Until the Shadows Flee Away: The Himsworth Family and the Coming of War

Welcome to the first in a new series of (not so) mini-profiles inspired by my sepulchral travels! In these pieces, I will situate the stone centre-stage in reconstructing the life and lives of the departed, making use of archival facilities and newspaper repositories. In this way, I hope to let the monuments speak for themselves, building up a picture of those forgotten, adhering to the ethos of this occasional blog in ‘unearthing the lives of the dead.’ 

Amidst the tree-lined copse of Sheffield City Cemetery, a grave marker lingers, standing tall amidst the neighbouring stones that peer forward at a perilous angle, as if looking down into the very earth itself. The grass around the burial site lies parched, scorched under the burning gaze of unexpected summer rays, bursting out of the azure sky prematurely,  glaring at a crisp and stark April day. Emblazoned across the stone and crowned by the curvature of a Gothic ogee is a testament to the Himsworth family, residents of the wooded suburb of Heeley. Like many such monuments, the epitaph bears witness to the trauma of conflict, forming part of a complex mosaic in which the impact of the First World War on the relationships underlying a family, a community, and a city is enshrined. Indeed, the pain of the loss of the Himsworth’s ‘beloved and youngest son’ in the dust of battle is etched into the very stone itself, compounded by the deaths of father and offspring a mere year apart, the breaking of the ties that bind, tragedy in a quiet corner of this sun-washed burial ground.

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The Himsworth gravestone at City Road Cemetery, Sheffield. ©A Grave Announcement

William Himsworth was born on the 21st of July in 1852 into a family typifying the contemporary Sheffield industrial foundation, his father William employed as a ‘razor grinder,’ a common occupation within the ‘City of Steel.’ The latter had married Hannah Taylor in 1850, the daughter of a farmer who had grown up in semi-rural Hurlfield – now a suburb of the city. A twenty-five year age gap separated the spouses. Their son was baptised at St. Peter and St. Paul’s, a parish church in the centre of Sheffield, a building promoted to cathedral status when the diocese was formed in 1914. Life leapt along nicely, as life often does, tempered waters obscuring the whirling eddies beneath. The blow when it came, then, was all the more painful for such vengeful dissimulation. In 1856, when William was only four years of age, his father passed away at the age of 54, worn out from the exhausting labour of his profession, likely stricken with the effects of a weakened respiratory system. In doing so, the family’s main source of income was withdrawn. Fate had played its cruel hand, abandoning the Himsworths to the vagaries of the century, exposed to the erratic whims of time.

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The 1850 marriage certificate attesting to Hannah and William’s union. ©Findmypast

Flailing not only from grief, but also from the gnawing worry of the need to provide for her children, Hannah quickly remarried, taking as husband one Thomas Thickett, a Derbyshire widower considerably older than herself who possessed a similar agricultural background, working as a farmer. The couple lived on Cambridge Road in  the township of Nether Hallam with Thomas’ daughter from his previous marriage, Elizabeth, whose assistance around the house earned her the rather diminutive title ‘housemaid’ on the census, his infant son with his new wife, also called Thomas, and his two new step-sons, William Himsworth and his brother John, both school-pupils. Another child, a daughter named Ellen, followed in 1864. At some point between the record of this household and the census of 1871, Thomas ceased his agricultural endeavours, setting up shop as a grocer and coal dealer. It is clear then that Hannah’s second husband did not shy away from his money-making duties, even embarking upon a new venture in order to turn a profit for the household.

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The 1861 census entry listing the members of Hannah and Thomas Thickett’s household, including William Himsworth. ©Findmypast

Five years later, Hannah was dead at the age of 50. William’s relationship with both his parents had proved to be somewhat short-lived. Despite these absences, he had chosen to follow his father’s example in training in the same Sheffield industry as a cutler. A year after his  mother’s passing, William himself married. His new wife, Hannah Maria Booth, bearing the same name as his own parent, was the daughter of a miner from Heeley. Looking at the pair’s signatures on the document formalising their union is an intimate experience for the genealogical researcher, opening up a window into a long forgotten world, reviving the memories of those hitherto consigned to oblivion. We are reminded that history is a living and breathing beast, a writhing creature that we can only ever strive to capture, a figure ever-receding into the distance.

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The 1876 certificate solemnising the marriage between William Himsworth and Hannah Maria Booth. ©Findmypast

Children followed quickly for the newly-married couple, bringing a son William E. Himsworth in 1877, the third male of the family line to bear that name, a physical testament to the relentless roll of the generations. A daughter, Jessie, arrived four years later and is listed as a newborn infant on the census of that year, a record attesting to the presence of two further members of the household: widowed aunt and ‘laundress,’ Ann Beswick, and William’s (senior) twelve-year old sister-in-law, Alice Mary Booth. Regular labour as a cutler manufacturing spring knives saw William take on the role of provider, a common enough gendered configuration at the time, with Hannah remaining at home to tend to the children and regulate the household at 133 Gleadless Road. Like many families of their social strata in this period, everybody pitched in, working hard to contribute to the coffers, but only ever just keeping heads above water.

The passage of a decade brought little change to the Himsworth’s way of life. Two more children joined the family – John Herbert and Clara Alice – as their father continued in his employment in the Sheffield knife industry. The house they called home was now a mile away on Cambridge Road, a street teeming with red brick terraces and shop windows proudly announcing their wares. This was an area known already to William, who had  taken up occupancy of a house on this very thoroughfare with his mother and step-father. Money must have been tight for the household – their oldest son had left school and was engaged as an errand boy, perhaps even serving a nearby business, at the age of fourteen. Although pay was low, every last penny made a difference.

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Cambridge Road, Heeley, Sheffield.©Picture Sheffield

With four children to be kept on William’s salary, there was no time for leisure nor room for complacency. The family worked hard, keeping their heads down in quiet regularity, ensuring that order prevailed in the household. In 1898, William the younger returned to education, attending classes at Gleadless Road Evening School, seeking to improve his prospects in undertaking an apprenticeship in metalwork. As the 19th century transformed into the 20th and the age of Victoria came to an end, such was the repetitious constancy underlining their lives that, by 1901, the two sons, William and John, were now both employed as cutlers working with spring knives, presumably in the same factory as  their parent, having completed their apprenticeships. Like grandfather, like father, like sons, the familiarity of the Himsworth’s customary trade suited the uniform pulse of family life. Joining them were another daughter, Hannah Maria Edna, named after her mother, and Edwin Joseph, born 1894 and 1896 respectively.

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Typical Sheffield cutlery factory in the 19th century, the Washington Works owned by Messrs. G. Wostenholm and Son.©Museums Sheffield

The following year, William and Hannah’s second son John, aged twenty, married eighteen year old Jessie Corteen, whose late father, also William, had been employed as a coach builder. The ceremony took place at St. Silas’ Church in Broomhall, Sheffield, an imposing edifice in Gothic revival style. The couple would go on to have three children: Frank, Irene and Leslie. Following this happy event, the wedding bells continued to toll. The same year saw daughter Jessie wed Frank Lee, the twenty-four year old son of a successful surgical instrument manufacturer, for whose business he himself laboured as a filer. In 1904, the younger William Himsworth married one Elizabeth Wilkes, the twenty-two year old daughter of deceased hammer forger Edwin Wilkes and widowed Emma Parkes  at St. Paul’s Church in Norton Lees, a building constructed between 1875-7. The new bride had herself been engaged as a cigar maker prior to meeting her husband, a tiring and ceaselessly repetitious role with relatively low pay. The Himsworth children, then, were growing up and establishing themselves both personally and professionally, expanding the family throughout the area.

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The parish wedding certificate attesting to the union of John Himsworth and Jessie Corteen.©Findmypast

A year before William’s wedding to Elizabeth, his sister Clara had entered upon a novel and innovative training scheme, joining Sheffield Pupil Training College under an apprenticeship which lasted for five years. This pupil-teacher system, introduced in the mid-nineteenth century to address the problem of poor pedagogical recruitment, admitted those at least thirteen years of age to be instructed in the delivery of education. The moral character of applicants was deemed equally as important as their academic skill. Potential candidates were required to read and write with fluency, demonstrate their knowledge of basic geography, mathematics and grammar, and teach a class to the satisfaction of the inspectors. Initially earning ten pounds per year (a sum which increased incrementally to twenty), Clara had secured a position with more than adequate remuneration. It was a far cry from the dirty industry and poorly paid occupations to which the family had hitherto clung.

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The admission register for the Sheffield Pupil Training College recording Clara’s acceptance onto the programme.©Findmypast

By 1911, the Himsworths were on the move again, returning whence they came, relocating to their old haunt on Gleadless Road, taking on number 255 (see image below). William was now an older man and, at 59, was coming to the end of his working life as one involved in hard, physical labour. Of their six children, only three remained. The others, having reached adulthood, sought lives of their own and an independent existence elsewhere.

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The former Himsworth home at 255 Cambridge Road, Heeley, Sheffield in 2019.

Clara, aged 22, still lived with her parents whilst she worked as a local schoolteacher for Sheffield Council. Hannah, at 17, is rather charmingly referred to on the census as ‘mother’s help.’ Edwin, a young teenager, has been removed from regular education in favour of life as a hairdresser’s assistant. Most moving of all is the halting and trembling hand of he who completed the census return – our William Himsworth, his hesitant penmanship perhaps proof of his ailing years and, certainly, a sign of a nervous scribe, more experienced in holding tools than a writing implement.

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William Himsworth’s signature on the 1911 census.©Findmypast

The coming of war shattered the still quietude of the lives of many like the Himsworths. Matrimonial merriment and the joyous births of newborn infants were overshadowed by the dark fever of a nation in conflict. Britain’s young men eagerly stormed the recruitment offices, seeking to quell their patriotic fervour in the hunting down and decimation of the enemy abroad. Armies of young women, too, gladly offered their services in non-combatant roles without alarm or hesitation. It was felt that the country had come together in pursuit of a common goal, and the notion of personal sacrifice on behalf of the homeland took precedence over the bloodinesses and brutalities of the true horrors of combat. Such collective activity in the face of the enemy encouraged potential recruits to join their chums and not be left behind, covered in shame and dishonour, at home. A lively recruitment campaign capitalised on such sentiments.

