HOWROYD was a cluster of 4 small tenanted farmhouses and a couple of cottages. The largest of the farms had just 35 acres. The dwellings were grouped together, each with its own separate area of land. More often than not, members of the same extended family would occupy the dwellings.

Its location high up on the hill above the Dulesgate Valley made access difficult for all but the hardy. A winding track climbs the hillside from the valley bottom at Cloughfoot, passes Gorpley Farm, eventually arriving at Howroyd and then on to another farm at Shepherds Tent. With only sheep for company, the inhabitants faced a trek down hill to Cloughfoot for provisions and entertainment.

In 1900, Todmorden Corporation purchased the whole of Howroyd and part of Gorpley for £5,900 in order to build a new reservoir and water treatment works with which to supply fresh water to the town. 

Although Gorpley Farm is still inhabited, Howroyd now lies in ruins. There is a modern house on the site, which overlooks the reservoir. However, the ruins of the buildings are still evident, forming part of the garden of the modern house.

In 1779, Philip Crowther from Midgelden Farm and Betty Barker married and settled to life at one of the farms at Howroyd. Their six children were born there, including Philip junior in 1784. Neighbours at that time were William and Agnes Haigh. Betty Crowther died in 1793, but Philip plodded on at the farm with his surviving family of 4 sons and a daughter, the oldest child aged 11 and the youngest just 2 years old. No doubt he had help from Agnes Haigh and the other neighbours in the hamlet.

In 1796, his father died at Midgelden and his widow Susan moved to Howroyd, joined in 1800 by his brother Eli and family, and in 1803 by his brother Joshua and family. Help was complete in 1805 when Philip married again. His new wife was widow Susannah Fielden, the sister of his neighbour William Haigh.

Young Philip junior, born and brought up on the farm, was unsettled by the loss of his mother when he was just 9 years old and the thought of a bleak future working a small farm. When still a very young man, he enlisted as a foot soldier in the army and was placed under the command of Lord Rowland Hill. He was sent off to fight in the Peninsular War in Spain, where he apparently survived about 20 fierce battles. He then served a period of time in Ireland before being discharged on a pension at the end of his term.


He happened to be in Clonmel, County Tipperary on his discharge, where he met a local girl by the name of Catherine O'Neal. Philip was a tall man, if a little portly, and blessed with good looks. Catherine fell for his genial charm and married him. He took her home to Todmorden. At that time, his father and stepmother were still at Howroyd, and maybe it was to Howroyd where he headed first with Catherine.


Despite his noted intelligence, Philip failed to anticipate the reception his wife might receive from not only local folk but also his own family. She was an Irish woman, and not only Irish but also a Roman Catholic. Local people were wary of outsiders and, along with the rest of England, held a distrust of the Irish probably as a direct of the 1798 Irish rebellion. National propaganda had lampooned the Irish as an inferior race and the uneducated rural folk of Todmorden and Walsden would have believed it. Many years later, Philip's grandson told how his grandmother was refused admittance to her in-law's home, even to the extent of being kicked whilst she was pregnant.


They didn't stay at Howroyd but moved across the county border to the Yorkshire side of the town, where they settled in Stansfield. Philip was a shoemaker, and may well have learnt this trade whilst in the army. In 1818, their first son, Philip, was born, followed by Edward in 1820 and John on 29th January 1822. Catherine continued to receive harsh treatment, which drove the family back over the county border to the hamlet of Gauxholme, where Philip practiced his trade for the next few years.


Son William was born in Gauxholme on 14 February 1824, and sadly, 4-year-old Edward died there the same year. Another son, Eli, was born in 1826. The young boys, Philip, John, William and Eli suffered taunts and bullying at the hands of the other lads of the area and were looked down on because they were considered to be half Irish. The boys had to fight their way out of trouble, and with no help forthcoming from the Crowther family, Philip was forced to defend his family. He decided they should make a fresh start in another town.


They packed their bags and headed out of Todmorden to Chadderton in the Parish of Oldham. However, Philip was unable to find work in Chadderton and was obliged to claim relief from the Parish in order to support his family. They now had another child, a girl named Elizabeth. The rules on claiming financial relief in those days were harsh, and a claimant had to prove he had a right of settlement within the parish or township. (More about parish relief can be read HERE).


