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of Stocksbridge WRY  & ...?

1851 - 1929

Elizabeth Crossley restore 2.jpg
Hollow Meadows from Wyming Brook.jpg

Main photo: Hollow Meadows from Wyming Brook with Rivelin Dams - also known as Hollow Meadows Dams

Elizabeth was born in 1851 at Hollowmeadows, the daughter of Charles Crossley, a farm bailiff, and Mary Poynton.  The family moved to Spink House at Stocksbridge and then to the Coach House on Hunshelf Bank.  Elizabeth seems to have evaded most of the census enumerators; she appears as a child in 1861, and again in 1871 when she was working as a servant in Dukinfield, Cheshire, but I have not found her on any census since.  She does crop up locally in the records - the births / baptisms / burials of her four children - and there is a newspaper report about her in 1883, but apart from this, I cannot find out how she spent her life.

Elizabeth had four illegitimate children.  The eldest was born in 1874, christened Mary Alice but named Mary on the birth certificate.  To complicate things, she seems to have gone by the name Florence Mary or Mary Florence.  She was brought up by Elizabeth's parents, and married John William Moody.  Both Florence and John died in the flu epidemic of 1937.  Second child Ernest was born in 1876, and was also brought up by Elizabeth's parents.  Another son, Wright, was born in 1879 but died aged one year from Struma Meningitis, a form of tuberculosis.  The informant on the death certificate was a neighbour of Elizabeth's parents, Mary Ann Sykes of Hunshelf, who was present at the death, which makes me think Elizabeth had disappeared again.  My great grandfather Thomas Marsh was born in 1886 in a slum in Sheffield, at No. 7 Court, Chapel Street, which was at Bridgehouses, near the Wicker.  I have no idea why Elizabeth was there, because Thomas's birth certificate says her address was Old Haywoods, Deepcar.  Thomas was brought up by the Marsh family in Stocksbridge, not by Elizabeth's parents.  They could well have been his paternal grandparents I don't know for certain. Elizabeth never married, but she has proved so elusive that I wonder whether she used another name – my grandma thought that she had a long-term boyfriend with the surname Marsh, so perhaps she used his name?  Elizabeth would have been about 23 years old when she had her first child, and about 35 when she had my great-grandfather Thomas Marsh.


Three years before Thomas Marsh Crossley was born, in 1883, Elizabeth's sister gave birth to a premature baby (the Coroner thought it to be in the 8th month of gestation), and Elizabeth had helped to conceal both its birth and its death.  She had to attend the inquest at the Rising Sun Hotel, Hunshelf. Her sister Louisa Crossley was a domestic servant at the home of solicitor Mr. E. Knowles Binns of Sharrow. Elizabeth said that she had destroyed all traces of her sister's confinement, and wrapped the child in a petticoat, and placed it in a tin box.  Louisa had said to Elizabeth, "Oh Lizzie, I don't know what I am to do.  Where shall I go? I must go home".  She then left the house,  taking the tin box containing the body of the child with her, and went to her father's house at Stocksbridge. The verdict was that, "the child died from want of proper assistance at the time of birth."

The Coroner's notebook contains details about Elizabeth that were not reported in the newspapers.  For a long time I thought that Elizabeth had just disappeared completely, leaving her parents to bring up her children, but the Coroner reported that Elizabeth's address was The Coach House, Hunshelf [her parents' home] and that she was a domestic servant.  She is quoted as saying, "I went to Mr. Binns’ house to take my sister Louisa’s place, according to her arrangement.  I arrived there last Thursday forenoon and found her out riding in the carriage with Mrs. Binns.  When she came in she got dinner ready and I did not notice her particularly.  All she told me was that her leg hurt her.  She went to the theatre at night.  She slept with Mrs. Binns.  Last Friday morning she came downstairs while I was preparing breakfast.  She sat in a chair and said she was very poorly."   This seems to be saying that Elizabeth used her parents' home as a base, and that she travelled to where the work was, and that, in this instance, she had made an arrangement with her sister to take over from her at the Binns' residence.  

Concealing a birth and a death was an offence, although in this case, no charges were brought against either Elizabeth or her sister.  Women were not always so lucky.  Five years previously, in 1878, the Kendal Mercury (20th July 1878) reported on the concealment of a birth and death.  A child died, the cause of death being a haemorrhage from the umbilical cord, the mother having given birth without medical help.  She was bailed and appeared in court the following January, when she was sentenced to two month’s imprisonment with hard labour. In her case, there was some doubt about whether the child had been alive when it was born.  The charge could have been one of wilful murder or manslaughter, but there was insufficient evidence (Kendal Mercury 18th January 1879).

