Timothy Bancroft and his Bastardy Order

And when did you last see your father? - by William Frederick Yeames

In times gone bye,  having a child out of wedlock was a very serious matter indeed for any unfortunate young woman, and the following story must have been the talk of the wash-house in the sleepy village of Oxenhope in Yorkshire in the 19th century.

 Following on from the Poor Laws of 1601, care of the poor fell to a resident's parish. In cases of an illegitimate birth, parishes always tried to identify the father and make him legally responsible for the child's maintenance, to keep the costs off the parish relief rolls. Nineteenth century changes allowed the mother to be granted a Bastardy Order by the courts, thus holding the father responsible for maintenance of the child

Here is a copy of Bastardy Orders issued in the small village of Haworth in Yorkshire, which covered only an eight year period in the Oxenhope area, between 1812-1820, showing the size of the problem, particularly when you bear in mind that this only refers to cases where the man was found!....there must have been many more cases where the father could not be proved, or where he just disappeared. Two third's of the way down the list is one Timothy Bancroft from Haworth, the man who the courts decided was the father of Susey Feather's illigitimate child.

The Bastardy/Affiliation Order was issued by the Justice of the Peace at the Petty Sessions or Quarter Sessions following an examination. The Order obliged the putative father to pay for the child’s maintenance or face a possible prison sentence. After the New Poor Law of 1834, the parish authorities lessened their role in bastardy cases leaving the woman the option of applying herself for the bond from the Petty Sessions. - See more at: http://www.genguide.co.uk/source/bastardy-bonds-amp-documents-parish-amp-poor-law/140/#sthash.KUwsTLf7.dpuf
The Bastardy/Affiliation Order was issued by the Justice of the Peace at the Petty Sessions or Quarter Sessions following an examination. The Order obliged the putative father to pay for the child’s maintenance or face a possible prison sentence. After the New Poor Law of 1834, the parish authorities lessened their role in bastardy cases leaving the woman the option of applying herself for the bond from the Petty Sessions. - See more at: http://www.genguide.co.uk/source/bastardy-bonds-amp-documents-parish-amp-poor-law/140/#sthash.KUwsTLf7.dpuf
Haworth Bastardy Orders

  So here is the story of Timothy Bancroft, who looks who seems to have led a very unconventional, and some would say shameful life for the time.
 Timothy was born around 1790, in an area called Leeming, a small hamlet near Oxenhope, several miles from Haworth, the son of  John and Martha Bancroft, and was baptised on 17th December 1790 at Haworth Parish Church.

Timothy's baptism 17th Dec 1790

His father, John, probably earned a meagre living as either a hand-loom weaver or woolcomber, as most people in this area did, and in fact Timothy and his siblings all eventually earned a living from the wool trade. As early as 1813, Timothy is listed in records as a woolcomber, which was a trade not without it’s difficulties, as the following article describes here.
On 22nd November 1813 he married Hannah Baldwin on Haworth Church. Interestingly neither Timothy of Hannah could write there names, and just put there cross on the marriage register. Timothy’s brother James was one of the witnesses. The marriage looks as though it was organised in a hurry because by January 1814, the couple had their first child, a son they called Joseph.
Timothy & Hannah's marriage

Unfortunately things took a turn for the worst for Timothy, because  his past came back to haunt him.  Five years after his marriage to Hannah on 25th December 1818 a local woman called Susey Feather was granted a court order naming him as the father of her 10 year old child, Betty, who had been born  in 1808. It is unclear why there was such a long delay after the child’s birth, before her mother took out the order against Timothy

Susey Feather's Bastardy record
Susey Feather had been subjected to the shame of having her illegitimate 11 week old child, Betty, baptised on 14th October 1809 in Haworth, with no mention of a father on the record. She was shown as living in Uppertown, an area in Oxenhope in the Haworth parish area….the same area where Timothy and his wife were living at the time!
Betty Feather's baptism
 Things then look as though they took another unusual turn in Timothy’s life because by the time of the 1841 census Timothy is now living with Susie, who is now listed as Susanna Feather, and a second illegitimate daughter Sarah Feather, together with a child called Amelia Bancroft age 9 years. There is no evidence to confirm who Sarah's father was, as the baptism record just shows her mother's name, as a spinster, but it must be reasonable to assume that the father of this child was also Timothy. I have not been able to find any records for the other child, Amelia's baptism

