Isaac Bancroft drowned alongside Lord Kitchener

Usually when I research an article about casualties in WW1, it involves Bancroft soldiers in the Army, but here for a change is a story of a Bancroft man  who enlisted in the Royal Navy, as an Able Seaman during peacetime, and who later drowned on a ship carrying the famous Lord Kitchener on his journey to Russia to take part in a military meeting during WW1.

 Isaac Bancroft was born on 27th June 1886 in the Ovenden area of Halifax, West Yorkshire, the son of Robert Bancroft and Ann Broadbent, who had married shortly before the birth of their son earlier on 23rd May 1886 at Halifax Parish Church

Isaac looks as though he had a poor start in life, because within two years of his being born, his father Robert died, leaving his mother Ann to bring the child up single handed, as the following 1891 census shows.

It looks as though life didn't improve much for young Isaac because by the time of the next census in 1901, he was now living with his maternal Grandmother, Fanny Broadbent, still in the Halifax area, and at the tender age of 14 years was now working as a labourer. There seems no trace of his mother Ann, so it's possible she had either remarried or died.

 It is therefore not surprising that, given this poor start in life, at the age of 18 years  he decided to join the Royal Navy on 24th June 1904 and seems to have signed up for a 12 year period, as the following navy record shows.Interestingly it also gives a brief description of Isaac's height, eye and skin colour etc, and even details of a tattoo he had!

The records show that after joining up, he was allocated initially to a ship called the 'Caladonia' and then served on a variety of vessels before joining the crew of the ill-fated ' HMS Hampshire' on 5th June 1915. It appears from his record that he tried to leave the Royal Navy and transfer to to the Canadian Navy on 23th July 1915, but this request was turned down because he was not a volunteer, and was still bound by his peace-time agreement to serve a full 12 years with the Royal Navy from when he originally signed up in 1904.

Navy Record

 Shortly before transferring to the Hampshire, Isaac married Edith May Oakshott in Portsmouth in February 1915 and their address was given as 41 All Saints Road, Landport, Portsmouth at that time. They had a son, Robert G Bancroft, who was born in early 1916, a few months before his father's death.

Had Isaac survived the war, the records show that he would have been entitled to the 1914-19 Star, the General Service and Victory medals.

Lord Kitchener, the famous Colonial and Boer War veteran - and a Cabinet Minister during WW1, was a prominent figure of the time and had been the face of the early wartime recruitment drive in the  famous "Your Country Needs You!" recruiting posters, [as shown at the beginning of this article.] In June 1916 he was on a mission to meet Russian war chiefs at the invitation of the Emperor on the matter of the reorganisation of the latter’s military forces and discussion of a scheme for the increased output of munitions. His colleagues tried hard to persuade him to postpone his visit to Russia because beyond the land-locked harbour, in which lay the Hampshire, the seas around the 0rkneys were raging at that time.

The ship set sail on Monday 5th June 1916, destined for Russia but about 1 to 2 miles off Marwick Head in Orkney, by 7.50 pm H.M.S. Hampshire struck a German mine and sunk. According to official MOD records the ship's full compliment at the time of sailing was 655 men plus 7 passengers who were Lord Kitchener and his staff.

Only 12 men survived the tragedy, and one of them later described his eye-witness experience to the media in the following graphic details:

