Fred Bancroft’s WW1 War effort

Bull Sand Fort
When I normally write an article about Bancroft individuals who were involved in WW1, the story is usually about their efforts fighting on the front line, or even worse being a casualty of the fighting, but here’s a story from a different angle…where a man’s skills made him more valuable working on the country’s defences rather than being sent to the trenches.
This is the story of a Fred Bancroft, born in Cullingworth near Bradford, and his military record in WW1.

!891 census - Mill Lane Cullingworth

Fred was born in the Cullingworth area in 1889, the son of Willie and Annie [Brogden] Bancroft, and grew up in a household where his father was a quarryman in the local quarry. It’s therefore not surprising that he followed in his father’s footsteps and went into the same trade. Fred is shown on early records as a stonemason, no doubt working at the same local quarry, although in a more skilled job than his father’s one.

Fred & Susan's marriage record
Fred married Susan Gertrude Ramsden, a Spinner from Haworth, on 23rd August 1913, and the couple settled down to married life back in Cullingworth.
Fred’s army record shows that he was not called up until 9th August 1916, and his attestation papers show he was initially allocated to the Durham Light Infantry as a 'Building Contractor'

Attestation Record

By 28th April 1917 he had been transferred to the 7th Labour Corp and is still listed as a ‘Building Contractor', by this time he and Susan had two children, Willie b 1914, and Eda b 1916.
I am not sure why he was transferred to the Labour Corps rather than sent to fight abroad, but it is probably due to the fact that his skill made him a valuable worker, because at that time much of the war effort was concentrated on securing sea defences around our coastline, and by June 1917 he had been posted again and was attached to the 169th Coastal Workers unit based in Hornsea in the East Riding of Yorkshire, under orders from an HQ in Hull. His medical records also show him as having deafness in his left ear, which may also have had some bearing on his posting.
Records also show that on 3rd September 1917 he had to pass some sort of a skills test because he was awarded a ‘Certificate of Trade Proficiency’ which gave him the qualification of a ‘Skilled Bricklayer’ whilst still working on the Humber Defences.

Trade Proficiency

It was not until 6th March 1919 that Fred was officially demobilised, and transferred to Class ‘Z’ Army Reserves, while he was stationed at Nottingham, at which time he was listed as being of ‘good’ character.

The history of the Humber coastal defences, which Fred Bancroft was assigned to and helped to build, started in 1914 with the planning of two off-shore forts in the estuary. The original plan was that they were to stand 59 feet above the water and had a diameter of 82 feet, and were designed to accommodate 200 soldiers each. Construction work stated in May 1915 and the work took over four years to complete, finally finishing in December 1919.
The irony was that by the time the fort was ready for use, the war was reaching its conclusion and the fort's guns were never called into action in WW1. However, they remained a deterrent to the enemy during the Second World War when both forts were continually attacked.
Haile Sand Fort

Haile Sand Fort or Sand Haile Fort is the smaller of the two and is situated around the low-water mark between Cleethorpes and Humberston on the Lincolnshire coast. In February 2016 the fort was put on the market for £350,000

Bull Sand Fort

Bull Sand Fort is 1.5 miles from shore off Spurn Head. It is a 4-storey concrete building with 12-inch (300 mm) of armour on the seaward side, and originally armed with four 6-inch guns. It was built with great difficulty as its sandbank is 11 feet below low water.
During the Second World War both forts were reactivated and modernised. The forts were regularly attacked by enemy aircraft, and during this time, the authorities installed a netting arrangement to prevent enemy submarines from travelling up the estuary to Hull or Grimsby.  The forts were finally abandoned by the military in 1956.
In the present day, Bull Fort is used as a navigational aid for shipping.


After being demobbed, Fred then seems to have gone back to his employment as a stone mason in Cullingworth, but by the time of the start of WW2, when the 1939 census was taken, he had moved to nearby Springfield Farm with his wife and two children, and was listed as a ‘Dairy Farmer’. In later life Fred, took up a hobby of breeding and exhibiting Perkin Bantams, and was a well know local Judge of the breed at local agricultural shows. He also served on the committee of the Airedale Agricultural Society.

Fred died on 10th April 1959, age 70 years, at Rook Street, Bingley, and his funeral was conducted at nearby Nab Wood Crematorium, Shipley.

Fred Bancroft


On first glance the above shown graffiti might look like wanton vandalism of the worst kind,  written on a wall by some mindless idiot…but read on and here is the story of one of the most iconic images of Bradford in the 1960/70.

When I first started work in Bradford in the 1960’s, I used to pass these words written on a wall on All Saints Road and wonder what the author was thinking when he wrote this, because to me, Bradford at that time was booming with its Wool Industry keeping over one hundred mills working day and night and employing a large percentage of the population….it didn’t seem like ‘a mean old scene' to me!

No one really knows who wrote this, but rumour has it that it was written by a university student called Graham Little in 1969, who went on to be part of a local Theatre Group.

On closer inspection of the letters, particularly the ‘E’, ‘T’ and ‘S’s it was clearly written by someone with artistic tendencies, perhaps an art student, or at least someone who practiced calligraphy.

Over the next few years many Bradfordians came to love seeing the wall with its meaningful words, so much so that the head of Bradford Council’s clean-up team is rumoured to have kept putting the removal notice to the bottom of his pile.

