Wilfred Bancroft DCM....a local hero of WW1



Wilfred Bancroft DCM
This is the story of  a Wilfred Bancroft who died in WW1, and was a local hero in his home district of Southowram, near Halifax in Yorkshire after being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

[The only picture available of Wilfred is this rather grainy one from the Halifax newspaper of the time.]

Wilfred was the son of Arthur and Elizabeth Bancroft and was born in 1895 in Halifax, Yorkshire. His father was a tailor, and the family moved away from Halifax to Lincoln around 1900. The 1911 census shows Wilfred, with his parents and six brothers and sisters living at 58 Princess Street, Lincoln, with Wilfred’s occupation listed as a ‘Moulder’.



1911 census

However before the outbreak of WW1 in 1914, the family had moved back to Halifax, because the following attestation papers show Wilfred's address as School Lane, Southowram, Halifax when he enlisted in the West Yorkshire Regiment on 27th October 1914.


Attestation paper

Military records show his rise through the ranks was fairly swift, because by April 1916 he had been promoted to a Corporal, and a month later in May he was made a Sergeant.

Wilfred's early service was not without danger, as the following casualty report shows. He was hospitalised several times between August 1915 to November 1916, with a shell wound to the head and also with rheumatism....a common complaint with soldiers spending long periods in the trenches.

Casualty Report
Wilfred was official awarded the Distinguised Conduct Medal [DCM] on 14th March 1916 for what was described as ‘conspicuous gallantry’ on 14th December 1915 when, during the gas attack and under heavy fire, he went over the top from the front trench to his Commanding Officer to report the state of affairs.

The Distinguished Conduct Medal, was established in 1854 by Queen Victoria as a decoration for gallantry in the field by other ranks of the British Army. It is the oldest British award for gallantry and was a second level military decoration until it was discontinued in 1993. During the First World War the concern arose that the overwhelming number of medals that were being awarded was devaluing the prestige of those already awarded. The Military Medal for bravery in battle on land was therefore instituted on 25 March 1916, as an alternative award to the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The lesser Military Medal was usually awarded for bravery from this date and the Distinguished Conduct Medal was reserved for exceptional acts of bravery. Around 25,000 Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded during the First World War.

 The full details surrounding Wilfred's bravery, which merited the DCM, were described as follows in military records:

"At length Lieut Marshall decided to send a messenger to Battalion H.Q The way lay across ground which was swept by machine gun fire ; only one bridge was left over the canal and that was being heavily shelled. It required no mean courage to volunteer for such a mission. Just then Pte W.Bancroft crawled into F35 with a report from Sec.-Lieut. W. N. Everitt. This man knew well the dangers of the journey for he had been with Sec.-Lieut W. E. Hinton, when the latter had been wounded on that very ground only a few days before.Yet as soon as he heard what was wanted, he offered to take the message. He reached Battalion H.Q. unhurt delivered his message, and supplemented it with a very clear report of his own. He then returned to Lieut. Marshall with a cheery message from the Commanding Officer, and afterwards crawled back to his post in F34. Few Distinguished Conduct Medals have been better earned than the one he received for his gallantry on this occasion.”
[In the margin of my copy in pencil is written very true and the initials look like JBM]

From an article in the Halifax Courier newspaper it seems that was quite a local hero. Earlier that year on 17th February1916 , Wilfred had been home on leave and was honored by the inhabitants of Southowram, when at a gathering at the Mechanics Institute he was presented with a wrist watch, comb and case, pocket wallet, cigarette case and pipe….the gifts being in appreciation of his bravery, which marked the fact the he was the first person in Southowram to be awarded the DCM.
The paper then reported on the incident of the previous December when Wilfred 
'had taken the message to headquarters, it being an exceeding dangerous journey over a considerable distance, where he had to adopt various tactics to get through the Germans because it was daylight and he was fired upon both with rifles and machine guns.‘His perilous adventure was a means of saving the situation’.

Then later that year in September, his mother had received one of those letters all families dreaded from his commanding officer saying
“I am sorry  to be conveying the news that after taking the 1st line trench, we were driven out, but Wilfred never came back. I am strongly hoping that Wilfred had been taken prisoner,…. he had been a hero many times, and everyone thinks a great deal about him.”

