John Earnshaw (c.1809-?)

This page is part of the Holmfirth Flood Project which aims to make content available to researchers in advance of the 175th anniversary of the 1852 Flood which will be commemorated in 2027.

John Earnshaw served as police constable in Holmfirth.


According to the 1851 Census, he was born in the Kirkburton parish and was possibly born on 9 May 1809, the son of Joseph Earnshaw and his wife Mary.[1]

Newspaper reports indicate that he had become a parochial constable for Holmfirth by 1846 and resided in the Newtown area of Holmfirth with his wife Ann.

According to Beerhouses, Brothels and Bobbies: Policing by Consent in Huddersfield (2016) by David Taylor, Earnshaw was dismissed from the force in 1857. His whereabouts after then remain unknown.

Holmfirth Flood of 1852

In the immediate aftermath of the devastating flood on 5 February 1852, Earnshaw assisted with locating and recovering bodies:[2]

The indefatigable labours of Mr. Superintendent Heaton, of the county constabulary, and of Mr. Superintendent Thomas and Inspector Brier, of the Huddersfield borough police, and Constable Earnshaw, assisted by the special constables and scavengers, had accomplished much beyond what might have been anticipated, and their exertions are deserving of all praise.

According to newspaper reports Constable Earnshaw recovered the bodies of:

He also initially identified the body of John Ashall.

The Huddersfield Examiner reported the following from the inquest held over the bodies:

John Earnshaw, of Newtown, spoke to finding the body of Charles Earnshaw, in a house belonging to Betty Turner, under the office of Mr. Kidd, of Newtown, about twenty minutes to two on Thursday morning. His age would be about thirty. His house was destroyed, and all the family were lost. They lived at Hinchliffe Mill. The witness also spoke to the body of Margaret Ashall. It was about half-past two on Thursday morning when her body was found. She had a silver watch-guard round her neck. She was the wife of John Ashall, of Hollowgate. Their house is all destroyed.

When concerns were raised about the level of water in the Holme Styes Reservoir, Earnshaw was despatched by local magistrates to investigate.[3]

He assisted with the arrests of pickpocket Thomas Dickenson of Warwick[4], who was amongst several criminals targeting sightseers in Holmfirth in the days after the flood, and also of Dominick McChiver who "had in his possession a quantity of clothes and other salvage from the late flood".[5]

In the weeks after the flood, pools of stagnant water led to outbreaks of typhus fever. His wife Ann died from the disease on 19 March 1852, aged 41.[6] In an unusual coincidence, woollen weaver John Earnshaw of Burnlee, whose wife was also called Ann, died on the day before of the same fever.[7]

Notes and References

  1. This John Earnshaw was baptised on 23 July 1809 at All Hallows, Kirkburton.
  2. Leeds Intelligencer (14/Feb/1852).
  3. "State of the Holme-Sties Reservoir" in Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Feb/1852).
  4. "Holmfirth: Attempting to Pick Pockets" in Huddersfield Chronicle (21/Feb/1852).
  5. "Holmfirth: Vagrancy" in Huddersfield Chronicle (20/Mar/1852).
  6. "Deaths" in Huddersfield and Holmfirth Examiner (27/Mar/1852).
  7. There appears to have been a connection between the two men, as Betty Cartwright (the sister-in-law of John Earnshaw of Burnlee) was recorded living as a "relative" with constable John Earnshaw in the 1851 Census.