From Nidderdale to Todmorden...

The Blackas; a family of plasterers and publicans.

Blacka is an unusual name and is thought to be derived from Blackey, a Scottish name that has evolved into various derivatives such as Blackah, Blacka, Blacker and Blackey. For simplicity I will use Blacka for all surnames.

Miners Arms

The Blacka family of Todmorden has its roots in the lead mining village of Greenhow Hill, near Pateley Bridge in Yorkshire. It is thought that they came down from Scotland to this small Yorkshire village and settled as early as the 1680's, the parish records giving evidence of them living there at that time.

Greenhow Hill is not so much the archetypal village with a centre and a cluster of houses around the main street, but more of a spread of cottages and farms, with the central focus being the Miner's Arms.

The lead mining industry in the 1700 and mid 1800's was a very lucrative one with lead being needed for most building jobs, and work was easy to come by so the Blackas soon got established in the lead mining work.

The mining of lead was carried out on exposed open moorland and the working conditions must have been appalling in the winter time. A view of the sort of area where the mines were situated gives an idea of just how hard it must have been for the miners. It is a lovely view on a nice summer day, but picture it in the middle of winter if you can.


During the years of 1845-1870 the United Kingdom was producing half of the world's lead, even though there had been a depression in the 1830's, which saw many miners leaving to find work in the coalmines and textile mills of Australia and America as well as the neighbouring counties.


Maybe the harsh climate of Nidderdale also played a part in their moving down to the kindlier weather conditions of the lower valleys. Greenhow is a very exposed village and evidence of the ferocity of the climate can be judged by the fact that very few of the doors on the houses face north or west.

St. Mary's church in the village was built by the lead miners themselves with local quarried stone. It was opened in 1858 and so would save the villagers the long trek to either Pateley Bridge or Linton when the need for the churches ministrations became necessary. It complimented the existing Wesleyan Chapel. This is the chapel where Rudyard Kipling's grandfather was once the minister.


The graveyard at St. Mary's has very few graves to be seen and most are very weatherworn, again a testament to the weather conditions.
Francis Blacka was one of these emigrants, leaving Greenhow to marry a girl from Barnoldswick, called Margaret Tillotson. Francis had been baptised at Linton-in-Craven in 1791 to James and Margaret Blacka. James was a Slater, an occupation that was to be carried down in one way or another through the generations that followed.

St. Michael's and All Angels


Francis became a plasterer and married Margaret at Barnoldswick in 1814 where he found his trade much in demand in this area. He and Margaret had three children born in Barnoldswick, James in 1814, Ellen in 1816 and John in 1819, but they returned for a time in the 1820's to Linton-in-Craven, as they had two daughters, Nancy and Roseannah, and two sons, both named Francis, baptised there.


The Blacka family had regularly used the church at Linton and a grave of one of their family is still to be found there, with the inscription:

In loving memory of William Blakey late of Grassington who departed this life July 9th 1854 in the 50th year of his life.

Neither of these Francis boys survived childhood, which must have been a harsh disappointment as the name Francis had been passed down the Blacka family since the late 1600's. Maybe work had taken the family back to Linton, but eventually they returned to Barnoldswick and a daughter was born in 1831, who was named Jane Tillotson, and then their youngest son, Tillotson was born there in 1833. Both these children were carrying their mother's maiden name proudly forward. In 1836, a daughter, Eden, was born. This unusual name is quite a common name in the Nidderdale area and the family were no doubt remembering their roots.

By 1838, Francis and his family had made the journey to Todmorden and were living at Frieldhurst mill, Cornholme, which is where poor little Eden died aged only 16 months. She was the first of the Blacka family to be buried in Todmorden and was interred at St. Mary's on a cold January day in 1838. Not a good beginning for the new residents, but things would improve and the family would find themselves going upwards and their hard work would have its rewards.


By the time of the census taken in 1841 he, his wife, four daughters, eldest son James, married son John, youngest son Tillotson and three grandchildren were all living in the well populated industrial area known as Canteen in Todmorden.

The beginnings of a family tradition were beginning to emerge at that time, with Francis being a plasterer, eldest son James also a plasterer and John the middle son, a painter.

Canteen area in the 1880's. Photo by kind permission of Roger Birch


Francis died before 1851, leaving his widow Margaret living at Lower Naze Bottom, Stansfield with two unmarried children and two grandchildren in her household. The two unmarried children were working, so things weren't too bad, daughter Jane was a winder in the cotton mill and son Tillotson was a plasterer like his father before him.

Margaret continued to live at Nazebottom and in 1861 she was 68, but still head of a household which had three grandchildren, Francis 24, Margaret 20 and Richard 11, who all worked in the cotton mill, plus daughter Jane, who had married a Crowther and was left a widow at only 30 with two children, Fielding aged 6 and Eden Ellen aged 2. She also took in boarders, so with only the two younger grandchildren at home and Margaret earning money from the lodgers, they wouldn't be doing too badly.