Sadly Wilfred never did came back, and was not taken prisoner either. His Army Medal Index Card shows him 'pres [presumed] dead on 3/9/16'

Medal Index Card

 He died at Schwaben Redoubt, which was a German strong point near the village of Thiepval in France and had been under bombardment by British troops for some time. On the 3rd September, when the 49th (West Riding) Division attacked the area from the west in a morning fog, they crossed no man's land but were defeated, when German artillery and machine gun fire swept the British troops and German infantry counter-attacked from the flanks, using hand grenades. Wilfred was hit by one of the enemy grenades, and failed to make his way back. His body was never recovered, and he is therefore commemorated with all the other fallen at the nearby Theipval Memorial.

Thiepval Memorial


After the War ended, Thiepval had been chosen as the location for the Memorial to the missing to commemorate those who died in the Somme sector before the 20th of March 1918, many thousands with no known grave. This is the largest and most imposing of the Memorials and at the time of the unveiling in 1932 there were 73,357 names of fallen or missing soldiers.

Southowram Memorial

More locally, Wilfred is also listed in his home town at the Southowram War Memorial.


Bancroft child labour in the Yorkshire Mills



Mill girl -  circa  1900


As a child, I have memories of my Grandmother telling me of how as a young girl, growing up in the late 19th century, she only went to school in the afternoons, and was expected to work in the local mill during the mornings.
She told of the mill overlooker in charge of her machines, walking round and checking that the children had cleaned up all the waste that was scattered around from the looms, and if this had not been cleared away, they all got a good slap with his leather belt.

 This got me thinking, because by the time my Grandmother was working half days in the mill as a child, around 1900, although we may think the conditions were harsh, many changes had already taken place with legislation, to help improve the working conditions and education of young children earlier in the century.

Working conditions in the northern mills were harsh and children were employed because they were cheap labour, and their families were desperate for any money which could be brought into the household. Looking through the census records from 1841 onwards, there are many entries showing Bancroft children working in Yorkshire wool and cotton mills, some as young as eight years of age, with occupations such as worsted weaver, factory jobber, spinner, errand boy, spoolwinder, factory hand [boys and girls], wool drawer, doffer and mill hand, to name just a few.

These might have been thought of as the lucky ones!...away from the mills, there were also Bancroft children listed as  stone getters in a quarry, and  one poor  eleven year old boy was even listed as a coal miner!

Timothy Bancroft - 1851 census
 My Great-Grandfather Timothy Bancroft, had all his children working, apart from the youngest as the above census record shows. One son, my Grandfather also called Timothy, must have thought of himself as the luckiest child,as he was working in a mill, often called ‘worsted factory’ on census records at the age of 9 years. The other working children, were all working in a nearby quarry as ‘Stone Getters’ which was the usual term for labourers in a stone quarry. This must have been a hard way of earning a living, particularly for children.

Shown below are extracts from local newspapers of 1833, describing the desperate plight of some young children, and the ill treatment they had to endure in some of the Keighley Mills…..[please be aware this make grim reading.]

courtesy of http://www.valendale.myby.co.uk/

Many children (and adults) worked 16-hour days. As early as 1819, Factory Acts were passed to limit the working hours of workhouse children in factories and mills to 12 hours per day. These acts were largely ineffective and so a Factory Inquiry Commission was set up in 1833 to look at the problem. They went round the country interviewing mill owners and workers. In Leeds, three thousand desperate children marched past the hotel where the commissioners were staying to protest about child labour.

An inspector, called George Crabtree,  was collecting facts to support a 10 hours' Bill in Parliament, and made a brief tour of the Calderdale area. His findings make disturbing reading, and although he was not allowed to interview the employees of a local mill called Walker Priestleys, he did manage to talk to Mary Holland, a child age 11, who was sick at home at the time. His report stated:
“Her illness was occasioned by overwork. She had been ill for 6 weeks, and worked 6 to 8 [14 hours] with very little time allowed for meals. Mr Priestley had a strap pocket, in which he put a strap, and sometimes beats her with a billy roller and raises great lumps on her head. She says that they break their heads at Rawson's factory. They clear the mill during meal times. They stop their wages for going late of doing anything wrong. Her brother was poorly about a year ago with weakness in his knees. He is 12 years of age and she is 11. They have 3/- a fortnight, and her mother is a widow with 6 children”.
Child workers - c 1840

Giving evidence to Inspector George Crabtree, the Rev John Crossley of St John’s Church, Cragg Vale told him:
“I have just interned a poor boy that used to work 15 and 16 hours a day. He was aged 11 and when he died, a short time before he went for some wool and he was so overcome with sleep that when he got his arms full of wool, he fell down asleep with the remainder. He was missing and sought after and was found in a posture of almost standing on his head with his arms full of wool. The master gave him a savage beating with a strap to awaken the poor boy”.
Reports to the Commission showed that children as young as 5, but more often 7, were employed in some of the mills. They were working 14 - 16 hours a day, with short breaks for meals. The reports also showed that there was a lot of cruelty, with children being whipped and badly treated. Some of the children were deformed by the work – the long hours would make them tired and clumsy and there would be accidents as they were caught up in the machinery. The Commission recommended in 1833 that children aged 11–18 should work a maximum of 12 hours per day, children aged 9–11 a maximum of eight hours, and children under the age of nine should no longer be permitted to work. This act, however, only applied to the textile industry, and further agitation led to another act in 1847 limiting both adults and children to 10-hour working days.