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Front page of the Daily Mirror announcing the declaration of war. (08/05/1914).©British Newspaper Archive

Gung-ho for combat, then, one of the Himsworth boys – Edwin – enlisted into the army. His brothers, William and John, likely found themselves in demand with the munitions industry as skilled workers in Sheffield, possibly seeing out the war employed in the city’s factories. Their younger sibling, however, was enrolled as a private in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, a group formally founded in 1881, his army number 30277. At some point, Edwin transferred into the King’s Regiment (Liverpool), a move which may have been enacted in hopes of seeing active service, but whose motivation is  not, at this stage, definitively known. This unit was originally formed in 1685 by Lord Ferrars of Chartly. Termed ‘Princess Anne of Denmark’s Regiment of Foot’ and named after the daughter of James II, the force was established during the Monmouth Rebellion to put down the militia of James Scott – the 1st Duke of Monmouth – who was attempting to overthrow the king. Edwin became part of this long history in joining the 8th battalion, under soldier number 325057. Originally a territorial force, the unit accepted more enlistees when war broke out in 1914, increasing numbers to the strength required for deployment abroad.

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Headdress badge given to volunteers for the City Pals battalions of the Liverpool King’s Regiment prior to the 16th of October, 1914. ©Imperial War Museum

Whilst a number of the King’s battalions were mobilised immediately upon the declaration of war, Edwin’s group, the 8th, did not arrive in France until May 1915, landing at Boulogne. At first, they and the rest of their division were used to bolster forces under heavy assault at the Second Battle of Ypres, before being reassigned to assist in the Battle of Festubert and the Second Action of Givenchy. The group’s first taste of real and prolonged combat came in July 1916 during that fatal Battle of the Somme. In the meantime, those left behind in the United Kingdom read eagerly of progress on the continent, scouring the newspapers for information as to troop deployments, hoping that their loved ones were safe amidst the bombardments. Away from home and with access to only infrequent and erratic modes of communication, Edwin’s absence must have been the source of ineradicable anxiety for the Himsworths, separated by so many miles from their youngest boy, unaccustomed to residing far from any member of the family as people local to their district of Sheffield.

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Telegram communicating the death of a soldier in 1917. ©National Army Museum

As the months flew past and the in memoriam section of the newspaper began to scream ‘killed in action’ every other word, Edwin’s parents and siblings must have been permanently apprehensive, unsure of their relative’s fate, waiting for that doomed telegram from the British War Office: deeply regret to inform you. Living amidst the news that the husbands, sons, fathers, uncles, brothers, cousins and friends of their neighbours had perished, the Himsworths must have almost expected the worst, interpreting every extended period of silence as an admission of Edwin’s demise – their son, the former hairdresser’s assistant. Worse still for the family, in the very same month that Edwin was caught up in combat in France, his father William died very suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 64. It must have been devastating for his son to hear the news, away from his loved ones, likely long after the dreadful event, powerless to assist his grieving mother, deployed instead in the valley of the Somme. 

As is well-known, this offensive was one of the bloodiest campaigns in the lives of man. Field Marshal Douglas Haig termed the contest ‘the greatest battle in the history of the world.’ The Liverpool King’s, including Edwin’s, spent time on the front line, relieving other troops near the village of Guillemont.

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Photograph showing the devastating damage done to the former High Street of Guillemont.

Towards the end of the year, the 8th, crossing the northern border, made their way into Flanders, again occupying the front line between Wieltje and Railway Woods. The men were involved in a number of offensives in the area, participating first in the Battle of Pilckem Ridge, the opening assault of the Third Battle of Ypres. A couple of months later, this was succeeded by another surge at the Menin Road Ridge, an infantry advance characterised by the ‘bite and hold’ method. This strategy denoted the achievement and consolidation of small objectives, rather than pushing forward and pressing on before full command of the area had been obtained. As the troops prepared for this major push, the mood was one of increasing optimism. The dry weather, having improved considerably from the rains and muds of previous action, enabled the readier transportation of supplies and the movement of soldiers. Visibility was enhanced on the battlefield. On the 20th of September, very early in the morning, the attack commenced and was quickly successful. German counter-attacks were easily repelled. The British and ANZAC forces gained land with relative ease.

Yet this favourable outcome was not without its own fair share of adversity and disaster. On this very day, the first of the assault, Edwin was killed in action. The details of his end are unavailable, lost to the passage of time. What we do know, however, is that the majority of the King’s territorials, assigned to the northern end of the line, had begun the offensive from their position dug in at Wieltje, capturing a number of machine gun posts and even pressing on towards the second German position. Edwin, however, died following the main attack, as the 8th battalion left the trenches behind their counterparts at 8:30am in order to mop up surviving pockets of enemies. Progress was slow across the pitted and pockmarked battleground, assailed by heavy shells from the German Artillery and under constant attack by snipers. Losses were substantial. Many fell alongside Edwin. He was 21 years old. 

All told, in the course of the action at Menin Road Ridge, the Allies suffered over 20,000 casualties, men who were wounded, killed or missing. It was an anxious time for those back in the United Kingdom, waiting to hear news of their loved ones, waiting for that telegram to be handed over to the next of kin. In Edwin’s case, it was likely his parents who first received the news, plunged into immediate grief just as so many others during that unyielding and pitiless war. Their son was buried in Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest such burial site for Commonwealth forces in the world, located near Zonnebeke in Belgium. He was listed first as an unknown soldier before subsequently being named on the graves registration form.

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Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium. The final resting place of Edwin Himsworth.

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The CWGC Graves Registration Report Form featuring Edwin Himsworth.©CWGC

From Sheffield to Belgium, the Himsworth name had travelled a long way. In the loss of their beloved son, the quiet rhythm of their lives was broken, never to be renewed, an unspeakable absence. His remaining relatives remembered Edwin on their family stone at City Road Cemetery, choosing an epitaphic quote from the Song of Solomon, a phrase  whose context reflects painful separation, a wish that their boy would return: ‘until the day breaks and the shadows flee away.’ A month after his death, a notice was taken out in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph conveying their ongoing anguish. Both father and son were lost during those years of the war, a family decimated by events beyond their control, events governing the fate of nations. The brutal outcome of those actions were felt in every town, village and city throughout the land. Those places would never be the same again. 

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In memorial message in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (20th October 1917). ©British Newspaper Archive 

Edwin lies now far from home, resting where the uniform white stones stand like sentinels on the rise, watching over this land where the blood of men was shed in perpetuity, brothers in arms, a generation lost, in death together once again.

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Commemorative Certificate for Edwin Joseph Himsworth. ©CWGC

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The Peasants are Revolting: Samuel Holberry, Mary Cooper and the Sheffield Uprising

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Image by A Grave Announcement

It was an unusually cold Monday morning for early September when I, having found myself in Sheffield for the day, decided to see for myself the Victorian splendour of Sheffield General Cemetery. I set off in the magnificently tree-lined Nether Edge, a prosperous borough raised aloft in the southern part of the city, both looking down into the cavernous valleys of the urban sprawl and gazing away at the distant countryside of the city’s hill-studded environs. I made my way along a good number of such arboreal boulevards, espying a church or two amidst what seemed like  marshalled battalions of terraced dwellings, disappearing placidly into the horizon.

The cemetery itself is located in the neighbouring area of Sharrow, bordered by the aptly named Cemetery Road, along which I myself travelled, and edged on the other side by the indolent waters of the Porter Brook. I did not enter through the impressive neo-classical gatehouse, although, upon seeing this later, I was inevitably reminded of a Roman triumphal arch, a portal through which bodies would pass, overpowered by Death’s parading victory, in a final journey of silence. Rather, I myself passed through the so-called Egyptian Gate, gazed upon by twin ouroboroi – etymological tail-eaters – serpentine rings formed by coiled snakes with tails in their mouths, symbolising unity, eternity and a kind of cyclical balance. A winged sun surmounted the design, a pronounced symbol in the iconography of the Ancient Near East.

The site of the cemetery is spread across a quarried hillside, interspersed by a number of footpaths, both formal and informal, in what is now, I am told, a Grade II listed park. The presence of buildings manifestly influenced by Greek and Egyptian architectural styles attests to the grandeur and magnificence of the scope of the design – not merely a fine cemetery this, but a veritable Necropolis – a real life city of the dead.

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Image by A Grave Announcement

Opened in 1836, this Nonconformist cemetery holds over 87,000 burials, formerly serving as Victorian Sheffield’s main repository for the disposal of the dead. Rampant overcrowding, rife disease and paltry conditions in the churchyards of Sheffield had necessitated the construction of a burial site away from the dense congestion of the city itself. In 1834 a private enterprise, the Sheffield General Cemetery Company,’ was established with committee and shareholders, and the concern immediately began to gather funds for the project through public subscription. Their activities were reported in the press, as seen here in the Yorkshire Gazette of the 3rd of May 1834:

SHEFFIELD GENERAL CEMETERY.- A meeting

of the shareholders in this undertaking took place on Monday,

at the Cutlers’ Hall, T.A.Ward, Esq., in the chair. It

was stated, that £26,400 was already subscribed, but that

£25,000 would be amply sufficient to carry the object of the

society into effect. It was agreed, that the committee should

select a piece or several pieces of ground, and submit the choice

to a future meeting.

The requisite land was procured for £1900 and work soon commenced on the site. Designed by the Sheffield architect Samuel Worth and assisted by the horticulturalist Robert Marnock who superintended the layout, progress was rapid, aided considerably by the fact that the stone necessary for construction could be quarried from the very site itself. The first vault was sold on the 1st of January, 1836, and, amidst predictions of the cemetery’s imminent completion, the transaction was heralded with enthusiasm in the edition of the Sheffield Independent released on the following day:

SHEFFIELD GENERAL CEMETERY. – We understand

that the first and only finished family vault was sold

yesterday. It is calculated to contain about twenty coffins

in so many separate compartments, all neatly built with

stone and bricks. The ground and buildings are now

assuming a very imposing appearance, and it appears

probable that early in the Spring, the whole will be

completed.

As the year advanced and the business of the cemetery gathered momentum, directors of the cemetery were appointed and adverts placed for individuals to serve as employees, as seen here in the Sheffield Independent of the 28th May 1836, calling for a Sexton and Gatekeeper in residence:

SHEFFIELD GENERAL CEMETERY           

Wanted, a Steady, Active Man, who is married, to fill the Situations of SEXTON and GATEKEEPER, at the Sheffield General Cemetery. A Person who understands Gardening will be preferred. He will have a Residence, rent free, on the premises. Applications, with Testimonials of Character, addressed to the Directors of the Cemetery, must be presented at the Offices of Mr. JOHN WILLIAM SMITH, or Mr. GEORGE WELLS, Sheffield, on or before the 6th of June next. – Post letters to be paid.

The first burial was that of Mary Ann Fish, the wife of a book-keeper, having sadly succumbed to tuberculosis. Indeed, once ready to receive those to be interred, the cemetery had placed official advertisements in local newspapers. This extract, from the Sheffield Iris on the 9th of August 1836, announces the site’s readiness to bury the dead, a proclamation issued under the name of the Reverend William Thornhill Kidd of the Sheffield parish Eccleshall Bierlow:

Sheffield General Cemetery.

