|Equitable Street, Milnrow. Matthew and his family|
lived at number 33 in 1911.
But sometimes the question behind a mystery is "Why?" Why did someone suddenly move across the country, or across the world? Why did a child named James apparently take the name of his dead brother William as an adult?
Most of the time, these questions are unanswerable. I can make a guess, based on learning more about a person's background, the social conditions, and local customs at the time. But I can never really be certain. The people who could tell me the answers are long gone.
One such unanswerable "why?" involves my father's Uncle Matthew (born November 1867). Matthew was born in Walton le Dale in Lancashire, but in the late 1870's his parents John and Mary Ward moved with their family to Littleborough. Then for a short while in the early 1890s they lived in Rastrick in Yorkshire. By the late 1890s the whole family had settled in the village of Milnrow in Lancashire, where John was a bootmaker and clogger. Most of the children remained there after they married and had families of their own.
For most of his adult life Matthew was employed as a fellmonger. Fellmongering is a process in which the wool is chemically separated from sheep hides, and was an industry for which Milnrow was noted. The wool was used by the woollen mills for weaving flannel, while the hides were tanned for leather.
Matthew met and married his wife, Elizabeth Ann Brown, while the Ward family were living in Rastrick. They had six daughters, the first born in Rastrick and the other five in Milnrow. The youngest, Edith, a twin to Esther, died in her first year of life. The rest of the family all lived to a great age. Matthew and Elizabeth themselves, along with their two married daughters, Doris and Esther, all lived past eighty. Their unmarried daughters, Maud, Annie and Clara, all lived beyond ninety. Perhaps that in itself is a bit of a mystery, but not the one I'm coming to.
My father recounts that when he was about eight or nine years old, Matthew and his family suddenly stopped all interaction with the rest of the family. The rift was apparently never healed. For the rest of his life, Matthew's family had no contact with the rest of the family, even though they continued to live in the same small village. Or so my Dad remembers it. He was too young at the time to know what caused this disruption, though he thinks it involved some sort of argument.
I can't find anything in the records to suggest why Matthew and his family would have suddenly cut themselves off from the rest of the family at this time (around the end of the 1930's). Could there have been an argument over property? Or was it something more personal?
At the time of the 1939 Register (which is now online on both Ancestry and FindMyPast) Matthew had retired from work. The three unmarried daughters, Maud, Annie and Clara, all in their forties, were living with Matthew and Elizabeth in a house at 17 Buckley Hill Lane, which was practically "shouting distance" from other members of the family. They had been living there for at least eighteen years according to the electoral rolls.
Matthew's wife Elizabeth died in 1946 and Matthew himself died in March 1949, in Milnrow. He left his property to his daughters, who eventually all moved to Morecombe on the coast. None of them appears to have had any children. Unless something unexpected turns up, it seems unlikely that we'll ever find out what caused the family to separate from the wider family as they did.