Robert Law
1840 - 1907. Geologist.

From Socalist --- To Conservative.

Robert Law was born in Walsden on the 21st June 1840 and was the 10th and last child of John and Betty (nee Jackson) Law. They lived at North Hollingworth (Lancashire) and were handloom weavers. Shortly after his arrival, his two oldest brothers married and left home to live in the valley bottom where they could be closer to the mills and a better living. Robert grew up with his parents and 7 older siblings, happy to be in the countryside where he took a great interest in insects, birds and nature in general. At the age of seven he was sent to the village school for the first time but Robert was a reluctant pupil, often playing truant to spend his days in the fields and on the moors collecting stones and studying the wildlife. So disinterested at school was he, that he barely learnt how to hold a pen, and could neither read nor write by the time he left school 3 years later at the age of 10.
He floated about aimlessly, thinking about little other than his collection of stones. Soon, he had so many in his drawers and cupboards that his mother made him put them all in the garden where they were made in to a rockery. Eventually, he was made to start work in a mill, probably alongside his older sisters, Hannah and Betty. He was still semi-literate, even at 14 years old, and faced ridicule from other mill workers. He decided to do something about it and started classes at a Walsden night school and at slack times at the mill would be seen doing practice sums and letters on the floor with a piece of chalk.
Perhaps because his love of science and nature made him seem odd to his contempories, he was anxious to be part of a group, and at the age of 17 he fell in with an unworthy crowd. He gave up night school and for a few years he lost the desire to pursue his scientific leanings. He led a wild and reckless life with his unsavoury companions and his behaviour was quite notorious throughout the district. Fortunately, before he was totally ruined and disgraced, he saw the error of his ways, shook off the associates, and went back to night school. He also joined the newly formed Walsden Working Men's Institute and was a regular attendee for the next 16 years. At the Institute he joined a grammar class, an art class and also learnt the art of taxidermy. When science classes commenced in Todmorden he went here also.
One day he happened to see a pamphlet about the science of geology and fossil collecting. This was a surprise to him, as he hadn't previously realised that what he was doing in all his spare time was geology, and it was also a surprise that it was a popular science with volumes of books on the subject. He was filled with renewed interest and he began to inspect his neglected stone and fossil collection in the rockery at his home. He started to study the rocks around Walsden and Todmorden and all his spare money was spent on books and journeys to different places. He still needed to work at the mill, but his books went with him. He visited all the coal pits, quarries and ravines hunting for fossils.

Robert Law.
Robert was fortunate to meet a geologist by the name of John Aitken from Bacup, and through him, many people with like minds. He continued his studies and qualified as a teacher. In 1878 he was asked to take a class of geology students at the Walsden Institute under the Science and Art Department. He had a plain but effective method of teaching and he possessed to a remarkable degree, the power of winning the interest and devotion of his students. In a few years he was in great demand as a teacher, and had classes every evening in the week, as well as on Saturday afternoons. Among the places he taught were Bacup, Rochdale, Shaw, Oldham, Hebden Bridge, Halifax and many others.
In 1881 Robert aged 40 was still working in the mill as a weaver, unmarried and still living at North Hollingworth. His parents were both dead by this time, but his sister Betty and her family (husband Peter and three daughters) had taken over the old homestead..
Robert continued with his teaching, and now had enough money to travel further afield. He attended summer courses in Geology at South Kensington and read important papers to societies throughout the country. On February 10th 1886 he was elected as a fellow of the Geological Society of London and on 23rd July that same year he married Elizabeth Ann Blackburn, a teacher with the Halifax School Board (and one of his former students from Halifax). His former and present pupils presented him with a splendid binocular microscope, which cost 40, in commemoration of his marriage. Robert and Elizabeth lived at Cromwell Terrace in Halifax after their marriage. Robert's wife was equally fascinated by geology, and together they travelled the country in search of fossils. One of their favourite places for this was the Isle of Man. As a member of the British Association of Geologists, Robert travelled to Montreal, Canada for an annual meeting. Being especially interested in the origins and history of man, he with Tattersall Wilkinson and Abraham Crossley opened, on 7th July 1898, the Blackheath Barrow (Todmorden), a Bronze Age burial ground.

Fennyroyd Hall (House), Hipperholme.

When Robert and Elizabeth retired, they bought a lovely big house in Hipperholme called Fennyroyd Hall (also refered to as Fenny Royd House). Here they displayed all their valuable flints and fossils, said to be the most extensive and valuable private collection in the country. They also collected rare books, pictures and antique oak furniture. The house was a museum. Both Robert and Elizabeth gave up teaching, but Robert continued collecting, and took an occasional commission as a geological expert in connection with new reservoirs, well sinking, and other similar projects. In 1902 Robert was elected a member of the Hipperholme District Council, and 3 years later was re-elected at the head of the poll. He developed strong Conservative leanings and became one of the leaders of Conservatism in the area. He was closely identified with The Primrose League and was President of the Hipperholme and Lightcliffe Conservative Association. In December 1907, Robert was taken ill with stomach problems, which developed into heart trouble, and he died about 10-30pm on Sunday 29th December 1907, the funeral taking place at Brighouse Cemetery. His fossils were donated to the Natural History Museum in London.

Index Page Acknowledgements to:-
Calderdale Companion, Malcolm Bull.
Rootsweb Freepages.
Todmorden and Hebden Bridge 1908 Almanac.