MINISTER AND REGISTRAR,

The Rev. William Thornhill Kidd.

This beautiful Place of Sepulture, whose picturesque

and architectural attractions are so well

known to the Inhabitants of this Town, arranged

upon a plan admirably adapted to the purposes for

which it was designed, IS NOW READY FOR

THE INTERMENT OF THE DEAD. Vaults of

almost every description and size, and finished in the

most complete manner, may, by an early Application,

be purchased upon reasonable terms; and Graves, in

various situations, the most open or the most secluded,

are also disposable to the choice of the Public.

In this place, in an alleyway lined with crooked tombstones, I stumbled across the final resting place of one Samuel Holberry, the name faintly familiar, the epitaph lengthy and full-hearted:

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Image by A Grave Announcement

SACRED

to the Memory of

SAMUEL HOLBERRY.

WHO AT THE EARLY AGE OF 27 DIED

IN YORK CASTLE, AFTER SUFFERING

AN IMPRISONMENT OF 2 YEARS AND 3

MONTHS, JUNE 21st, 1842.

FOR ADVOCATING WHAT TO HIM APPEARED

TO BE THE TRUE INTEREST OF THE PEOPLE OF

ENGLAND.

VANISH’D IS THE FEVERISH DEAM OF LIFE:-

THE RICH AND POOR FIND NO DISTINCTION HERE,

THE GREAT AND LOWLY END THEIR CARE AND STRIFE,

THE WELL BELOVED MAY HAVE AFFECTIONS TEAR.

BUT AT THE LAST, THE OPPRESSOR AND THE SLAVE

SHALL EQUAL STAND BEFORE THE BAR OF GOD;

OF HIM, WHO LIFE, AND HOPE, AND FREEDOM GAVE,

TO ALL THAT THRO’ THIS VALE OF TEARS HAVE TROD.

LET NONE THEN MURMUR ‘GAINST THE WISE DECREE,

THAT OPEN’D THE DOOR, AND SET THE CAPTIVE FREE.

ALSO OF SAMUEL JOHN, HIS SON WHO

DIED IN HIS INFANCY.

THIS TABLET WAS ERECTED BY HIS BEREFT WIDOW.

I wondered why I felt such a twinge of recognition upon scanning these words, and I pondered too about the identity of the grieving widow, nameless, her own exertions unmarked, compelled by injustice to erect this monument to her lost husband, an appeal to martyrdom and an attempt at post-mortem exoneration. A subsequent search brought my ailing memory back to life: Samuel Holberry, the Chartist activist, organiser of the Sheffield Uprising and champion of democracy. Grievously ill-treated at the end, his death stands as a testament to governmental misconduct and penal brutality in a demonstration of the barbaric treatment of one whose very existence was devoted to the advocation of political rights for the people. I vowed to look into his life and, in doing so, to attempt to restore the selfhood of that unnamed widow.

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Bust of Samuel Holberry (Photo by River Sheaf)

Samuel Holberry was born in the small village of Gamston, Nottinghamshire in 1814, and was baptised on the 21stof November in that same year. His father John was an agricultural labourer, working on the Duke of Newcastle’s estate, and had married his mother Martha Simpson on the 19th of December, 1793, in Grove, also in Nottinghamshire. Martha and John had nine children in total, of whom Samuel was the youngest. He grew up working on the land, watching over livestock and scaring off birds, jobs typical of child workers at the time, whilst receiving some basic schooling, before achieving the position of labourer like his father.

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‘Gamston Village and Church’ by Roger Reach is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Samuel, however, was restless and unsettled, making the decision in March 1832 to leave the area and enlist, following in the footsteps of his brother. Being only seventeen at the time, he was forced to lie about his age, joining the ranks of the 33rd infantry and subsequently serving in Ireland and Northampton. It was during his time in the latter that he became politically sensitive – the town was a bastion of radical activity and had considerable ties with the NUWC, The National Union of the Working Classes, a group comprising those who rejected the 1832 reform bill as unrepresentative of the rights of working people and retained links with the unions. Such political activism in Northampton came to be a preserve of the shoemakers with whom Samuel himself came to associate.

In April 1835, Samuel bought himself out the army, moving to Sheffield where he began working as a distiller, following a brief period as a barrel-maker. It was here that he met Mary Cooper, born in 1816 to John and Ann Cooper, labourers of Oakes Green, Attercliffe, Sheffield. Mary and Samuel soon established a relationship. In 1837 the pair were  separated, however, as Samuel was made out of work and spent some time in London, before returning to marry Mary on the 22nd of October in that same year, and settling in Sheffield. Despite joining the Sheffield Working Men’s Association towards the end of 1838, driven by his desire to extend the political rights enshrined within the aforementioned 1832 Reform Act, he did not yet announce himself as an active Chartist.

This latter movement had arisen from the People’s Charter, centring itself upon ‘a charter of rights for all,’ and, in particular, promoting mass enfranchisement. Authored mainly by William Lovett of the London Working Men’s Association and introduced in Glasgow in May of 1838, it laid out six features of Chartist ideology deemed necessary for electoral reform: universal suffrage, no property qualification, annual parliaments, equal representation, payment of members and vote by secret ballot. Both Mary and her husband became increasingly involved in these Chartist aims and objectives and began to engage in a number of peaceful protests.

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‘The People’s Charter’ by the Working Men’s Association is licensed under CC by 2.0

The rejection of the Chartists’ strategy of moral resistance in 1839 after the failure of the above petition gave rise to a fractious leadership, riddled by division and dissent over the future of the movement. With some local leaders advocating a physical response, an initial uprising took place in Newport in Wales (the Newport Rising), but was swiftly suppressed, hamstrung by its own lack of proper planning. In this climate of insecurity and increasing anger, Samuel and Mary became involved in calls for more radical action, with Samuel spearheading proposals for an armed rebellion and appropriation of key settlements throughout the region. It was in this climate of discord and disunity that the Sheffield Rising was conceived, the event for which Samuel and Mary would become almost national celebrities.

With Samuel now in a leadership position alongside other prominent Chartists, more extreme plans began to be take shape. There was talk of seizing control of public buildings in Sheffield, namely the Town Hall and the Fortune Inn, with the aid of firepower and explosives. The houses of magistrates would also be torched. Before such proposals could come to fruition, however, the group was betrayed by the Rotherham landlord of the Station Inn, James Allen, on the 11th of January, 1840. Both Samuel and Mary, in addition to a number of their fellow activists, were arrested for conspiracy. Police officers Atcherly and Wilde had entered a dwelling owned by Samuel on Eyre Lane close to midnight, finding Holberry reclining in bed, fully clothed except for his stockinged feet, illuminated by the intermittent flickering of a bedside candle. According to the Northern Star of the 21st March 1840, the conversation proceeded as follows:

‘Are you one of the people called the Chartists?’ said Wilde.
‘Yes.’ replied Holberry.
‘This dagger is a deadly weapon – you surely would not take life with it?” said Atcherly.’
‘Yes; but I would in defence of the Charter, and to obtain liberty” replied Holberry.’

Whilst Samuel and his associates were held in custody, Mary was released, remaining tight-lipped throughout her interrogation. As Gammage (1969:173) notes, ‘Mrs. Holberry, a very interesting woman, was also arrested; but the evidence against her not being sufficient, she was discharged.’

Unrepentant, Samuel openly admitted his intentions to the police and swore that he would die for Chartist principles. Undeterred, the authorities admitted him for trial at Sheffield Assizes, charging Samuel with seditious conspiracy. A reporter for the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent of the 18th January 1840 described Samuel (and, elliptically, Mary in attendance) as follows:

Samuel Holberry: a very tall, well formed, and muscular young man, with much of the appearance and manner of an itinerant showman.

Mary Holberry: his wife.

Samuel’s importance both to the Chartists and the case itself can be seen in these opening remarks of the prosecuting Attorney General in the Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette of the 20th March, 1840:

‘In regard to Holberry, it will be proved that he was a leader, and attended the class meetings; that he attended a meeting at a place called Fig Tree Lane, where the delegates used to attend, and that he attended likewise a meeting held in Lambert-Street, where the details of the plan were arranged. He was, I may say, the contriver of the scheme.’

During the course of the trial, the plans of Holberry and his associates to foment disorder by using force were laid bare. In this extract from the Northern Star on the 21st March, 1840, the testimony of Chartist Samuel Thompson revealed the extent of Holberry’s proposed charge:

‘He said we must all be at the Town Hall and the Tontine [Hotel] by two o’clock, as they must be the places to be first taken. The classes were to come up to take these places, one man first from every class, then two, and the whole body. Exactly as the clock struck two they were to rush into the Town Hall and Tontine, and take possession of them. Boardman said he could bring about fifty, and I said I could bring about fifty … If they got the Tontine, they were to shut the gates, and barricade them with the coaches inside. When they got into the Town Hall, one party was to occupy the floor, and the others were to go above. We then began to talk about the ‘cats’, the instruments to lame the horses, and it was proposed to throw them in Snig Hill, leading from the barracks, and they were to be thrown at the corner of the Town Hall and the Albion. Holberry said that he and eighty-three picked men were to go after the soldiers when they were called out and fire the straw chamber. One of them was to do it by climbing the spout and throwing a fire-ball in it. That, it was said, would set fire to the Riding School. The ones and twos who came up were to assassinate all the soldiers and watchmen they met … Holberry said in the event of their being baffled, they must ‘Moscow the town’.’

Unsurprisingly, it was as a result of his own candour as regards his offences that Samuel received a guilty verdict (along with twenty-nine others – six were acquitted) and he was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. Sent to the gaol at Northallerton, he was illegally placed upon the treadmill, a form of punishment banned by the government in 1902 forcing the prisoner to walk  for extremely lengthy periods as a means of powering equipment or producing some kind of energy. Samuel also underwent what was termed the ‘silent system,’ a combination of stringent diet, extended periods on the above machinery and solitary confinement.

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‘Prisoners Working At The Tread-wheel, And Others Exercising,’ by Henry Mayhew & John Binny is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Whilst confined in that place, Mary was only able to visit her husband once, afflicted by grief at the death of their only son in October 1840. Indeed, she had suffered a breakdown and was supported by the National Charter Association. She was, however, a continuous advocate on Samuel’s behalf and wrote a number of letters to him in prison, often enclosing care packages filled with requested items. In this epistle, held in the Sheffield Archives, Mary lists such articles, including here a comb and a brush and two stocking needles:

Indeed, during his incarceration, Samuel received many other letters from supporters and associates, of which fifteen (including that above) survive in the collection of the above-named Sheffield Archives.

