Benji Bancroft’s grave mystery

Grave marker stone

During the refurbishment of Oakworth Methodist Graveyard, the above grave marker-stone denoting ownership was uncovered showing Benjamin Bancroft as the owner [ known as Benji on the burial record], which posed more questions than it answered!

The grave has no proper gravestone, but on searching the burial records for this plot a mystery is unearthed. The first person owning the plot was a Joseph Heaton and his name is later crossed out on the grave record and replaced by Sarah Bancroft – Benji’s wife Sarah.

The first person buried there was Joseph Heaton’s wife, Sarah, in 1853, and then the grave is taken over for the burial of Benji Bancroft followed by his wife Sarah, their daughter Esther Ellen and a still-born grandchild.

Bancroft burial record

Were the families connected in any way?  or did the Bancrofts buy the unused burial space from the Heatons?

To add further to the mystery, Sarah Heaton’s husband  had bought a second plot nearby on the same row. 

His wife Sarah died first aged 49 in 1853 and buried in 23/0. Their granddaughter Elizabeth died aged two in 1853 and is buried in the second grave 23/L.  Joseph Heaton died aged 71 in 1876 and “chose” to be buried with his granddaughter rather than his wife for some reason. He lived with his daughter Mary and her family (all buried in 23/L)

At first, I wondered if Joseph had been married twice, and the second wife did not like the idea of being buried with his first wife, but it turns out that he never remarried, so we must assume that he bought the second plot for his children, and he then chose to be buried with them, rather than his wife for some reason. In any case this made one of his grave plot purchases surplus to requirements, and so was probably the reason it was sold off by his family to the Bancrofts.

Looking at Benji Bancroft’s life, he was the son of Joseph Bancroft and his second wife Nelly Bradley. Joseph had been married twice, firstly to Judith Smith who died at an early age of 34 years leaving him with four young children to look after. He them married Ellen, known as Nelly, Bradley and they together then had 10 children to complement the four he already had! Joseph lived to a good age as described on his death certificate…'age at death 83 and three quarters…cause of death ‘old age’! He was buried in an unmarked grave at Haworth Church.

Benji was the last born child of the family, being born in 1814 in an area called Greenwood Vale between Oakworth and Haworth, and baptised on 6th June of that year at Haworth Parish Church. He was destined to continue his father’s path in the textile industry, which was not an easy occupation at the time as the following article on the link below describes in details.

He was married twice, firstly to Ann [surname not know as I cannot find a record of the marriage] and they had a son Jabez. The family appear on the 1841 census living at Hainsworth, a village near Keighley, albeit was actually in the Bingley parish area. Unfortunately the marriage was short lived because Ann died the following year in 1842 at the age of 26 years and was buried in an unmarked grave at Haworth Parish Church.

census 1841

Benji remarried two years later to a Sarah Binns at Bingley Parish Church on 7/5/1844. I assume they used the Bingley church because he was still living in that parish, and although Sarah is shown living in Keighley at the time, she originates from Lothersdale near Skipton. Interestingly the marriage record shows that although Benjamin could not sign his name and therefore just left his mark, Sarah was able to write her name

Benji & Sarah's marriage

By 1851 Benji and family had moved over to Lower Wyke, on the outskirts of Bradford, probably to continue looking for work as a woolcomber, and was living next door to his elder brother John who was also listed as a woolcomber.

Unfortunately for Benji and many others like him, this type of cottage industry was starting to decline with the invention of machinery which could do the job much quicker and with many less workers in large mills and so by the time of the 1861 census Banji and family are living back in the Oakworth area and he is described as a ‘Stone Quarry Labourer’ which was probably the only sort of work someone with Benjamin’s limited skills could obtain.

census 1861

Benji died on 18th May1870 age 55 years [although the burial record says 57 yrs] in the Lidget area of Oakworth, and was buried at the Wesleyan Graveyard….the first Bancroft ro be buried in this plot [23/0] followed later by other members of his family.