1871 census
Moving forward in time, another example a Bancroft child working in a mill is little Willie Bancroft, the son of John Bancroft ,a stonemason from Cullingworth, near Bradford. At the age of only 8 years, Willie is shown on the 1871 census as a ‘doffer’ in the local mill, a job which entailed changing full bobbins for empty ones on the spinning machines. When the bobbins on the spinning frames were full, the machinery stopped. The doffers would swarm onto the machines and, as quickly as possible, change all the bobbins, after which the machinery would be restarted and the doffers were free to amuse themselves until the next change-over. On the newer and taller frames, the doffers often had to climb to reach the bobbins, which lead to many accidents. Doffing boys were free to do what they liked once they had completed a doffing, as long as they stayed within earshot of the "throstle jobber," who would whistle when they were next needed. They were motivated to do the work as fast as possible, since this gave them as long as possible to play. Between ten and twelve boys could handle a factory with about ten thousand throstle spindles, depending on the amount of yarn being spun.


To bring this sad story forward in time to the beginning of the 1900’s, here is an extract from a book written by Tom Bancroft O.B.E.  [1897-1985] where he related his memories about working half-days in the local mill in the early 1900’s, and although by today’s standards this may seems harsh, it is nothing like the hell that children were enduring 70-80 years previously, and shows just how far things had improved due to changes in legislation.

Tom Bancroft [centre with his 2 brothers]








The day started with a wild shriek of the mill “whew” [mill hooter] gently rattling his bedroom window at 5.30am. This was it!....He had been lying awake for a long time waiting for this great day, when he ceased to be a school kid and became a man. He had been looking forward to this for months, and had been fully accepted by the Spinning Department Manager at W.H.Foster’s Mill, Denholme to start work at six o’clock that morning, a beautiful day, 6th June 1908…his eleventh birthday. After a pot of tea with his father, who was an Overlooker at the same mill, they both set off for work, up the main street to ….THE MILL!


Millworkers starting at Foster's Denholme.
His father then left him in the scurrying crowd of other part-timers at the mill door at around 6.00am, with a tap on his back, saying “ See you at 8.00 o’clock lad.” If anyone arrived late, they had to wait until the door was reopened again, and lost an hour's pay.
 After making his way to the Spinning Rooms, he was directed to the Overlooker, Percy Myers, who was walking along the long isles banging the floor with a foot wide strip of leather, some 4-5 feet long, attached to a short wooden shaft. The noise this made on the floor could be heard above the howling of the two long rows of spinning frames. Percy’s first words to Tom, on seeing his size was “ I’ll hev ta finned thee a box ta stand on”. He then met Sarah, a nice lass of about seventeen, who looked after some spinning frames, and was given instruction as to what to do as a new “doffer”. He watched the more experienced boys and girls till 8.00 o’clock when the “Whew” blew again, and joined the swarm of men, women, boys and girls pouring out of the main gate. Just enough time to get home for breakfast and then back before the doors closed again at 8.30 am so he could get back to Sarah, before the Overlooker’s whistle blew to start work again. From then till 12.00 he then followed on, copying the other boys and getting the hang of doffing. It took him weeks before he do this properly, and found school dull after a morning in the mill. He couldn’t wait to get back again the following morning.
After he had picked up the knack of doffin, Sarah gave him some more instructions, about what to do when the thread broke on a bobbin. She was able to take the waste off the roller on the spinning frame, without stopping it and start it on the bobbin again. He had watched her do this scores of times a day with just a finger and thumb, so had a go under her watchful eye. When he tried to do this, he had to jump back from the frame sucking a blistered thumb and finger. Sarah stood there laughing and said “ It’s no good laking wi’ it, th’sta grab it ‘ard afore it burns tha”. He collected a few more blisters before he got the knack, but then enjoyed watching the new lads burn their fingers as they also learned the knack.

