Echoes of the past: The sad death of young Rob Roy MacGregor

Rob Roy's grace is in Brighouse Cemetery
Rob Roy's grace is in Brighouse Cemetery

During the early 1960s, I like many other students from St Martin’s Secondary School, Church Lane, having spent my bus fare would have to walk home to Stoney Lane through Brighouse Cemetery and then cut through the prefabs at Whinny Hill. A lasting memory from those days was whilst walking through the cemetery and seeing the grave of a young boy called Rob Roy MacGregor. I visited the cemetery this week to remind myself about this young boy who died at the age of five.

Young Rob Roy Herbert Henry MacGregor, to give him his full name, died on 27 March 1899, and lived at Slead House in Halifax Road. His father was Herbert, who is described as a stone quarry owner with a number of employees and was born in 1867 in Hull. Whilst his mother Georgina was born in 1874 in Wakefield. Rob born in 1894 was the oldest of three children. His younger sisters Moonah (b:1895) and Helen (b:1898) and like Rob were born in Brighouse.

Walk round any nineteenth century cemetery and the number of children who died under the age of ten is always high. To read about young Rob might just draw the expected sympathies as you walk past his grave and see his age. However, once you discover how he died makes his death even sadder - he swallowed a sixpence.

When I saw the grave back in the 1960s, the cherub like figure held a stone cut coin in its hand pointing towards the words, ‘Heaven is my Home’. words which his devasted parents would have suggested. Sadly over the 118 years since young Rob so tragically died the coin has long since worn away.

Rob’s death was certified by Dr. Robert Thompson Farrer and the Registrar was Mr Tom Denham. It was only a few years later that he himself had a sudden death in his own family. His son Joseph Barstow Denham who had emigrated from Brighouse hoping to make a new life for himself in Toronto, Canada, died suddenly aged 35 years on 16 May 1916. On Rob’s death certificate it states that the cause of death was ‘Coin lodged in Oesophagus’.

The remaining members of the MacGregor family are listed on the 1901 census along with a Georgina Seal, who was a visiting aunt and Florence Rimmington who was employed as a mother’s help. The family do not appear on the Brighouse census for 1911.

For decades this grave acted as a timely reminded to parents walking through the cemetery with their own small children. When the children would be told, ‘Don’t do what Rob Roy did’. Advice that is as good today as it was then.

Today, passersby often leave a silver coin on Rob’s grave as a reminder of what happened to him just as I did on my visit. Sadly it is not long before the same coin disappears.