Philip would need to satisfy one of the following conditions before being allowed any financial assistance:

  • That he was born in the township of legally settled parents
  • That he rented property in the township worth at least £10 a year, or paid taxes on such property
  • That he held a Parish Office
  • That he had been hired by a legally settled inhabitant for a continuous period of 365 days
  • That he had served a full apprenticeship to a legally settled man for the full seven years
  • That he had been granted relief previously


It seems evident that none of these conditions could be satisfied, and therefore Philip was summonsed to appear before the Magistrates at the Midsummer Quarter Sessions of 1831 to argue his case. The Magistrates decided Philip was not legally settled in Chadderton but was legally settled in Stansfield, where he had settled with Catherine after returning from Ireland. The family was told that if they had insufficient money to support themselves, they must return to Stansfield and make a claim there. The Removal Order states:


"To the overseers of the poor of the Township of Chadderton in the County of Lancaster.


Whereas you have made complaint unto us whose names are herein set and seals affixed, being two of his Majesty's Justices of the Peace in and for the said county, that Philip Crowther and Catherine his wife, and Philip aged 14 years, John aged nine years, William aged six years, Ely aged 4 years and Elizabeth aged eight months, their children, hath come to inhabit in your township not having gained a legal settlement there . and the said Philip Crowther and Catherine his wife and their said children have become actually chargeable to your said township.


We the said Justices, upon due proof made thereof upon oath, and likewise upon due consideration, do adjudge the same to be true, and we likewise adjudge that the lawful settlement of them is in the Parish, Township or place of Stansfield in the West Riding of the County of York.


We do therefore require you, the said overseers of the poor, to convey the said Philip Crowther and Catherine his wife and their said children from and out of your township to the township of Stansfield, and then together with this our Order, to deliver to the overseers of the poor there, who are also hereby required to receive and provide for them according to law . "



So, in the summer of 1831, with four sons and eight month old Elizabeth in tow, Philip and Catherine returned to Todmorden. There they remained for a couple of years. Their last child, Edwin was born 16 November 1833 in Stansfield. Not long after his birth, Philip uprooted and moved his family for the last time. They settled in the Knowlwood district of Walsden and Philip set up business in his old trade as a shoemaker. He taught his son John the trade, and life carried on much as normal for the family. Catherine was tolerated, but never befriended, and the boys continued to be victims of racial abuse. Despite this, Philip was well liked amongst his fellow men. He enjoyed a drink of ale with his mates, and was always friendly and genial.


Throughout this period, the railway was being constructed between Manchester and Leeds. The line from Manchester ended at Littleborough and was completed in 1839, whilst the line from Leeds ended at Walsden. The gap between the two had caused problems because of the height of the land and the narrowness of the valley bottom between Littleborough and Walsden.

There was only one way to connect the two lines, and that was by means of a tunnel, to be cut right through the rocky hillside. The first brick was laid in 1838, and work began in earnest. A workforce of 1,000 men was needed, and to accommodate these men, shanty towns sprang up all along the hillsides, with plenty of beer houses to quench the thirst of the rough and ready navies. The tunnel was completed and the whole line opened for traffic on 1st March 1841.

Entrance to the tunnel


Philip was entitled to a pension from the Army, and on a certain Monday every quarter, he and Catherine would walk from Walsden to Rochdale to collect it. The walk took them over the Summit Pass and through several of the shanty towns and chaotic building sites. Some time between 1838 and 1840, Philip and Catherine set off on one of these journeys. They reached Rochdale and were passing over the summit on their way home when Philip decided to stop for a few jars of ale. He told Catherine to walk on ahead and he would catch her up. She arrived home but he hadn't caught her up, and she never saw him again.


Despite the best efforts of all concerned, a body was never found. Many of the local folk searched high and low for him. The canal was searched and all the land around, but there was no sign of Philip, dead or alive. Some twenty years later, a dying man who had been involved in disposing of earth taken out of the tunnel below confessed that he and another had robbed and killed Philip for the pension money he had on his person. They threw his body on the dump and unloaded a cart full of earth on top of his body.


