S7.5 – Benjamin, George, John, Susan, Ann and Mary Crowther

It’s not the what, but the how, for us. Mary was once the headmistress of the National School, and now her resting place is irrevocably tied up in its very fabric.

Here you can see the list of names pulled from the headstone for the Crowther family in the 1980s, when a group of teenagers who were part of a youth unemployment scheme were tasked with clearing the graveyard and making an MI transcript. They did their best and provided the foundation for subsequent transcripts. They also made a few messes of things, missing out a lot of names off of sidestones and headstones. We thank them for their service and move swiftly along. And we mean that, because their efforts are all we have to identify who is buried under the school extension! If not for them, we might have nothing at all.

John Crowther was born in Todmorden in 1848 and his future wife, Susan Stansfield, the same in 1849. John’s father Benjamin worked in the cotton mills, as per usual, and Susan’s father was George Stansfield, also a cotton worker but also, the parish clerk. Already we have a strong connection to the place where they would eventually be laid to rest. The two married in 1873 and moved to Well Lane, then Bank Buildings across from the current nursing home, and finally to what was on the census known as Dobroyd but what was actually 116 Rochdale Road..

John was intelligent and became a bookkeeper at Waterside for the Fieldens which explains his proximity to the mill. He was also involved in the community and with Christ Church throughout his life as a Sunday School teacher, Church Institute leader, treasurer of the Sick and Funeral Society, and many other roles. He was also active in the Oddfellows. For 1893 he was the Deputy Grand Master, and on December 30th 1893 he was appointed Grand Master for the entire district (which numbered over 1600 members at that point).

But on New Year’s day 1894 John died. He had been suffering from an ongoing “lung complaint” and it finally caught up with him – maybe because of the excitement and effort of two days earlier? But he left a wife and three children behind. John and Susan had already lost two, Benjamin and George, who were the first to be buried in this plot. His funeral was well attended – the extended Crowther family were involved with Christ Church from the very beginning and there are many others buried there (and many others who did not die of natural causes, as John did…but those are other posts for another day).

Todmorden Advertiser, January 5th 1894

Susan was not left struggling – John will have left some money behind, and their son William had also become a clerk at Waterside – and she bought a new home at 32 Wellington Road where the remaining family members who are buried here would live for the rest of their lives. It’s fortunate that Susan purchased it herself, because hard times were coming for the family. William struggled with a gambling addiction that ruined his relationship with his mother as well as his friends, and the August 6th edition of the Todmorden and District News carries an account of William’s appearance before the bankruptcy court in Burnley which is painful to read for his excuse making and inaudible responses when questions seemed to particularly shame him. John’s estate had been left to the family as shares, and William had spent his and then borrowed more from his mother. At one point, Susan had let herself into his home at Garden Street and removed furniture so that the bailiffs would not take it and leave his wife and children without anything at all. Addictions are costly things.

Susan died in 1912 and her daughter Ann followed in 1913. Susan’s obituary refers to a long illness; perhaps it was something like what John suffered with.

Todmorden District News, March 22nd 1912

Ann, now known as Annie, received a lovely writeup in the newspaper that referred to her work with the church and the school, and the good wishes directed towards her sister Mary, who was by now the only family member remaining in Todmorden. It also refers to health problems which kept her away from her duties, and Ann was only 36. The Crowthers were indeed plagued by poor health and early deaths.

Todmorden Advertiser, January 2nd 1914

So what about her sister? Mary is the final burial here, and the one most intimately linked to the National School. While her siblings were following after their father in either employment or personal interest in the church, Mary was entering the world of education. In 1891 her occupation on the census was “pupil teacher”, and in 1901 and 1911 she was a headmistress. That’s right, headmistress of the National School, a role which she filled from 1900 through 1928.

She had previously been deputy headmistress at Roomfield School for four years, but her career was built and sustained by the school that stood in proximity to the church that figured so large in her family and extended family’s life. Crowthers and Stansfields were woven into the fabric of Christ Church’s existence, and Mary continued that tradition in her own way.

Paperwork for Mary Crowther’s teaching registration, courtesy of Penny Stansfield

Again, plagued by ill health, Mary retired twice; first from the girls’ Sunday School in 1924, and finally from the National’s infants’ school in 1928.

Mary’s 1924 resignation, from the Todmorden Advertiser

Mary survived her brother William and died at 32 Wellington Road, still, in 1956. She was 80 years old – good going for her family!

Now for the kicker, as it were.

The stone in shadow is Arnold Cunliffe’s sidestone. Arnold and his family ought to be at s2.9, but this stone is clearly out of place because the person who sent us this photo took it from right next to Eric Mitchell’s CWGC stone, which supposedly stands at s2.8…we won’t get sidetracked by whether that stone was moved at any point though. Arnold Cunliffe’s relatives’ stones are actually outside the extension for some reason so we can’t be sure this stone sits on s2.9 at all.

But…assuming it was, the arrow behind it points to the rough location of s.7 and its stones. Those stones are inaccessible.

If Eric Mitchell’s stone is indeed where it belongs, above Eric Mitchell, then this Cunliffe stone has been moved back by a row and over one. And that means row s7 is a little nearer, but not much.

Now, let’s go back to the only photos we have of the stones that were laid flat before the first extension in 1991 was built, and look at the layout of said stones.

Under the former extension, winter 2016. Photos courtesy of Eco Bridge Timber.

This shows what should be 8 rows of stones condensed down to four, perhaps five rows. Arnold Cunliffe et al are out of shot, in front of what would be the first set of piles that is clear of the back wall of the school. Assuming 5 rows are represented here…where are rows s6, s7 and s8? The answer is that they’re inaccessible. Any more piles that might be behind the ones nearest the camera here will be essentially flat.

Rows s7 and s8 are, therefore, right at the back of the extension and partially underneath the walkway around the back. Mary Crowther is indeed resting at the school she loved, in the place she loved, and when we say she’s irrevocably part of the fabric of the building, we mean it in more ways than one. We can only hope her remains weren’t disturbed as part of the construction process.

One Comment

  1. Penny Stansfield

    Thank you for taking the time to research and write this poignant account. The work you do is hugely appreciated! Thank you for casting a light on the history of the Crowther family and their links to Christ Church and Todmorden.

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