by Beverley Weston




Mostly due to the perils of childbirth, it was not unusual for a man to outlive two, and sometimes three wives in the first half of the 19th century. By contrast, it was remarkable for a woman to outlive three husbands and marry for the fourth time before dying at a relatively young age.

Descended twice-over from the 'first' REUBEN HAIGH, who was reputedly found under a hawthorn bush in the 17th century, Jinny Haigh was the daughter of REUBEN HAIGH (1787-1857) and his first wife, his cousin Grace Haigh (1787-1829). While most documents relating to Jinny give her Christian name as Jane, it appears she was actually christened Jinny on 10th May 1809 at St Mary's, Todmorden after being born at HOWROYD, Walsden. Her father was a farmer and coalmine owner and established and ran the MOORCOCK INN on his property, which was high on Inchfield Moor overlooking the township of Walsden.

As the eldest surviving child and only daughter of Reuben of Moorcock, Jinny would have learned the inn-keeping trade helping her parents serve thirsty miners from the coal pits at FOULCLOUGH and Wall Nook as well as travellers using the old roads to Whitworth and Shawforth.

Reuben Haigh's wife Grace died at the Moorcock on 28th December 1828 and under normal circumstances Jinny, as an only daughter, may have seen out her years coping with the household chores at the Moorcock. However, her father married for a second time about a year later and freed Jinny from any obligation she may have felt to her father and younger brothers, John, William, Reuben, James, Joseph, Samuel and Luke.

The Moorcock ruins


The Waggon & Horses

I can find no documented record of Jinny's first marriage but, John Travis tells us in Walsden Families in Olden Times that it was to John Hill who had taken over from his father Thomas Hill as landlord of the Waggon and Horses. John Hill was better known as 'Topper' and together with Jinny he ran the pub employing Thomas Newall of Strines as their brewer.

It is not clear precisely when Jinny was widowed for the first time but the death of a John Hill was registered at Rochdale in the June quarter of 1838. 'Topper' would have been about 29-years-old at the time.

Also 29-years-old, Jinny married for the second time. This time her choice fell on John Fielden of Henshaw. (Born 15th April, 1810 at Todmorden, the son of Thomas Fielden and Mally Halliwell, John was connected to the FIELDENS that built the White Hart Inn in Todmorden.) The marriage took place on 10th January 1839 at St Chad's, Rochdale. Sadly, they did not celebrate their first wedding anniversary. John died on 3rd October 1839 and was buried at St Mary's, Todmorden on the 6th October 1839. Obviously cut from practical cloth, Jinny also had their daughter Grace christened on the same day at the same place!

The 1841 Census was taken on the 7th June. Staying in the Waggon and Horses at Bottoms that night were Jane Fielden, innkeeper, her one-year-old daughter Grace and two servants. Younger brother Samuel Haigh was one of those servants; one of the family being an ideal candidate to come to her assistance during a time of need.

Jinny married for the third time on the 16th September 1841 at St Chad's, Rochdale. Travis tells us that the intrepid bridegroom was one "Joseph Firth, of Stackhills". They were still at the Waggon and Horses in 1842 but soon after they moved to the WHITE HART INN in Todmorden. This time the marriage survived the first year. Joseph died at the White Hart on the 18th August 1849 and was buried four days later at St Paul's, Cross Stone.

The White Hart in the 1930's


The 1851 Census was taken on the 30th March. Staying at the White Hart Inn in Eccles Fold that night were Jane Firth, 42-year-old widowed innkeeper from Walsden, her 3-year-old son Reuben, three servants and a lodger. Once again younger brother Samuel was there for her in her time of need.

But where were the other children? Travis tells us that Jinny had one child from her second marriage and four or five from the third.

From letters written by Jinny's daughter Grace in the 1880s, I have been able to piece together the following. Jinny had four surviving children with her husband Joseph Firth. In a letter dated June, 1885 from Grace to her Uncle Luke Hamer Haigh in London she wrote:

"I had a letter from my sister Jane last Saturday, it is a long time since she wrote before, she states in her letter that my brother William is dead. I was sorry to hear such a bad account of him in your last letter, he must have had ill luck & and taken it to heart, poor lad, but he never was strong & robust like my brothers Joseph & Reuben".

From various clues in the letters and the 1881 Census I believe Jinny's children from her third marriage were William (1843), Joseph (1844), Jane (1846) and Reuben (1848). In 1881 William, wife Elizabeth and children Nesta and John were living in Oldbury, Worcester. He was a chemist. Joseph and Reuben were butchers. Joseph, wife Sarah and children Walter and Sarah were living in Castleton, Lancashire. Reuben, wife Sarah and children Joseph, Herbert, Richard and Sarah were living in Heptonstall. Grace's sister Jane had married well to John Clay from Hebden Bridge and in 1881 was living there with him and their children John Henry and William. John's occupation was listed as "Cotton Manufacturer Employing 159 Work People".

Sometime after March 1851, and before her death in late 1857, Jinny married for the fourth and last time. This time the lucky man was William Crossley, "butcher, of Todmorden". William's occupation could explain that of his two stepsons, Joseph and Reuben.

So where were all of Jinny's children apart from baby Reuben in March 1851? Perhaps at boarding school! In a letter dated the 28th August, 1885, Luke Hamer Haigh wrote to his niece:

"A considerable exodus to less densely peopled countries would benefit the old Country - the worn-out old Country - as my friend & neighbour Tom Stansfield calls it. He often reminds me that he went to Moss's School at Hebden Bridge when you were there."

And what became of Jinny's eldest child, Grace Fielden? Grace was barely 18-years-old when her mother died and would have inherited one fifth of her mother's share of Reuben of Moorcock's bequest.

At the time of her marriage on the 15th January, 1859 to James Watson she was living at 105 Ashton Old Road, Ardwick , Manchester which was the home of her uncle Luke Hamer Haigh. She was 19-years-old. James also lived with the Haighs. He was a railway guard and the younger brother of Luke's wife, Sarah Watson. He was twelve years older than Grace at the time but his age on the marriage certificate is listed as twenty-seven. We may never know the truth of the matter but, family tradition has it that they eloped.

Grace Fielden


James Watson

James and Grace's first child was born in her uncle's house in 1861; a daughter named Jane Ann after both grandmothers. Later that year James and Grace decided to emigrate to New Zealand.

William Rawson Brame, a journalist, had conceived the idea of a Nonconformist settlement in New Zealand as a kind of celebration of the bicentenary of the expulsion from the Church of England of the non-conformists. He formed the Albertland Christian Colonisation Movement and land was bought in the north island of New Zealand north of Auckland. About 3,000 settlers joined the movement. James Watson and two friends (James and Benjamin Ramsbottom) who were members of the Church of Christ in Grosvenor Street, Manchester, and their families were amongst the 3,000. James had written to his cousin, James Bowker at Rishton, that he was doing so "to become his own master".

The hardships the pioneers encountered are another story but ten more children were born to James and Grace. My grandfather, Riley Coates Watson, was amongst the first children to be born in the new settlement in 1865. Keeping up tradition, their youngest son was named Reuben.

Those who write about Walsden often dismiss Jinny's short-lived marriage to John Fielden in a few words. However, I would not be writing this story if it had not been. John and Jinny were my Walsden great-great-grandparents and they have dozens of descendents in Australia and hundreds in New Zealand including Dr James (Jim) Watson who was elected President of the Royal Society of New Zealand in March 2003. Reuben Watson was his grandfather.

Jinny's eldest daughter died on 10th January 1920. She was in her 81st year.