The Binns family was no stranger to scandal.  The year before all this happened, Mr Binns had responded to an advert in the Matrimonial News placed by a widow, Ada Caroline Milne of Tunbridge Wells.  She had a fortune of £18,000.  However, her brother F. Liebert, took great steps to stop the marriage.  When Mr Binns met the lady at her home, her brother gave him a thrashing and turned him out of the house, repeating the beating at the railway station.  He said she was not responsible for her actions, having been confined to an asylum at some point.  He also tried to disrupt the marriage, dashing to Sheffield, hiring men and a carriage to forcibly prevent the marriage on the grounds of her not being of sound mind.  Mr Binns had, however, anticipated this, and "a score of constables" were present.  The story even made the New York Times.  There must have been some truth in the brother's assertion that she was of unsound mind, for she died in a mental institution in Paris in 1890. 

After she had Thomas baptised, there is no further record of Elizabeth.  I cannot find her on the 1891 census, the 1901 census or the 1911 census.  The next time she appears is on the 1929 Electoral Register; recorded as Lizzie, she was listed as being at 16 Haywoods Park (now called Marsh Street) with her sister Lena and her son Ernest.  Ernest and Lena had residence and occupation qualifications to vote, while Lizzie had just residence (meaning she was only allowed to vote in parliamentary elections, not local elections, because she was not a rate payer).  Women over the age of 30 who met minimum property qualifications could vote from 1918, but the franchise was not extended to all women until ten years later, in 1928.  Because Elizabeth did not have property, or have a husband who did, 1928 would have been the first year she would have appeared on the Electoral Register, but she does not appear with Ernest and Lena until 1929.  Perhaps she was ill and went there to die, because she died at 16 New Haywoods on the 24th October 1929 aged 78.  She was a spinster, and the cause of death was congestion of the lungs.  The informant was Ernest Crossley, her son.  After evading officialdom all her life, she then appears on the electoral roll for several years after her death!

Marsh Street, Deepcar, Haywoods 1980.jpg

16 Marsh Street is the end terraced house nearest the camera.  Photo from Picture Sheffield.  Date: 1980

Elizabeth Crossley1.jpg

I submitted this photograph to Family Tree Magazine's fashion expert, Jayne Shrimpton.  On the back of this someone has written, "Elizabeth, mother of Thomas Marsh Crossley."  She never married, but is wearing a wedding ring.   


Here's what Jayne had to say: 


"A formal studio portrait taken by a professional photographer, probably a cabinet card/print measuring around 16.5 x 11.5cms – the most common photographic format of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  It is unusual for there to be no printed studio name on either the front or back of the card mount and a shame that we don’t know the geographical location, as this image offers a rare glimpse of your elusive ancestor at a certain moment in time: in fact, close to the 1891 census.  Fortunately, we can date her appearance precisely to the early 1890s." 

Note: the actual photo measures 14cms x 9cms and looks as if it has been removed from its original carboard backing, which would have carried the photographer’s name.  A photo of her son is mounted on a card measuring 16.5cms x 10.5cms.


Costume clues:

"Her formal daytime costume comprising tight-fitting buttoned bodice with high collar and pointed centre-front, and complementary skirt featuring slightly draped front can be dated firmly to 1890-93, the most likely years being 1891 or 1892.  The key feature providing such a close time frame (even allowing an extra year or so) is the style of her narrow sleeves displaying a very slight vertical puff at the sleeve head: this puff would soon expand into the wider “leg-o-mutton” sleeves of the middle years of the 1890s."


The occasion? Milestone birthday … or mourning?

"Elizabeth appears respectably dressed here and also wears a fashionable circular brooch and what may be a beaded watch chain: she certainly does not look very poor, disadvantaged or vulnerable, as her chequered earlier years might imply.  In view of the early-1890s date here, it is very tempting to suggest that she visited a photographer to commemorate her milestone 40th birthday, which occurred in 1891.  Her mature physical appearance here and the date both accord well, making that a highly plausible scenario.  Alternatively- or quite conceivably in addition to a landmark birthday portrait – is the possibility that your 2 x great-grandmother had this photograph taken to mark the recent passing of a loved one."

"Although the image quality is a little unclear, I think I can discern the textured appearance of the crimped gauze material or “crape” worn specifically for mourning, used here on her cuffs and on the lapel-style detailing on her bodice.  Indeed, the rather odd, off-centre effect of the bodice trimmings could suggest that mourning crape fabric may have been hastily added to an existing costume, as indeed was fairly common practice at the time."