Sarah Feather's baptism

And it gets even more interesting because next door on the 1841 census lives Susie’s ‘Feather’ family relations, and then next door again is Timothy & Susie’s illegitimate daughter Betty living there, now using the ‘Bancroft’ name, with two Bancroft children, Mary age 10 years and John age 5 years, which most probably are her illegitimate children

1841 census
By this time, it looks like Timothy’s wife, Hannah, had had enough of all these goings-on because she was back living with her mother, Sarah Baldwin, in another part of Oxenhope, so obviously something very serious must have happened, as it is highly unusual at this time for a man to be openly living with the unmarried woman of his children , whilst his wife lives in another location nearby…… and producing the census must have been a nightmare for the census enumerator, trying to decide which children were Bancrofts and which were Feathers!

By the time of the 1851 census, the situation looks as though it had changed again!...Timothy is still living at the same address in Uppertown, Oxenhope, but now with  his daughter Betty living with him, and listed as his daughter and still shown with the ‘Bancroft’ name, but now listed as  a widow, with her son John also living there.[ I suspect Betty was now listing herself as a 'widow' for respectability reasons.... as an unmarried woman with two illigimate children! and I have never found any marriage record for her] The surprising thing is  next door is Susie, now shown as ‘Susan Feather’ with her daughter still shown with the  'Feather' name, but now listed as Sally  [Sally being often used as a variation of Sarah].
1851 census

 The interesting point to notice is that Sally Feather ,a 34 year old unmarried woman, is described on the census as Susie’s ‘illegitimate daughter’ which is highly unusual as this term was usually only used when describing children’s relationship. It therefore seems clear that both the Bancrofts and the Feathers were living in a very open relationship and everyone around knew what was going on, which although today would not cause anyone to give it much thought, but in the 1850’s was somewhat unusual in village life.
The 1838 Ratable Value lists for Oxenhope showed him as being a man of some substance owning a row of six houses, a smithy and a house/shop, which would presumably have been his grocer’s shop, as this had been his occupation in later life. This probably explains the reason why the Bancrofts and Feathers were all living next door to each other in the same row of houses in Uppertown, Oxenhope.....Timothy probably owned all the houses! The picture below shows what I think were Timothy's row of houses.

Timothy died on 7th February 1858 at his home in Uppertown, Oxenhope, and was buried in the village.

Surprising therefore, when his will was published on 19th April 1858 he left an estate valued at less than £200, which seems very little for a man with sizable assets....maybe he had to spend it all supporting his illegitimate family! Unsurprisingly the executor of the will was a male member of the Feather family!

Uppertown Cottages - 2016

Herbert Bancroft caught begging from a policeman!

Vagrancy and begging in the streets, has been a problem since the dawn of time, and even today is still a big problem in our towns. Here is a little story of a Bancroft individual caught begging on a Keighley street in 1911, when he mistakenly asked the wrong person for money!

The story concerns a Herbert Bancroft, born around 1882 in Halifax, and appears to have been the illegitimate son of Martha Ann Bancroft who seems to have had at least two illegitimate children before finally marrying a Robert Cockroft in 1897, as the marriage record below clearly shows her as a 40 year old spinster at the time, so her two children were married outside wedlock.

Martha and son Herbert look to have had a tough time in the early days as the following 1891 census shows mother and son living as boarders at 11 Belmont Street in Halifax, where Martha is described as a Woolcomber. The head of the household was a John Halliday, and it seems that the person responsible for the recording of the census was having difficulty trying to work out the relationship between the people at the address because both Martha and Herbert had their initial relationship to the head of the household altered to 'boarder'... maybe there was something more going on between Martha and John, although we will never know for sure.