"And it was at this very moment that above the treble whine of the gale there imposed itself the deeper ominous note of an explosion. The ship lurched. There was a dreadful grating noise somewhere in the bowels of the vessel, like flints flung into the delicate mechanism of machinery. The fierce hiss of escaping steam. The sluice of rushing water. The confused trample of feet above. Shouting. Urgent shouting. There was a rather alarming slant about the floor of the messroom. There had been many that night. But this one didn’t seem to be righting itself. Then the lights flickered out. We made for the deck. It took a long time to get there. The only open hatchway was aft. The messroom was forward. There was a lot of water in the corridors,gushing water. There was a great deal of excitable congestion at the companionways. I came up on to the half deck. They were saying that the Hampshire had struck a mine. It had exploded on the port side of her foremost engine-room. A boiler had been burst. But the Hampshire was well down by the head. Heeling a little to starboard, too.  Men were hurrying to their boat stations. Some were already there. The boats were filling.  I was in charge of the Carley raft stations to starboard.I hurried to my position. There were orders being shouted. They were mostly caught in the gale and lost. There seemed to be difficulty in lowering some of the boats. Of course they were electrically controlled, and the current had failed. The wind howled. Immeasurable banks of waves burst in shivering cascades over the decks. Now they had managed to lower one of the boats. It had fifty men in it. It could not get away from the ship. Its ropes were cut. A wave sucked it sharply to its crest. Next minute it was swept against the Hampshire’s side with terrific force. Nothing but a tangled mass of bodies struggling for survival among a swirling flotsam.And then Lord Kitchener came on deck. He looked grave and calm. I had a curious thought. It was that he looked as though he might have appeared at that moment, not for self-preservation but regretfully to inspect the irreparable damage to a proud vessel. But an officer shouted, “Make way for Lord Kitchener,” and the men who stood around made a passage among themselves. He was close to my station now. He was talking in turn to two naval officers, one on either side of him. He was in khaki. He was hatless. He wore no overcoat. Closely, he looked tired and worn.The Hampshire had heeled much further to starboard. And then Lord Kitchener turned back. The captain had called to him to come up to the fore bridge. He mounted the ladder. I saw the captain’s boat being hoisted. That was the last I saw of Lord Kitchener. There was little doubt now that the Hampshire was doomed. She listed still further. Clouds of steam were emerging from her foremost engine room on the starboard side. Men were now jumping into the water from the quarterdeck.  Some of them had been badly scalded.  Others showed wounds that bled.There was a rush to my raft.  We cut the lashings and managed to launch it. Forty or fifty crowded on and several of us paddled in a frenzy of haste to get clear of the fast-sinking ship. As we drew away several of the injured leaped on the raft into our midst. I shall never forget their agoniscd screams as the salt water washed their wounds. We were fifty yards away. A hundred waist-deep in creaming surf.  Tossed hither and thither on the waves, whirled with maelstrom fierceness. A good many were almost immediately swept from the raft by the fury of the water.We were now away from the Hampshire.  Boats, still crammed with men, hung from her derricks. And then, with a fearful kind of slow lurch, the ship rolled over. I closed my eyes. It was unbearable......."

The bodies of over 100 officers and men, including that of Isaac Bancroft,  were recovered from the sea and were interred into one common grave where they now lay to rest at the Lyness Cemetery, Hoy, Orkney. The other 550 bodies were never recovered.

Lyness Military Cemetery

 Lord Kitchener's body was also never recovered, and in 1926 the Kitchener Memorial, a 48-feet high  stone tower, was unveiled on the cliffs at Marwick Head, looking out across the Atlantic from the west coast of Mainland Orkney. And although the memorial, which was paid for by public subscription, formed a fitting memorial to this important military figure, a plaque on its wall made only a brief reference to the other men lost on HMS Hampshire with him.

Kitchener Monument

WW1 Memorial Plaque nearly lost again.... forever!

 Here is the interesting story of a WW1 memorial plaque which had been presumed to be lost since the 1970’s but turned up recently, as part of a house clearance in Keighley, and was then nearly lost again.forever....thrown out with the rubbish!

The plaque had originally been on display in Temple Street Chapel Keighley, but when the Chapel closed in 1978, the plaque disappeared, and for many years was thought to be lost. Alongside the plaque in the Chapel were a pair of WW1 memorial stained glass windows, which are now on permanent display at Cliffe Castle Museum in Keighley, and which helped to confirm the identity of the plaque because of some similarity in the wording.

 [Copyright- 2011 Keighley Shared  Church Ecumenical Council]


And that is how the mystery of the plaque's disappearance  was for many years until, as part of a house clearance, the it was found left outside a house on Chelsea Street, Keighley, alongside some wheelie bins and a pile of rubbish, and was saved in the nick of time before being collected with the rest of the house rubbish and lost forever. It can only be assumed that a thoughtful parishioner from the Chapel had taken the plaque home for safe keeping when the chapel closed in 1978, and it had been sat in their attic ever since.

Luckily a sharp-eyed member of the public noticed it as they were walking past the property and alerted the 'Men of Worth' project , who are a group of local volunteers who research and record details of local war heroes. After negotiation with the police to decide on ownership of the plaque, it was passed to the group and they have now donated  it to Cliffe Castle Museum, to sit alongside the Temple Street Chapel windows, already on display there.

On closer examination of the names on the plaque, the first two names refer to James Mitchell Bancroft and Robert Edgar Bancroft, who were brothers lost in WW1. They were the sons of James and Rose Bancroft, who had a total of eleven children, although two died at an early age.

WW1 must have been a worrying time for James [Senior] and the family with, at one point, four sons service in the war in France.