Poor Catherine. Her life in England had been terrible, and now she was left a virtual widow with young children to support. She had no idea whether Philip was alive or dead, although had to presume the latter. Making matters worse for her, her eldest son, Philip junior, died in February 1840 aged just 22. He died of synochus, a type of fever, and his mother was present at his death. Her next oldest surviving son, John, left home whilst still a very young man to pursue a living as a shoemaker like his father. He moved across the valley to Dobroyd. Sons William and Ely worked on the quarry at Knowlwood near their home as stone masons, whilst Elizabeth and Edwin were too young to work. Catherine died at Knowlwood aged 52 in 1844, leaving her children to fend for themselves . but what became of them?



John Crowther 1822-1890


As mentioned above, John became a shoemaker. On 14 April 1843 at St. Chad's in Rochdale, he married Ruth Fielden, daughter of Joshua and Hannah. They settled at Dobroyd and by 1848 had two children, Philip and George. On 2nd April 1848, with his wife pregnant for a third time, John left home for America. He said he was going to find a better life for the family, and promised he would either send for them or return within a year. Their daughter Hannah was born during this year.

John did write for a while, and at one time he sent some money to Ruth and asked her to join him. he then wrote again telling her not to go. That was the last time she heard from him.


John Philip Crother

by kind permission of Howard Browne

Meanwhile, John changed his name to John Philip Crother, went through a bigamous marriage to Maria Hodkin from Derbyshire in 1852 and lived first in Michigan, then New York, and then settled in Nemaha, Nebraska. He worked as a boot, shoe and harness maker and raised five more children. A sixth child, Emma, died in 1860 aged 4. John was clearly successful in business judging by the value of his real and personal estate as declared on the 1870 census return - a total of $5,500. His children were William Henry (1852), Priscilla Jane (1859), John Edwin (1861), Anna Bertha (1863) and Oliver Charles (1873).

Maria Hodkin

by kind permission of Howard Browne


John's granddaughter Elizabeth recalls that he was so homesick that he would play "Rule Britannia" on his flute with tears streaming down his face. He threw himself in to local politics, becoming a J.P. in 1859. A gazetteer of the time records:

"When he came to Nemaha City, not one hundred acres of land were broken in the precinct, it being a sort of a bubble town, populated by claim-holders who were soon after compelled to move their frail shanties, then composing Nemaha City, out upon their claims, which operation laid the foundation for the present prosperity of Nemaha. Mr. C. has been Justice of the Peace most of the time since 1859; was in the Territorial House of 1861-62-63. He has been a Republican ever since the party was organized. He and his family are members of the Episcopal Church. No pioneer of Nemaha County is more familiar with its history, or has taken more pride in its progress, than has Squire Crother".


The Episcopal Church in Nemaha

by kind permission of Howard Browne


Ruth continued to support her children by opening a shop at Dobroyd and selling sweets, fruit and confectionery. It is clear from future events that her husband kept in touch with his brothers back home in Todmorden as at some point between 1851 and 1860 two of them went to join him, taking Ruth's eldest son, 17 year old Philip, with them. How devastated she must have been.

In May 1860, Ruth filed for a protection order under the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act - the first person in Todmorden to do this. During the hearing, Ruth told the court she hadn't heard from her husband in nine years but her son, who had also gone to America, had seen him but would not tell her where he was. All she knew was that he was a Justice of the Peace. This caused great laughter in the Todmorden court room. Ruth explained she had managed to furnish her house and save a small sum of money and wished to have it protected from her husband.


Industrial Street

Ruth paddled on at Dobroyd with help from her remaining children, George and Hannah, plus Hannah's husband Arthur Hirst. George earned his living as labourer, whilst Hannah became a school mistress. When Ruth retired, they all went to live on Industrial Street in Todmorden. Ruth died at 13 Industrial Street in 1899 aged 79, and George died unmarried at the same address a year later. They are buried together at Christ Church in Todmorden.

Her son, Philip, settled first in New York with his uncles William and Edwin, working as a gilder. Not surprisingly for a young member of this dysfunctional family, Philip was unsettled and unhappy with life. His mother was thousands of miles away and his father had a new family. He tried to enlist in the American Army but was rejected by the United States Examining Surgeon. Not to be thwarted, he returned to England and joined the British Army. He was assigned to the East Indian Army serving three years in India and gaining promotion to Lance Sergeant. Whilst stationed at Patna, he deserted and made his way to Calcutta, boarded an American ship and worked his passage to Boston. From there, he made his way to Nemaha to meet up with his long lost father.