 The noise inside was frightening to anyone not used to it. The machines were driven by long leather belts, which would stretch the length of the room, or shed as it was known, and wrapped around huge wheels. The ends of the belts were fastened with metal clips, and if any of these gave way, due to wear and tear, the flying leather could, and did, cause serious injury. Despite the heat, the youngsters wore overalls, with the girls also wearing black stockings and clogs. Hair had to be kept fastened back out of the way of machinery, which in those days was unguarded and accidents were commonplace. Loose clothing, like the short smocks worn by the men, was easily caught up unless the greatest care was taken. The smell of lanolin, the natural wool oil, clung to clothing, and grease from the machinery made floors very slippery as it soaked into the floorboards. All this made the mills a serious fire hazard. Children of eleven years of age, both boys and girls, started as doffers, who had the job of removing the full bobbins from the spinning frames and replacing them with empty ones. For this they received 1s 6d (7.5p) per week. They were supervised by older ones who had become proficient at it and then graduated to spinning. The many and varied processes in a woollen mill all required nimble fingers and a keen eye. Broken threads had to be joined with a neat, flat knot. A poorly repaired knot was known as a “slub”, and the inspector could identify which spinning shed this had come from, so that the careless worker could be reprimanded.
When his twelfth birthday arrived, it found him as a fully trained doffer, and he automatically became a 53 hours a week full-time mill worker. On Friday, payday, he proudly handed his wage of half-a-crown to his mother, who always gave him something back. He felt he had grown up and was justifying his existence in a fine family life.”

The 1911 census shown below confirms Tom's job at the mill as a 'bobbin pegger', which is an alternative description for a 'doffer'

1911 census
Whilst today we still shudder at the practice of young children having to work long hours in mills from an early age under harsh and sometimes dangerous conditions, Tom Bancroft's memories of his early days in the mill does show how, due to the efforts of many decent people, who campaigned for changes on the law, this practice did improve throughout the 19th century so that children were eventually working shorter hours in a safer environment, and getting an education…albeit for only half days, and it some ways they may have been the lucky ones!.....Going back to the 1860's, Joseph Bancroft, a quarry master from Oxenhope had his 11 year old son working as a 'coal miner' as the following census proves.....one can only hope that the poor lad was working above ground, doing open-cast work, rather than underground down a coal pit.

1861 census


I just want to finish this article, with this picture of children coming out of the mill, after finishing their daily toil....they look happy with smiles on their faces, so it looks as though at least these children were not mistreated.
Children leaving their mill work

Smallpox around the Haworth area





I recently was doing some research into Bancroft burials in the Haworth area of Yorkshire, and was stuck by the number of individuals, mainly children, who died from smallpox in the the late 18th century.

Smallpox was an infectious viral disease which was evident for centuries in places with poor sanitation, poverty, and malnutrition. Worldwide millions of poor people died, and there was no cure. By the end of the 18th century the disease was following the natural course, burning itself out on the human population, confining itself to those with the lowest immune capabilities.....young children and the old.

The village of Haworth, as most people know is the home of the Bronte sister, and far from the romantic image that all their writing conjures up, it was in fact a grim place to live in those times.

Haworth main street
Much has been written about the appalling sanitation conditions in the village, before Rev’d, Patrick Bronte managed to get the authorities to do something about it, and these factors obviously had some impact on the mortality rates at that time, particularly amongst children.


Over 40% of children died before attaining the age of six years, and the school records from this time are testament to the poor health of local children with many dying from smallpox, measles, whooping cough and scarlet fever. The average age of death in the village was 25.8 years, which was about the same as in Whitechapel, St.George-in-the-East, and St.Luke, three of the most unhealthy of the London districts.





As the following page from the Haworth burial records shows in September/October 1794, smallpox was rampant in the area around this time. The records for this six week period shows 15 out of the 20 burials in this small village were due to smallpox, and nearly all were young children.


Haworth Burials-1794


Shown near the bottom of this burial records page is the entry for a poor child of 2 years of age, Ann Bancroft, who was the daughter of William and Ann Bancroft.
William and Ann lived in a small isolated farmhouse know as ‘ Old Snap’ which is still there today on the outskirts of Haworth. Just surviving must have been a daily toil for William and his family, due to the rough moorland that surrounded them, were he scratched out a living as a hand loom weaver. I wrote an article about how life was for a hand loom weaver previously, which can be read here.

Old Snap Farm - 2015

William married Ann Binns in 1785 at Haworth Church, even though where they lived was actually in the Keighley Parish area, most marriages around there took place at Haworth, because that was geographically nearer.
They had at least five children, Ann being their fourth child.
William is listed as a weaver in the Craven Muster Rolls of 1803, This was an important historical document produced in 1803, when England declared war against France and the threat of invasion by Napoleon made it necessary to prepare the whole of the active male population of the country between the ages of 17 and 55 for military training, but not military service. The purpose of the lists was to organise reserves of men, not already serving in the military services, who would be required to take on such duties as evacuation of the civilian population, moving food supplies and gathers arms and equipment in the event of an invasion. 