Following Samuel’s move from Northallerton Gaol to the hospital at York castle in September 1841, his already fragile health seriously deteriorated. On the 21st of June 1842 he succumbed to inflammation of the liver, brought about by the devastating advance of tuberculosis. The appalling state of the conditions in which Samuel had been imprisoned was revealed in the aftermath of the furore surrounding his death, when the House of Commons requested copies of all the correspondence relating to the prisoner between the Home Secretary and the prison authorities. In  reading these dispatches, it is clear that those involved in his care were well-aware of Samuel’s disproportionate suffering. Such missives were published at length in the newspaper, as seen here in a selection from the Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser of the 30th of July 1842:

Return to an address of the Honourable the House of Commons, dated July 6, 1842, for a copy of all communications that have passed between the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the authorities of York Castle, from the beginning of September, 1841, to the present time, relative to the state of heath and death of Samuel Holberry.

Whitehall, 16th September, 1841

Gentlemen- Secretary Sir James Graham having deemed it expedient to give directions for the removal of Samuel Holberry from Northallerton Gaol to the York Castle, there to undergo the remaining term of his imprisonment, I am directed to request you to call upon the surgeon of the latter prison to pay constant and particular attention to the prisoner’s health, and to report theron to Sir James Graham from time to time.

I am, &c.,

(Signed) S.M.PHILLIPPS

The Visiting Magistrates of York Castle

[…]

Samuel Holberry, the Chartist prisoner in York Castle, is suffering from severe pain in the left side, the effect of chronic inflammation of the left lobe of the liver, extending to to [sic] the stomach, and, perhaps, the colon, which, from his having had former attacks, I believe to be organic disease. His digestion is very bad, and he is very weak; and I consider him to be in great danger. I am of an opinion that his symptoms have increased, and his health has been impaired, of late, by the length of the confinement, and the great anxiety of mind he appears to have suffered since his imprisonment.

(Signed)

                                                                                                                GEORGE CHAMPNEY.

Surgeon to the York Castle

7th June 1842.

York Castle, 21st June, 1842.

SIR, – As the gaoler of this prison is unavoidably absent at the Insolvent Sessions at Wakefield, I have to report the death of Samuel Holberry, the Chartist, who died this morning rather suddenly.

Such were the sympathies for his widow Mary Cooper in the aftermath of his death and such was the outrage at his fate, that a rousing call to obtain support for Mary was published in the Chartist Northern Star of the 16th July 1842, entitled ‘AN APPEAL TO THE CHARTISTS OF GREAT BRITAIN, IN BEHALF OF THE WIDOW OF SAMUEL HOLBERRY:’

BRETHREN.- We appeal to you in behalf of the widow of one of nature’s nobles, who has at last fallen a martyr for the rights and liberties of mankind. Samuel Holberry is no more, but oh could his dungeon walls find tongues to describe the anguish they have witnessed, the painful agony they endured, and the acute torture of his mind, when bursting the portals of a prison’s gloom, his soul left its clay tenement,without the kind assistance of a fond wife to minister to his wants, or to close his dying eyes. Who can pourtray [sic] the agony of his sufferings?…

Brethren, that wife he has left for your protection.

Sister democrats, do you do your duty. Your sister, though young in years, has drunk deeply of the cup of affliction. It is for you to administer the balm of consolation – to sympathise with the afflicted, and to comfort the heartbroken…

Sheffield has promptly and nobly come forward to assist in the good work, and to our townsmen we return our thanks for their hearty and generous sympathy so well proven upon this melancholy occasion. To the Chartists of York we also return our warmest thanks for their timely and patriotic aid, and to our brother democrats in other parts of the country who without waiting for this appeal have already commenced collecting monies for the support of Mrs Holberry. We have purchased the ground where the  remains of the martyr repose, and intend to erect a plain monument over the grave. To accomplish this, and secure for the widow a maintenance for the future, we expect the cooperation and assistance of every Chartist in the kingdom…’

The ensuing funeral on the 27th of June 1842 was a very public affair, attended by between 20,000 to 50,000 people who lined the route of the procession from Attercliffe all the way to Sheffield General Cemetery. The cortege was led by a band of musicians playing Pleyell’s German Hymn and festooned with a large black banner, on one side of which read ‘Thou shalt do no murder’ and on the other ‘Vengeance is mine, and I will repay it, saith the Lord.’ All the funeral trappings of an affluent send-off were present, most notably the elaborate hearse and the mourning coaches. On the name-plate of the coffin itself was the following inscription: ‘Samuel Holberry, died a martyr to the cause of democracy, June 21, 1842, aged 27.’

Once the line had reached the burial plot, a hymn composed especially for the occasion was sung, ‘Great God! Is this the patriot’s doom!’ by John Henry Bramwich, a Chartist hymn writer from Leicestershire:

Great God! Is this the patriot’s doom!

Shall they who dare defend the slave

Be hurled within a prison’s gloom,

To fit them for an early grave!

Shall victim after victim fall

A prey to cruel class-made laws?

Forbid it, Lord! on Thee we call,

Protect us, and defend our cause!

In vain we prayed the powers that be,

to burst the drooping captive’s chain;

But mercy, Lord, belongs to Thee,

For Thou hast freed him from all pain.

Is this the price of liberty!

Must martyrs fail to gain the prize?

Then be it so; we will be free,

Or all become a sacrifice.

Tho’ freedom mourns her murder’d son,

And weeping friends surround his bier;

Tho’ tears like mountain torrents run,

Our cause is watered by each tear.

Oh! may his fate cement the bond

That binds us to our glorious cause!

Raise, raise the cry, let all respond,

Justice, and pure and equal laws.

Those assembled were then addressed by George Harvey, a National Charter Association leader, in a speech which served as a call to arms, vowing that Chartists will ‘annihilate forever the blood-stained despotism which has slain its thousands of martyrs, and tens of thousands of patriots, and immolated at its shrine the lovers of liberty and truth.’ Samuel was also commemorated throughout the nation by local Chartist meetings, his sacrifice lauded and confirmed.

Samuel Holberry’s Sheffield legacy lives on. In 1998, the Holberry Cascades were named in his memory, located in the Peace Gardens next to the Town Hall.

Holberry Cascades

‘Holberry Cascades’ by Derek Harper is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This designation was also marked with a plaque, asserting that Holberry ‘gave his life for what he believed to be the true interest of the people of England – a democratic society that would guarantee freedom, equality and security for all.’ There could be no more fitting tribute to the struggle and activism of the man.

Holberry Plaque

‘Holberry Plaque, Peace Gardens, Sheffield’ by Chemical Engineer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

As for his widow Mary Cooper, she continued to campaign alongside the movement until it was disbanded in the 1850s. She had remarried a widower, Charles Pearson, in 1845 who worked as a publican. Three children subsequently followed. The first was named Holberry in homage to Mary’s first husband, in what was also a powerful reminder of her own duty and sacrifice in pursuit of the Chartist cause.

A Grave Announcement (@AGraveAnnounce)

Bibliography

R. G. Gammage, History of the Chartist movement, 1837–1854, new edn. (1894), 173, 175, 213–16

R. Hutchins, ‘Holberry, Samuel (1814-1842)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), pp.

A Burial Fit For A King: Annie Fletcher, Royal Nurse In Residence

‘the Lancashire Girl who was called to nurse a King’

Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter, May 1st 1903

AnnieFletcher

Nurse Annie Fletcher (Wigan Observer and District Advertiser May 14th, 1910)

I have previously written about my meanderings in All Saints Churchyard in Marple, Stockport, and the burial ground’s viridescent grave settings, interspersed with pathways of charmingly disordered stones, recycled and reused to form these sepulchral avenues. I had discussed my encounter in this place with Lieutenant Edmund Turner Young and his family memorial, a man lost on the sandy shores of Gallipoli at the age of 33. My eye was also struck, however, by a grave marker in black marble, seeming to sparkle iridescently in the dappled light of a sporadic sun.

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The grave of Annie Fletcher (and sister Mary). Image by A Grave Announcement

The inscription was addressed to one Annie Fletcher (Nan), advertising her profession as that of Resident Nurse to their Majesties King Edward VII, Queen Alexandra and Princess Victoria. I wondered why a testament to such esteemed royal service was situated in a rural parish churchyard, unassumingly guarding the adjacent cobbled pathway, mingling with the other stones of churchgoers long gone. The lengthy epitaph reads as follows:

Sacred to the Memory of

Annie Fletcher (Nan)

of

“Vedal” Heeley Road, St Annes-On-Sea.

Died 13th May 1933, Aged 68 Years.

For 30 Years Resident Nurse

(Betty)

To Their Majesties

King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra

and

H.R.H. Princess Victoria.

Also Mary Horton

Sister of the Above

Died 22nd December 1960

In her 90th Year

“At Rest.”

Ann Fletcher (known to all as Annie) was born in 1865 in Beeston, Yorkshire, the first child of William and Sarah Fletcher, whose origins lay in Aspull, Lancashire, a town near Wigan. Her father was involved in the coal-mining industry from an early age – on the 1851 census he is listed as a waggoner from the age of eleven. This was a back-breaking job necessitating the pushing of heavy and loaded carts away from the coalface. By 1871, Sarah and William had moved to Wigan where they were living at Ormandys Houses, a row of terraces south of the town centre, adjacent to the Leeds and Liverpool canal . Here, the six-year old Annie was joined by a brother, three-year old John William Fletcher, and a sister, new-born baby Mary, as seen on Annie’s grave marker above.

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Beeston, West Yorkshire, Birthplace of Annie Fletcher (‘Beeston. West Yorks. Station 1779989 ae7d591c’ by Ben Brooksbank is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The personal drive and ambition of Annie’s father ensured that the family rose through the ranks. Following another move to the town of Buckley in Flintshire, North-East Wales, William obtained the position of Colliery Manager, rising impressively from the lowest rung of the ladder to a senior managerial position in a 29-year period. There were now seven children, ranging from the ages of one to sixteen.

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A Typical Coal-Mining Scene (‘Coal-mining’ by The Graphic 1871 is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Annie, however, had been working as a nurse since 1891, associated with the Women’s Hospital in Shaw-Street, Liverpool, a place she had entered in 1889, during which time she trained under Miss Carless. From August 1893, to March 1896, she was made charge nurse. It was at this time that she encountered Royal Surgeon Sir Frederick Treves (1853-1923), the man responsible for the care of Joseph Merrick, the so-called “Elephant Man.” Having repaired for a while to Manchester, she undertook a brief stint in a similar hospital for women. In 1901, she went down to London where she held a series of other nursing appointments, one of which was as matron of a small hospital, before joining the staff of Miss Ethel M’Caul’s (1867-1931) nursing home. The latter was a Royal Red Cross nurse and prominent figure in the London nursing community who had established this private medical institution at 51 Welbeck Street. It was fitted with fifteen beds, an operating theatre and a staff of twenty, of whom ten were nurses.

