From our Secretary Kathleen Morris:
Eliza daughter of Henry
and Ann Mottershead who died
June 24th 1871, aged 21 years
Also the above Ann Mottershead
Who died Septr 30th 1879
Aged 59 years
Also Sarah their daughter
Who died March 19th 1908
Aged 63 years
It is often accepted that women were semi-invisible in past centuries. Is this always the case? Well, not if you look around in churchyards.
The inscription quoted above is one taken at random from St Bartholomew's churchyard; it commemorates three women from one family. Henry, their father/husband, is only mentioned in passing.
Why isn't Henry mentioned here? A look at the burial registers of St Bartholomew's parish church shows that in fact he is buried there. He was actually the first member of the family to be buried there. He died at the early age of 27 in 1851, and was buried on 23rd December.
The census taken earlier in the year shows that both he and his wife Ann were handloom weavers of cotton, members of a diminishing profession at that time, as power looms were becoming more common and weavers were moving from a home-based economy to being factory workers.
Henry was born around 1824 - on the 1841 Census he is listed as being 17 years old. He was already working as a weaver, as was his elder brother. His mother seems to have been a widow by then.
Henry married Ann Hudson at the Collegiate Church in Manchester (it became the Cathedral three years later) on 16th November 1845. Their marriage entry is a most unusual one - there is the signature of one witness, but the space where they should have signed or made their mark says 'This party left the church without signing the register'. We could speculate for a long time about how this happened- did they not realise they were supposed to sign? Could they not sign their names, and did not want to let anyone know that? Were they just carried away by the excitement of the day, or in a hurry to get to a celebratory party? It didn’t affect the validity of their marriage, but it must have created an administrative problem for the church.
By 1851 they were living in Northern Etchells (now Northenden), their address given as Outwood. It is at this point that Henry gives his place of birth as Wilmslow, so we can see the connection with the town. Henry and Ann had three daughters by 1851, Sarah, Mary and Eliza, who was just one year old. The daughters, like their mother, were all born in Etchells.
Only a few months later, Henry was dead. As if being a widow at the age of 30 wasn’t bad enough, Ann was pregnant when Henry died. Their last daughter, Elizabeth, was born early in 1852.
Ann remained in the Etchells area, but as handloom weaving was dying out, she could not continue earning her living at this. In the 1861 Census she is described as a charwoman. By 1861, her second daughter, Mary had disappeared from the census. It may be that she too had died young, as two people called Mary Mottershead died in the Wilmslow area in 1857.
Sarah and Eliza were earning their living as fustian cutters in 1861. This was a low paid job; fustian was not an expensive fabric. It was a hard wearing cloth, usually, by this date, made from cotton and used in working clothes, rather like a corduroy material. The cloth was woven with a looped finish, and the fustian cutter’s job was to cut the loops to give the material a pile finish rather like that of velvet. Sarah and Eliza would have spent their working days walking up and down alongside a workbench on which a length of cloth was laid out, wielding a long thin blade which they inserted under the loops of the pile to cut them. A monotonous and wearying job, and one for which they were probably paid piecework rates. If they made a mistake and spoiled a length of cloth they were probably docked part of their pay. There were many fustian cutting workshops in Cheshire in the 19th century, so we cannot identify which mill Sarah and Eliza worked in.
By 1871, Ann and Eliza were both working as laundresses – still in Etchells (Northenden). Sarah and Elizabeth were no longer living with them – perhaps they had married, or just moved away to other jobs. Eliza. Like her father, died soon after a census, at the age of 21; she is the first name on the grave marker in St Bartholomew’s.
Her mother died 8 years later, and the third member of the family to be buried, Sarah, lived into the 20th century. However, although we have an exact date of death for Sarah, this does not tally with any official entries for anyone called Sarah Mottershead. There is a possibility that she married but that her married name does not appear on her gravestone.
Although we know Henry is buried there, his burial is not recorded on the stone. This raises a likely scenario that the stone was not placed there until many years later, when perhaps either Henry’s burial had been forgotten or the details of it could not be remembered. Given what we know about the family’s circumstances, it does not seem as though Ann could have afforded a memorial when Henry died. It must have placed there later when other members of the family had a little more money. Thus, only the women in the family have their details listed and Henry is given only a passing mention.