Old Sayings

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater

Most of my Bancroft ancestors were poor working class folk, and as I was doing some research recently I came across a few old sayings, which I’m sure applied to some of my ancestors and got me wondering as to how they came about, so here’s a few explanations…..apologies in advance for the language and crude nature of some of the material!

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it.. Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water!"

They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot & then once a day it was taken & sold to the tannery.......if you had to do this to survive you were "Piss Poor"….but worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn't even afford to buy a pot......they "didn't have a pot to piss in" & were the lowest of the low.

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof... Hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."

Raining cats and dogs

Many families lived in homes where the floor was just dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, "dirt poor."

The wealthy had stone slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start spilling outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence” a thresh hold.”

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire.. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old. Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, "bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and “chew the fat.”

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the “upper crust.”

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination of the lead and the drink would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial.. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a “wake.”

Many people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June.. However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

There was nothing to stop insect, spiders etc from falling from ceilings under a thatch roof. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.

In Tudor England the ladies wore their hair up, and in 'wimples' (those pointed bonnets you see in paintings). Beneath, their hair was piled high and pinned. Naturally, in the bed chamber, caps and hats, as well as other garments, were disposed of. At times for wanton behavior and abandonment - but only in the bedroom, and in private, hence the saying “To let your hair down”  would come about.

At times, towns and villages
started running out of places to bury people, when existing graveyards were full so they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive... So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, “saved by the bell” or was considered a “dead ringer.”

The Bancroft men who built Cowling Pinnacle

Cowling Pinnacle 2020

The village of Cowling near Keighley was the home to many Bancroft families in the 18th & 19th century. Many were involved with the stone business and worked either in quarries in the area, or indeed actually owned small quarries on pieces of land they owned.

Three Bancroft brothers, Smith, Isaac and John were the sons of James and Esther Bancroft who lived on a 40 acre farm called Fairplace in Cowling and also ran a small stone business, probably quarrying stone from the land where they lived.

Cowling Quarrymen
Later in the 19th century their business partner in the building firm became Holmes Gott.
 Smith died in 1890 and Isaac died in January1900, but I'm unable to work out exactly when John died as there are several Bancroft deaths with the same name around this time.
The building partnership called "Bancroft & Gott" was set up by the two families because both families were involved in the stone business, and jointly constructed several important structures in the area, one of them being the Cowling Pinnacle

There was a former pinnacle structure in the area known as ‘ Cowling Pinnacle’, which is said to have been quite large, and was built as a 'Folly'  in 1815 by William Wainman of Carr Head Hall, possibly to commemorate the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

It was badly damaged by lightening in 1870 and was then rebuilt by Messrs Bancroft & Gott in 1898, with the work being paid for by a Mr Hall-Watt of Carr Head. This ‘new pinnacle’ as it was called for many years afterwards, was rebuilt on safer ground in nearby Sutton parish, with Mr Hall-Watt paying a small peppercorn ground rent to Sutton Parish Council.
The Pinnacle has always been a magnet for ramblers and people wanting a day out in the fresh air and looking for somewhere for a picnic, as this old photo shows.

I wrote a more detailed article some time ago about the Bancroft brothers and their work as quarrymen which can be read HERE

Harry Bancroft's wartime memories

Here’s a nice little local story explaining what life was like at the start of WW2, through the eyes of a seven year old lad, Harry Bancroft, who was born and bred on a farm in the village of Oxenhope near Keighley.

Harry recalls it was a beautiful, sunny, late summer day when war was declared. He was seven and lived at Stones Top Farm in Oxenhope. “At 11am we heard, on the radio, Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, pronounce the fateful words ‘this country is at war with Germany’. So that was it; we faced a very uncertain future.

“A popular hobby at that time was collecting cigarette cards. The set I was collecting was entitled ‘Speed’ and featured record-breaking planes, trains, cars, motorcycles and speedboats. On that Sunday morning, I tore up every card that had anything of German or Italian origin as its subject.
“It was thought there would be an immediate blitzkrieg, but that did not come. However, a plan was put into force to evacuate all children from major cities to ‘safe’ areas. Oxenhope C of E School had its numbers increased by an influx of these evacuees.
“Not only were schoolchildren evacuated, but whole families as well. The Direction of Labour Act meant that you could be sent to wherever it was thought you could be most useful. We rented part of our property to Bert Holt, a skilled engineer, who had been sent to work at a factory at Bocking. The family came from Liverpool, but Bert took to country life with enthusiasm.

“He was in the AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service), and they had a fire tender based at Whin Knowle. The one time he nearly went into action was when the lathe at Pinhill End Farm caught fire.

“There was a lot of humour during the war. There had to be – laughter was a powerful weapon. But the war was grim for those on the receiving end.

“Air raids did not occur straight away, but by 1940 Göring’s Luftwaffe got down to its grim business. One winter, as I lay in bed with a childhood illness, there was the drone of German bombers passing over on their way to Liverpool or Manchester. ‘They won’t waste their bombs on us,’ my father said reassuringly.

“At Stones Top Farm our air-raid shelters were very much do-it-yourself affairs. One that I well remember was in a corner of the lathe under the hay. It would have been very effective protection against a blast, but hazardous if incendiaries were dropped! I recall it being used on the night Bradford was bombed, which, I think, was the most alarming of the war as far as Oxenhope was concerned. I remember the sky being filled with the sound of aircraft engines and a red glow in the sky in the direction of Bradford. That was the night that the fish market on John Street and Lingard’s department store on Kirkgate were set on fire.”

Harry also remembers walking back to school after dinner, and seeing a German bomber flying very low. “The thought that I might have been machine-gunned never occurred. There it was, dark green with the black crosses outlined in white,” he said.

During the war it was decreed that every farmer would plough a percentage of his land and grow a crop. At Stones Top, this was kale for cattle fodder. “The ploughing turned up a lot of stones, so a stone-picking afternoon was organised.” But, according to Harry, “as a child the greatest deprivation was sweets, which were strictly rationed”.

He concluded: “Many families in Oxenhope lost husbands and sons; not on a scale like the First World War, but that is little consolation to a grieving family. As the victorious allies swept through Germany and the occupied countries, the full horror of the concentration camps was revealed. Sad to say war still goes on.”

Some time ago I wrote an article about life in Oxenhope during WW1 and how it affected Harry Bancroft’s family which can be read HERE