V2.3 – Christian and Thomas Cowley Stephen

This mother and son grave is probably the most distinctive grave at Christ Church, even more so than the Hardman grave with its ornate but broken gothic spire. This is the angel.

Here we have a lady by the name of Christian Stephen. Yes, the name is Christian – really unusual! She was born on the 8th of December 1858 in Birkenhead, Cheshire, but her parents were from the Isle of Man. Why did they move to Birkenhead? Very broad speculation might lead me to link the island life with the ship building industry, but it is merely speculation. Records seem to indicate a long history of both parents’ families on the Isle of Man, so it would seem they left deep roots and plenty of family behind when mum and dad headed to Birkenhead.

Our Christian was born Christian Cowley, the third of seven children in total, and she is the eldest daughter. The family look to have been well off, and Christian seems to have grown up in Cheshire. After her birth, the next time she appears in records is on her marriage to John James Stephen on the 6th of August 1881 in New Brighton, Cheshire. Interestingly, his parents were from the Isle of Man as well! Christian would have been 22 years old. Her new husband John was a timber merchant, and they seem to have been a fairly mobile family. Almost 2 years after their marriage in New Brighton, they had their first child, Thomas Cowley Stephen, in Manchester in 1883. They had their second child, John, in 1890 in Egremont, Cheshire. In 1891 the census records the family living in Wallasey. Thomas was going to school. They had two servants living with them, Maria and Margaret, who shared the surname Cotterill, and may have been related, so they continue to live the life of the upper middle class.

I wonder sometimes what life would have been like for a lady like Christian. Victorian scholars record that for upper middle class ladies like Christian, it would have been a life similar to ours in some ways—rather sedentary! A craze in the late Victorian era for exercise (but not too much for the ladies, considered too fragile to exert themselves too much) would have probably been the start of her morning. I imagine Maria would come in and start her fire, and Christian would have got up and done a few calisthenics to ‘get the blood circulating’. She’d have gone down to breakfast of smoked haddock, bacon and eggs, toast, marmalade, and the popular drink—hot chocolate. She’d have gone for long walks here in the amazing scenery provided by our beautiful town (probably to burn off all that breakfast). Perhaps John took one of the omnibuses to work? Perhaps Christian would have had an interest in health, as both her sons pursued this area in their careers. Husband John is listed as the manager of a timber yard, at this census in 1891, but by 1901 he is recorded as ‘living on own means’, and the family have moved again back Manchester direction and are living in Withington. Thomas, their older boy, is now listed as a ‘dental student’. I can imagine how proud Christian must have been. Younger boy John is going to school, he’d have been only 11, and their servant Maria is still with them.

Tragically, husband John died on the 19th of August, 1907, just after their 26th wedding anniversary.
Christian would have been only 49, with her two boys aged 24 and 17, both still living at home. I’m sure they were a great comfort to their mum at this time, but it seems that John left them all well provided for, as in the census a few years later in 1911 Christian is recorded as ‘living on private means’. Happily, Thomas is a surgeon dentist, and John is a medical student. They have moved house but are still living in Withington at this point. There is no mention of Maria, and I wonder what happened to her. She’d have been 49 at this census—was she still alive? Unwell? Retired? Caring for older parents or family? We’ve not followed this line of enquiry just yet, but the only servant listed in the household in 1911 is a 16 year old lass by the name of Florence Davis.

The Stephen finally arrived in Todmorden somewhere around 1923, as this is the first mention our intrepid researchers have been able to find. They were living at 3 Cross Brook on Burnley Road, directly across the road from this grave. The angel looks straight toward the location of their family home.

Christian died not long after she moved here, on the 24th of January 1924. She actually died at Craigside Hydropathic Hotel in Llandudno. It was a very grand place, sadly no longer standing. It was demolished in the 1970s and a housing estate was built on its grounds. We can show you photographs of it though. It was opened in 1888 and visitors could, according to the adverts, consult the resident physician Dr John Miles Chambers, take a Russian or Turkish bath, or enjoy the benefits of a massage. Sounds to me like the modern equivalent of a detox holiday or spa weekend. If you didn’t know the difference between baths, neither did I! Google seems to indicate that Russian baths were more heat (think sauna), and Turkish baths were more steam. These holidays were associated with improving health. Was Christian feeling unwell already? She died at the age of 65. Had her sons, the doctor and the dentist, recommended she go? They seem to have been a close family, who continued to live in Todmorden for many years, and Thomas, her older son, is buried here with her. We don’t know if the angel was erected in memory of the
mother, son, or both, but we do know she left her children the modern equivalent of £750,000.

Thomas married a year and a half later, to Alice Barker on 9th June 1925 here at Christ Church. It was
quite the event apparently, with a huge number of guests and a lot of local attention. They had Christian’s only grandson Thomas Barker Stephen barely 9 months later, and he was born at the family home at Cross Brook. It’s too bad she didn’t live to see her sons married, or to see the business they set up known as Southwell, Stephen and Stephen, Physicians and Surgeons. John retired in 1931 with his new wife, and they moved back to the Isle of Man, but Thomas continued to practise, and continued to reside at Cross Brook here in Tod. The angel watches still over the family home, and perhaps over us all.

One Comment

  1. Pingback:V12.12 – Emily, John and Jane Barker – F.O.C.C.T.

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