1891 census

Martha Ann's marriage to Robert Cockroft, seems to have been a short one as by the time of the 1911 census, she is now listed as a widow, living with her married daughter Ada Gaukroger [misspelt Ganganroger] and son Herbert at Haigh's Court in Halifax, with Herbert listed as a Butcher's Labourer at that time.

1911 census

Herbert's job as a Butcher's Labourer, would have included rounding-up and collecting stock for his butcher employer's business because, when arrested for begging in Keighley he described himself as a 'Drover'. It appears that Herbert stopped off overnight in Keighley, on his way back home to Halifax, and was caught out when asking a plain cloths policeman " for a copper to make up his night's lodgings", and was then arrested for begging. This foolish act was compounded by the fact that he had some money on him at the time, albeit only 3 1/2 pence, which would probably not have been enough to pay for his lodgings for the night. For this cheeky act, the magistrates gave him 14 days in prison.


It is little wonder that begging was a way of life for so man people like Herbert, because at the beginning of the 20th century surveys showed that 25% of the population were still living in poverty, with at least 15% living below subsistence level. They had just enough money for food, rent, fuel and cloths, and about 10% were living below subsistence level and could not even afford an adequate diet.

 A Liberal government was elected in 1906 and they made some reforms. From that year the poorest children were given free school meals. In January 1909 the first old age pension was paid, which was hardly generous - only 5 shillings a week for people over 70 years of age. Nevertheless this was a start in helping in helping to reduce poverty in the population, and later that year the government formed wages councils which set minimum pay levels for certain industries.

By 1910 the first labour exchanges, where jobs were advertised were set up , and the following year the government passed an act establishing sickness benefits for workers. This act also provided unemployment benefit for workers in certain trades such as shipbuilding, where periods of unemployment were common. In 1920 unemployment benefit was extended to most workers, although it was not given to agricultural workers such as Herbert Bancroft until 1936.

Early 20th century Drover


Bancroft Coal Miners of Denholme & Sawood

 Trolley Boys
There were Bancroft men,women and children in 19th century Yorkshire who were employed as coal miners, not all in the large pits we are familiar with today, but some toiled in small family enterprises, quite often run as a sideline for a farmer who happened to find he had coal in a hillside of his land, or where a relatively shallow mine shaft could be sunk.

Whilst researching this article, I have to say I was shocked to read about how many small children were employed in local coal mines, and their personal circumstances, which got me wondering....what jobs could children do underground? 

The trapper was often the youngest member of the family working underground. Their job was simply to open and close the wooden doors [trap doors] that allowed fresh air to flow through the mine. They would usually sit in total darkness for up to twelve hours at a time, waiting to let coal tubs through the door. It was not hard work, but was boring and could be dangerous. If he fell asleep, the safety of the whole mine could be affected.

 The Hurrier and the Thruster were the older children and women who were employed as hurriers, pulling and pushing tubs full of coal along roadways from the coal face to the pit-bottom. The younger children worked in pairs, one as a hurrier, the other as a thruster, but the older children and women worked alone. Hurriers would be harnessed to the tub, and thrusters would help hurriers by pushing the tubs of coal from behind with their hands and the tops of their heads. The tubs and the coal could weigh over 600kg, and would have to be moved through roadways which were often only 60-120cm high.
The job of a Coal Getters was reserved for the oldest and strongest members of the family, almost always grown men or strong youths. Their job was to work at the coal face cutting the coal from the seam with a pickaxe. Getters were the only members of the family who would work continually with a candle or safety lamp, as they needed the light to see the coal face.
On 4 August 1842, a law was passed that stopped women and children under ten years from working underground in mines in Britain. Before this law was passed, it was common for whole families to work together underground to earn enough money for the family to live on. The Victorians saw child labour as a normal part of working life. Most children started work underground when they were around eight years old, but some were as young as five. They would work the same hours as adults, sometimes longer, at jobs that paid far less.