Haworth burial 1823


William seems to have lived his whole life in the area around Old Snap, and died in 1823, and was buried at Haworth Churchyard, as the following parish record shows, written by the hand of Rev’d Patrick Bronte. 

His wife Ann and family seem to have carried on living in the same area, but not at Old Snap, After William's death,  Ann is shown as living nearby at Deanfield as a servant with a farmer called Joseph Heaton…the Heaton family being the large landowners in the area at the time, and the owners of Old Snap farm, which the Bancroft had probably been renting from them.

1841 census

Looking briefly at the history of Smallpox, various methods to find a cure were tried over the centuries which included warming and cooling the body, and using plant and herb mixtures made into an unpleasant jollop, but nothing seemed to be have been an effective cure which meant that only the strong, or lucky survived the disease. Smallpox was the first disease for which a vaccination was tried. It all started with Edward Jenner at the end of the 1700s. who found a vaccine which saved the world from the dreaded smallpox...a disease which had plagued the human race for centuries. Mass inoculation programs were instituted in many countries worldwide, usually backed by the government. The vaccine supposedly immunized people for life.
Edward Jenner
 Edward Jenner was the English "physician" in the late 1700s who took note of an old superstition that milk-maids who got a mild disease known as cowpox supposedly didn't get smallpox. As an experiment, Jenner came up with the idea of drawing serum from an infected cowpox pustule on the skin of an infected milkmaid. He then injected the infected pus into a perfectly healthy person, on the theory that contact with this "milder" disease would allow the subject to develop immunity to the more deadly smallpox, his theory being  that this cow-pox is smallpox of the cow. Therefore, if you give a person cow-pox, it is the same as smallpox, only in a very mild form. And it would not be infectious.
However many people were suspicious of  what side effects, if any, could be suffered from having the cowpox vaccine, and this 1802 cartoon shows the early controversy surrounding Jenner's vaccination theory, suggesting the use of his cowpox-derived smallpox vaccine could cause cattle to emerge from patient's bodies, and titled " The wonderful effects of the new inoculation!"


The vaccination was however very successful, so much so that by 1853, Parliament began passing laws to make the vaccine compulsory throughout the British empire. Other countries of Europe followed suit. It was however, not until 1977 that smallpox disappeared worldwide.

Yorkshire Tyke's Dialect

John & Hettie's wedding  - 1911


I recently met someone who commented on my Yorkshire accent, and as I  have never thought that I have a strong accent said to them “ If you think my accent is strong, you should have heard my Grandparents talking!”


This got me thinking about the old Yorkshire dialect, and how it has largely disappeared from modern day life.


 It is often referred to as broad Yorkshire or Tyke, not to be confused with modern day slang.


 Here are some memories of my Grandparents, John and Hettie Bancroft, who were farmers in Thornton near Bradford, and who  all their life spoke using quite a strong dialect, with words and phrases that you never hear nowadays. As a young child in the 1950’s I remember them using some of the following words and phrases to describe things in everyday life:





“Tha’s cack-handed!” when they saw me trying to use a hammer with my left hand, instead of trying to be right-handed.

“ Is te’ starved?” when they were trying to find out if I was cold….I thought they were asking if I was hungry!

“Fetch coyl in from’t coyl hoyl”….bring some coal in from the coalhouse.

"Its siling darn artside"....Its raining heavily outside

Some of the other words and phrases I remember them saying were:

                                            Allus - always
                                            Appen  -  maybe                                                         
                                            Aye – maybe
                                            Aye up - hello
                                            Backend’ish – autumn time 
                                            Bahn - going
                                            Bah't - without                                          
                                            Be reight – it’ll be alright
                                            Brass – money                                                            
                                            Braying – beating                     
                                            Clout – slap                                                                
                                            Coit – coat                                          
                                            Fair ‘t middlin – somewhere in the middle                      
                                            Fettle – mend              
                                            Fowk – folk/people                                                     
                                            Ginnel – alleyway
                                            Flittin’ – moving house     
                                            Lakin' - playing                                        
                                            Tha'mun - you must
                                            No'but - nothing but
                                            Ow do – how are you                                               
                                            Seethe – do you see
                                            Summat – something                                                   
                                            Watter – water
                                            Wick - lively
                                            Yonder – over there

And a few of their phrases I remember were:

                                     Put wood in’t hoyl – shut the door
                                     Side t’ pots – clear the table
                                     Appy as a pig in muck – very happy
                                     Nother use nor orniment – useless
                                     Were ya born in a barn? – close the door
                                     Stop lakin' a'bart - stop messing about




















My grandmother was very fond of a Yorkshire poet called John Hartley [1839-1915], who was from Halifax, and was famous for writing verse in Yorkshire dialect. She left me a book of his most famous poems. Here is one of my favorites…you might have to read it a few times before fully understanding it, as I did….[my computer’s spellchecker just gave up trying to understand it!]


