of the Geological Society of London
26th December 1816, Betty Jackson and John Law were married at St.
Chad's Parish Church in Rochdale. Betty was just 16 years old, and
pregnant. John was 6 years her senior. Despite this shotgun start
to married life, the couple remained together until John died some
56 years later. By the time Betty was 35 she had 9 children. (Samuel,
John, William, Nancy, Enoch, Sarah, Betty and Hannah). They lived
at NORTH HOLLINGWORTH and were handloom weavers. Initially, handloom
weaving was a well-paid occupation, but as more and more mills converted
to steam and installed large weaving sheds, the handloom weavers
became amongst the poorest in the Walsden society. What a struggle
it must have been for them to keep above the poverty level.
Hollingworth is high up on the eastern side of the Walsden
valley, reached by a steep and narrow track from the valley
bottom at Birks Mill. The packhorse trail, which follows
the shelf line of the hills, passes through Hollingworth,
and is still used today by walkers and riders.
views from Hollingworth across the Walsden valley to the Inchfield
Moor on the opposite side are magnificent. Betty was born
and brought up on Inchfield Moor in one of the Pot Ovens farms
and may well have been able to see her old home from her window
at Hollingworth. John on the other hand was a valley lad,
born and brought up at Square.
21st June 1840 saw the birth of their 10th and last child.
He was Robert Law. Shortly after his arrival, his two oldest
brothers married and left home to live in the valley bottom
where they could be closer to the mills and a better living.
Robert grew up with his parents and 7 older siblings, happy
to be in the countryside where he took a great interest in
insects, birds and nature in general.
St. Peters Church
He had no interest in books or education, and this worried
his parents. At the age of seven he was sent to the village
school for the first time, but first he had to be baptised.
This event took place at the newly built St. Peter's Church
at the bottom of the lane just 6 days after his 7th birthday.
Robert was a reluctant pupil, often playing truant to spend
his days in the fields and on the moors collecting stones
and studying the wildlife. So disinterested at school was
he that he barely learnt how to hold a pen, and could neither
read nor write by the time he left school 3 years later
at the age of 10.
floated about aimlessly, thinking about little other than
his collection of stones. Soon, he had so many in his drawers
and cupboards that his mother made him put them all in the
garden where they were made in to a rockery. Eventually,
he was made to start work in a mill, probably alongside
his older sisters, Hannah and Betty. He was still semi-literate,
even at 14 years old, and faced ridicule from other mill
workers. He decided to do something about it. He started
classes at a Walsden night school and at slack times at
the mill would be seen doing practice sums and letters on
the floor with a piece of chalk.
because his love of science and nature made him seem odd
to his contempories, he was anxious to be part of a group,
and at the age of 17 he fell in with an unworthy crowd.
He gave up night school and for a few years he lost the
desire to pursue his scientific leanings. He led a wild
and reckless life with his unsavoury companions and his
behaviour was quite notorious throughout the district. Fortunately,
before he was totally ruined and disgraced, he saw the error
of his ways, shook off the associates, and went back to
night school. He also joined the newly formed Walsden Working
Men's Institute. He was a regular attendee for the next
16 years, taking an active part in the activities. At the
Institute he joined a grammar class and an art class. He
also learnt the art of taxidermy, and when science classes
commenced in Todmorden he went along.
were his greatest interest, and one day he happened to see
a pamphlet about the science of geology and fossil collecting.
This was a surprise to him, as he hadn't previously realised
that what he was doing in all his spare time was geology,
and it was also a surprise that it was a popular science
with volumes of books on the subject. He was filled with
renewed interest and he began to inspect his neglected stone
and fossil collection in the rockery at his home. Back inside
they all went for closer examination. He started to study
the rocks around Walsden and Todmorden and all his spare
money was spent on books and journeys to different places.
He still needed to work at the mill, but his books went
with him. He visited all the coal pits, quarries and ravines
hunting for fossils. This led to him having a reputation
as an odd ball. He was viewed with suspicion by the other
village folk as he travelled about breaking up stones with
his hammer. They would surround him and watch, call him
names, and even throw stones at him. Geology was an unheard
of science in the Lancashire countryside of this period.
was fortunate to meet a geologist by the name of John Aitken
from Bacup, and through him, many friends with like minds.
He continued his studies and qualified as a teacher. In
1878 he was asked to take a class of geology students at
the Walsden Institute under the Science and Art Department.
Students were difficult to come by for this class, but eventually
6 of them enrolled and all of them passed the final examinations.