Around 1834 the Denholme Park Pits, which probably included the nearby Sawood pits, was taken over by David Baxendale and Sons, and in February 1841, the manager was interviewed by members of a Parliamentary Commission inquiring into children’s employment ahead of the change of law. The following comments made by the pit owner make shocking reading:

“Mr Baxendale states that the colliers of Denholme, with whom he had been for several years connected, were steady, sober and well behaved, and that he attributed their superior conduct generally to the attention that had been paid to their education…..the employment of females in these collieries would cease at the passing of the act, without being the cause of much inconvenience. He did complain however of the difficulties entailed on the masters and some of the colliers by the exclusion of boys under 10 years of age”

One such youth was David Bancroft, born 1850 in the Upper Bradshaw Head area of Oxenhope, near Keighley. David was the son of Joseph Bancroft, who ran  a pub and stone quarry in the Sawood area, which as well as having good supplies of stone also had a seem of high sulphur coal, about two feet thick, which would have been much in demand from all the local mills who were at this time starting to convert from water to steam power.
David Bancroft - Coal Miner-1861 census
The 1861 census, shown above, shows David as a 11 year old coal miner, still living at home with his family. David, like many workers in coal pits, did not live a long life however, because records show he died in 1879 and was buried in the local Wesleyan graveyard.

Denholme & Sawood Coal Mines
Shown below are details of children, both boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 14 years who were working in a local coal pit known as 'New Day Hole' in Denholme in the 1840’s, which makes disturbing reading. When the parliamentary commission interviewed a number of these children, these was the responses given:

James Wright had been a bobbin winder until he was 14 and then began to work in the pit because they needed a hurrier. He believed that he “ had got very near too big to go into t’pit” and that his health, which had not been good, had improved since working underground.

George Holden drove the [gin] horse at the mill top before he went underground. He has good health and enjoyed the work.

David Brooksbank found the work harder than when he began, which left him tired. He liked the pit, but would rather be lakin’ [playing] or doing some other trade.

Christopher Groves lived near the pit and went underground soon after 6 am, having breakfasted on porridge. He had an hour off for lunch, which he took in the pit, and ate potatoes and collop [probably fried bacon and oatcakes. He left the pit around 6 pm and had porridge for supper. He had not wanted to work in the pit, but now enjoyed it. He was healthy, was never beaten and went to Sunday-school.

Margaret Saville could not recollect how long she had worked “ in t’hoile”. She had worked for her father and brother and found the work not too hard, preferring to do it than stay at home. She got herself up in the morning, saying “ a’ most know when it’s time to get up”. If she did not get up, they would say nothing to her, but if they were not at work at the right time, the colliers sometimes sent them away. She was not often beaten, but some would do so if they were busy.

William Tidswell was only six. He had worked in the pit for around a year and did not like it. “ there’s a deal o’ coals and stones in t’gate; has had the skin off his leg till he could see the bone; had to stop at home then”.

The following table lists all of he children employed by at New Day Hole pit in Denholme

Child Coal mine workers

Living in the Denholme area in the early to mid 19th century were a Bancroft family of Jabez and Martha, where several of the men with coal mine workers. Their son John, his brother Joseph and John’s son William are all listed as mine workers on the census records.

 Joseph was  listed on the 1841 census as a coal miner, and had married another miner’s daughter, Mary Mitchell in 1837. Along with many others doing this hazardous work, he died at the early age of  only 28 years, probably from some incident to do with this type of work, and his burial record is shown below.

Joseph Bancroft's burial record  19/6/1842

 His brother John, seemed to have survived a little better. He was born in 1811, and seems to have worked a long time in the local coal mines because he is listed in the various census records as a coal miner, banksman and collier, and after marrying a Rebecca Brooksbank, went on to have 13 children with her.

John Bancroft 1861 census

 John died in 1866, and one of his sons, William, also went down the mine….albeit not for long! The 1861 census lists him as a coal miner, but by the time of the next census in 1871 he is now a weaver, which must have been a much safer occupation.