The three sons of Francis and Margaret went on to become prominent in the building industry and their children also became involved in the trade with one branch evolving as publicans.


James Blacka 1814-1885

The eldest son, James, became a slater and plasterer. He married lass called Mary but she died on June 29th 1840 aged only 25. She was buried at St. Mary's with their baby son, Richard, who had died two weeks before his mother at the tender age of 9 months. This left James a widower, so he went back to live with his parents. No record shows of him until 1881 when he was living at 12, Canteen Street and was a former slater. He died aged 71 in 1885.


John Blacka 1819-1888

John, the middle son, married a girl called Mary and they had six children, three boys and three girls. John became a plasterer and eventually his business grew to such an extent that he was employing four men by the 1860's. The three daughters were Alice Hannah who died in 1872 aged 20, Lucy Emma 1854 who married Mathew Smith and Eden Emily the youngest of their children born in 1857. It was a nice touch that John had named his youngest daughter after his sister who had died so young.


John's wife died in the February of 1880 and was buried at Cross Stone Church. John then went to live with his married daughter Lucy Smith and her husband at Blind Lane. He died in 1888 and was buried with his wife and daughter Alice Hannah at Cross Stone Church.


Alice Hannah, daughter of John and Mary Blacka who died Jan. 27th 1872

aged 20yrs.

Also of the above named Mary

who died Feb. 13th 1880

Also of John, died Nov. 6th 1888

aged 69 yrs

John and Mary's three sons, James, John Richard and William all followed the family tradition and became workers in the building trade.

James the eldest born in 1840 became a plasterer and by the time he was 41 he was running his own business and employing eight men. He was living on Victoria Road at Major Villas, with his wife Alice, daughter of William Fort of Whirlaw, and judging by the looks of the house he was making a good living at his trade. He prospered and became a building contractor and ten years later he had moved to the house next door, Victoria Villas, which was a little larger, and still in the select area of town.

Major Villas, Victoria Road

James and Alice had ten children in all, but only five survived to adulthood. Sons, Arthur, Herbert and Frank all died young along with two other babies, all buried at Cross Stone Church. This left James and Alice with four daughters and one son. James carried on a successful building contractor's business into the 20th century and his son Fort became an architect, so had progressed even further and was obviously a well-educated man.

Mary Alice Blacka

kindly submitted

by Roger Barton

Their daughter Mary Alice married Alfred Greenwood in 1887. They lived at Glen Wold, Queens Road, Accrington later in their marriage, when Alfred was a cotton salesman for Messrs. Bury Bros. at Fountain Mill in Accrington. An extract from her obituary reads:

"An interesting personality, Mrs. Greenwood was held in much esteem. She was known for her keen interest in art and antiquities. Her home at Glen Wold contained a valuable collection of paintings, old furniture, and statuary."


James' wife Alice left him a widower in 1912 and he lived on for another ten years after her, dying at the age of 82. He is buried at Cross Stone Church beside Alice and their five children. The grave is so overgrown that it is virtually impossible to get a photograph of it. The inscription reads:


In memory of Herbert, son of James and Alice Blacka of Harley Bank

who died April 16th 1868 aged 16 mths.

Also of Arthur, their son

who died August 31st 1860 aged 3 years and 4 mths.

Also of Frank their son who died Nov. 27th 1871 aged 3 years 10mths.

Also of two infants.

Also of Alice the beloved wife of James and Mother of the above,

who passed away on March 15th 1912 in her 71st year

Peace perfect peace.

Also of James Blacka, the husband of the above

who died May 4th 1922 aged 82yrs.


John Richard Blacka.

Photo kindly supplied by Curt Lehman

John Richard, the second child of John and Mary, was born in 1845 and also followed the family tradition by becoming a plasterer. He married Mary Elizabeth Wilkings in 1875. Mary came from Birmingham and her sister Louisa was living with them for a time in the 1880's.
John Richard and Mary lived at Harley Street for a while and John progressed from being a plasterer to work as an architect and surveyor by the time he was 36. He had obviously worked hard to better himself and to provide a better life for his wife and children.

Harley Street

The 1890's found them moving to Garden Street, a much nicer looking street and newly built, but still in the same area. They were obviously going up a little bit in the world.
John Richard and Mary had five children, two daughters and three sons, Vera (1877), Inez Louise (1879), Walter (1881), Charles (1884) and Ernest Roy (1893) were their names.

Mary with Ernest Roy shortly before her death in 1893


Walter and Charles Blacka in 1893.

Photograph kindly provided by Curt Lehman

Charles also took up the family occupation, becoming an architect's pupil after he left school. Presumably he went on to become a qualified architect.

