Read all about it!

I spent most of last week in Manchester, and my hotel room was on the 21st floor overlooking the city. It’s not a place I know very well, although I feel I should, as many of my ancestors came from there. Here’s a story about one of them.

My great great grandmother is a bit of an enigma – I just can’t work her out. She could have been a schemer, a manipulator of men, or perhaps she was just unlucky in love. Whatever the reality, her life was short but eventful. Every additional piece of information changes my opinion again. And I know more about Emma than I do about most of my other ancestors… with them I have birth, marriage and death records, the census returns, and sometimes other documents to try to flesh out the bare facts. But Emma’s tale made it to the newspaper. And just like today, I’m not sure whether to believe it or not!

She was born on 8th November 1848 in Bolton to John Costello and his wife Frances, nee Blakeborough, and can be found living with them on the 1851 and 1861 census records. John was a fellmonger – he cured sheepskins. Sometime before 1871, the year in which she turned 23, she became maid/ companion to Ellen Greenroyd in Preston, about 40 miles from home. Her father also died in the same year.

Ellen was an elderly spinster, and it seems that Emma, who by now was calling herself ‘Castella’ (which may have been something of an affectation) expected to receive a legacy from her.

At the same time, Emma had started seeing Joseph Woods, the son of a local Alderman and owner of a cotton mill. Joseph didn’t want to go into his father’s business, so was sent to Canada to make his living. According to the newspaper, Emma wanted some commitment from him as apparently they were engaged, but she didn’t want to put the expected money from Miss Greenroyd at risk. So on 8th May 1871, the couple married secretly at Ribchester, a village about 12 miles from Preston. After that, Joseph emigrated as planned, and the couple exchanged letters via Joseph’s sister for a year, after which Emma’s letters stopped.

In 1874, Ellen Greenroyd died in Rome, and Emma was probably with her. On her return to Preston, she was asked by a friend of Joseph’s when she was going to Canada. Her response, according to the newspaper was ‘I’ve got better fish to fry here than there’.

But Ellen’s will, which does indeed benefit Emma, describes her as ‘Emma, wife of Joseph Woods’, surely implying that Ellen was aware of the marriage, and that perhaps the secrecy was more to do with fear of the reaction of the Alderman to his son’s unsuitable choice.

Whatever the truth, there is no doubt that whilst Joseph remained in Canada, Emma gave birth to a daughter, Beatrice in 1875. The baby’s father, presumably the ‘better fish’ was Henry Warner, a teacher at the public school Rossall College, which is just outside Blackpool. The year before, Emma’s younger sister had got married and had a son less than 9 months after the wedding day. Her husband’s name was Fearnley, but the baby was named Harry Warner Fearnley. Is this a hint that the father of that child was Henry Warner too?

Emma and Henry had their daughter baptised at Manchester Cathedral, and the entry in the church records is written as though they are married. A second child Harry, was born in 1878, and my great grandmother Edith Warner Costello in 1880.

But by then the edifice was crumbling. Joseph had already returned to England once, to find his wife was ‘on the continent’. When he went back to Canada in a state of despair (according to the court reporter) he enlisted in the Mounties, and only after he had finished his three year tour of duty did he return home once again to look for his bride. He finally found Emma, Henry and the 2 older children living in Blackpool under the name of Woods. He promptly sued for divorce – an action only available to the wealthy in those days. A case featuring an adulterous woman was unusual enough to make a juicy tale which was printed in several regional papers as well as The Times.

In the Rossall college records, Henry is listed as ‘left, 1880’. Presumably the scandal led to him being sacked.

The newspaper story features the evidence of Joseph’s friend, who as well as telling of the ‘better fish’ encounter describes an Italian gentleman whom he found kissing Emma and ‘trying to get her on the sofa’.

There was no ‘happy ever after’, Emma and Henry never married – in 1881, Emma and her three children were living in Preston, whilst the unemployed Henry was staying with his cousin’s family back in Manchester where he had been born.

Emma was also living in Manchester when she died of TB on 26th September 1890, aged 42 She was buried in the Southern Cemetery on 29th September.

In 1889, the year before Emma’s death, Henry married a widow, Annie Lawlor nee Ellams. According to the 1891 and 1901 censuses he worked as a railway clerk, and the couple continued to live in Manchester.

By 1911, Henry’s wife Annie had also died, and he was lodging in Crumpsall, Manchester. The 1911 census is known as the ‘fertility census’ because it asks about children born to a marriage. As a single man, Henry shouldn’t have completed this part of the form, but under ‘children born’ he fills in 3, and under ‘children who have died’ he also fills in 3. The three children did not die until the 1950s, only the youngest, Edith, married, but Beatrice and Harry lived with Edith and her husband.

Henry died in 1912 in Manchester. He was buried on 29th September, 22 years to the day after Emma. He was also buried in Manchester Southern Cemetery. I have visited the graves, but neither has a headstone remaining. They lie within a few yards of each other.

Emma’s estate was worth £4,000 when she died, a considerable sum in 1890, the inferitance she received from Ellen Greenroyd was less than £1,000. She did not leave a will, and as her children were underage, the money went to her mother Frances. When Frances herself died only 2 years later, her own estate was worth only a few hundred pounds.

So…. Emma and Joseph – they were both only 21, and although the divorce proceedings were written up in a way that very much paints Emma as the villain, it’s probably true that she just got bored waiting for him, and succumbed to the attentions of the Italian (did he follow her from Rome? Or was he one of the early Italian immigrants to the newly fashionable resort of Blackpool?). Indeed, Emma and Henry attempted unsuccessfully to contest the divorce on the grounds of Joseph’s desertion.

Emma and Henry… he may have seduced her younger sister, before moving on to Emma. He had a good career; he’d worked at Rossall for 16 years by the time he left. When Beatrice, the eldest of Emma’s children died, her sister Edith went to great pains to add details of their father’s occupation to the death certificate, although this is unusual, and certainly not required, and when she herself married, Edith listed her father’s occupation as ‘tutor’.

Why did Emma move to Manchester, if not to be near Henry, but then why did they not marry?

Did Henry really think his children were dead in 1911, or did he simply fill in the wrong column of the form?

And where did the money come from…. Ellen’s bequest was less than a quarter of what Emma left behind 16 years later…and where did it go? Emma’s mother left less than £200. Emma’s children were still not of age when their grandmother died.

If Emma was driven, then so was her youngest brother Frederick Costello, who became a successful and wealthy businessman in Hull. He gave money to the city, and Costello Park was named after him. It is now Costello Stadium, funded by money from the Pontin’s empire, but the name was retained. Perhaps his mother provided some initial investment money out of Emma’s bequest?

Is this a love story, or a tale of manipulation and greed – and who’s the baddy??

(Since we know who’s the daddy……)


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