Joseph Bancroft - Highway Robber

Here’s an interesting story from the Leeds Intelligencer Newspaper  of   29th March 1823 about Joseph Bancroft, a 29 year old man who was involved with others in an act of Highway Robbery at Sheffield, and even after pleading guilty, was sentenced to death by hanging!

When one thinks about the offence of Highway Robbery, we usually think about the more glamorous characters such as Dick Turpin, riding his horse, but the Highway Robbery was usually much more down to earth , with a violent nature, and committed by ordinary individuals, on foot at night. Due to the violent aspect to many of these cases, the penalty was usually death by hanging.

After the early 1800's, mounted robbers are recorded only rarely. The last recorded robbery by a mounted highwayman occurred in 1831. The development of the railways is sometimes cited as a factor, but highwaymen were already obsolete before the railway network was built. A very important factor was the expansion of the system of turnpikes, manned and gated toll-roads, which made it all but impossible for a highwayman to escape notice while making his getaway.  Also a greater use of banknotes, more traceable than gold coins,  made life more difficult for robbers. Land Enclosure, and  the decline in undeveloped open fields and increase in private incentives to regulate trespassers, may also have played a role.

The local newspapers reported on several cases before Their Honors Judge Sir John Batley Knight, and Judge Sir George Sowley Holroyd who held court at York Assizes on Saturday 29th March 1823, where sentence of death was passed on several prisoners, including Joseph Bancroft, for Highway Robbery with aggravating features.

The circumstances of the case, as  also reported in the York Herald Newspaper are as follows:

'Joseph Bancroft [29] and Wm. Fletcher [33] were charged with robbing Joseph Eyre on the King’s Highway, in the parish of Sheffield, of his watch and 18s of silver. Bancroft pleaded guilty, but Fletcher not guilty, and placed himself upon his trial. On the 29th November last, the prosecutor, Joseph Eyre, who is a poor man, residing at Attercliffe, was at Sheffield Fair. Between the hours of 12 and 1 at night, he was going home, and when he had got about 100 yards beyond the Twelve O’clock Public House, on the road to Attercliffe, three men came upon him and knocked him down, when the prisoner came up and joined the three. He had seen them all together at Sheffield and also on the road. The prosecutor begged for mercy, telling them that he was only a poor fiddler, and on his screaming out for assistance, had dirt forced into him mouth and eyes. They then broke his fiddle and took from him his watch, and all his money [23s or 24s on silver] He told them that they had ruined him forever. They ran away, leaving Bancroft to stand over him, who soon after joined his companions. Two or three persons were called who saw the prisoners, along with another two , near the place of the robbery, about midnight. The prosecutor, a good natured fellow, on leaving the box said “I hope my Lord; you will be as merciful to them as you can. The jury found the prisoner, Fletcher, guilty.'

The newspaper reported the Judge’s summing up before sentencing as follows:

‘When asked by the Judge, as to why he should not pass the death sentence, several of the prisoners said that it was their first offence, and begged him to show mercy. The learned Judge, in addressing the prisoners said that he  has to pass this awful sentence on so many, and particularly so many young persons, who by the commission of their crimes, had forfeit their lives to the laws of the country. With respect to many of them, he felt a pleasure in saying, that he could, without a dereliction of his duty, recommend them to the mercy of his Majesty. But with regard to others, he was sorry to remark that no hopes of mercy could possibly be held out for them. The full sentence of the law must certainly be put into force for some of them. His Lordship therefore urged them to devote the short time they had left to live, by endeavoring to atone for their offences, and obtain that mercy thereafter, which the safety of society prevented those whose duty it was to administer the justice of the country, from extending to them here.’

At a later court appearance, the presiding Judge Holroyd, reprieved most of the prisoners, including Joseph Bancroft from their death sentence, although it is not clear from the newspaper reports, exactly why, or what other sentence he was given.

If anyone knows anything further about this incident, or about Joseph Bancroft, please let me know by leaving a message in the comments section.

Highway Robbery

George Bancroft - Farming life in the Upper Worth Valley

George Bancroft and friend outside Deanfield Farm

I recently was given details of several interviews given to a local magazine in the 1990's by George Riley Bancroft, which tells of some chilling tales of farming near Haworth in the Upper Worth Valley, where he grew up. He described in fascinating detail the hard winter days when milk froze solid, as well as the tough times that moorland sheep farmers had to endure in his farming lifetime. George is remembered locally as one of the last farmers in the area to retain the traditional dialect, which I have tried to use in this article when quoting him.

George Riley Bancroft was born on 4th March 1911 at Intake Laithe Farm at Oldfield near Oakworth, Keighley, the home of his mother's Riley ancestors. He came from a long line of local farming stock, on both sides of his ancestry. His parents John and Mary [nee Riley], and his paternal grandparents had  farmed at Hoyle Farm near Haworth, and then moved to the nearby farm called 'Sowdens', when George was a young boy. His mother Mary Riley's family had farmed at Intake Laithe, in the nearby hamlet of Oldfield, since the 1780's.