Mary Elizabeth, wife of John Richard, died in 1893 at 15, Garden Street and is buried at Christ Church. She was 42. Her husband lived on to be 78 and had moved to Blackpool, which is where he died at 246, Palatine Road in 1923. He was brought back to Todmorden and was buried with his late wife in Christ Church

William, the youngest son of John and Mary was born in 1848 and also became a plasterer. He married Sarah Haigh in 1870, the daughter of John and Mary Haigh of Goshen. They had three children, Elizabeth born in 1871, Annie Mary 1880, and James Henry born in 1882, who sadly died in 1887 whilst they were living at Boardman Street.

Boardman Street


William and Sarah then went to live at Spring Bank, Toad Carr and later moved to Wood Street. Their daughter Elizabeth became a dressmaker and married Harry Cunliffe but died in 1895 aged just 25. Annie, their only surviving child, went to work as a weaver in the cotton mill.

William died in the June of 1901 at Harley Bank, leaving Sarah and daughter Annie on their own. He is buried with his son James Henry and daughter Elizabeth in Christ Church graveyard.


In Loving Memory of James Henry son of William and Sarah Blacka of Harley Bank, Todmorden who died December 1st 1887 in his 6th year.

Also of Elizabeth their daughter,

beloved wife of Harry Cunliffe,

who died December 3rd 1895 aged 25 years.

Also of the above named William Blacka

who died June 1st 1901 aged 54 years.

Sarah and her daughter Annie must have been a comfort to each other, each having lost precious souls at early ages and finally a husband and father at whose funeral, painful memories of two earlier cold December days would have been awakened as they stood there at the graveside and watched William lowered to his rest with his two young children.


Tillotson Blacka 1833-1908

Tillotson was the youngest son of Francis and Margaret, and was baptised in 1833 at Barnoldswick with his mother's maiden name. He grew up in Todmorden in the Canteen area, with his brothers and sisters and various nieces and nephews who also lived with them.


He attended school and when he left he followed in the family trade as a plasterer. He married Mary Marshall of Hipperholme in 1852 and they continued to live at Canteen where they raised five children.

Tillotson became a master plasterer and Slater and moved to Crescent Street.

Crescent Street


He later moved to Stansfield Road. His work was highly sought after and on The 27th of February 1901 at the fortnightly meeting of the Todmorden Board of Guardians they accepted his tender for the slating of the new offices on Todmorden Hall estate. The tenders that were accepted are as follows:

Mason's work, Messrs. Dryland & Preston of Littleborough

Joiners, Messrs. Halstead Bros. of Eastwood

Plumber, Mr. Thos. Law of Todmorden

Painter, Mr. J. W. Smallwood of Todmorden

Slater, Mr. Tillotson Blacka

Plasterers, Messrs. Wrigley & sons of Todmorden and Hebden Bridge

Heating, Mr. John King Ltd. of Liverpool

He was widowed by 1891 but continued to live in Stansfield Road with his married daughter Alice Ann. She had married Tom Sutcliffe, who was also a slater and plasterer and probably employed by her father. When they were first married they lived at Swan Place, Stansfield and their first-born son was William T who arrived towards the end of 1880. They had two more sons by 1891, James and Wilfred aged 7 and 4. Maybe Tom and Alice moved in with her father after his wife Mary died. Their son, James became a plasterer's apprentice, probably working for his father and grandfather. Their youngest son, Wilfred opted for a different trade and became an iron moulder's apprentice.


In 1904 Tillotson needed more room for his business, so he leased 1560 square yards of land in Stansfield Street from the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company for stables and storage purposes. This was at a cost of £25 per year with certain conditions attached. He had to fence the land at his own cost and keep them in good repair. He wasn't allowed to put any form of advertisement on the land and could only use it for stables and storage. He couldn't sub let any part of the land and any goods to be transported by him had to be transported by the railway company.


Tillotson died on the 28th of December 1908 at the age of 76, still living at Stansfield Road.

In 1921 the rent for this land rose to £40 per year and it would appear that a great grandson also named Tillotson could have taken over the lease, as an agreement form sent to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company on which he stated his occupation as decorator of Stansfield Road, Todmorden and signed himself Tillotson Blacka, was witnessed by William Taylor of the RAILWAY INN, Walsden.


Tillotson and Mary's five children also did very well for themselves in various ways. Their three daughters, Ellen, 1855, Alice Ann, 1858 and Emma 1861 married and went the way of their husbands as is usual. They had all left home by 1881, leaving only the youngest son, James, at home with his parents. James married a girl called Ellen Jane around 1888 and they had a son who they named John Tillotson, named after James' grandmother and father. James also became a plasterer.