Inspired by this success, the following year Robert started
a similar class at Todmorden where he had 16 students, many
of whom passed the examination with a first class.
of his obituary in the Todmorden and Hebden Bridge Almanac
of 1908 read:
had a plain but effective method of teaching and he possessed
to a remarkable degree the power of winning the interest
and devotion of his students. In a few years he was in great
demand as a teacher, and had classes every evening in the
week, as well as on Saturday afternoons. Among the places
he taught may be mentioned Bacup, Rochdale, Shaw, Oldham,
Hebden Bridge, Halifax and many others.
not one of the actual founders, he was one of the most
active and notable of the leading men connected with the
now defunct Todmorden Scientific Association, and regularly
took his part in the lectures and debates, his contempories
being the present Mayor of Todmorden (Alderman A. Crossley
C.C.), Mr. T. Stenhouse, Mr. Barker Crabtree, Mr. Thomas
Lee, Dr. F.W. Stansfield (Reading), Mr. Thomas Howarth
In 1881 Robert was still working in the mill as a weaver. He
was 40 and unmarried, still living at North Hollingworth.
His parents were both dead by this time, but his sister
Betty and her family had taken over the old homestead. Betty
had married Peter Crossley, her long time sweetheart, and
they had 3 daughters.
continued with his teaching, and now had enough money to
travel further afield. He attended summer courses in Geology
at South Kensington and read important papers to societies
throughout the country. On February 10th 1886 he was elected
as a fellow of the Geological Society of London and on 23rd
July that same year he married Elizabeth Ann Blackburn,
one of his former students from Halifax, and a teacher with
the Halifax School Board. The local press recorded the event
of Mr. Robert Law F.G.S. of Walsden to
Elizabeth Ann Blackburn of Cromwell Terrace, Halifax.
former and present pupils presented him with a splendid
binocular microscope, which cost £40, in commemoration
of his marriage. Robert and Elizabeth lived at Cromwell
Terrace in Halifax after their marriage. Marriage did not
stop Robert. His wife was equally fascinated in geology,
and together they travelled the country in search of fossils.
One of their favourite places for this was the Isle of Man.
a member of the British Association of Geologists, Robert
travelled to North America for an annual meeting at Montreal.
Whilst there, he took the opportunity of visiting the far
west and returned with many stories and anecdotes about
the cowboys and Indians he met.
historic moment when Tattersall Wilkinson, Robert Law
and Abraham Crossley opened the barrow. Photo by kind
permission of Roger Birch.
was especially interested in the origins and history of
man. He travelled hundreds of miles, searching caves and
other places for evidence of early man, collecting flints
and fossils from every conceivable corner. Such was his
luck that a very important find was made right on his home
ground at Todmorden. This was the Blackheath Barrow, a Bronze
Age burial ground on land at Higher Cross Stone Farm, owned
then by William Sutcliffe, and farmed by a very distant
relation of Robert, Charles Law. On 7th July 1898, Tattersall
Wilkinson, Abraham Crossley and Robert Law opened the barrow.
barrow was known locally as the Frying Pan Circle because
of its shape. The circle was about 100 feet across, and was
flat with raised edges. Stones were scattered around the outside
edge of the circle.
There were several upright urns up to
2 feet tall near the center of the barrow, just beneath the
surface. There were flint and stone implements, pottery fragments,
incense cups, food vessels, beads and urns. The tall urns
near the centre contained burial remains such as calcified
bones and teeth, bone, clay, jet and amber ornaments, and
flint, bone and bronze implements.
Robert on the right with the urns & artifacts
photo by kind permission of Tony Leah
The artifacts on display at Todmorden library
The circle was declared to have been a funerary site dating
back to maybe 600BC. It is easy to imagine how excited Robert
must have been to have such close involvement with the "find"
and to be the first to excavate it.
the excitement was over and the treasures removed, the locals
used the circle to play their favourite game, Knur
and Spell. The monument
is still to be seen, and just about recognisable, midway
down the 6th fairway on the local golf course.
Robert and Elizabeth retired, they bought a lovely big house
in Hipperholme called Fennyroyd Hall. Here they displayed
all their valuable flints and fossils, said to be the most
extensive and valuable private collection in the country.
They also collected rare books, pictures and antique oak furniture.
house was a museum. Both Robert and Elizabeth gave up teaching,
but Robert continued collecting, and took an occasional commission
as a geological expert in connection with new reservoirs,
well sinking, and other similar projects.
1902 Robert was elected a member of the Hipperholme District
Council, and 3 years later was re-elected at the head of the
poll. He developed strong Conservative leanings and became
one of the leaders of Conservatism in the area. He was closely
identified with the Primrose League and was President of the
Hipperholme and Lightcliffe Conservative Association.
this be the same person who was so wild as a teenager back
in Walsden ... the same Robert Law who was a truant and illiterate
at the age of 14?
December 1907, Robert was taken ill with stomach problems,
which developed into heart trouble. He died about 10-30pm
on Sunday December 29th 1907. The funeral took place at
Brighouse Cemetery, attended by the Mayor of Todmorden,
Alderman Abraham Crossley JP., and his Mayoress, along with
many other friends and relatives from Todmorden and Walsden.
His gravestone reads:
kindly supplied by
at Walsden, Todmorden, June 21st 1840
at Fenny Royd Hall, Hipperholme
of Elizabeth Ann Wife of the above
died June 21st 1932 aged 81 years
his death, his fossils were donated to the Natural History
Museum in London, to be used by geology students for research