who he was at all. It could have been worse; she could have had a new stone placed with just her husband’s name on, and N. O. would have been lost for good. As it stands though we’ve been able to link the two and put names to the letters. Hurrah for plot markers and carefully planned graveyards.


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