A search for long lost relatives has also resulted in two paintings of one of the first Todmorden Mayors coming to light.
It began a year ago when York resident Mr Stuart Drake contacted the Todmorden News as he believed he may have some cousins in Todmorden, following some research into his family tree.
His great-grandfather was Alderman Abraham Crossley, who was a major figure in Todmorden Borough Council’s early days, being Mayor of the town from 1904 to 1906. Todmorden had only recently been granted Borough status, in 1896.
His uncle, Coun Francis Wilson Knighton was Mayor in 1947 - Coun Knighton was himself a grandson of Alderman Crossley.
Stuart explained that his search started while he was sitting in the dentist’s waiting room and saw a Yorkshire Life article about Todmorden. Memory was sparked about two paintings which he remembered from boyhood but which had gone out of the family. The paintings were found in the 1990s with the late antiqurian Dennis O’Neill’s help.
By the same artist, J. A. Hardaker, they were of Dobroyd Castle and Alderman Crossley and when found both paintings were in a dirty condition and minus frames, a situation Stuart has since remedied.
Unbeknown to Stuart, a search for the same painting was being undertaken by the Newton family.
And, in the event, it turned out there were two paintings of Alderman Crossley, not just one!
Mr David Newton said his late first wife Dorothy, who passed away in 2003, whose mother was Annie Greenwood and father Harry Crossley Raby - Abraham’s grandson - had always remembered visiting her grandparents at their Blackpool home when she was a girl and seeing a picture that scared her.
Ironically, Stuart recalls a cousin saying exactly the same about the painting he eventually found - and it’s true that Alderman Crossley cuts a forbidding figure on it. It’s formal and exhibits plenty of civic grandeur, but its size and aspect would frighten a small child!
David said: “When we used to go and see a cousin we used to ask what had happened to the picture. Twenty years alter we were still talking about it and one day I had bought my wife the third volume of Roger Birch’s pictorial histories of Todmorden, and there was a black and white photograph of it.
“As soon as my wife saw it she said ‘That’s the picture I used to see at grandma’s!’”
David contacted Roger and asked him where the painting might be but Roger explained the photograph had been done by someone else. Roger contacted the man he had got it from, who said he had taken it from some cards that at some time had been printed from the painting.
Further inquiries from David revealed that Todmorden Town Council had owned it at one time and eventually it would have been housed by Calderdale Council.
By this time Dorothy was ill but David wrote to Halifax and eventually spoke to a curator about its possible whereabouts.
“He said next time he was in the cellar he would have a look and a few weeks later he contacted me to say they had found it, and it was a picture of a Mayor. We went to see it at Bankfield Museum in Halifax and when my wife saw it, she knew it,” he said.
Shortly afterwards Dorothy passed away and David did not take up research into the family tree until last year, when he was lunching with the Greenwoods, his wife’s family from Todmorden.
“We were just talking and someone pulled out the Todmorden News and said, look at this - Abraham Crossley. It was Stuart’s story, he said”
Having seen the article, David got in touch with Stuart and it transpires that Stuart and Dorothy were cousins.
David said they had not only found the missing picture but discovered there were two of them!
“Stuart has one and the other, exactly the same at Bankfield, has been cleaned up and put in a new frame, once they knew who it was, although as of the last time I spoke to them it has never been on display,” said David.
David and Stuart explained that Abraham was a builder, who also started up the first college institute in Todmorden and taught building there for many years.
His grandson, Dorothy’s father Harry Crossley Raby, was also a builder and started up a technical college near Castleford. Others in the family have also worked in the trade.
Abraham Crossley is buried at Cross Stone church yard, and, says David, “every year we get all the stuff and go to Abraham’s grave at Cross Stone. We get the children down and look after it,” he said.
Stuart adds that his grandfather, Frank Knighton, was also due to be Mayor of Todmorden but ill health meant he was unable to take up the position of Todmorden’s leading citizen.
Stuart’s father had moved to his job at Whitley Bay Post Office in 1930, and his branch of the family (his grandmother was Bertha Crossley) moved out of the area. His grandfather came to live with the family there to recover his health but never did and died in 1934.
In 1947, when Coun Francis Wilson Knighton became Mayor, Stuart attended the inauguration ceremony as a boy, and although a more infrequent visitor to Todmorden has never lost his affection for the town.