 Some years later, when a car hit the wall and partially demolished it, the council were forced to lower the height of the wall when rebuilding, and partly destroy the graffiti....then someone came along and rewrote it with the new phrase ‘It’s still a mean old scene’!

Many people came to look at it, and appreciate it over the years, so much so that a Jim Greenhalf used the image in a book he wrote called ‘ A history of Bradford from 1974’, and someone else called Pete Coe, even produced a folk music record with the phrase of the title track.

There is also a blues song written in the late 60's by John Mayall called ' Double Crossin' Time' which uses the phrase in it's first line.

Pete Coe article
Jim Greenhalf's book

There were even tea-shirts produced with it shown, depicting the Bradford Boar as well!

Sadly, had it been a modern day 'Banksy', I’m sure it would have been moved and reassembled in the local museum today but like most things, nothing lasts for ever, and the image has now long since gone…..but not forgotten in lots of local people’s memories.

[When I was research for this article, I posted a request for more information about this and received literally hundreds of messages from fellow Bradfordians who had fond memories and anecdotes about this iconic feature…..thank you to them all.]

Jabez Bancroft..."The Wrecker"....part 2

Keighley News - 17th January 1931

I wrote an article some time ago about a Jabez Bancroft [1854-1933], who led a very interesting life in his home town of Keighley, and I recently came across more information about him, including the above photograph of him taken from the Keighley News in 1931.

Early in 1931 one of the worst mill fires to hit Keighley broke out inside the 111ft four story high Mantra Mill, then under the ownership of W & J Bairstow, who ran it as a corn mill. With there being a large amounts of combustible material throughout the building, the fire left it as a complete burnt out shell. The only outcome was to demolish the mill. This caused a bit of a problem because behind the mill stood a water tank which weighed ten tonnes and it was sat on top of an 80ft stone tower and nobody seems to of had any idea on how to deal with it.... that is until Jabez Bancroft a local metal and demolition expert arrived. He had a very simple solution with the aid of just one assistant. His plan was simple, and with a wire rope and winch he pulled the water tank down off its footings, and he then proceeded to blow up the remaining tower with dynamite.

The ten ton water tank pulled to the ground

All this must have been the talk of the town at the time, and no doubt did Jabez’s reputation no end of good as a demolition expert. Goodness knows what it would have done to his reputation if it had all gone wrong!

Shortly after the demolition, plans were drawn up to replace the corn mill with a new building originally called 'Mantra House', which still stand to this day, although now it is divided into many small working units.

Architect's drawing - the new 'Mantra House'

 Jabez life is explained in much more details in my previous article, which can be read by clicking HERE

Bringing home the Turf.

Me, Grandad Ned and the Ass-Cart

As a child, I have fond memories of spending summer times on holiday in Galway, Ireland with my maternal Grandparent, and on speaking to my mother recently about this, it all came flooding back. 

Looking through some old photos, I found the above old photo of me with my Grandfather Ned, bringing home the turf in his Donkey-Cart, or "Ass-Cart" as he always called it. I was about 12 years old at the time. [“Turf” is the name used in Ireland for dried peat.]

It may seem strange to many people nowadays  that even in the 1960’s peat was still been cut from bog-land and widely used to heat the homes in rural Ireland, but this was the norm in the small town where my Grandparents lived, indeed it is still very common to this day to see people using this fuel in the home. My Grandparents would have paid the owner of the bog land a certain price per yard for the right to cut turf for their own use, although at one time the family did own some bog-land of their own.

The photo above shows the type of cart many people had in their back yard, ideal for being pulled over wet bog-land because of it’s large wheels, by a donkey at the time…..can’t remember the name of the donkey, if indeed had a name, but my Grandfather always seemed to have a donkey around on land at the back of their house, as many others did, and I remember going to sleep one warm summer’s evening with the bedroom window wide open, to be woken up in the morning with the donkey sticking it’s head through the window and braying for food!

My Grandfather, assisted by his brother-in-law, Tommy, had the job of cutting and then transporting the dried turf back home.

Cutting the turf was very labour intensive in those days and involved cutting into the wet bog with a specially shaped shovel called a ”slean”.

The Slean
“Saving” the turf involved turning each piece of turf to ensure the sun and wind could help in the drying process. The turf was then placed upright or 'footed' for further drying. Footing the turf involved placing five or six pieces of turf upright and leaning against each other in a small stack in order for the wind to get between the turfs to full dry them out fully, ready for storage.

I well remember seeing the sweat on Tommy’s brow, cutting turf on a hot summer days, then stopping for a rest and a cigarette. He and Grandad then loaded it on the cart after drying and brought it the few miles home to be used through winter.

Their home had a large black range in the kitchen which heated the house and was used for cooking as well. It seemed as though we were continually going outside to the shed for another hand full of turf to keep it stoked up, and then emptying the ashes out because it filled up quickly due to the peat not lasting long. Today many people use commercially cut blocks of peat, which are compressed and therefore seem to last a lot longer.

Back-breaking work!

My mother remembers friends in the town, although not in her time, as children having to each take a piece of turf to school with them every morning in order to heat the classroom, otherwise there was no heat for the class!

And just to finish with, I still have the wonderful smell of burning turf in my head from those happy times years ago.

Drying turf stacks