S7.7 – John and Ann Law, and Ernest Thomas

This grave turned out to be a case of incorrect assumptions taken by the teenage transcribers in the 1980s, and is an excellent illustration of why projects such as ours matter.

John Law was born in 1821 in Walsden. We don’t know much more than that; there was at least one other knocking around at the time, and more appeared later. We can only be sure of his name and rough date of birth and that of his future wife, Ann Highley or Hiley. She was born in 1824. John’s father James was a weaver, and Ann’s father John was a spinner. They married in 1842 at St. Chad’s in Rochdale, and their story as far as we can tell it begins there.

The Laws lived first at 14 Littleholme Street in Shade, and by 1851 had three children. By 1861 they were at Wadsworth Mill and had another two. By 1871 they lived at Swineshead Clough, Ann had stopped having children, and their count stood at eight – although one (Emma) had died in the interim. The whole time John had been working as a warp dresser and operative, though by 1871 he had been promoted to overlooker. The common nature of their first and last names mean that again, we can’t be sure what else they got up to, because the newspaper results for “john law” or “ann law” are too vast to trawl through, even when additional terms like “shade” or “wadsworth” or anything else are added. We do know that both John and Ann died within a few months of each other in 1882 – John in September and Ann in December, both in Knowlwood.

The 1980s transcript for this section of the graveyard gives the third occupant here as “Thomas Ernest Law”. Look again at the title of this story and you know where we’re going with this…his name was, in fact, Ernest Thomas. The wording on the stone no doubt mentions “Ernest Thomas, their grandson” (for that is who he was) and not only was the assumption made that his last name was Law, not Thomas, but his two names were swapped around. Because that transcript was never checked before construction on the first extension began, that error was never discovered until we came along. When you care about something you find out everything you can about it, and we care about this graveyard a great deal.

So who was Ernest? His mother was Martha Ann Law, John and Ann’s youngest daughter. Born fin 1866, she married John Thomas, a picker maker eight years her senior, in 1884 – after both her parents had died and gone into this grave. She and John had five children. Ernest was their second son, born in 1888. The Thomases were living at Mellor Barn in 1891, near Inchfield Fold, and Martha was working as a weaver even with two children at home. They won’t have had much money if that was the case. They were also Methodists, with Ernest and his older brother Frank both being baptised at Knowlwood Primitive Methodist Chapel shortly after their births.

Ernest caught typhoid in December 1893, and the extremely high fever he suffered as a result (also known as hyperpyrexia) caused his death on Christmas Eve. A Sanitary Committee meeting in January 1894 mentions the disinfecting of two houses in the borough where typhoid had been discovered since the previous committee meeting; one of those two was the Thomas household.

John and Martha Ann had eight children in total, losing three in the process. They are all buried elsewhere, with only (as far as we know, anyway) little Ernest resting at Christ Church with his grandparents.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *