S6.1 and S6.2 – John and James Thomas, and Bridget Faulkner

Another instance of two graves which might only be one – and at least one error that leaves us in the dark about what’s actually happening in these two plots.

James Thomas (date unknown) – via Ancestry

Bridget Faulkner is the oldest person in this story – born sometime around 1833, in Leeds by her accounting, Bridget only appears once on a census return and that’s in 1881 when we find her in Todmorden. How did she get here? The answer seems to be through her daughter Eliza. Bridget had married Martin Faulkner, a traveller, and had two daughters we know off: Eliza (born in 1857) and Ann (born in 1865). Martin died at some point and Eliza went into service, and she ended up with a family in Luddenden. Meanwhile, her future husband James was working as a cotton weaver for most of the year but became a travelling hawker at other times, following fairs around in a caravan; that will likely be how the two came together. They married in Todmorden in 1874, and by 1881 Bridget and Ann had joined them.

Widow Bridget’s occupation in 1881 was “hardware hawker” and it seems as though she had a stall on either the indoor or outdoor market, possibly with James. She and Ann are both “lodgers” rather than mother and sister in law on the census. In 1881 James was a cotton weaver, but in 1891 we see evidence of his travelling for work as in that year the entire family is recorded as living in a caravan on the fairground at Liversedge.

Also present in 1881 is James and Eliza’s son, John. John was six years old, and a scholar. The following year he died, and was supposedly buried in plot S6.1. John wasn’t the only one of the Thomas children to meet an early end. We will hear in 1894 that the couple had eight children, only three of whom survived.

Bridget appeared in the newspapers a few times, in less than flattering circumstances. The most memorable is a year before her death when she was caught at the train station having travelled without a ticket (their story) or lost her ticket (her story). Apparently when asked to produce her ticket she “made a most offensive and indecent observation” to the conductor. Cripes! She was also somewhat inebriated. But before we snicker, 1884 was a hard year for this family. Eliza had applied for a separation order from James due to cruelty, and only just been convinced by him to allow him back into the home. Bridget and Ann had moved out of the Sackville Street house and gone to Peel Street in Cobden to live together, and Ann had just given birth to her only child, Mary Ann (later known as Polly).

Detail from account of Bridget’s arrest, Todmorden Advertiser August 22nd 1884

Bridget died in 1886 and was buried with John. Or next to him.

Things did not improve for Eliza, as she and James continued to have difficulties. In 1888 she again charged him with assault, but withdrew the charge. In 1894, though, she’d had enough. After they both got a little drunk at a wedding, when Eliza disturbed him in the night James lost his temper and assaulted her violently, and had to be dragged away from her by neighbours. James charged Eliza in return for often being temporarily insane, with having assaulted him, and to much bemusement said that in 1884 she had assaulted Abraham Ormerod, the magistrate who made the separation order, after he signed it! Everyone in the court expressed polite surprise at this allegation.

The entire story paints a sad picture – Eliza says she only becomes temporarily insane when James beats her – and the five dead children perhaps tells its own story. Ann had by this time moved to Burnley and married Samuel Elliott, a bookmaker’s clerk, and Eliza had gone to live with them and Polly after this most recent assault. The magistrates found James guilty and dismissed his counterclaim.

As we see today, still, in many such cases, in 1901 James and Eliza were living together again. James and his eldest son still at home, also James, both work for the railway.

Now for the mystery of this story – James is marked down in the 1980’s transcript and the sexton’s book as having been buried here in 1902 aged 56. However, he would have been 46 in 1902. Was he really 46, or was he 56 and buried in 1912? Good question, and if you know the answer please tell us; because James isn’t in the burial register for Christ Church at all. Not 1902, not 1912, not any year. We know from other stones that sometimes people are recorded on them who are buried elsewhere, although there’s always a notation as to that effect – “who was interred at” or “who died in far-flung place”. So what is it we have here:

  • an incorrect year or age and a missing burial register entry;
  • a burial in another place and no full transcription of this stone meaning we don’t know where he’s buried;
  • some combination of the two? Or something entirely unknown?

Also, if you were paying attention, you might have one more question. If James and Eliza lost five children, and only one is here, where are the other four? Where are Bridget’s other grandchildren? Were they not in the sexton’s book or on the stone, or were they on the stone but not recorded?

Questions, questions.

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