Elizabeth Fox – A Double Widow – Just Like Her Mother

A couple of weeks ago I posted about my 2x great grandfather Adam Hallas and how in 1885 aged 39 and a widower, he married a young girl – Elizabeth Fox. The marriage certificate had stated that Adam was 38, when he had actually recently turned 39 and described Elizabeth as being 20, when she was actually 17 going on 18.

I suppose in a way it was probably a relief to a young Elizabeth that Adam, a man over ten years older than her and a widower, didn’t have any children from his first marriage. I’ve often thought it must be odd if you are a young woman, marrying an older man who might have children who are closer in age to you. How do you slot into that role of stepmother to children only a few years younger than yourself? As a stepmum myself I think I would find that pretty odd – hard to enforce discipline but also perhaps hard to adjust into the role of a parent where you are no more than a child yourself, not to mention the inexperience of youth and not having been a mother already. But fortunately for Elizabeth this wasn’t the case, but she was already expecting their first child when they married. Perhaps this was what caused Adam to marry her, to make an honest woman / girl of her. In cases like that you do wonder how much love had to play in a marriage, or whether it was mainly to do right by your unborn child?

Sadly Adam and Elizabeth’s first born child Enoch died in infancy and they went on to have seven more children – of which a further three would not survive beyond the age of 1.

Elizabeth’s story begins, quite rightly, with her birth – she was born on 28th May 1867 at 16. St. Marks Street, Dukinfield, Cheshire. She was the second child of Enoch Fox and Sarah Jane Hopwood who had married on 13th September 1861 at the Register Office in Ashton under Lyne. Their first child Thomas was born in 1864 but sadly died shortly after birth.


The view up St. Mark’s Street to the church. The houses were demolished sometime in the late 80s or early 90s and new houses built.
(Image from http://dukinfieldviews.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/st-marks-street-dukinfield.html)

In 1871 Enoch and his small family were living at 44 Hertford Street, Portland Place, Ashton under Lyne. Enoch’s occupation varied on the few records I have of him. On the 1861 census before his marriage he was a Cotton Piecer, on his marriage certificate he was a Cotton Self Actor Minder, on Elizabeth’s birth certificate he was a Cotton Spinner and by 1871 he was described as a Self Actor Minder again. His wife Sarah Jane was a Cotton Weaver and little Elizabeth was a Scholar. Also with them was Enoch’s widowed mother Harriet who was a Housekeeper and two boarders – Robert and James Walker.

Then just two years later on 4th February 1873 Elizabeth’s father Enoch died aged just 32. He had died at 11 Mount Street, Ashton under Lyne of Rheumatic Fever – Disease of the Heart. His brother Thomas was the informant of his death who lived at 38 Hertford Street. I feel for his widow Sarah Jane who in under 10 years had lost her first born child and her husband and was now left to bring their six year old daughter up alone.

A year later Sarah Jane married Wright Nield – in 1871 Wright was a boarder in the household of Enoch Fox’s brother Thomas and he too was a Self Actor Minder. Presumably Wright knew Sarah Jane well – before Enoch’s death. Wright must have decided to look out for a new life for his new family as on the 26th February 1878 he arrived in New York from Liverpool aboard the Germanic. He journeyed to Fall River, Massachusetts – a large cotton spinning industry centre, which in the 1870s rivalled Manchester. Fall River was also where the infamous Lizzie Borden lived, who was accused (and eventually acquitted) of murdering her father and stepmother with a hatchet in 1892.  “Lizzie Borden took an axe, And gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one.” In actual fact her stepmother had suffered 18 or 19 blows, while her father received 11. Either way it was a brutal double murder that shocked the community and the entire nation and remains unsolved.


Lizzie Borden (Image from flavorwire.com)

However, this foray into a new land did not end well for Wright as on 15th October 1878 he died in Fall River City Hospital of Dysentery.


A fantastic contemporary map of Fall River from http://www.old-maps.com

One can only imagine what it must have been like for Sarah Jane, waiting back home for word from Wright that everything was ready for them to come out and follow him to their new life, only to get word that he had passed away, leaving her widowed once again with her eleven year old daughter Elizabeth who had come to get to know this new father figure, only for him too, to go.

In 1881 she and Elizabeth lived at 13 Back Avon Street, Stalybridge. Sarah Jane was still a Cotton Weaver as was 13 year old Elizabeth. With them was Sarah Jane’s niece Sarah Hopwood aged 19 who was also a Cotton Weaver. By the 1891 census, Elizabeth was married to Adam and living at 29 Tatton Street, Stalybridge along with Sarah Jane who remained living with them until her death on 10th December 1900 at 30 Stocks Lane of Cardiac Dilatation aged 62. She had been a widow for 22 years, first having been widowed before the age of 35 and again at the age of 39.

