V12.12 – Emily, John and Jane Barker

“To Mrs. Dean, with kindest regards from the People’s Warden of Todmorden Church, Jn Barker, May 5th /12”

This inscription was inside a copy of Ramshaw’s “Concerning Todmorden Parish” belonging to one of our researchers, and they were curious who Mrs. Dean and John Barker were. Mrs. Dean remains a mystery, but John Barker has been found.

John Barker was born in 1863 to Luke and Rachel Barker. In 1871 the Barker family were living at 10 Barker Street, but don’t let this humble address fool you; the Barkers were rich, very very rich. Luke was a cotton manufacturer who in 1871 was employing 68 people, and as you’ll see, things only went uphill from there.

By 1881 the family were living at Claremount Villas. The Barker children were still expected to learn practical skills, and 17 year old John in 1881 had his occupation listed as “mechanic”. He also was allowed to marry in a non-dynastic manner; in 1884 he married Jane (born Mary Jane) Hewitt, a domestic servant from Lincolnshire who was then working for the Traviss family in Doncaster. Jane’s father had been a labourer in an iron foundry and she will have no doubt been very happy to marry someone whose prospects were much brighter. In 1891 they were comfortably situated at Byrom Street in a house of the sort that Jane will have formerly been looking after from a different perspective altogether.

Emily was their very first child, born two years later in 1886. Their son Robert Hewitt Barker came next, in 1888. Before their next daughter, Grace, could even be conceived, they lost Emily. Maybe that’s a clue as to the choice of the name Grace, as all their other children share names with parents or siblings of John or Jane apart from her.

John and Jane had five children altogether, and the family continued to do well. Luke Barker had become the owner of Stansfield Hall (yes, THE Stansfield Hall) and on his death in 1896 John’s brother Robert moved there. The Hall is very large and even then was a (very large and posh) HMO, and in 1891 Luke and his second wife (Sarah Ann, buried at V9.5 along with her sister) and several of his children and some servants lived there, as well as two other households. Robert and the other occupants didn’t stay at the Hall very long, and by 1901 John, Jane, and their children were the sole occupants of the property. They may have still been working people, but the Barker family wealth and work had finally become John’s in part. Luke’s 1896 estate amounted to over £47,000 in old money – the equivalent of £5.2mil today – and it had been split evenly between John and Robert. Robert set out for Blackpool and John stayed in Todmorden and took over the family business. The family business by this point consisted of Wadsworth, Friths and Dancroft Mills, and from the 68 employees of 1871 had grown to over 600 employees by 1896.

It’s tempting to think that John’s upbringing, learning of a trade, and marriage to someone from a humble background could have been posturing – after all, Samuel Fielden was at Luke’s funeral, and the senior generation of Fieldens at least had form for enjoying their money while remembering their roots. John though was very active in the community and freely gave his time to Christ Church as a deacon, warden, organist and choirmaster. He was also on the local education committee overseeing the running of the council’s board schools, and was the president of the Todmorden Old Brass Band. A busy man!

After a few decades at Stansfield Hall, mostly quiet ones (barring a rather dramatic fire at one point which Jane discovered when she couldn’t sleep and decided to go to the kitchen for a midnight snack), the Barkers’ children all left home apart from Grace, and they decided to move on. Most notably their son Robert Hewitt Barker, who had served in WW1 and become a Major in the Lancashire Fusiliers, became the MP for Sowerby (which then included Todmorden) in 1918. He served until 1922 and did not seek re-election, probably because he realised that his future was going to be wrapped up in his father and uncle’s mills rather than in politics. At first John and Jane spent some time at Lytham but they missed Todmorden and eventually moved back, first to Thornhill in Lydgate and later to Cross Brook just across from Christ Church, sharing an internal wall with Thomas Cowley Stephen in 1939.

A signed photograph of Robert Hewitt Barker from election materials dated 1918

Jane died in January of 1940 with her address given as Glen House, Gordon Street – an address that no longer exists, but curiously, not where John was living at that point either. He was at Elm House whose location we cannot pin down. It may well be that both were rather unwell and in separate assisted living or hospice care of some description, as John died later that same year at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Manchester, naming Robert as executor of his estate.

More information about Luke Barker and his life and business can be found here.

Leave a Comment

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