‘I thi’ Gronfayther’s Days 
A’a Johnny! A’a Johnny! Aw’m sooary for thee!
But come thi ways to me, an sit o’ mi knee,
For it’s shockin’ to hearken to th’ words ‘at tha says,
Ther wor nooan sich like things i’ thi gronfayther’s days.

When aw wor a lad, lads wor lads, tha knows then,
But nahdays they owt to be ‘shamed o’ thersen,
For they smook, an’ they drink, an’ get other bad ways,
Things wor different once i’ thi gronfayther’s days.

Aw remember th’ furst day aw went a coortin’ a bit,
An’ walked aght thi gronny, awst niver forget,
For we blushed wol us faces wor all in a blaze,
It wor nooa sin to blush i’ thi’ gronfayther’s days

Ther’s nooa lasses nah, John, ‘at’s fit to be wed,
They’ve false teech i’ ther math, an false hair o’ ther heead,
They’re a make up o’ buckram, an’ waddin’ an’ stays,
But a lass wor a lass i’ thi gronfyther’s days.

At that time a tradesman dealt fairly wi’ th’ poor,
But nah a fair dealer can’t keep open th’ duer,
He’s a fooil if he fails, he’s a scamp if he pays,
Ther wor honest men lived I’ thi gronfayther’s days.

Ther’s chimleys an’ factrys i’ ivery nook nah,
But ther’s varry few ledt ‘at con fodder a caah,
An’ ther’s telegraff poles all o’th edge o’th highways, 
Whear grew bonny green trees i’ thi gronfyther’s days.

 We’re teld to be thankful for blessin’s at’s sent,
An’ aw hooap ‘at th’ll allus be blessed wi’ content, 
Tha mun make th’ best tha con o’ this world wol tha stays,
But aw wish tha’d been born i’ thi gronfyther’s days.


And to finish off on a lighter note, here is the verse most Yorkshire folk are familiar with.
                                               
             The Yorkshireman's Motto [with translation!]

'Ear all, see all, say nowt,                          Hear all, see all, say nothing 
Eyt all, sup all, pay nowt,                          Eat all, drink all, pay nothing
Un’ if ivver tha does owt fer nowt,             And if ever you do anything for nothing
Allus do it fer thissen.                               Always do it for yourself


John & Hellie - enjoying a holiday in Blackpool in the 1950's

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Do you have memories of family members using the Yorkshire dialect?.... if so please share them in the comments section below.

Worker's revolt in the Mills of Todmorden



Todmorden Mills circa 1900
When you think about the Yorkshire folk who were mill workers in the textile industry in the 19th century, it is usually concerning the wool trade, but there were many mills in Yorkshire that were involved in the cotton trade, an industry which was generally more common in adjoining Lancashire.

This is the story of the three mills which James Bancroft rented, at a time of expansion in the cotton trade in the late 1800’s.....a period in history of great industrial unrest in cotton manufacture, as workers went on strike for better wages and conditions.

 Millstead Mill known  as “Bancrofts Mill” together with Cinderhill Mill and Lob Mill were all in the town of Todmorden,  in the Upper Calder Valley, close to the Yorkshire-Lancashire border, and all  trading as ‘James Bancroft & Co’ at different times between 1890 to 1899.

James Bancroft was born around 1855 in a tiny weavers cottage at ‘Higher Hob Cote’ on the outskirts of Oakworth, Keighley, West Yorkshire. His parents Stephen and Hannah Bancroft brought up a family of thirteen children in this small cottage as a hand-loom weaver. I wrote an article about the difficult existence hand-loom weavers had some time ago, which can be read by clicking here. The family moved over to Burnley in Lancashire when James was a boy, probably because his father Stephen, found work in one of the local cotton mills. James went on to marry a  Frances Davenport of that town around September 1874. The 1881 census shows him living at 139 Abel Street Burnley with his wife and two young daughters, and lists his occupation at that time as a ‘Cotton Clothlooker’ which was an inspector in a cotton mill, in charge of checking finished woven cloth, and who would also remedy slight defects where required.  