The early coal miner would have needed only a simple range of tools. He would have used either a pick or a hammer and chisel to cut into the ground by hand. To get to the coal he would have first have to pick out the shale, either above or below the coal seam, and then used wedges to break the coal into clean largish lumps. He would then have to use a rake to pull the coal towards him and than shovel the coal into baskets which were used to drag it into the shaft. The coal was then lifted from shallow pits, using a rope and handle arrangement. Where the pit shafts were deeper, which many were in order to get at the thicker coal seems, was to lift the heavier amounts of coal using a cog and rung  arrangement powered by horses called a gin, similar to the drawing shown below.

Cog & Run Gin

Miners worked in constant danger, as many pits were susceptible to flooding, and ventilation was also a problem at times which often led to small explosions because the miners were using naked lights. An often greater problem was the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the workings which, being odourless, could suffocate men.

Contrary to what you might expect, the coming of the canals and railways, bringing in large quantities of cheap high quality coal from abroad, did not spell the end of these small local mines. Many cotton and wool mills were changing from water wheel power to steam power, and the new larger mills being built led to an every increasing demand for local coal, particularly if it was of good enough quality.

Coal Getter

[I acknowledge the book ‘Keighley Coal by MC Gill,’ where some of this information came from]

When Trolley Buses ran in Bradford

Bradford's last Trolley Bus showing it's last route.

Here's a trip down memory lane for me, and I suspect many other Bradfordians, with memories of my early years growing up in Bradford. Whilst going through some old photos recently, I was reminded about the early 1960’s.... going to and from school on local public transport at the time…the electrically powered Trolley Bus!

Looking at public transport today, the Trolley Bus might seem a modern, clean, efficient and ecologically friendly means of travel, and indeed this transport system is still in in use throughout the world to this day, but in 1960’s Bradford, it seemed a very old fashioned way of travelling to me, as a young lad looking at stories of the time on TV of astronauts travelling in  rockets into space.

My journeys to and from school were always on the Trolley Bus in winter, when the weather was too bad to go on my bike, and I remember how quiet and smooth the buses were, being run by an electric motor instead of an diesel engine changing gear all the time.

All would go well until one of the two poles came off the overhead wire, and then the conductor would have to get off, go to the rear of the bus and pull out a long pole with a hook on the end, which was carried in a tube under the bus. He would then have to hook the contact rod on the bus roof, and place it back on the wire overhead….no health and safety procedure in those days!

 I can still remember the interior of the later model buses, which were fairly basic, to say the least. Not much heating and vinyl seats, which although very hard wearing were not very comfortable, especially on a winter's morning for a schoolboy who was still wearing short trousers!

Trolley top deck
 Yet another task the conductor needed to be carried out at some road junctions and the terminus was to to get off  and manually pull a handle, sometimes called a 'Frog', on the pole at the roadside to move the wires across, similarly to a set of train line points, so the bus could go around the corner onto a new road or into the terminus, The picture below shows the conductor pulling the frog on the Thornton route at Four-Lane-Ends…nothing was automatic then.

Pulling the 'Frog'

Another memory I have is when on one morning on the way to school, we were suffering from heavy smog in the air. Bradford had lots of bad smog days, due to the high pollution in the area from all the wool mill chimneys [over 100 at one time]. All these mills were belching out black smoke from burning coal, and it was sometimes so bad you could hardly see your hand in front of your face! Anyway, it was so bad on this particular day that the driver could not see where he was going, to such an extent that the conductor had to get off and walk in front of the bus waving a white handkerchief.

Men at work!
 I can also remember always seeing vehicles such as this one all around the area, with a gang of workmen repairing broken wires, which seemed to be a regular occurrence.

Bradford in fact, was the last city in the country to use Trolley Buses, and time finally ran out for them in 1972, when the Council's Transport Committee decided to move over to a more modern form of public transport without the need for overhead wires.

For anyone not familiar with this form of transport, a trolley bus is an electric bus that draws its electricity from overhead wires using two spring-loaded trolley poles. Two wires and poles are required to complete the electrical circuit, unlike a tram or streetcar, which normally uses the track as part of the electrical path and thus needs only one wire and pole. Bradford’s Trolley Bus system was a follow on from the earlier Tram system, and because it did not run on tracks, it was know in its early days as the “Trackless”.