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Sir Frederick Treves (‘Sir Frederick Treves. Lithograph, 1884’ by the Wellcome Trust licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This experience held her in such good stead that she became affiliated with the King Edward Hospital in Grosvenor Gardens and the Royal Physicians who operated there. The meteoric rise of her career was outlined by the Wigan Observer and District Advertiser of the 14th May 1910 as follows:

‘At first she was associated for several years with the Hospital for Women in Shaw-street, Liverpool, and before joining the staff of the nursing home under Miss Ethel M’Caul, R.R.C., she held other nursing appointments, among these being that of matron of a small hospital. She had so perfected her training in the profession she adopted that she was able to become associated with the King Edward Hospital, Grosvenor Gardens, London, with which the Royal physicians were identified, and in this way she became the King’s nurse.’

As a consequence of this, she took on the role of Second Nurse to King Edward VII himself in 1902, following his operation for appendicitis which had caused the coronation, set for the 26th of June 1902, to be postponed. Annie had taken on responsibility for the night shift in the rota, relieving her colleague Miss Haine. Both nurses had been selected on account of their special knowledge of abdominal surgery. The   procedure itself, performed by Sir Frederick Treves with a Miss Tarr as surgical nurse, at that same private nursing home of Miss Ethel M’Caul, had been somewhat revolutionary – a small incision was made in the abdominal wall, through which a pint of pus from the infected abscess was drawn. Edward made a swift recovery, apparently even sitting up in bed the next day smoking a cigar. The very same operating table upon which the King had lain was later marked with a metal plate with the King’s signature commemorating the event. Edward, however, had reportedly been a rather difficult patient, but ‘met his match in Sister Fletcher,’ according to the latter’s obituary in the Aberdeen Press and Journal of the 19th of May, 1933:

GAVE KING AN ORDER.

‘There has just died perhaps the only commoner in the realm who ever gave an order to King Edward and insisted on it being carried out…This was Sister Annie Fletcher, who nursed him through the appendicitis that caused the postponement of his coronation.

King Edward was not the most amenable of patients, but when it came to taking (or rather, to his thinking of not taking) his medicine, he met his match in Sister Fletcher.’

Her conduct during this difficult period of ill-health for the king resulted in her permanent appointment to the nursing staff of the Royal Household, caring not only for Edward but also for his wife Queen Alexandra and daughter Princess Victoria. Annie had been personally thanked by the King and presented with, in the words of the Wigan Observer and District Advertiser (25th November, 1905), ‘a valuable gift.’ She accompanied the family on their European travels and even stayed on the Royal Yacht, the “Victoria and Albert,” for summer cruises. It was on the latter that King Edward recuperated once he was well enough to leave hospital after his surgery.

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The Victoria and Albert Royal Yacht (‘HMY Victoria and Albert’ by the William Lind Collection is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The King and Queen never failed to remember their debt to Annie for her care and skill during Edward’s ‘Coronation’ illness, according to the Cheltenham Examiner on the 12th of May, 1910:

KING EDWARD’S NURSE

‘…It was Nurse Fletcher’s untiring devotion during King Edward’s illness previous to his Coronation that won for her the appointment of Royal Nurse. Her skill on that occasion was fully appreciated by the late King, and both he and Queen Alexandra frequently referred to the services which Nurse Fletcher rendered in the sick room during those anxious weeks in the summer of 1902.’

It also brought her attention from certain quarters, as can be seen here in the Wigan Observer and District Advertiser on the 16th of July 1902, in which the Lady Mayoress of Liverpool herself is said to be asking after Annie:

‘The Lady Mayoress of Liverpool has been making enquiries with regard to Nurse Annie Fletcher, who is nursing his Majesty the King. It is interesting to note that Nurse Fletcher entered the Hospital for Women, Shaw-Street, Liverpool, in 1889, and was trained under Miss Carless. From August, 1893, to March 1896, she was charge nurse. She has been on the staff of Miss M’Coll’s [sic] Home in London, and nurse principally for Sir Frederick Treves.’

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Queen Alexandra and Edward VII (‘Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII in Coronation Robes’ is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

In the wake of her nursing assistance to the King, she was considered of such public interest to the Nottinghamshire Evening Post that the occasion of her taking a holiday was deemed newsworthy:

‘Nurse Fletcher, one of the nurses who attended the King during his recent illness, is spending a holiday in her home at Ashton-in-Makerfield.’

Annie continued to receive this kind of recognition. In 1903, in the May edition of the magazine Girls Realm, as part of a series of articles authored by Miss Caroline Masters on ‘girls that the counties were proud of,’ a piece focused upon Lancashire, profiling the nurse. The edition itself was reviewed by the Wigan Observer and District Advertiser on the 29th of April, 1903:

Miss Fletcher, of Ashton.

‘Last of all the writer comes to the King’s nurse, Miss Annie Fletcher, whose father and family reside at Ashton, where she, too, is pleased to make her home when relaxation from duty permits. This is the reference:- “When, last June, King Edward VII was suddenly stricken down with illness, and the world paused aghast at the news, Lancashire was proud to know that one of the two nurses – Miss Annie Fletcher – chosen to nurse him had her home in its county.” A portrait is given of Miss Fletcher, as well as of Mrs. Banks, and most of the other Lancashire women whose excellences the article extols.’

In 1904, Nurse Fletcher had also taken on a role as head nurse in a newly-opened home caring for officers wounded during the South African War (Morning Post, 16th April 1904):

NURSING HOME FOR OFFICERS.

‘Miss Agnes Keyser, who, in conjunction with her sister, carried on such excellent work in Grosvenor Crescent nursing soldiers who had been wounded during the South African war, has now opened a similar home or hospital at 9, Grosvenor-gardens. By permission of his Majesty the home is to be known as King Edward VII’s Hospital for Officers, and the head nurse under Sister Agnes is Nurse Fletcher, who nursed the King in his illness two years ago.’

Annie’s work in the Royal Household was again brought to public attention following a ‘slight accident’ suffered by Edward whilst shooting at Windsor in 1905, reported by the Inverness Courier on the 21st of November, 1905:

NURSE FLETCHER. 

‘King Edward’s slight accident at Windsor brought out a fact not generally known, that for some time past there has been a trained hospital nurse in constant attendance on his Majesty’s family and Household. The lady selected for this enviable position is one of two nurses who attended the King in his “Coronation” illness after his operation, the other nurse, Miss Haine, an Irish lady, being now matron of the Convalescent Home for Officers of the King’s Services at Osborne. Miss Fletcher, who is on permanent Royal duty, travels with the Queen and Princess Victoria, the rather delicate health of the Princess being possibly the reason for this arrangement. In having a nurse always at hand in case of sudden illness or accident, the King and Queen are following the example of the late Queen Victoria, who, for some time before her death, was accompanied by a trained nurse, as a sudden summons to a hospital or home for such an attendant might have caused great anxiety to the nation.’

It is also stated in the Staffordshire Advertiser (25th November, 1905) that without Nurse Fletcher’s ‘timely attention,’ the incident may well have been far more serious.

In that same year, she also nursed Princess Victoria through appendicitis, who, like her father Edward, was plagued by such episodes of poor health. This progress report in the Nottingham Evening Post on the 2nd of February 1905 names Annie in detailing the medical staff responsible for the Princess:

‘Her Royal Highness’s nurses are Miss Fletcher, who nursed the King after his operation and Miss Isaacs, both from Miss M’Caul’s home.’

In 1909, as recognition for her steadfast service, she was awarded the Royal Red Cross in the King’s Birthday Honours, as seen here in the Daily Telegraph & Courier (London) of the 9th November in that same year:

‘The King has been graciously pleased to confer the decoration of the Royal Red Cross upon Miss Annie Fletcher, who has been a hospital nurse for twenty years, in recognition of devoted service rendered by her to his Majesty and her Majesty the Queen since 1902.’

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The Royal Red Cross (‘The Order of the Royal Red Cross and Bar’ by Robert Prummel is licensed under CC by 2.0)

The Wigan Observer and District Advertiser on the 13th of November 1909 also proudly announced the conferment of the honour upon their native resident, including the incidence of a public notation of her work in a speech given at a local school’s annual prize distribution:

KING HONOURS LOCAL NURSE.

MISS FLETCHER IN THE ROYAL BIRTHDAY LIST.

‘In the list of Birthday Honours, published on Tuesday, appears the name of Miss Annie Fletcher, of Ashton-in-Makerfield, upon whom the King has conferred the decoration of the Royal Red Cross, in recognition of devoted service rendered by her to his Majesty and the Queen since 1902. Miss Fletcher has been a nurse for the past twenty years.

PUBLIC REFERENCE AT PLATT BRIDGE.

The Chairman of the Hindley District Council, Mr. H. J. Bouchier, speaking at the annual prize distribution of St. Nathaniel’s Evening School, Platt Bridge, on Wednesday evening, said that in looking through the King’s birthday honours list, he saw the name of Annie Fletcher, who used to live not many miles from where they stood in that meeting, and he believed she went to school in that district. Miss Fletcher was one of the nurses to attend the King during his illness, and was very well thought of in the Royal Family. She had no more chances than the girls present that evening, possibly not as good, but by her own endeavours and ambition she had gone up from once place to another until she stood as high as any nurse in England could wish. (Applause). The girls present, he said, must not be disappointed if they could not become great nurses like Miss Fletcher, but they could all at any rate make the best of their opportunities. If they did not get to anything great they would be better men and women for having improved themselves. (Applause).’

King Edward VII was plagued by poor health. In March 1910, he contracted a chill whilst staying at Biarritz, and Annie was telegraphed for, immediately departing for the Continent. Her nursing skills were significant in his recovery, according to a report on Edward’s final year in the British Medical Journal of the 14th May:

‘On his way through France he caught a fresh chill, and during the early days of his stay at Biarritz his condition caused some anxiety. The skill of his physician and the care of his nurse, combined with the favourable influence of the climate, enabled him to shake off the enemy for a time.’

In April, the King fell seriously ill and Annie was immediately summoned to his bedside as someone who ‘understood his Majesty’s constitution probably better than any of his medical attendants’ (Wigan Observer and District Advertiser, 14th May, 1910):

NURSE FLETCHER AND THE KING’S ILLNESS.

‘Nurse Fletcher, of Bryn, who nursed the King through his previous illness was summoned to Buckingham Palace on Tuesday morning, last week, not Monday as previously stated. After being in attendance on his Majesty at Biarritz, Nurse Fletcher was taking a short holiday with her family in Bryn when she was summoned to the Palace. The first telegram was received at 7.23 on Tuesday morning: a second following an hour later at 8.25 and Nurse Fletcher left at 11.32 taking first available train to London.