Who might she be mourning?

"The possibility of mourning is interesting and definitely something to consider when trying to discover more about Elizabeth Crossley.  I wonder, did her third child die around 1890?  [no, Wright died in 1880.  Thomas Marsh Crossley was born in December 1886].  You also pointed out her apparent wedding ring, purposely displayed here, despite her (probable) single status.  Perhaps she was mourning the death of the Mr. Marsh with whom you mention she had a long-term relationship.  If so, she may well have considered herself as good as married to him and wanted to appear in this special photograph as his wife or widow."

Note: Elizabeth’s father Charles died on the 22nd March 1890 and her brother Elias Poynton Crossley died in 1893 aged 35.

"Some questions remain unanswered, but this photograph does offer interesting picture clues."  

Indeed, I think there will always be unanswered questions where Elusive Elizabeth is concerned, but I love how much informaiton can be gleaned from this photograph if you know what you're looking for.

Elizabeth Crossley restore 2.jpg

Elizabeth gave birth to her son Thomas Marsh Crossley in 1886 at 7 Court, Chapel Street in Sheffield, although on his birth certificate her address was Old Haywoods, Deepcar.  Chapel Street was at Bridgehouses, and the area was a maze of back to back terraced houses and yards, with houses crowding the courtyards, shared outside toilets and a shared tap.  Courts and yards were confined and cramped, with little sunlight or fresh air reaching them.  The houses were dark, dirty, damp and often overcrowded.  Broken and dirty windows were stuffed with rags or pasted over with brown paper.  The general appearance of dilapidation was made worse by apathy and carelessness.  In the yards, one tap often supplied many houses, ashpits overflowed, and shared earth closets were inadequate and insanitary.  The courts were hidden behind the main street and were accessed by narrow covered "entries."


Because there was more than one Chapel Street in Sheffield, this lead to confusion and its name was changed to Chatham Street in 1886.  Until the railway came and the passenger station was built, Chapel Street was a narrow thoroughfare with many shops and houses on both sides of the road.  The road that crossed it was called Cross Chapel Street, so called because it crossed Chapel Street.  Its name became meaningless when Chapel Street was renamed in 1886.  The old name lingered on for years before being changed to Swinton Street.  The passenger station on the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincoln Railway was at the opposite corner at the bottom of Chapel Street before it was converted into the goods station on the opening of Victoria Station in 1851. [additional information from Harvey, Peter: Street Names of Sheffield, Sheaf Publishing Sheffield, 2001]

At the corner of Chapel Street and Rock Street was the Bridgehouses Chapel, erected in 1795.  At the bottom of Chapel Street there were several shops and public houses.  One, the Union Inn, had a sign of clasped hands and was nicknamed the ‘Shake Hands.’  ​It was near here that Sheffield’s early efforts to install cleanliness into Sheffield folk was furthered.  The first public swimming baths and slipper baths (there were 28 private tepid baths) in Sheffield were opened in 1869 at the corner of Corporation Street and Mowbray Street.

Photographs below from Picture Sheffield (shared with permission) - Chapel Street had by this time become Chatham Street and Cross Chapel Street had become Swinton Street.

1889 map.jpg

This large scale map of 1889 shows my best guess at the numbering of Chapel Street and Cross Chapel Street, information being taken from the census returns, trade directories and newspaper reports.


There were four houses in Court 7 (highlighted in yellow).  The entrances to the court would be through the entries marked in red.  The houses in Court 7 are the backs of the back-to-back terraced houses on Cross Chapel Street numbered 5, 7, 9 and 11.  It is in one of these four houses (in yellow) that Thomas Marsh Crossley was born.  The houses bordering Chapel / Chatham Street were not back -to-backs; these aren’t shown as being divided on this map, and the census enumerators never mentioned any backs to them.


In 1889 the four houses in Court 7 and the houses (and one shop) on Chapel Street and Cross Chapel Street came up for auction (highlighted in green and yellow).  They belonged to a widow called Mary de Grave Baggaley.  She had died 1886 aged 86, and the properties were sold in July 1889. 

The Temperance Hall was opened in 1887.

I recently came across a photograph of the (in)famous burger van, “Greasy Vera’s.”  This van had previously stood at the bottom of Chapel Street, opposite what is now The Riverside public house, but moved slightly up the hill to stand on the corner of Chatham Street and Swinton Street.  And it stood almost on top of the site of Court 7!  

I have been unable to locate who owns the copyright to this photograph, or the date.

Greasy Veras on Swinton Street 1988.jpg

Click HERE for a series of Then and Now photographs of this area

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