The Bradford trolleybus system served the city of Bradford for much of the 20th century. It was one of the first two trolley bus systems to be opened in the United Kingdom along with the Leeds system. Both systems commenced operations on 20 June 1911, and as far as Bradford Councillors  were concerned, the move from Tram to Trolley Bus was a bit of a none event, as the enclosed newspaper clipping of the time reported.... The first Trolley run was at 5am, so no one from the Transport Committee bothered to turn up!

  The Bradford system lasted the longest of all the UK's urban trolleybus systems. Having been one of the first such systems to open, it finally finished on 26 March 1972. Just before its closure, it also held the distinction of being the longest-lived surviving trolleybus system in the world.

Many of the former Bradford trolleybuses are now preserved at various locations around the UK. The last one to run in Bradford, number 884, on the Thornton route, is usually housed in the Keighley Bus Museum, and there are others on display in Bradford's Industrial Museum.

Trolley on the Clayton route

The is a very informative 8 minute film on-line, which shows the last Trolley Bus journey on Bus number 844, and gives a vivid insight into what it was like to drive and ride on a Trolley Bus, together with a commentary by retired drivers and passengers. It can be viewed by clicking here. [courtesy of the Yorkshire Film Archive]

Since the demise of the Trolley Bus service in Bradford, the system has flourished elsewhere. Today around 300 trolleybus systems are in operation around the world, in cities and towns in 43 countries

Jabez Bancroft and the Royal Horse Guards Regiment

Painting of battle scene from Vitoria

A fellow Bancroft researcher sent me some old army discharge papers for a Jabez Bancroft which tell an interesting story about a man whose origins are a bit of a mystery.

We know that Jabez Bancroft was born around 1772, probably in the Haworth area of Yorkshire. No records seem to exist of his baptism in the area, so it may well be that he was illegitimate or baptised under a different name. Some of this confusion may be due to the different spelling of the name 'Jabez', because he is also listed slightly differently on various records as 'Jabus' or 'Jabes', which points to the fact that it was not an easy name to spell or pronounce, so people wrote it down as they heard it. The name Jabez, [pronounced Jay-bez] is not that uncommon in this area of Yorkshire, and is of Hebrew in origin…. its meaning is ‘borne in pain’ which possibly points to difficulties his mother had in childbirth….who knows?

Discharge Paper

Anyway, the first we know about Jabez is from his army discharge papers....where he is listed as 'Jabus Bancroft'. We know he enlisted as a Private Trooper in the Royal Horse Guards Regiment on 17th December 1791 at the age of about 19 years, and spent the next 22 years and 234 days as a soldier with them. His discharge papers show that he left the regiment at the age of 42 years because he was suffering from “rheumatic, which reoccurred when on duty with his Regiment abroad…which rendered him unfit for future service”. 
 Interestingly, the papers also give a brief description of him as "5 feet 11 inches in height, brown hair, brown eyes, brown complexion, by trade a weaver"

Discharge Paper

From army records we know he served latterly at the Battle of Vitoria in Spain in 1813, where a British Army, under General the Marquess of Wellington, together with Portuguese and Spanish armies broke the French army under Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, eventually leading to victory in the Peninsular War.
Wellington launched his attack at Vitoria on 21 June, in four columns. After hard fighting, The soldiers of the 3rd Division broke the enemy's centre and soon the French defence crumbled. About 5,000 French soldiers were killed or wounded and 3,000 were taken prisoner, while British, Spanish and Portuguese soldiers suffered about 5,000 killed or wounded. 151 cannons were captured, but Joseph Bonaparte, erstwhile King of Spain, narrowly escaped. The battle led to the collapse of Napoleonic rule in Spain.
The British forces consisted of 57,000 men and suffered 3700 deaths and wounded during the battle, and at the age of over 40 years, Jabez must have been struggling to keep up with the younger men, because medical reports show he was hospitalized in August 1814 with rheumatism, possibly made worse by serving abroad, and then quickly discharge.
The following form is an army register showing Jabez as a claimant, probably of his army pension, and lists him as having served at the time of the Battle of Vitoria [sometimes spelt Vittoria]

Army record of claimants

Once discharged, he settled back into normal life, and took up his trade again as a weaver. He seems to have married a young widowed lady, of about 35 years of age, called Elizabeth Naylor at Bingley Parish Church on 10th November 1816, and as can be seen from the marriage record, neither Jabez or Elizabeth could write their name, so just put their X mark on the register. [The fact that Jabez could not write, and so probably could not read either, might be the reason why his name is spelt in at least 3 different ways on documents. The person who wrote the parish record, was obviously fooled by Elizabeth's relatively young age to to be a widow, because he initially marked her down as a spinster, before altering it to widow.]