In 1873, Philip married Carrie Elizabeth Fisher in Nemaha and at last settled to a normal life. He became a school teacher like his sister in Todmorden and went on to hold office as County Superintendent of Schools in 1877, serving four years in this post. Following that, in 1882, he was appointed Postmaster of Nemaha City. He attributed his settled way of life to his beloved wife and children, but tragedy was to follow when three of his little daughters, Helen (6), Ruth (4) and Mary (1) died in the same month, February 1880. Philip died in 1925 in Santa Barbara, California.

His father, John Crowther, otherwise known as John Philip Crother, died in Nebraska in 1890. Six days before his death he made a will leaving the whole of his estate to his bigamous wife Maria for her lifetime and then to his children by Maria in equal shares. There was nothing for Ruth or their three children, despite his oldest son Philip being a near neighbour in Nemaha.



William Crowther 1824-1874


After the death of his mother Catherine, William met and married Priscilla from Rotherham in Yorkshire. In 1851 they were living near Sheffield where he was a stonemason. Some time between then and 1860, William and Priscilla together with his brother Edwin and nephew Philip set sail for North America to meet up with their brother John. They ended up in New York where William carried on working as a stonemason. They remained in New York until after 1870, later moving to Nemaha in Nebraska near to his brother John, which is where William died in 1874. William and Priscilla were childless. Following William's death, Priscilla married George Hodkin who was the brother of Maria, John Philip's wife.



Eli Crowther 1826-1880  

Eli, it seems, never married. His trade was that of stonemason, but, like his father before him, he joined the army. In 1851 at the age of 24 he is to be found stationed at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich. By 1861 he is discharged and living at the Weavers Arms in Todmorden.

Eli was a rogue and petty criminal, well known to the police. One of his many misdemeanours was reported in the press as follows:

The Leeds Mercury (Leeds, England), Tuesday, April 16, 1861; Issue 7251


On Friday at noon, Eli Crowther, stonemason of Todmorden, who is well known to the police, was charged at the Magistrates Office with having on Thursday wilfully and maliciously cut and damaged a crane rope used for the purpose of hoisting up “Steeple Jack” who was at the time repairing the chimney of the mill belonging to Messrs. Pickles of Shade. It appears that the prisoner was in the employ of Sutcliffe Greenwood, who had for some reason discharged him, and Greenwood being the contractor for the repairs, the prisoner cut the rope from a feeling of revenge upon Greenwood. He was committed to the New Bailey for 2 months hard labour.

In 1871, he is lodging with a family in Langfield, still working in the stone trade. Eli died at Dobroyd in 1880, possibly at the home of his sister-in-law Ruth. He is buried at St. Mary's in Todmorden.


Edwin Crowther 1833-1879


When his mother Catherine died, Edwin was a young lad of 11. As soon as he was able, he went to lodge with Abraham Stansfield at Vale Nursery in Todmorden. This was a celebrated nursery of its time and Abraham Stansfield was an eminent and successful gardener and nurseryman. Edwin was, like his brothers, a stonemason and may well have been employed at the nursery in some capacity to do with stone cutting. However, between 1851 and 1860 he left his native land behind and set off for North America with his brother William and nephew Philip to meet up with their older brother John. Edwin settled in the New York area and had two marriages, the first to Mary Jane and the second to Joanna. His first marriage resulted in a daughter, Annie. When her mother died, Annie was sent to live with Edwin's brother William and wife Priscilla who brought her up. His second marriage ended in tragedy when his wife Joanna and two of their children, 5-year-old Catherine and 2-year-old Edwin died on the same day in September 1877. Edwin himself died in Manhattan, New York, in 1879.



I have to wonder what would have happened had Philip Crowther of Howroyd, shoemaker, managed to make it home to Walsden after collecting his army pension that Monday. He was a genial and likeable man, and undoubtedly a very brave one, who spent his married life defending and supporting his wife and sons against unwarranted abuse, not only from neighbours, but also from his own family. Had it not been for the two labourers working on the railway tunnel at Summit Pass, Philip would have returned home and his sons and grandchildren may have had a completely different life. We will never know.


I am indebted to Howard Browne for the photos of John Philip and Maria and the Episcopal Church. He has a website with comprehensive details of the American descendants of Philip Crowther of Howroyd, which can be accessed at