1891 census
By the time of the next 1891 census, things had improved somewhat, because this shows them as living at Pickhall Terrace in Todmorden in 1891, with James’s occupation listed as an ‘employer’ and a ‘cotton manufacturer’, trading as James Bancroft & Co.  James and Frances were living alone on the day of the census, with the children listed as visitors at other addresses for some reason.

Millsteads Mill
Looking at James’s cotton manufacturing business at Millsteads Mill during the period between 1890 to 1891.
The earliest known details about the mill are that it was initially built around 1800, and traded under the name of Richard Ingham and Sons. From 1805 it then was occupied by at least four other companies until it became occupied by the Bancrofts 1890 and traded as “James Bancroft and Co” until 1899.
It seems as though James Bancroft only rented space in the mill during his time there because the Stansfield Rate Books of that time list the owner as a Mrs R Ingham, with the mill having a rateable value of £208.

During the Bancroft's time of manufacturing cotton from the mill there was a great deal of industrial unrest with the workers, leading to many strikes and walk outs, as well as much intimidation of the workers who continued to go into the mill during the unrest. The greatest period of unrest seems to have been shortly after James Bancroft took over the running of the mill.

In early 1891 a worker’s strike started which went on for over 24 weeks. The weaver’s  strike pay costing the local worker's union £20 to £30 weekly, whilst the weekly income of the local union was only £14, which must have caused a certain amount of concern amongst the workers and the union as the strike went on for many weeks. Members of the union received, according to the amount of their previous weekly contributions, either 3 shillings, 6 shillings or 9 shillings, with 2 shillings per loom extra, less 2d per loom deducted to form a special relief fund.


The Burnley Express on 7th January 1891 listed the early days of the strike as follows:
 'The strike of weavers at Millstead Mill, Todmorden, occupied by James Bancroft and Co is still unsettled and there are no signs of a settlement. The masters have issued notices asking for experienced workers to apply for the work, and stated that they are paying full price list for the wages. Also guaranteeing 24s a week for weavers who have four looms. The weavers issued a notice in reply asking weavers to keep away from Millsteads Mill during the dispute, and calling upon them not to be mislead by statements made by Bancroft and Co. The weavers also state that if the firm of masters will pay full list prices, they will resume work. A crowded meeting of workers employed by  Bancroft and Co of  Todmorden, was held on Monday evening, when deputations from the Northern Counties Weavers Association, and from Bolton and Todmorden were present, and urged the weavers to go on strike till the masters agreed to pay the fixed standard prices. The result of that is that about 150 weavers struck work yesterday afternoon’.

The following week the newspaper gave the following report, when it optimistically reported that the strike looked to be over, however this turned out to be incorrect:
‘The strike at Bancroft’s Millstead Mill at Todmorden, which had been going on for ten weeks is virtually at an end. Yesterday a meeting of the weavers was held at Castle Street School, when it was resolved to send a deputation to wait upon the employers, in order to try and come to terms. The deputation which consisted of two none members of the union, presented their report to the officials, whereupon it was announced to the meeting that if the masters adhered to the terms offered, the strike would be at an end tomorrow.’

By 21st February 1891 the local press started to report on further unrest within the worker's ranks, as their situation became ever more desperate: 
‘The strike at Bancroft Millstead Mill has now entered its 14th week. There has been some lively proceedings between strikers and the new hands, and it is said that a considerable number of summonses are to be issued regarding this.’
Cotton Mill Strikers

Cases of intimidation then started to appear in the courts. Here is a newspaper report of one such incident:
‘On Monday at Todmorden Police Court, Crabtree Marshall, weaver of Todmorden, was charged with intimidation by the act of following one Roseanna Greenwood to her home. The case arose out of the strike which has been going on at Bancroft’s mill at Todmorden. The complainant came out with other weavers at the mill, and for a time she received strike pay, and then got employment at another mill, whilst still receiving her strike pay. Eventually she went back to her usual employment. These acts seem to have aroused the ire of her fellow strikers, and on the 9th inst. They showed their disproval by forming a procession and accompanying her home, hooting on the way. A great deal of interest was centered in the case, which occupied the magistrates for 9 hours. The bench imposed a fine of 40s and costs, and ordered the defendant to pay 2 guineas towards the prosecutor’s fees. There are several other such cases, which were adjourned till next Thursday.’

The Todmorden Advertiser of 6th March 1891 reported that various workers at Millsteads Mill:
Were charged with assault against weavers in the strike, and later that month allegations of intimidation were made against non-union weavers.’