Jabez & Elizabeth marriage 1816

Arthur Bell Nicholls

By the time of the 1841 census, Jabez and Elizabeth, known as 'Betty' were living at New Road Side, in the Bingley Parish, his occupation still listed as a weaver, and Jabez's death is record in 1849 in the Haworth Church records. The service being conducted by  Arthur Bell Nicholls, the curate of Rev'd Patrick Bronte, who had married his daughter, the novelist, Charlotte Bronte.

Jabez Burial Record 1849

Betty continued to live in the same area, and the 1851 shows her listed as a widow living alone at nearby Lower Pease Close with her occupation shown as "Annuitant Weaver Formally" which would mean that she was able to live on an income from somewhere....possibly her late husband's army pension based on his 22 years service?

1851 census

John Bancroft drowned after a drinking bout.

The following story was reported in the Keighley press of 7th January 1913 entitled “ A Baildon Bridge Mystery” concerning a John Bancroft, who it seems fell in the canal and drowned after a bout of drinking:

The body had been found by Charles Simmons, a boatman of Baildon, who found it floating in the canal and the newspaper reported on the incident as follows:
'At Shipley today, the District Coroner held an enquiry on John Bancroft [24] , woolcomber of 10 Croft Street, Keighley, whose body was recovered from the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Baildon Bridge on Sunday.
Ann Thomas, wife of Joshua Thomas, of Raglan Street, Shipley, said that her husband and Bancroft worked in the same mill. As they did not arrive back home at the proper time after the night turn, she went out in the morning and found them at an hotel. They went home with her, and she gave them something to eat and drink.
The Coroner asked -  What was their condition? – 'They were fairish on in beer, but they knew what they were doing.'
When Bancroft left it was raining, and witnesses asked him if he could manage by himself? – 'Yes' was the answer.
The police evidence was given that the body appeared to have been in the water for about three weeks.
The jury returned a verdict of ' Found Drowned', there being not sufficient evidence to show how he got into the water.

John Bancroft seems to have been a single man, who originally came from Liverpool, and was lodging in various houses in Keighley. At the time of his death he was lodging at Croft Street, and previous to that the 1911 census shows him as lodging with a family who also had several other lodgers at 'The Walk' in Keighley. The census also confirms his occupation as a woolcomber in a Spinning Mill

1911 census

By the early 20th century, Temperance Societies although now very much in decline, were still preaching their warnings about the evils of drink......Perhaps John Bancroft should have heeded their warning!

Two Bancroft Brothers killed in WW1

Temple Street Chapel WW1 Plaque

Following on from the previous story about the finding of a long lost WW1 memorial plaque which can be read by clicking here, and to coincide with Remembrance Day, here is the story of the two Bancroft brothers, James and Robert, who were listed as the first two names on the plaque.

James Mitchell Bancroft was born in Keighley in 1888 and initially worked as at a drapers shop in the town, before working as a clerk in the Keighley Educational Offices. The local newspaper said he ‘had an unassuming disposition and was very popular with his colleagues and friends’. He was closely involved with the Temple Street Chapel Sunday School as a teacher and secretary there.

Medal Index Card

He signed up as a Private in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, and spent about 12 months serving on the front in France. At that time the family had three sons servicing on the front, and another working in munitions, after having served on the front for 12 months.