1911 census
A few years before the start of WW1 the 1911 census shows James [senior], who by now was a widower, having lost his wife Rose  in 1904, living at 23 Aireworth Street, Keighley with seven of his nine living children. Included on the census are James Mitchell age 23 yrs and Robert Edgar age 17 years. At that time James [senior] describes himself as a ‘Broker Furniture’ and ran a second hand furniture shop in nearby Bridge Street, whilst his son James looks to have been working in a draper's shop, and son Robert was helping his father in his shop.

Temple Steet Chapel

The family lived within a few hundred yards of Temple Street Chapel and seems to have had strong connections with it, as James [junior] is know to have been a teacher and secretary of the junior department, or Sunday School, and other family members also worshipped and were married at the chapel.

Temple St Chapel interior

As far as the history of the chapel is concerned, briefly it was opened as a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on 27th November 1846 with a capacity of seating 1,600 worshippers. It prospered for many years but it became increasingly difficult to continue, due to the cost of maintaining such a large building with a dwindling membership. Discussions were opened to set up  a shared agreement with the nearby Keighley Parish Church and  a sharing agreement was eventually signed, and the Chapel finally closed it's doors in 1978,

The final service at the Chapel was reported as follows in the Keighley News at the time.

 The Temple Street Chapel premises were sold to the local Council for £36,000, with presumably anything of value removed, including the plaque and stained glass windows, and it eventually became a Muslim Mosque, which it continues to be to the present time.

Temple St Memorial Plaque
I will give details of James and Robert's WW1 stories in a future article to coincide with Remembrance Day in November.

[I am grateful to the Men of Worth project for help with this article . Their website is here]

Early Motoring Days....the Trips to Blackpool

Here is a nice happy little story about a family holiday in the 1920's and the journey to get there.

Whilst going through some old family photos recently, I was reminded about the story of my Grandparents, John & Hettie Bancroft who were farmers near the village of Thornton near Bradford in Yorkshire, and their pride when acquiring their first motor car…a Bull Nosed Morris Oxford from the 1920’s. The above picture shows my Grandfather, John, standing proudly at the back on the car's running board, letting one of his friends sit behind the wheel, and my Grandmother, Hettie, second left in the rear seat.

Prior to getting their first car, like many local people, John and Hettie either had to use a horse and cart or the local buses to get anywhere, but when they got this car there was no holding them back! They normally lead a fairly quiet life running a mixed farm, but for a bit of excitement in the late 1920’s and 1930’s, like many other families liked to go to Blackpool, the most lively of all the northern sea side resorts.

The photograph at the top shows them all about to set off on their exciting journey to the coast…somewhat overloaded with 9 people in the car,  and below is a photo of the same party enjoying themselves on the front at Blackpool, all dressed up in their Sunday best. Note my grandfather in his suit together with watch-chain and wearing a bowler hat, not looking much like a farmer that day!

Their car, which was only the second one owned in the village was a Morris Oxford, and got its popular name, 'Bullnose', from its distinctive round-topped radiator, and was manufactured  between 1919-1926.
An early motoring review of the model in 'The Times' newspaper said: “The engine was reported to be "commendably flexible" and quiet. It seemed to enjoy being made to turn over at high speed and that happened easily, certainly it had plenty of "courage". The clutch was good. There is no safety stop for reverse but the gear box was pronounced the chief delight on the car, it is "simple, quiet and expeditious". The accelerator is very sensitive, and the brake handle was too far away. The car was easy to travel in and holds the road at any speed, and will reach 50 mph, with the same steadiness as cars of twice the weight and price.”

Motoring in those early days was not without it’s trials and tribulation, as I well remember my Grandmother saying that on journeys to the coast, the car had difficulty getting up some of the hills, and everyone except the driver had to get out and walk up the hill, to lighten the load….no doubt the fact that there were up to nine people travelling in the car had something to do with this!

They also had to keep a block of wood in the car to put under the back wheels if parking on a hill, otherwise it rolled back because the handbrake was not very good!

Another motoring task required by the passengers, was to look in shop windows as they passed them in the dark, because the rear lights worked by burning oil…my Grandfather’s  request was to look for the reflection in the windows, to make sure the lights had not blown out!

 Blackpool in the 1930’s remained my Grandparent’s favourite holiday destination, and they returned there many times. This  picture shown is another visit to Blackpool, to their favourite Boarding House, with John behind the wheel and his in-laws, my Great Grandparents, Lister and Jane Watson, in the rear.

 To finish the article, here is a nice picture showing my Grandparents with their three children, Gladys, Fred and my father Lister, on the beach at Blackpool, which does not seem that crowded at the time...possibly a bit cold as well, as they still have their coats on!

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

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 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.