To add further to this sad story, Benji’s eldest son, Jabez, died less than five years later in early 1875 at the age of only 35 years of age, and he together with his family are all buried in the same graveyard in another unmarked grave.

Volunteers at work 2019
This Wesleyan Graveyard has recently been bought by a person, Andrew Heaton, who has ancestors buried there and as well as restoring it, he hopes the local community will one day take over the maintenance of this important feature of our village as it is of significant historic importance to the residents.
The Graveyard, according to Chapel records, has 725 graves, many without gravestones, in which are buried 2452 named people including a significant number of infants. A sad fact of Victorian life in the village is that there were 449 children buried at the site who died under the age of five, as well as 123 unnamed infants who were either stillborn or died before they were named, which is a staggering 23% of the occupants of the graveyard. The last burial there took place in 1968, and as the restoration continues I feel sure that more interesting facts about the people buried there will be unearthed.

I am grateful for Andrew Heaton providing much of the information for this article. For more details about the graveyard and details of the restoration, please go to Andrew’s website here:

After restoration 2019

The graveyard before restoration 2018

The Bunting Manufacturers of Halifax

Queen Victoria's Royal Procession 1887

I wrote recently about the family of Henry and Lydia Bancroft, who baptised their family of six childen on the same day, and which can be read HERE.
Their son, William, and his family line were initially involved in the worsted business in Halifax, Yorkshire but they then developed the business into Bunting manufacture…a product today which is largely made with plastic, but in days gone bye was very much a cloth product, and widely used in public occasions such as the picture above, showing Queen Victoria’s Royal Procession in London in 1887.
Our story starts with Henry Bancroft who was baptised at Heptonstall on 9/5/1791, and went on to marry Lydia Sutcliffe on 13/3/1825 at Heptonstall. They went on to have at least nine children, one of whom was a son William born 15/2/1829 while the family were living in the Wadsworth area.
The 1841 census shows the family, living in the ‘New Road’ with Henry listed as a ‘Labourer’. His age is shown as 45 years, but as is normal on the 1841 census, this is always approximate and can be several years out.

1841 census

The 1860’s was a period when the local authorities getting very concerned about river pollution from all the various local business getting rid of their waste into the Calder River, and so in 1868 a Royal commission produced a paper after getting comments from all the local businesses. Bancroft and Wilcox provided the following information for the report which gives some useful information about the company:

Rivers Pollution Commission 1868
‘Bancroft and Wilcox – Worsted Weavers, Cross Hill Mill Halifax.
Our works are situated on the Calder.
Employ 49 hands, Rateable Value of works £40.
We hire power and room from Messrs Eddlestone and therefore are unable to state the volume of water consumed, the steam power used, the coal consumed or what is done with the ashes.
We manufacture yearly 150,000 lbs of goods of the value £24,000.
The whole of the liquid refuse produced at our works flows into the sewer and thence into the river.
Do not use any dye wares or bleaching materials, soap, alkali or urine.
The excrements of our work people are removed and used as manure.
I have no suggestions to offer regarding reducing the pollution.’

By 1871 William's business had developed and described his occupation as a ‘Worsted Manufacture’, living in the ‘Hights’ area with his wife Betty, and four children. He was by now  operating in business as Bancroft & Wilcox, and in the same year had invested in the local Railway Company, buying shares in the ‘West Yorkshire North & South Union Railway Company’ as the following newspaper article shows. The reason for this would have been no doubt to enable them company to get some sort of preferential arrangement with transport of their raw materials and finished produce. The firm around this time was also shown on various trade directories as a ‘Stuff Manufacturer’ and working from West Lane Mills in Pellon Lane, Halifax.

Halifax Newspaper 1871

By the time of the 1881 census, William & Betty’s son, William Henry, with his young wife Mary Hannah [nee Woodhead] was living independently on Gibson Street in Halifax and had an occupation of ‘wool sorter’, no doubt working in the family firm, which was still manufacturing worsted textiles, as the bunting boom had not yet taken off.