 The circumstances of James’s death are outlined in the following War Diary, which states that the Regiment were camped on the Mory East Road and received heavy shelling to the A and D Companies with a list of deaths and injured. At the bottom of the page, dated 26th April 1917,  is says:
 “ 267111 Pte JM Bancroft died in hospital of wounds received on April 18th

War Diary-April 1917
This terrible news that the family must have been dreading, was in a message received by them on 27th April 1917, when the Army Chaplin wrote:
“ Your son was brought into the hospital a few days ago, badly wounded. I saw him twice and he seemed very cheerful, and spoke about his home and church etc. I thought he would recover, but yesterday he took a turn for the worst and passed away last night. Everything was done for his comfort, and I don’t think he suffered very much. I buried him today in the ……. military cemetery. Please accept my sincere sympathy. He had laid down his life for his friends. May you be comforted and strengthened through this awful trial.” [The exact location of the military cemetery was purposely left black presumably for security reasons.]

A second message from a Second-Lieutenant K Chapman, of the West Yorkshire Regiment, wrote to his father:
“ I wish to let you know that you have the deepest sympathy from myself and all your son’s comrades in your sad bereavement. His loss will be keenly felt be all, for he was always cheery and an excellent soldier. I personally felt it very much indeed, for I have known him all my life. It will perhaps comfort you to know that he will be laid to rest alongside others of his brave comrades, who died doing their duty.”

The following notices then appeared in the Keighley News, which sum up exactly what a desperate time it must have been for the family.

Keighley News notices
James was buried at the Achiet Le Grand Cemetery on 26th April 1917, and here is his grave, together with a view of the whole cemetery….James’s grave is on the front row.


Robert Edgar Bancroft’s story is a bit more of a mystery, because nothing of the circumstances of his death seems to have been reported in the local media, and no picture of him seem to exist.

We know he was born in 1893 in Keighley and prior to joining up was an assistant to his father, James, in his second hand furniture shop in the town.

Medal Index Card

Records show that he initially signed up at Halifax in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment on 10th December 1915 at the age of 22yrs 4 months as a reservist, and was mobalised on 20th October 1916. Strangely, although he signed up in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment his posting was with the Highland Light Infantry, with his army number stayed the same as 42142.

Army Service Record
He obviously must have had some home leave because he married Carrie Goodwin at St Mary’s  Church, Keighley on 9th January 1917, shortly before he was posted abroad to France on 26th February. Their first and only child, Ethel Rose, appeared very shortly afterwards on 7th June 1917.

The circumstances of Robert’s war details are somewhat sketchy, but it seems that he was then reported ‘missing’ on 25th March 1918 on the Somme battlefields, near the French village of Maricourt, where the Highland Light Infantry's 12th Division were involved in prolonged heavy fighting. The war diary for that day show no mention of Robert by name, but during that week they reported 33 killed, 183 wounded and 110 missing so it is not surprising that he is not named in the records at the time, due to the heavy casualties.

Robert being reported as 'missing', must have left his wife Carrie and baby daughter in difficult circumstances, because the following  desperately sad document shows her applying for a pension to support herself and her child on the 18th November of that year, seven months after him being declared 'missing'....presumably the delay in her being able to claim a widow's pension was due to the fact that he was in initially declared 'missing' rather than 'dead'. 

Pension Application

There is no grave of resting place for Robert, presumably because his body was never recovered from the conflict, but he is mentioned on the inscriptions at the Pozieres Monument, where 97 panels are inscribed with the 14,655 names of the missing casualties. These panels are incorporated in the southern, western and northern boundary walls surrounding Pozières British Cemetery.

Pozieres British Cemetery.

Pozieres Inscriptions

 The inscription of the cemetery gates reads:
"In memory of the officers and men of the Fifth and Fourth Armies who fought on the Somme battlefields 21 March – 7 August 1918 and to those of their dead who have no known grave"

After the end of the war in 1924, Keighley's War Committee had decided to erect a war memorial  in the centre of the town, and at the same time decided that a record of names should be compiled of those who had fought and fallen in the Great War so a 'Roll of Honour' book was compiled and placed in Keighley's Public Library as a lasting tribute to their sacrifice. Both James and Robert's names  appear in the book.

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