Finally by 2nd May 1891 the local press were able to report the end of this long strike:
‘The weavers of Bancroft & Co’s  mill at Todmorden have returned to work after a strike lasting 24 weeks. The firm agreed to pay scale wages.’

There seems to be no more reports in the press of strikes at Millsteads Mill, however on 18th April 1894 several thousand pounds worth of damage was caused by a fire at Bancroft’s Mill Todmorden. The fire was covered by insurance. The newspapers reported:
'Destructive fire at the works of Messrs Bancroft & Co. Millsteads Mill, Castle Street, in a portion of the mill known as “Old Building”, doing damage to the goods and machinery.'

The new steam fire engine - 1885
The risk of fire was ever present in cotton mills, due to poor working conditions, oil soaked floors, and the large amounts of flammable materials left lying about. The mill had suffered a similar fire a few years earlier on 30th December 1885, when the local press reported the following story:
‘Great fire at Millsteads Mill, Castle Street, estimated damage over £3,000. The new steam fire engine was employed for the first time. At first, there were doubts whether they were justified before it had been formally accepted and a trial made. The Surveyor, Clerk and one or two other members were appealed to, and ultimately Mr. John Dugdale, Chairman of the Fire Engine Committee, ordered it out.’

 During the 1890’s, whilst renting space at Millsteads Mill, James Bancroft also seemed to be renting space at  two smaller mills in Todmorden for cotton manufacture, and trading at all three  premises as ‘James Bancroft & Co’

Lob Mill


One of the other mills James Bancroft seems to have rented was Lob Mill in Todmorden, between 1893-1897, it having stood empty for several years beforehand when the owner, a John Hodgson, tried to sell it off. The following newspaper advert of 1888 describes the mill and contents in some detail and provides more information about the size of the premises.




'Freehold cotton mill and premises at Lob Mill near Todmorden to be sold by auction on 25th March 1888.
The valuable cotton spinning mill and weaving shed known as Lobb Mill with the steam and water power, shafting, piping, machinery and fixtures therein.
The buildings are well and substantially built of stone, and in good condition, and comprise boiler house, circular stone built chimney, beam engine house, main spinning mill, 5 storeys and attic, about 40 yards by 15 yards with projecting staircase and hoist house. One storey building forming cotton mixing and scutching rooms. Two-storey building forming beam, store and winding-on room. Weaving shed to hold 77 looms, and building forming office and smithy. The steam and water power comprise 2 double-flued steam boilers, 28 feet by 7 feet diameter; splendid beam steam engine compounded on McNaught’s principle with 28” and 24” cylinders, 6 foot stroke; breast water wheel with iron buckets, about 15hp; geared box hoist for 5 storeys, and the whole of the excellent polished shafting, gearing, piping etc throughout.'
The machinery consists of 11,502 mule and throstle spindles and 77 power looms, with full complement of preparing machinery.


Cinderhill Mill
The third mill James  rented space for cotton manufacture was Cinderhill Mill in Todmorden. It was owned in the 1890’s by the Ingham family, a family who owned several mills in the area at that time. A local business directory of 1891 listed James Bancroft & Co, as operating 1000 looms from Millsteads and Cinderhill Mills, which was a sizable operation, and must have employed many workers. Records also show that Cinderhill Mill was partly unused during this period and had a rateable value of £215. After James Bancroft’s occupation, it became an engineering works in 1908, and then converted back to cotton preparation, and was still operating as such until a few years ago.


Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of James Bancroft after his time in the Todmorden mills because by the time of the census in 1901, Frances is shown as living at Piccadilly Road, back in her home town of  Burnley, Lancashire, without James present at the address, but still listing herself as ‘married’ and an occupation as ‘Cotton Cloth Salesman’. Her four children, 2 sons and 2 daughters are all still living with her, but there is no sign of her husband James, either here or elsewhere, and no record of his death that I can find.

1901 census
The mystery of James disappearance continues, as by 1911, Frances and three of her four children had moved to Northendene in Cheshire, where Frances is now shown as having 'no occupation' presumably being supported by her family.

1911 census


The interesting fact is that even by 1911, she is still describing herself as ' married for 38 years!' It seems very odd that a man of such standing in the Todmorden mill community as James Bancroft could have just disappeared. If he had in fact died, Frances would surely not have listed herself as 'married' on two consecutive census records.....a bit of a mystery....was his disappearance  linked to all the conflict with his workers?....or did he just go off and start a new life elsewhere....wonder what happened to him?