V13.13 – Joseph, Mary, James and Betsy Elsworth

A married couple named Joseph and Mary – no jokes please! This beautiful cross in the vaults was all but swallowed up by the most incredible, but destructive, crown of ivy. As we cut it back further and further, we realised that the cross itself was this close to toppling forwards – not ideal when schoolchildren walk the path in front of it regularly. The cross is now firmly cemented, but the crown remains, and occasionally a few fresh ivy shoots sprout from the top. We will keep the ivy a little more ornamental now on and not so much like the blob.


So who were the Elsworths? Joseph Elsworth and Mary Stephenson were two Tod folks who were married in 1850 at Cross Stone. Joseph was a stone mason and Mary’s father James was the parish clerk (although it’s unclear which parish, Cross Stone or St Mary’s). A year later Joseph and Mary were living in London for reasons that must have been work related, but are unknown. She must have been pregnant by then and the time spent there fairly limited, for their first son George was born in St. Pancras parish, and their second son James a year later back in Todmorden.

George and Joseph both followed their father into masonry, and you’d think that this would help the business to stay in the family and succeed…but it didn’t, because Joseph was struggling. In 1885 he had to give up and declare bankruptcy due to debts of around £160. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but when the entirety of the furniture in his house was valued at only £20, you realise what the scale of difficulty was. Things were probably even more awkward because one of the creditors was a stone supplier, who Joseph had sourced stone from and then given to one of the sons who was building some houses with it, and from whom Joseph had withheld the money the son later gave him to pay them with.

Joseph passed away only a few years later in 1887, and Mary followed in 1891. George died in 1908 has his own grave in the vaults, V3.9.

James appears to have taken on the tenancy of the Railway Hotel in Lydgate around 1890, perhaps because stonemasonry no longer appealed, perhaps because he fancied a change, perhaps to make sure that things went more smoothly for his family. He had married Betsy Hudson in 1878 and for a time lived with her family on Garden Street, not far from his parents and brother who shared their own home there. Joseph and Betsy don’t appear to have had any children together – in 1901 the only people living with them at the Railway are a niece from Shropshire, Frances Derrocot, and a servant. By this time the “temporary license” transferred to Joseph in 1890 had become a permanent one. The Railway became a popular place for events and coroner’s inquests, as were most public houses situated near a waterway at this time. In his spare time as a young man he was also a cricket player, but presumably by this point that would have been behind him.

Sadly, James met a sooner less peaceful end than he would likely have hoped for. In August 1902 he was the victim of a brutal attack by a drunken labourer and this left him unwell and slowly but steadily declining. By November, he had died.

From the Todmorden District News coverage of the trial:

“Supt. Lawson said that shortly after six o’clock on Friday morning, Mr. Elsworth, the landlord of the Railway Hotel, heard the smashing of glass, and, coming downstairs to see what was the matter, he found two of the front windows broken and considerable damage done to his premises. He unlocked the front door, and was going back to the kitchen when he heard the smashing of windows at the back of the house. Directly afterwards the prisoner went round the building and entered the house by the front door. He went straight into the bar, turned on the tap of a whisky cask there, and began drinking. He had his mouth under the tap when the landlord went up and asked what he was doing. The landlord pulled the man away and stopped the tap. Prisoner was carrying a big piece of wood (Produced) at the time, and on the landlord interfering with him, he deliberately struck the landlord on the side of the head with the cudgel, and knocked him down in the bar. A person outside who had seen prisoner enter the house happened to go in at this moment, and he, along with others, had a severe struggle with the prisoner, but they managed to hold him down on the floor while a police constable came and put the handcuffs on. The damage to the windows, which were very good ones, and had only recently been put in, had been estimated by the plumber to amount to five guineas. He (Supt. Lawson) might say that windows were broken in another public-house in that neighbourhood the same morning, and the prisoner called at a private house at Lydgate and asked an old lady who resided there for a drink, saying he was dying. The cudgel by which prisoner knocked down Mr. Elsworth was what is locally known as “a threshold”— a draught preventor— which he had picked up at this old lady’s door and carried away, and the latter saw the prisoner break the windows with the piece of wood. He (the superintendent) purposed giving evidence as to the stealing of the whisky that day, and then he would ask for the prisoner’s remand.”

The “prisoner” William Moorby was well known for drunken misbehaviour and domestic violence and so his behaviour that night wasn’t necessarily a surprise. What might surprise modern readers was the length of the sentence, which was 3 months and two weeks of hard labour. Next time someone says criminals have it easy these days…but then, this sentence was passed when it was simply assault which had been committed. When James died the cause of death was placed much more directly at Moorby’s door.

Betsy was determined to carry on. In 1903 the license was permanently transferred to her from her late husband, and she was still there in 1911 giving her occupation on the Census as “hotel keeper”. She kept the place going until 1920 when for unknown reasons she decided to hand in the towel. The license was transferred to Abraham Barker Clegg, an auction of the furniture was held, and she left for the west coast. She died in 1924 in Fleetwood at the age of 72.

A video about William Moorby’s crimes by group member Matt Parker can be seen here.

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