The eldest son of Tillotson and Mary, John William, became very well known in Todmorden as the landlord of the Castle Inn. He started his working life as a doffer in the cotton mill, but was destined to follow the family trade as a plasterer and settled down to married life with his wife Hannah Mackriel who he had wed in 1874. They had three sons, Frank in 1875, William Tillotson in 1879 and James 1884. John William was contented with his lot but in the late 1880's the chance came for him to become the landlord of the Castle Inn at Longfield Road, Todmorden. He saw this as an opportunity to carry on with his work as a plasterer and also run the pub, which could also take in lodgers as it had about eleven rooms. A very shrewd chap. He had money coming in from all sides.

The Castle was a large building up Hanging Ditch Road, as Longfield Road was known in those days, and was near to the UNITARIAN SUNDAY SCHOOL. No trade from there to be had, but that wouldn't have worried John William. He was doing well with lodgers from various towns like Halifax, Oldham, Liverpool, Houghton and also some locals.

At that time entertainment was home made and many bets of varying kinds were always good for a bit of fun, usually when the participants had partaken of a few drinks. The cold light of day may have found them wondering why on earth they had been tempted to wager such daft bets. Pride had to be upheld though and the bet had to be carried out. One such wager took place in December1895 when George Ingham bet four gallons of beer that he could wheel a sixpenny toy barrow from the Castle Inn to the New Inn on Halifax Road, by way of Stackhills.

George was quite a tall man, so it wouldn't have been an easy task for him to stoop low to push a small barrow so far. A large crowd gathered to see him carry out the wager and make sure there was no cheating. All agreed that he won the bet fairly and they had to honour the bet and supply George with his four gallons of ale. No doubt he had plenty of help in drinking it.


Another case of putting your money where your mouth is occurred in the March of 1899. There was a layer of deep snow all around the area, but that made no difference to Thomas Farrar of Cockpit when he bet 5 shillings that he could go from the Castle Inn to Kebcote and back in two hours. This seemed like a good bet for folk to make a bit of money on, so bets followed in quick succession. Thomas set off and amazed everyone by doing it in just 1 hour and 40 minutes. Obviously they had underestimated Thomas' talent for walking in deep snow!


John William had handed the running of the Castle Inn over to his son William Tillotson Blacka, after 19 years and he went to live in Harehill Street. His wife Hannah died in 1910 and a year later, on Wednesday November 22 nd 1911, John was visiting Luddendenfoot when he had an accident at the railway station. John managed to get home but sadly he died on Sunday 26 th as a result of his injuries. He was noted as a master plasterer and he was 59. A sad end for one of Todmorden's well known residents.

Of John William and Hannah's three sons, Frank, the eldest became a slater and plasterer and in 1906 he married Hannah Ingham of the Shoulder of Mutton Inn at Toad Carr at All Saints, Harley Wood.

All Saints, Harley Wood

Frank also later became a publican like his father and brother William. He moved to Caldermoor, near Littleborough and took over the licence of the Dog and Partridge, which is where he died in 1935. He left his widow, Hannah all his worldly goods and made bequests to his nephews, Tillotson and James William Blacka. He owned three freehold properties in Harehill St. Todmorden and also at Naze View, Todmorden as well as 5, Gauxholme Place.
William Tillotson, John William and Hannah's second son took over the licence of the Castle Inn from his father around 1907 and married a girl named Mary Ann. They ran a thriving business at the Castle Inn, his father having left him a good trade which he had built up over the years he had been there as landlord.

William's wife, Mary Ann died in 1920 at Wellfield Terrace and was buried at Cross Stone Church.


In Loving Memory of Mary Ann, wife of William Tillotson Blacka of 11,Wellfield Terrace who died April 5th 1920

aged 37 years

"Gone but not forgotten"


Not much is known about John William and Hannah's youngest son James, except that he became a clerk to an architect by the time he was 17, so it looks like he also followed into the "family business" carrying it still further into the twentieth century.


It is a remarkable story of how one family, starting with James in the eighteenth century who began as a slater, has followed the trade through two centuries, and maybe even a third, as we don't know if there are still any of the Blacka family in Todmorden who still carry on in the building industry.

We would love to hear of them if there are.


As a postscript to this story, information received from Curt Lehman, a Blacka descendent in America, can be added. It seems that the first mentioned James and Margaret Blacka, parents of Francis, had another son who they named Richard, born at Linton in 1800. He later married a girl called Eden. In 1833 the couple emigrated to America and started new generation of the Blacka family over there.


Copy sent by Curt Lehman

The descendents of this family kept in touch with John Richard Blacka of Todmorden who was born in 1845. John Richard sent over an album of photographs with the inscription shown here:

Presented to Miss Susannah Blacka, East Bethlehem, Washington County, Pennsylvania, North America. By her cousin John Richard Blacka of Todmorden, Yorkshire, England.

Oct. 26th. 1868

Curt Lehman, to whom we are very grateful, has supplied us with information and photographs of the AMERICAN BLACKAS.


With thanks to for information

about the early Blacka family and the area of Greenhow Hill