The nurse summoned to his Majesty’s bedside was Miss Fletcher, who cared for him after the operation he underwent in the year of his accession and she was also at Biarritz during his first attack of bronchitis early in March. She is a[n]… expert in whom all the doctors attending the king have the most implicit reliance. Her Majesty also had the utmost confidence in Miss Fletcher, who, a contemporary states, understood his Majesty’s constitution probably better than any of his medical attendants.’

Despite Annie’s and the Royal Physicians’ best efforts, King Edward VII passed away at 11:30pm on the 28th April, having suffered a series of heart attacks.

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The Funeral Procession of King Edward VII passing along Piccadilly (The Herald, 28th May, 1910)

Amidst the widespread newspaper coverage of the event, Annie herself was the recipient of a sizeable biography, again in the Wigan Observer and District Advertiser (14th May, 1910), demonstrating her status as a prominent figure among her local community in Wigan. I reproduce the account here in full as a manifestation of regional pride, even amongst so much national mourning:

KING EDWARD’S NURSE.

MISS ANNIE FLETCHER, R.R.C.,

OF WIGAN.

‘On page 3 will be found a portrait of Miss Annie Fletcher, King Edward’s nurse during his illness, wearing the decoration conferred upon her by the late King. Nurse Fletcher, who has had the great honour of occupying the distinguished position of Royal nurse ever since King Edward came to the throne is, it is interesting to note, a native of Wigan, having been born in the Gidlow district [sic]. Some twenty years ago her parents removed to Brynn, and took up residence in Wigan-road, her father being an under-manager under the Garswood Hall Colliery Company.

Nurse Fletcher’s career reflects the greatest credit not only on herself but on the profession to which she belongs. At first the was associated for several years with the Hospital for Women in Shaw-street, Liverpool, and before joining the staff of the nursing home under Miss Ethel M’Caul, R.R.C., she held other nursing appointments, among these being that of matron of a small hospital. She had so perfected her training in the profession she adopted that she was able to become associated with the King Edward Hospital, Grosvenor Gardens, London, with which the Royal physicians were identified, and in this way she became the King’s nurse.

It was shortly before the date fixed for the King’s Coronation when his Majesty was seized with a sudden illness, and the operation for appendicitis was so skilfully performed that Nurse Fletcher was brought into close nursing association with Royalty. She was then placed by Sir Frederick Treves as second nurse to the King, and so greatly were her services appreciated that she was later taken into the Royal household as a permanent nurse. In this way was her skill and devotion recognised. When the King journeyed to Biarritz on his last visit, it was Nurse Fletcher who was chosen to be in attendance upon his Majesty, and when the King returned to London she was granted a week’s holiday, when she came on a visit to her relatives and friends in the Wigan district.

Miss Fletcher’s mother is dead, and it was while taking this holiday, staying with her father at Brynn, that the telegram asking her to return to Buckingham Palace was received. This was on Tuesday morning, and Nurse Fletcher made all haste, taking the first available train to London, and she was in constant attendance in the Royal apartments until the King passed away.

Nurse Fletcher’s services, it is interesting to note, have received Royal recognition. She was honoured with the Order of the Red Cross in King Edward’s birthday list last year, and she has received many presents, most of which bear touching inscriptions, from various members of the Royal Family. When she was chosen as a Royal nurse her appointment at Court was duly gazetted.’

As noted above, Annie’s father and family had later returned to the Wigan area from Flintshire, settling in Brynn. In 1901 they were living at 343 Wigan Road with William taking up the position of Under-Manager (Below Ground) at the Garswood Hall Colliery Company. Annie’s mother had by this time died and William was living with his three sons, all of whom were employed in the business of coal – Robert, 28, as a Hewer, Thomas, 21, as a Colliery Wagon Shunter (Above Ground) and Harry, 19, also as a Hewer. The family’s increased wealth and status, as well as the loss of Sarah, had also brought about the employment of a domestic housekeeper. In 1911, William had retired and was living with his son Robert, a coal salesman, and the latter’s wife Hannah. The couple had three children, one of whom was named Annie. It is not inconceivable to surmise that, following Annie’s newfound fame for her part in attending to Edward on his deathbed, her brother wished to honour his sister with this familial gesture, perpetuating her memory through this expression of pride and satisfaction at her achievement. Annie herself had never married and remained childless, meaning that such a move must have been especially meaningful to her.

The local zeal generated by these connections had led not only the Wigan Observer and District Advertiser (as seen above), but also a number of other publications to falsely attribute Annie’s birthplace to Wigan, a state of affairs corrected by a letter to the editor of the Yorkshire Post on the 13th of May 1910:

THE KING’S NURSE.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE YORKSHIRE POST.

Sir, ‘ The other day there appeared in one of the Wigan newspapers an account of the life of Nurse Fletcher, who was in attendance upon our late King during his last illness. This paragraph stated that Nurse Fletcher was born at Wigan. Her friends at Beeston wish me to state that she was born at Crow Nest Lane, Beeston, and is descended from an old Beeston family. Your readers may be interested to know that Leeds has the honour of being the birthplace of the nurse that has been so much valued by our Royal Family in their sickness – Yours, etc.,

W.L.INGLE.

Millshaw, May 12.

 In a later report published in the British Medical Journal and referred to above (May 14th, 1910), Annie Fletcher is singled out as being instrumental in Edward’s care, in company with the King’s Physicians:

‘The King was attended throughout by his Physicians-in-Ordinary (Sir Francis Laking, Sir James Reid, and Sir Douglas Powell), and by one of his Physicians Extraordinary (Dr. Bertrand Dawson). Dr. St. Clair Thomson being called in consultation some time ago, his Majesty underwent a course of vaccine treatment at the hands of Dr. Spitta, bacteriologist at St. George’s Hospital. All the resources of modern science were used in the last illness. He was nursed by Miss Fletcher, whose ministrations he had learned to appreciate at the time of the operation performed upon him by Sir Frederick Treves.’

Throughout the nation, Nurse Fletcher was cited in a great number of regional newspapers, thanking her for her attendance upon Edward prior to his death, as seen here in the Clifton Society on the 12th of May, 1910, a Bristol publication:

THE ROYAL NURSE.

‘Many kindly thoughts, will, says The Globe, be turned to Miss Fletcher, who nursed King Edward through that illness which fell with such dramatic suddenness on the eve of his Coronation, and who brought all her skill and tenderness to the Royal bedside in the last and fatal hours. Miss Fletcher had become a part of the Royal household, respected and honoured by all who have been associated with her. Her exalted patient had the greatest regard for Nurse Fletcher, and not long ago bestowed upon her the decoration of the Royal Cross.’

In 1912, on the two year anniversary of the King’s death, Annie was even invited to a private service attended by members of the Royal Family in the Albert Memorial Chapel, Windsor, to celebrate Edward’s life.

Indeed, Annie had remained close to the family. After Edward’s passing, she had continued as nurse for Queen Alexandra until the latter passed away in 1925. The following image from The Sphere on the 5th of December in that same year depicts the deathbed scene shortly after the Queen had passed away. Nurse Fletcher had been in constant attendance on her since her ill-health had forced her to retire to Sandringham House. Annie is shown at her bedside in the right-hand corner of the illustration, tentatively drawing the curtain back.

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Annie subsequently retired to Lancashire, a lifetime’s dedicated service behind her. She took up residence in Heeley Road in the seaside resort of St. Anne’s on Sea, in a house whose name consisted of a royal acronym expressing her great love of this family to whom she had given so many years of her life – “Vedal” (V for Victoria, ED for Edward and AL for Alexandra).

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Lytham St. Anne’s and its Promenade (‘The Promenade at Lytham St. Anne’s’ by Raymond Knapman is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

She remained close with the Royal Family, as is noted in her obituary printed in the Manchester Guardian on the 15th of May 1933, with Princess Victoria even reported to have stayed with her on a number of occasions:

A ROYAL HOUSEHOLD NURSE

‘Miss Fletcher nursed the late King Edward when he had appendicitis. She remained with the royal family and nursed Queen Alexandra up to the time of her death, when Nurse Fletcher retired as nurse from the royal household. She was awarded the Order of the Red Cross in 1910 [sic]. Princess Victoria, who frequently visited her at St. Anne’s, has telegraphed her sympathy with the family.’

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Princess Victoria (‘Princess Victoria of the United Kingdom, daughter of Edward VII’ by W. & D. Downey is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

These visits of Princess Victoria to the nurse were later recalled the former had passed away, detailed here in the Lancashire Evening Post on the 3rd of December, 1935, two years after Annie herself had passed away:

TO SEE OLD NURSE.

Princess Victoria’s Visit to Fylde Recalled

‘The death of Princess Victoria (as reported on page 3) recalls visits which Her Royal Highness paid some years ago to Lytham St. Annes, when, as an incognito visitor she stayed with a former nurse of the Royal Family in Heeley-road.

Princess Victoria at that time stayed with Nurse Fletcher , who had been a servant of the Royal Household practically all her life. While staying there Princess Victoria planted a small beech tree and inscribed certain markings on a window of the house as souvenirs of her visit.

The beech tree remains, but the window was removed by relatives of Nurse Fletcher when she died about two years ago.

It is also understood that while on visits to the Fylde Princess Victoria visited relations of Nurse Fletcher living at a house in North Shore, Blackpool. Few people, however, were aware of her visit there on account of the strict secrecy which was maintained.

Mr. H. Mosscrop, a newsagent, of Headroomgate-road, St. Anne’s, speaking to our reporter to-day, recalled Princess Victoria’s visit to the town. “She was often seen walking around here, and frequently came into the shop,” he said, “but it was not until later that we realised who our distinguished visitor was.”‘

Annie herself had been taken ill with pneumonia in 1933, whilst staying with her sister Mary in Peacefield, Marple. She passed away at the age of 68 on the 13th of May and was buried in the churchyard at All Saints on the 16th of that same month.

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All Saints Churchyard, Marple – Image by A Grave Announcement

Upon death, she left a considerable estate amounting to around £100,000 in today’s money, according to the Dundee Evening Telegraph on the 5th of September 1933:

‘Nurse to King Edward, Miss Annie Fletcher, of Heeley Road, Lytham St Anne’s, left £1968.’

In addition to this monetary sum, she also bestowed a watch given to her by King Edward VII  upon her nephew, as reported in the Lancashire Evening Post on the 4th of September 1933:

ROYAL NURSE’S WILL

Watch Presented by King Edward to Lytham Woman

‘Miss Annie Fletcher, R.R.C.O., Vedal, 150 Heeley Road, Lytham St. Annes, for many years a nurse in the Royal household and nurse to King Edward VII, when he was operated upon for appendicitis and during his last illness, and who died on May 13th last, aged 69 [sic] years, left estate of the gross value of £1,968, with her personalty £1,921.

