Harriet Keighley: The Widow

Born into a turbulent childhood shrouded in mystery, Harriet Keighley found herself lucky when she married Jeremiah Hall in 1830. But, struck by Jeremiah’s loss only fifteen years later, she started a widowhood that would last over twice the length of her marriage and have profound consequences for the generations of Halls ahead.

Harriet’s parents were Samuel Keighley and Grace Fearnley, who married at Birstall Parish Church in 1797, both residents of Heckmondwike. In terms of occupation, Samuel took after his father Jonas and worked as a clothier, a pretty broad term for individuals working in the cloth trade or even individuals who made or sold clothing.

Upper Independent Chapel in Heckmondwike via the Kirklees Image Archive (https://kirkleesimages.org.uk/)

The couple’s first recorded child, Nancy, was born in 1801 and was baptised at the Heckmondwike Old Independent Chapel shortly after her birth. The same applied to Mary, who followed in 1804. Both baptism records indicate the family now was living on Dewsbury Moor. Elizabeth was born in 1806 but was baptised at Dewsbury Parish Church, as was her sister Ellen in 1808.

Harriet did not buck the trend, and after her birth which was likely not too long before her baptism, she was baptised at Dewsbury Parish Church on 21 November 1810. Her only brothers followed – Antony in 1813 and Samuel in 1816, both baptised at Dewsbury Parish Church. Interestingly, by the time of Samuel’s baptism, the family had moved to Batley.

Dewsbury Minister

I do not mean to bore, regurgitating facts, places and dates, but it is clear that Samuel and Grace were flexible people, regularly switching Religious Denominations and moving around. This seems to be more apparent at the beginning of the couple’s marriage, so it perhaps affected Harriet’s childhood in a more mitigated way. Still, it is pretty clear that she lacked some stability in her childhood.

Now, after Samuel’s baptism in 1816, for whatever reason, we hit a deep and barren void as I have no recorded evidence of what happened to Harriet’s siblings or her parents past that point. It has been a while since I have touched them, so perhaps this is an excellent reason to have another search, but anything could have happened to them as far as we are concerned.

Batley Parish Church

Aged about 19 or so, on 8 September 1830, at Batley Parish Church, Harriet married Jeremiah Hall, a local Clothier. They married into a changing world where things were changing at a greater pace now than ever as the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and Batley began to develop into a prosperous and industrial town.

The couple’s first child was a boy named Joseph, who was baptised at Batley in 1831, followed by a sister named Grace in 1832. Quite tragically, Grace passed away, aged only one year, in April 1833 and was buried in her local Parish Churchyard on the 22nd of that month.

Family life continued, and despite the fact the loss of their only daughter must have stung very profoundly, both Harriet and Jeremiah had their son Joesph’s mouth to feed. He was joined by a brother named Jeremiah, after his father, in 1836, and also a sister, Grace Ann, in 1838, named likely after her late sister Grace and paternal grandmother Ann. Another girl, Margaret, was born and baptised in 1839.

William Henry Hall’s baptism at Batley Parish Church

Like most other people, Harriet first appeared on a census in 1841, where she was living with her husband and children in “New Batley”, which appears to be close to what is now Upper Commercial Street, Batley. The year after the census return, on 13 February 1842, William Henry Hall, my Great Great Great Grandfather, Jeremiah and Harriet’s final child together, was born in Batley, most likely at home. William’s baptism took place the following year at Batley Parish Church, just like the rest of his siblings, on 15 January 1843.

Just two years after William’s baptism, when he was aged just 3, and Harriet herself was aged only about 34 years, Jeremiah succumbed to phthisis, an archaic term for tuberculosis, aged only 41, at home, on 14 May 1845. He was buried at Batley Parish Church, where both his father and daughter Grace were also buried, on 18 May 1845.

I do not, and most likely will never, know the family dynamics of the household of Jeremiah and Harriet, nor do I know if they were a happy family, but I would at least like to think so. Jeremiah’s death had severe consequences for the family, many of them profoundly negative, but he seems never to be forgotten despite those factors. For example, I know that many of their children honoured Jeremiah by naming many of his grandchildren after him. Another point of this loyalty to his memory is perhaps the fact that Harriet never remarried. Was this down to loyalty to her late husband or just circumstances? We will likely never know either way.