As for Elizabeth, she was widowed in 1907 when Adam died – she was 40 with her youngest child aged 10 and eldest aged 18.

In 1911 she was living at 26 Gas Street, Stalybridge with her occupation stated as ‘Housework’. Her four surviving children were all still at home with her and were all working as cotton spinners or weavers – the 1911 census expanded slightly in terms of the industry – initially it stated Cotton Mill but this was crossed out and replaced with Calico Weavers.


Gas Street circa 1910 from the Tameside Image Archive.

Elizabeth went on to marry Henry Penkethman on 16th June 1917 at Holy Trinity, Stalybridge. They were both widowed with Henry being a few years older than Elizabeth. Henry died nine years later in 1926 aged 60 and Elizabeth lived for another 17 years, dying on 22nd April 1943 at 27 Birch Lane, Dukinfield aged 75 of Cerebral Haemorrhage and Atereo-Schlerosis, with her married daughter Harriet Webb being the informant of her death. So over the course of her 75 years she had lost two father figures, married an older man, had eight children, lost four, been widowed twice and ended up dying just a mile from where she was born.

For some time I had thought that this was a photograph of Elizabeth – but after showing Elizabeth’s granddaughter some years ago, she said that no, it wasn’t Elizabeth and didn’t know who it was. Although she must have been someone significant to have been cut into an oval shape for a frame. It looks a bit like it might have been taken in the 1920s.


It turned out that the photograph below was actually a photograph of Elizabeth – probably taken in the early 1900s or late 1890s. Although looking closer at the facial characteristics such as her nose, they look quite similar, so perhaps the photograph above is of the same woman, just a little older, perhaps taken after Henry had died? What do you think?


Elizabeth Fox / Hallas / Penkethman
1867 – 1943

I have photographs of Adam and Elizabeth in little frames on a bookcase in my living room – next to one another.




13 thoughts on “Elizabeth Fox – A Double Widow – Just Like Her Mother

  1. Great story. These people did have such hard lives with so many losses. I often wonder how it affected them. Were they just tougher and used to it, or were they so sad and burned out that life was a burden?

    What is a Self Actor Minder??

    I live not far from Fall RIver. Imagine if your ancestors had moved to the US—we might be neighbors today!

    • What a small world!

      I guess perhaps people dealt with loss so frequently that it was more of a part of life than it is for us these days. Today we hardly know how to talk to people who have lost a loved one, and we haven’t had to experience losing handfuls of children from preventable diseases – like in some poorer countries.

      A self actor minder looked after the multi thread spinning machine called a self acting mule – which replaced a hand powered mule. So probably kept an eye on it in case of jams or other problems and to get it started and stopped and to take the spun cotton off and onto the next stage.

      • Thanks for the explanation. One of the things I really am enjoying about doing this kind of research is learning about so many things I never knew about before: history, religion, social conditions, economic conditions. It’s amazing how rich the experience can be once you get your nose out of census reports!

      • Oh definitely! I know so much more about history now than I ever learnt at school. I love finding out about the world my ancestors lived in, from the places they lived in, to the jobs they did, to the changing world around them.

  2. Great frames for your 2x great grandparents. I love when people display their ancestors. Although the nose is similar between the two comparison photos, I don’t find the eyes as similar. Or it could be the differences between the two photos (color, sharpness and the distance). They do definitely look related as there are similar characteristics in both. Hopefully down the road you’ll find someone who has more photos of her.

    • Thank you!

      Yes, there is definitely some connection. I have a distant cousin through one of Elizabeth’s daughters who has been copying my research on Ancestry but so far hasn’t responded to any of my messages. I’d really like to hear from her and see if her family could shed some light on things! Especially as Elizabeth lived with her side of the family. I might try seeing if another cousin from the other daughter of Elizabeth might be able to help with getting in touch properly!

      • That’s so annoying. There are a few times when I’ve used Ancestry’s messaging and received no reply either. I know they’re active because it will say last signed in: this month. Good luck. If there wasn’t some challenges, it wouldn’t be as fun, right?

      • Exactly!

        Sometimes I get emails when I get messages on Ancestry and sometimes I don’t – so you never know whether people know they have a message or not. I will try again as I do also have her email address (although not sure if I ever got a reply from that either!)

    • I agree.

      I know, it seems so sad to have to go through it twice and then to be on your own for so long. Granted both Sarah Jane and Elizabeth ended up living with their daughters it can’t have been the same as living out your years with your husband.

    • It must have been pretty tough. Even though I think people were more used to life and death but it doesn’t mean it was any less painful.

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