Yorkshire Post 1887

An article in the Yorkshire Post in 1887, is an important piece of information because it lists the old firm of ‘Bancroft and Wilcox’ no longer existing, and the partnership being dissolved. Thereafter it was known as ‘William Bancroft & Co.’ and in the same year it was now shown as a ‘bunting manufacturer’ operating from Eagle Works, Well Lane in Halifax.

At some point in the late 1880’s the firm seems to have changed over completely to bunting manufacture  as the popularity of bunting use became ever more popular, and William, having died in 1889, the firm was now managed by his son William Henry, who by the time of the 1911 census had obviously come up in the world as he was now living in Saville Park, Halifax which was a very upmarket area of the town at that time.

1911 census

And as World War One started, all businesses involved with textile manufacture of all types, including bunting, were kept very busy with the war effort as the following extract from the local newspaper of 1914 explains.

1914 Halifax Newspaper

The company seems to have continued on through various generations of the Bancroft family with William’s grandson William Alan listed as Managing Director, when the 1939 Register of everyone was carried out at the start of WW2, and although recently married, and with no children at that stage, could afford to employ a servant who is also listed at his address at 252 Rochdale Rd, Halifax.

The firm seems to have carried on after the war at a small factory called Fenton Works Pellon, Halifax until finally ceasing trading sometime in the 1970-80’s. I can only guess as to why it was finally wound up, but it may well have been because of cheaper imports or the change from cloth to plastic for the production of bunting….who knows?
Fenton Works

If anyone knows of further information about William Bancroft & Co, Bunting Manufacturers of Halifax, please let me know.

Multiple Family Baptisms

Henry & Lydia's 6 children's baptisms

Whilst researching Bancroft family lines I have come across several families where, for one reason or another, the parents had several of their children baptised at the same time, which seems a strange arrangement, particularly as infant mortality rates were sometimes quite high in times gone bye.
There were many Bancroft families, living with large families in cramped poor conditions, with poor diets and where diseases such as smallpox were prevalent, who made it a practice to have children baptised as early as possible, and yet there were some parents such as Henry and Lydia Bancroft from Abbot’s Clough area of  Wadsworth near Halifax Yorkshire who chose to have their six children all baptised at the same time, when their eldest child was 12 years of age….I wonder what the reason for this was? are some possibilities.

1-The most obvious one was that they were not interested in religion, or just could not be bothered with their local church/chapel.

2-There was sometimes a charge by the local clergy for a baptism, and as money was tight and children were coming at a rapid rate they just could not afford it.

3- Some families seems to have worked on the basis that if one child was approaching marriageable age, they ought really to be 'done' so they did the others at the same time.

4- The family had a disagreement with the local clergy, and it’s only when a new clergyman was appointed that he would decide to round up all the unbaptised families and have a mass baptism day. [This may well have been the case with Henry & Lydia, as it is clear from the church records that several other family had a family group baptism of their children on the same date. See below]

Multiple family baptisms on same day

5- There may have been an absence of a clergyman in the area for some time.

6- The parents may have been a bit naughty and had a child less than 9 months after marriage, so they decided to wait until the arrival of the second child, hoping to mask the fact that the first child was conceived before their wedding date. [This is probably the case in Henry & Lydia’s case, as their first child Henry was born on 7th April 1825, less than a month after their marriage on 17th March 1825 and they then waited to have the sixth child before doing the right thing!]

Anyway whatever the reason for Henry & Lydia’s reasons, the couple are shown on the 1841 census as living in the Halifax area with 7 children and list Henry as a ‘Labourer”.
1841 census
 Both seem to have died in the 1840’s because by the 1851 census the children are living without parents. 

1851 census
 One child William b 1829 went on to be an important businessman in later life as a Worsted and later Bunting Manufacturer in his story by clicking HERE