Mary Died of a Broken Heart

I have no doubt that the real cause of my great-grandmother’s death was a broken heart. She had experienced one grief too many and after the death of her daughter, she gave up and her heart gave out.

Alice Mary Knight, my great-grandmother, was born in the small village of West Bromwich, Staffordshire in 1875.1 Mary’s love story started in Birmingham, about six miles away. She went to Birmingham to work and met John Deakin at the rooming house where they were living.2 John also came from a nearby village. They were single, away from their families, and most certainly lonely. They married in 1900 and almost immediately moved to Sheffield, 90 miles away.3

The move to Sheffield would have been difficult. While Mary and John had each other, they would certainly have been homesick. Especially as their son, my grandfather, George Deakin, was born soon after they moved. In a strange city with a newborn, far from her mother and sisters, Mary would certainly have missed living in the village.

John found a mining job in Sheffield and he possibly worked for the Tinsley Park Collieries, situated very close to where John and Mary lived.Mary would have been alone most of the day as miners often worked 12-hour shifts. This young couple could have no inkling that the mine would unravel their lives.

In 1905, their little family was complete with the birth of George’s sister, Alice Gertrude Deakin.4

When George finished school, he went on to apprentice as a fitter, also at a mine, and possibly the one his father worked at.5 Fitters repaired and maintained machinery. George always worked at the surface of the mine. But he knew that it would not be long before he would be asked to work below ground. He was a short man and therefore an ideal size for moving around in the close spaces below ground. “I did not want to work below ground in the mine,” Gramps would say every time someone asked him why he came to Canada.

When George came to Canada in 1922, he had not yet decided whether he would stay.6 As soon as he arrived, he went out west by train to work on the wheat farms, to bring in the harvest. When the work dried up on the farms, he returned east to Montreal and met my grandmother, Grace Hunter. He was content living in Montreal. He married my grandmother and they had two children, Jack and Patricia. He had a job he enjoyed and worked there all his life, even during the Great Depression. George went on with his life but I cannot help but think that his mother must have been sorry he was so far away. Mary must have regretted George’s job at the mine, the catalyst for his emigration to Canada. It is unlikely that George ever went back to England for a visit, possibly because he may have felt that he could not take the time off work. A week to get there, a day’s journey by train to get to his parents’ house, and then the return. My grandparents were not rich, so money would have also been a consideration.

In 1935, John and Mary received more bad news. John had laryngeal cancer. At the time they did not know it, but mining is now considered a risk factor for laryngeal cancer. John underwent surgery to address the cancer, but he had heart failure from the shock of the operation and died on the operating table.7

After the death of her husband, Mary and her daughter, Alice, decided to move back to the village of Smethwick, John’s birthplace. Both John and Mary’s family were in the area. At least Mary would be close to some family members. Mary purchased a house and Alice found a job as a timekeeper at W&T Avery, a spring balance manufacturer.8

Tragedy struck again about ten years later when Alice was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Alice Gertrude died in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham on November 1, 1951. Alice’s friend and neighbour, Marie Evans, was the informant on the death certificate.9

Within a week of Alice’s death, Mary changed her will.10 She must have already been seriously ill and, although we don’t know for sure, the urgency would have been to dispose of the house. Mary died of a heart attack less than two months after the death of her daughter. She was a widow, her son lived far away, and her daughter had died. The sorrow would have been overwhelming.  Mary died at home on New Year’s Eve in 1951, in the company of her younger brother, Benjamin.10

Mary’s new will left 20£ to her brother, Benjamin, for being the executor of her estate. She left a few bequests of 5£ to some of her friends and to the Firth Alms House in Sheffield, Yorkshire. Mary required that all of her other possessions, including her house, be sold and bequeathed to her son, George, in Canada.11

Mary must have felt that she lost her son to Canada and that when her daughter died in 1951, that the future was bleak. When death gently came to claim her just two months after her daughter’s death, Mary did not fight back.

  1. Certified copy of an entry of birth, Alice Mary Knight, born April 17, 1875, extract dated May 4, 2021.
  2. Certified copy of an entry of marriage, John Thomas Deakin and Alice Mary Knight, November 25, 1900, St. Paul’s Church, Aston, Harwick, extract dated May 25, 2021.
  3. 1901 census, Tinsley, Yorkshire, John Deakin and Mary Deakin, referenced January 1, 2016.
  4. Copy of an entry of birth, Alice Gertrude Deakin, born July 19, 1905, referenced July 27, 2021.
  5. Declaration of passage, George Thomas Deakin, Form 30A, referenced October 2, 2009.
  6. Idem.
  7. Copy of an entry of death, John Thomas Deakin, died July 8, 1935, referenced October 29, 2021.
  8. 1939 Register, Findmypast, Deakin, Alice G. and Deakin, Alice M., Alice is registered as a timekeeper at a balance manufacturer. Mary is registered as unpaid domestic help, referenced June 24, 2017. 
  9. Copy of an entry of death, Alice Gertrude Deakin, died November 1, 1951, referenced August 29, 2021.  The informant was Marie Evans, neighbour and friend. The law is specific about who can register a death in England: a relative, someone who was present at the death, an employee of a public house where the death occurred, or the person making the funeral arrangements. As Marie Evans was not a relative, she was allowed to register the death if she made the funeral arrangements. As such, the death certificate states that Marie Evans was “causing the body to be buried.” This way Marie Evans was able to allow her to register the death.
  10. The Last Will and Testament of Alice Mary Deakin, dated November 1, 1951 and probate, dated February 6, 1952, referenced August 12, 2021.
  11. Copy of an entry of death, Alice Mary Knight, died December 31, 1951, referenced August 8, 2021.

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