Thomas Hadfield : A lay preacher from Gawsworth, Cheshire

A thank-you from a Great Grandaughter

My knowledge of Thomas Lomas Hadfield is patchy, but from what I have learned of him, he was an upstanding, humane man of deep faith. He was born in 1872 to a farming family in Chinley, Derbyshire and married his wife, Martha, in Macclesfield in 1894. The marriage is recorded as ‘a civil marriage’, possibly because they were both Methodists. Thomas took on the tenancy of Lowes Farm, Gawsworth, near Macclesfield, not far from Gawsworth Methodist Church; although in those days it was always referred to as a chapel. The chapel opened in 1892 and I remember hearing that prior to that, Lowes Farm was used for Methodist worship and that baptisms took place in its kitchen. Thomas and Martha were strong supporters of the chapel and their growing family all became members of the congregation.

The respect with which Thomas was viewed in the village is evident as he became a lay preacher, parish councillor and sat on a committee which oversaw scholarships to grammar school in Macclesfield. Thomas was known locally as ‘Tommy Rabbit’, due to his and Martha’s ability to produce children. By 1915 they had 12 children, of whom 2 died in infancy. In 1916, one of their elder daughters came to them to admit that she was expecting a baby of her own. To have a daughter become pregnant outside of marriage was a huge mark of shame and it was not unheard of for angry fathers to throw them out to fend for themselves, or have them placed in an institute or worse. A man in Thomas’s position must have been tempted to do whatever necessary to maintain the veneer of respectability. But Thomas and Martha, as their faith directed them to, stood by their daughter and told her that they would bring her child up as one of their own.

In June 1916, while the guns raged on the Somme, their daughter gave birth to her own daughter, my beloved mum. While her parentage was never kept a secret, she was, nevertheless, brought up in the rough and tumble of the Hadfield family, which was added to a year later by Thomas and Martha’s final child, a son. My mum showed a keen intelligence and went on to win a scholarship to Macclesfield High School for Girls and became a teacher, before turning to farming when she married my dad. Her humble, yet loving beginnings instilled in her a strong sense of justice, a precious characteristic which she passed on to my siblings and I, and which we have handed on down to our own children. How differently things might have turned out if Thomas and Martha had given in to pressure to conform to respectability and turned out their teenage daughter.

Thomas died of cancer in 1935 and there is a beautiful obituary in the Macclesfield Times which illustrates just how highly he was thought of. His funeral cortege was halted outside the village school while the staff and pupils lined up to show their respects. But the thing that warms my heart most is that amongst the listed mourners, my mum is named as a daughter.

A lovely post-script to this story was written by a local author a few years ago in a book of reminiscences about the Gawsworth area. One was of a lay preacher who was not a stern-faced hypocrite, but a loving, humane man who stood by his errant daughter when she needed her parents most. It gave me such a thrill to read it, especially as I had no idea anyone else had taken an interest. He confirmed that the story was indeed about Thomas.  

I’ve sent you this little tale because it illustrates that a good decision can have benefits well beyond those originally intended. Far from bringing shame on the family, the story of my mum’s birth gives me a sense of pride in what a loving family can achieve. 

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