She left to her nephew, the Rev. Harry Fletcher, the gold watch presented to her by his late Majesty, King Edward VII; and one year’s wages to her maid, Harriet Mainwaring, if in service at her death.’

This timepiece was one of a number of gifts presented to Annie by the Royal Family, the rest of which were sold at Bonhams in 2003.

Nurse Fletcher’s death had been reported in a wide variety of regional newspapers, from Scotland to Southern England, signalling the continuing interest in the nurse whose name, at the height of her fame, was known throughout the nation. Ultimately, her life stands as a remarkable exercise in  social mobility as coal-miner’s daughter rose to become Royal Nurse to King Edward VII, an extraordinary achievement for an extraordinary woman, and a fitting voice for 2018’s celebratory year of Extraordinary Women.

A Grave Announcement (@AGraveAnnounce)

With thanks to the profile of Annie Fletcher’s life by the Marple Local History Society for  additional background information.

 

This Gallant Brigade: Gallipoli, Marple and Lieutenant Edmund Turner Young

I often visit the town of Marple in Stockport, Greater Manchester, once the bastion of the cotton industry and a beautifully quaint location for a languid afternoon stroll. The settlement is also the site of an impressive canal network, including the sixteen section Marple Lock Flight and the eighteenth-century civil engineer Benjamin Outram’s stone aqueduct. My usual routine is to seek out a takeaway coffee and wander these watery byways or, indeed, venture downwards into the Stygian depths of the Roman lakes where masses of prowling geese seethe and the waters flap and ripple.

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‘Roman Lakes Leisure Park’ by Stephen Burton is licensed under CC BY 2.0

On this occasion, I deviated from the norm, striking out along the towpath circling the town centre, passing the mooring basin festooned with the myriad colours of the gathered painted narrowboats and the imposing Top Lock residence, once home to the boat-building Jinks family. Crossing Junction Side Bridge, I stumbled down its cobbled way to join the Macclesfield Canal, bordered by the now-crumbling warehouses and offices of Marple Wharf. I left the route at the point where the shadow of Goyt Mill, constructed in 1905 for the Goyt Spinning Company Limited (now subdivided and rented to an array of local businesses), casts its imposing fingers over the water. Bearing left, I continued on through Hawk Green in the direction of High Lane, cutting up onto the serpentine curves of Church Lane.

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“Marple_canal” by David Stowell is licensed under CC BY 2.0

As I progressed back towards the centre, I saw and admired from the heady heights of this particular area of Marple, All Saints Church, a masterful stone edifice with ruddy tiled roof and a striking rose window. This place of worship is especially notable for the tower of a previous church demolished in 1964, still standing in the churchyard, a space now dedicated to memorials. Inside, there is a ring of eight bells, six of which were originally cast by Abraham Rudhall of Gloucester in 1731, and which still toll on a Sunday morning, ringing out, doleful, their unhurried echo unfolding over the hillside.

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“All Saints Church, Marple, Greater Manchester” by Zzztriple2000 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I have passed this sacred place on hundreds of occasions, but, this time, something made me enter the graveyard through the Lychgate. Perhaps it was the mournful silence of the prematurely crisp autumnal day, perhaps it was the lazy hour of a drawn-out Saturday afternoon, but more likely it was the impressive First World War Hopton Wood stone memorial cross guarding the entrance to the church itself, a permanent monument to collaborative effort and dutiful loss. Revealed and dedicated by the Bishop of Warrington on the 15th of June 1920, the memorial cost around £600 (approximately £17,000 in today’s money), of which £55 was allocated for architect’s fees and £555 12s 5d for the structure proper. Messrs Earp, Hobbs and Miller, the highly successful architectural sculptors of Manchester, furnished the stonework, while Messrs Bainbridge and Reynolds of London produced the plaques.

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Image by A Grave Announcement

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Image by A Grave Announcement

As I walked towards the graveyard proper, a man was tending a chest tomb to my right, removing the weeds and gently cleaning the stone. At a time when so many cemeteries suffer from neglect, it is always an encouraging sight to witness plots benefitting from regular upkeep. The churchyard itself is beautifully organic and verdant, its lines of stones interspersed with fronded trees. Although it was something of a wet afternoon, intermittently spattered with showers, I was protected beneath this arboreal canopy with nothing but the muted thudding of captured droplets as my companions. Gravestones perching at various degrees and heights, their inscriptions in places eroded and, in others, vibrantly clear, powerfully attested to the history of the place. At times, dampened sunlight made its presence felt, seeming to almost push the rain aside in a bout of meteorological one-upmanship, spasmodically declaring itself the victor.

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Image by A Grave Announcement

Following a meandering path constructed from damaged and misplaced grave slabs, I circumnavigated the churchyard, lingering at a number of memorials.

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Image by A Grave Announcement

En route, I was struck by the distinctive rear gate, perfectly mirroring the lychgate through which I had entered. It contained a stone stile over which one can tarry a while on the moorlands, looking across at the village of Mellor, the rough and tumble of the undulating hills seeming to carry on endlessly in the distance.

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Image by A Grave Announcement

Tearing myself away from this astonishing vista, I continued my exploration, halting in front of an obelisk memorial startlingly similar to that commemorative monument erected adjacent to the church’s front entrance. It appeared to be a family testament, its area blanketed by the golden hues and reddish tints of the bountiful autumnal leaves found throughout the churchyard.

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Image by A Grave Announcement

The design was that of a stone Celtic cross surmounting a base column whose absolute apex was obscured by a pendulous branch. My attention was immediately seized by the white lettering, discoloured and disfigured, adorning one face of the foundational plinth:

IN LOVING MEMORY

EDMUND TURNER YOUNG

LIEUTENANT 1/6 BATT. MANCHESTER REGT.

ELDEST SON OF

THOMAS PILKINGTON & MARGARET ANN YOUNG

STAND HALL, WHITEFIELD.

KILLED IN ACTION IN GALLIPOLI

JUNE 5TH 1915, AGED 33 YEARS.

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Image by A Grave Announcement

Despite not serving as a Commonwealth War Grave proper (All Saints churchyard maintains thirteen of these throughout, nine casualties from the First World War and four from the Second), this monument nevertheless bears witness to the great courage of a man gunned down during the Third Battle of Krithia on the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915, a man whose body was never recovered.

Edmund Turner Young

Edmund Turner Young – Image taken from the British Army Bond of Sacrifice (Vol. 2)

Edmund Turner Young was born on the 26th of August 1884, the eldest son of Colonel Thomas Pilkington Young and Margaret Ann Young, and was baptised on the 25th of October in that same year. His family lived in Marple, at The Mount, before moving to Stand Hall in Whitefield, Manchester, a grand abode constructed around 1405 and which underwent several iterations prior to its demolition in the 1960s.

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Image credited to Paul Lange and taken from ‘The Early History of the Lancashire Family of Pilkington, and its Branches, from 1066 to 1600.

The Pilkingtons are an ancient family of impressive lineage – their genealogical roots can be firmly traced back to an Alexander de Pilkington (c. 1110 – 1180), recorded as possessing land in Pilkington, Lancashire in the Liber Feodorum (Book of Fees). They are widely believed, however, to have settled in the reign of Edward the Confessor (1003-1066), prior to the Norman Conquest. The first recorded reference to the family is a notation regarding Alexander’s possession of land in Pilkington in Lancashure in the Testa de Nevill, the volume comprising the Liber Feodorum or Book of Fees. Whilst their geographical origins were in the now defunct township and parish of Pilkington, the various branches of their family spread throughout the county, from Rivington to St. Helens. The motto ‘now thus, now thus’ of the family crest which depicts a mower with a scythe wearing pale argent and sable is said to express the motion of that working instrument, or to represent an onomatopoeic medieval scything song. As the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer of the 2nd October 1912 asserts, this dictum is one ‘raising suggestions of a mind fixed whatever fate may bring,’ and strongly associates the family with the land even in heraldic terms.

As a boy, Edmund was first sent from Stand Hall to board at Bilton Grange Prepatory School, before being admitted to Rugby School in 1899. In the 1911 census, he is listed as a sixteen-year old schoolboy residing in a school boarding-house, under his housemaster the Reverend William Henry Payne-Smith (elected to this position in 1894), in a residence whose address is listed as 10 Hillmorton Road, Rugby.  In 1902, he went up to Christ’s College, Cambridge to read Science. Upon his return, he took employment with T. P. Young, Cotton Weavers Manchester, the firm of his father. This clearly was, or had been, a sizeable enterprise as the latter is recorded on the 1881 census as a ‘Manufacturer of Fancy Cotton Goods employing 402 hands.’

In 1906-7, Edmund enrolled on a weaving course in the Department of Textiles at the Manchester Municipal College of Technology, where his death is commemorated on a memorial in the Sackville building, now part of the University of Manchester. Whilst studying in that institution, he also became a member of the Officer Training Corps. Indeed, Edmund’s interests were varied and diverse – he was an active supporter of the Boy Scout movement, serving as Assistant Commissioner of the latter from 1912 in Radcliffe, Whitefield and Prestwich. He spent a lengthy period as a member of the Peak Forest Beagles Hunt. In addition, he was an important member of the Manchester Football Club, the forerunner of Manchester City and he enjoyed racket sports as a member of the Manchester Tennis & Racquets Club, established in 1880.

In 1911, according to the biographical register of Christ’s College 1505-1905, he was employed by the firm of John Young, Ltd. in Radcliffe as ‘Director and Manager.’ Edmund’s father had had a younger brother, John Arnold Young, and  it seems likely that this new firm was an offering of the latter. In that same year, his father passed away in Bournemouth on the 27th March, leaving this superintendent position in the company to his son, a role likely taken up by the Colonel after his own corporation T. P. Young, Cotton Weavers, was either shut down or bought out. Edmund remained living at Stand Hall in Whitefield with his fifty-four year old widowed mother and two younger brothers. This event also saw the family inherit a small fortune as the Colonel left an estate worth £50,000 (equivalent to around four million pounds). The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser of the 13th June 1911 relays the details of the will:

COLONEL YOUNG’S FORTUNE

ESTATE OF £50,000

Colonel Thomas Pilkington Young, V.D., of Stand Hall, Whitefield, and of Manchester, formerly of Marple, Hon. Colonel 1stV.B. Lancashire Fusilliers, J.P. for Lancashire and Cheshire, managing director of John Young (of Radcliffe) Ltd., gingham manufacturers, who died at Bournemouth on the 27thof March last, aged 66 years, left an estate of the gross value of £50,196, of which the net personalty has been sworn at £39,101. The testator left 2,000 ordinary shares and 30 £100 Debentures of John Young (of Radcliffe) LTD., to each of his sons, Edmund Turner Young and Roger Pilkington Young, and a like bequest to his son Malcolm Henry Young, on attaining his majority. He left £4,000 on trust for his niece, Mary Kingsford Young, for life , with remainder to her issue, £200 and his household personal effects to his wife, Mrs. Margaret Anne Young, and the residue of his property to his wife during widowhood, with remainder to his children in equal shares.