As said before, the death of Jeremiah did have profound consequences for his family, who now faced a more tough and brutal reality. I am in no way saying that the Hall family had it easy when Jeremiah was alive – they were a working-class family in 1840s Batley. However, now they had lost the support of the breadwinner, and Harriet was, despite the help of the Hall and Keighley families, alone. Nevertheless, she didn’t let this new, more brutal reality deter her and took little to no time adjusting to it.

Harriet and family on the 1851 Census

On the 1851 census, her occupation is recorded as a rag sorter, and two of her eldest children worked in the mill. Now, a rag-sorter has a vague definition – she could have been sorting rags in a mill or even just collecting and sorting old bits of clothing. Regardless, Harriet now had double the work – running a house and earning a living – and it is possible that each day seemed to be more brutal and more protracted as time went on. Nevertheless, the strength she likely showed during this period is unquestionably remarkable, and I personally am deeply proud of her.

In 1861 things may have begun to calm down for Harriet, at least to an extent, because all her children, barring her son Jeremiah, remained at home and all worked in a variety of woollen based occupations. She is still recorded as working herself, but perhaps some of the pressure began to lift, which was quite apt as she began to grow older. Of course, she wouldn’t ever get the retirement of the modern era, but even just having a simpler existence, with less pressure, would have likely been quite welcome.

A map circa 1910 of the area where Harriet and her family lived

By 1871, Harriet did get this break, at least to some extent, as most of her children had either got employed or married and moved out. Interestingly, my Great Great Great Grandfather, William Henry Hall, was the exception and remained living with his mother on New Street, alongside his wife and children. His wife Eliza is recorded as taking up the role of housekeeper, while William is a plucker, and Harriet takes up the more sophisticated role of a shopkeeper. Her son Jeremiah lived next door, and her brother-in-law Joseph Hall lived only a few doors away. Harriet now worked in a different role, and likely faced less pressure at home – a blessing of her arduous labour pursuing her family’s survival.

By 1877, Harriet had moved to Cross Bank in Batley, and it is likely that William and his family also remained living with her or at least nearby. I am unsure of the exact reason he may have stayed with her – perhaps financial reasons contributed or even a desire to look after her as she aged? Maybe he felt indebted to her for his survival in his youth? But, again, it could have just been circumstance and could have had next to no real deep meaning behind it – we just do not know.

Harriet’s death certificate

In 1870, Harriet had turned 60, and as the average life expectancy was around 70, if you managed to get past 40, she entered her final years. Unfortunately, she became ill with what was later recorded as chronic bronchitis around the early Autumn of 1876, and after about three months of illness, she began to deteriorate. She saw Christmas and the New Year but eventually, on 8 January 1877, her years of labour caught up with her, and she passed away in the presence of her youngest son, William Henry Hall.

She was buried not far from where she lived at Batley Cemetery on 10 January 1877. Her grave is unsurprisingly unmarked and is located in Section A of the cemetery, specifically plot 235. She is also interred with her daughter Grace Ann, who died around a year after her, and a grandson named Walter, who died years previously.

Section A, Plot 235

After her death, William Henry Hall’s alcoholism becomes more apparent, with a variety of arrests, fines and prison sentences. We do not know where it originated from, but I have always felt that his mother’s death contributed towards worsening it. Was she the influence that kept him in check? Perhaps the loss created the alcoholism? We can never be sure either way, but her survival led to William’s life and problems, which in turn led to my Great Great Grandfather Ernest James Hall’s issues, although the First World War was the main contributor to his. This again affected the next generation and so forth. I think this shows how significant Harriet’s death was, not just to her children but how it could still be perceived to be relevant today, about 145 years later.

Did Harriet’s courage aid her grandson, Ernest James Hall, when he served during the First World War?

As a human, Harriet was a survivor who survived so much strife, brutal labour, and loss but still managed to raise the next generation of her family alone. She singlehandedly had the gumption, drive and ability to survive and persevere. Her husband was ripped from her by a horrific illness, let’s not forget that, and she may have received some help along the way, but she was able to keep his memory alive by raising his children and allowing them to carry his name forward. To be honest, Jeremiah is still being talked about 177 years after his death, so she definitely succeeded in that regard.

Harriet will always be special to me, for her story is just so unique and special, and I take great pride in being able to call her my Great Great Great Great Grandmother.

The legacy of Harriet – From left to right, Ernest James Hall (1885-1949), Percy Hall (1908-1976), Richard Hall (1944-1982), Christopher Hall, George Mason Hall.

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