John Thomas Crossley: A Difficult Life

John Thomas, the son of Joshua Joseph Crossley and Margaret Murphy, was born on 7 January 1866, on Bradford Road near Batley Carr. He was born into atypical circumstances as his father was already married with two children to a lady named Emma Parker. However, Joshua had probably left Emma before the birth of John as on his birth certificate, he is registered as Margaret’s son, who is in fact also recorded as Joshua’s wife.

The couple did marry eventually, around two years after the death of Emma, at Batley Parish Church on 11 July 1870. The couple already had another two children by the time of their marriage, Emma in 1869 and George in early 1870. Over the next decade or so, the couple would have three more children.

Batley Parish Church in July 2021

Just around sixteen months after the couple’s marriage, on 11 November 1871, Joshua was brought before Batley Borough Court to face charges of assaulting his wife. In the words of Margaret herself, on 18 November 1871, Joshua returned home drunk and struck her. The Huddersfield Daily Examiner reported that Margaret appeared in the witness box with a black eye which appeared greatly swollen. Margaret was reluctant to testify as she had agreed not to press charges as Joshua had promised but admitted that Joshua had struck her again since the original incident. It seemed that when Joshua was under the influence of liquor, he was in the habit of beating his wife. Joshua ended up pleading guilty, and the Mayor allowed Joshua to remain free but warned him that as these cases were becoming frequent, another case would see him sent to prison.

Times were hard for everyone, especially the working classes, and individuals may have found it hard to cope. Furthermore, individuals typically repeat the actions they were taught, so we must consider these and many more factors before condemning Joshua as an absolute villain. But being truthful, I find it hard to view him in anything but a negative manner. I appreciate the many factors that could cause it, but his apparent lack of respect for women is unjustifiable and plainly wrong, even if it was 150 years ago.

After an illness of a year or so, John Thomas Crossley’s father died of heart disease in August 1887. John remained living with his mother up until his marriage in 1893, and in this period before his wedding, the consequences of a difficult childhood became apparent.

John was either imprisoned for two weeks or fined for being drunk and disorderly in 1891. More convictions would follow in 1901, 1905 (this one was for obscene language) and 1913, with perhaps even more taking place. At least one or two convictions would end up in John being sent to prison for a week or two. It was said that John was a hardworking man but would leave his family penniless as he spent most of his money on alcohol.

He married Fanny Eliza Tasker at Birstall Parish Church on 11 December 1893. They went on to have two daughters, including Alice, my Great Great Grandmother, and three boys.

Alice Crossley, my Great Great Grandmother, during her youth

One of his sons, James Edward, was born in late June 1900. Around this period, it seems that John enlisted into the 3rd King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry’s Militia Battalion. He first tried to desert the battalion based in Strensall and succeeded for a while but was eventually arrested and detained and attached to an escort. However, he managed to break away again despite being handcuffed and concealed himself in a house in Birstall, the town where his family was living. Eventually, he was caught hiding under a bed in an upstairs room with the handcuffs from his original arrest in his pocket. He was sentenced to 85 days imprisonment, on 30 August 1900, for absence, breaking away from an escort and loss of kit.

Three of his children were living with their elderly maternal grandparents up Blackburn Road in Birstall by 1911. His daughter Frances was adopted out of the family by that point. Fanny Eliza, his wife, died in 1914, aged only 47 years.

John’s later years remain a little more mysterious. It is possible he remarried to a lady named Mary Frain in 1915, but from about 1924 to 1926, he lived with a relative without a wife registered to vote at that address. He appears on the 1939 Register, aged 73 years, as an old age pensioner living at some unknown establishment situated in Batley.

John Thomas Crossley’s 1939 Register entry

There is no clear record of his death, but it is likely he died in the 40s or, at a push, the early 50s.

John’s life was clearly a complex one. He may have simply been a victim of the times and also circumstances, struggling to cope in a harsh world and being affected by his father’s behaviour towards alcohol and his mother. This would, in turn, affect his own family, just like it affected him. However, he was also clearly a defiant character, willing to do things his own way, even breaking away from an army escort for unknown reasons.

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