Colonel Young was buried on the 1st April 1911 as an out-of-area non-resident in the churchyard of All Saints, Marple. The name of his eldest son would join that of his on the memorial no less than five years later.

When war broke out on the 4th August 1914, Edmund was not slow to enlist, attaching himself to the Manchester Regiment over which Colonel Heywood presided in August. He received commission as a Second Lieutenant in the 6th Battalion, rapidly progressing to the temporary rank of Lieutenant on the 26th of that same month. He was required to undertake ‘Imperial Service obligations’ – namely, the mandatory signing of a declaration  permitting members of the territorial forces to serve abroad, marked by the wearing of an Imperial Service Badge. Edmund was then swiftly dispatched to Egypt with his battalion for the winter, leaving for Alexandria in September 1914. The group landed on the Gallipoli peninsula in May 1915.

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Stanton, St Michael’s Church: Stained Glass Window: The Manchester Regiment by Michael Garlick is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This was to be a particularly bloody time for the allied forces. During the month of April, all hopes of a swift victory against the Turkish forces had been dashed as the latter held strong during the First Battle of Krithia and the allies were forced to halt their advance – demoralised, exhausted, and overwhelmed by the sheer brawn and resilience of the Ottoman troops, they lost 3000 men and it was readily apparent that holding the Gallipoli peninsula would be more arduous than initially anticipated. In May 1915, the 42nd East Lancashire Division, of which Edmund’s battalion formed a part, arrived from Egypt, little aware that their attempts to gain ground in this region would lead to enormous loss of life. The ensuing Second Battle of Krithia had a similar objective to its previous counterpart – pushing on from Cape Helles, the southernwestmost point of the peninsula, the allies would capture the village of Krithia, occupy the hill of Achi Baba, and press on towards the forts whose position overlooked and controlled movement through the straits of the Dardanelles. The result of this, however, was two days of widespread death and destruction for the price of the capture of a small amount of land.

And so we come to the Third Battle of Krithia, the assault in which Edmund was to lose his life. The aim of this revised attack was to fulfil the original objectives of the second, with especial emphasis on the seizure of the dominating peak of Achi Baba. Like the previous two attempts, this ended in devastating failure. The mood was one of abject demoralisation. As is noted in the history of The 42nd East Lancashire Division 1914-1918, authored by Frederick P. Gibbon:

‘After five weeks of toil and struggle, valour and self-sacrifice, unsurpassed in history, no more had been achieved than the securing of a mere foothold on the peninsula.’

It was the 4th of June. Battle orders had been issued on the previous day. Following a morning of artillery bombardment by heavy guns and howitzers, the attack began at noon. The 42nd were dug in, their position held in the trenches which they had been occupying since the 15th of May. In line with planned battle strategy, the guns paused and a feinted attack took place, luring the Ottomans back into their front trenches. The bombardment was then redoubled, subjecting the Turkish troops to considerable losses. At noon, the infantry began their assault. As the Second Gallipoli Despatch of Sir Ian Hamilton, Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, dated the 20th of September 1915, notes:

On the stroke of noon the artillery increased their range and along the whole line the infantry fixed bayonets and advanced.

Edmund was in the thick of this offensive, serving as an officer of A Company who were ordered to progress in the first line. The dust and stench of battle must have clouded his vision and burned his nostrils as he scrambled over the side of the trench and exposed himself to the Turkish guns. The howls of the dying and the harrowing groans of the wounded must have resounded, everywhere and all about, as, hunched and bent forwards, he rushed on, rifle poised. As John Hartley states in 6th Battalion, The Manchester Regiment in the Great War:’

‘The 6thManchester Battalion was over the parapet in one rush, three companies charging the Turkish trenches, the nearest being some 200 yards away. In 20 minutes the men were in possession of the three Turkish trenches.

The striking image below shows the first line of the 6th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment moving forwards across No-Mans Land at noon of the 4th of June 1915. Edmund may well be in this photograph:

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Image reproduced from 6th Battalion, The Manchester Regiment in the Great War by John Hartley

According to the account in the war diary of Lieutenant Colonel Claude S. Worthington DSO, commander of the 6th Battalion the Manchester Regiment, it was in this first onslaught that Edmund was killed, having taken the trenches alongside A, B and D Company. The relating of these events in the personal voice of the officer in charge, terse and matter of fact, expresses powerfully in its omissions the true toll of war on the living and the dead:

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Text reproduced from Great Gable to Gallipoli edited by Robert Bonner

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Confusion has long reigned over the dating of Edmund’s death, however. The British Army Bond of Sacrifice (Vol. 2), a record of officers who perished in the First World War between 1914-1916, has the following, situating the man’s fall on the 5th:

‘Lieutenant Young took part in the big advance on 4th June, 1915, and was killed in the early hours of the next morning while attending to a machine gun in a trench which had been taken from the Turks.’

John Hartley’s work, 6th Battalion, The Manchester Regiment in the Great War, as discussed above, accords with this dating:

‘In the new British front line, the situation was comparatively quiet throughout the morning of the 5th. Of course, shelling and sniping continued with deadly effect. Lieutenant Young was shot in the head and died instantly.’

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Compounding such equivocation is the official death notice which appeared in The Manchester Guardian of the 15th June, 1916, assigning Edmund’s demise to the 10th of that month (and also mistakenly noting his age as 31):

LIEUT. E. T. YOUNG (killed).

Lieutenant Edmund Turner Young, also of the 6th Battalion Manchester Regiment, killed in action of June 10, was the eldest son of the late Colonel T. P. Young and Mrs. Young of Stand Hall, Whitefield, Lancashire, and of Marple, Cheshire. Mr Young, who was 31 years of age, joined Colonel Heywood’s battalion in August last. Up to that time he had been a great supporter of the Boy Scout movement, and was assistant commissioner of that organisation for the Radcliffe, Whitefield, and Prestwich area. Lieutenant Young’s father was an officer in the Volunteer Force.

Ultimately, this uncertainty as to the date of death more than likely arises from the sheer chaos of reporting in the midst of battle, where the pursuit of consummate accuracy was often futile, not to mention the time taken for messages to travel between Turkey and the United Kingdom. A further complicating factor was the loss of Edmund’s body, perhaps buried by the Turkish troops who later regained the trenches or even destroyed amidst the assault and bombardment. As a consequence of this, Edmund is without an individual Commonwealth War Grave, and is commemorated instead on the Helles memorial, located on the Gallipoli peninsula, a tapering obelisk surveying the Dardanelles:

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Commemorative Certificate reproduced from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Unfortunately, Edmund is commemorated on this monument under an incorrect name, recorded as Edmund Taylor Young. His grieving family later added him to their own family memorial in the graveyard of All Saints in Marple alongside his father – the two reunited at last in a Cheshire churchyard. In 1919, he was remembered for a second time in this location, his name engraved onto the church’s war memorial. Upon death, he had left the sum of £14985 7s. 6d. (amounting to around £884,000) to his mother and a solicitor, John Ledlie Marriot, operating on Norfolk Street in Manchester. According to the Rugby Advertiser of the 26th June 1915, he was included in a memorial service held at his former school, Rugby, listed amongst a great number of losses, a generation of young men whose schooldays were hardly over and whose lives had barely begun. Indeed, Edmund’s own younger brother, Malcolm Henry Young, died in France on the 29th of June 1916, on service as Lieutenant with the 5th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers. Both Edmund and Malcolm both later appeared on the carved cenotaph in Marple Memorial Park dedicated in 1922. Edmund’s name is also present on the Manchester Tennis & Racquets Club War Memorial in Salford, Manchester and on the Christ’s College War Memorial in Cambridge.

His service was marked by two decorations – he received the Victory Medal and the British War Medal on the 19th of October 1922. The former was awarded to those who had served in the armed forces between the 5th of August 1914 and the 11th of  November 1918, whilst the latter was given for similar time spent on active duty.

In a Marple churchyard then, a chance encounter with a commemorative stone manifests the real face of sacrifice, revealing that beyond all the numbers and death tolls and military statistics lies a young man, destined to be young forever, whose patriotic duty and familial honour culminated in a bullet in the head in the muds of Gallipoli.

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Image by A Grave Announcement

The initial military success in the Dardanelles Campaign for the Manchester Regiment swiftly dissipated. Beset by a Turkish counter-attack bolstered by reinforcements, holding the line soon became untenable. The men were ordered to withdraw, a command which was obeyed with great reluctance by those Manchester battalions who had fought with such courage and tenacity to acquire new ground (they had advanced 1000 yards, but were forced to fall back to the main Turkish trench at the 400 yard mark). As Hamilton’s Second Gallipoli Despatch avers:

‘…for now the enfilade fire of the Turks began to fall upon the Manchester Brigade of the 42nd Division, which was firmly consolidating the furthest distant line of trenches it had so brilliantly won. After 1.30 p.m. it became increasingly difficult for this gallant Brigade to hold its ground. Heavy casualties occurred; the Brigadier and many other officers were wounded or killed; yet it continued to hold out with the greatest tenacity and grit. Every effort was made to sustain the Brigade in its position.’

The number of casualties had been significant, with particularly high losses endured by Edmund’s 6th Battalion, as is detailed here in The 42nd East Lancashire Division 1914-1918, authored by Frederick P. Gibbon:

‘The cost had indeed been great. Of the 770 men of the 6th Manchesters only 160 answered to roll-call that night.’

Indeed, the four weeks of assaults and skirmishes since the 42nd had landed on the shores of Gallipoli, had severely depleted the numbers of officers and men:

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Image reproduced from The 42nd East Lancashire Division 1914-1918 by Frederick P. Gibbon

Hamilton’s Second Gallipoli Despatch notes that the remainder of June was dominated by ‘incessant attacks and counter-attacks’ which ‘grievously swelled our lists of casualties,’ as the Turkish troops attempted to regain lost ground. The Manchester Brigade, however, held on until the 9th when they were relieved of their position and went into reserve, leaving behind not only the stretch of earth that they had won, but also the lives of their comrades and friends.

 

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Image by A Grave Announcement

With especial thanks to Susan Essex, Local Studies and Archives Librarian, for additional military research.