 Sowdens Farm is widely know locally because this was where the Revd. William Grimshaw, Haworth’s other famous incumbent who proceeded Patrick Bronte, once lived and George remembered sleeping in rooms occupied by that famous man, and always used to say “We might be better off today it there were one or two o’t’ same sort abart”. The seventeenth century farmhouse was occupied by Rev'd William Grimshaw from 1742, until his death in 1763, and he used it as the Parsonage for Haworth Parish Church, because neither the Church Trustees nor the Vicar of Bradford had seen fit to provide the incumbent or curate of Haworth with a dwelling house as part of the job. In those days the Haworth incumbents were expected to make his own living arrangements to attend to their duties. It is said that when Rev'd Grimshaw had visitors to stay, the house was so crowded that he would have sleep in the adjoining barn. On his death, his son became the new owner of Sowdens.

Sowdens Farm

Sowdens, in George’s time, was quite a small dairy farm of about 14 acres, devoted to Shorthorn and Ayrshire cattle and it was one of the few diary farms in the area. Farmers at that time just milked a few cows and transported a lot of the milk to the milkmen in Bradford in kits [by rail]. The Bancrofts hand-milked their cows and had a lively trade in Haworth area, selling milk at “ three-hawpence a pint”. The milk was delivered by cans, from which milk was taken using a pint or gill measure. George remembered “You dipped a measure or two out of t’can, and tipped it int’ jug…and that were it!”

George’s family also started breeding sheep during the 1914-18 war, and the family took on a lease from Keighley Corporation to graze their stock on the moors surrounding the 'TopWithens' farmhouse, which was made world famous because of its link to the Bronte Sisters book  'Wuthering Hights'. He remembered it as “Good land, but t' Corporation’s policy were to let it go back …we hadn’t to repair ony walls, it was just land fo' keepin' sheep”. When George’s father took on the lease at first, the agreement was “ Fifty sheep, at a rent the equivalent of £7.50 a year…we may have kept a few more, but restrictions were imposed because just after t' war there 'ad been gross overstocking by some local men”

Top Withens  c1920's
Top Withens plaque
The Bancroft family originally took on leases for all three Withens farms, Top, Middle and Lower, and George remembered that the Middle and Lower Withens were demolished, but Top Withens, which even in those days was a popular tourist site with visitors, was left standing “ for t’ Bronte fans…When I took t' tenancy of it, it were getting middlin’ dilapidated.... well it had got vandals in at it, and you can’t beat them. So I asked 'em what they wanted to do abat it…it was'nt safe, and I didn’t want to be responsible for onyone getting killed. They said they would take that property out of t’agreement, and they’d be responsible for that…but, well it’s more or less tummelled dahn now….and it 'ad bin a grand little place.” He remembers a time 60 years ago, when Top Withens had a peat house, where the stock of winter fuel was kept and also remembers visiting the place lots of times when the last tenant, Ernest Roddy, a tall affable man lived there. Ernest had been gassed during the war, and fresh air was a necessity, so the authorities set him up at Top Withens where he was a poultry farmer, keeping hens. He had previously been a French polisher in Haworth, as well as a postman, and hawker of yeast, and every Tuesday he visited all the outlying farms selling his yeast because home bread-baking was the norm in those days. His yeast was sold for one penny an ounce and George remembered “when he 'ad landed home after tramping miles over t'moorland, he wouldn’t be worth robbin'… He would be there for five or six years and left in 1926. He 'ad a pony and cart to go to and from Stanbury and Haworth, and kept a lot of white leghorn hens, and when he returned to Top Withens, an’ got in sight of it, those hens saw him coming and flew darn to meet him”

When asked if he’d had any bad winters up at Top Withens, he laughed and replied: “ Aye, we had one o' two bad winters…the worst spell o' weather was in't early part of 1947. It began at t’latter end o’ January, but before then it were a reight keen frost for two or three weeks. Soon after Christmas it’d start. It started coming from over yon moortop , and when it does that, it’s north-east , you can expect summat. It niver gave ower till April. An' even in July there were t' remains ow a snow drift up aboon Ponden Kirk. It were sudden...we weren’t expecting it...not so bad. You couldn’t round your sheep up…you couldn’t get theer! There’s been loads a'snow where there’s been more snow than then, but t’north-east wind niver let up. You could see t'snow being blown ower t'fields. Down t’middle of t' field there was very little snow, but under t’walls and main road…well it were hopeless!.”

George was always fond of sheepdogs, and one of his more unusual sheepdog tales was of the time one June day when he decided to clip some sheep up at Top Withens, and went up there by horse and cart, with his dog [Ben] riding along side him. He noticed some sheep had strayed onto Haworth Moor, so spent about an hour rounding them up with Ben. When all the sheep had been clipped, he loaded the wool onto the cart, and Ben jumped on, as they made their way back to the farm at Stanbury. Ben untypically did not jump down from the cart when they got home, but just lay there. George thought “Begger you!”, left him and went in for some tea. Afterwards, the dog was still sat on the cart and George therefore knew “ summat were up…after running on t’ling for an hour, every one of his feet were red raw…chopped i’bits” ['Ling' is the name for the rough heather which grows on the moor]

One day he left a small flock of sheep grazing at Top Withens, and lost them. "Good God where can they have gotten to"…then he saw the kitchen door at a nearby farm was open, and the sheep had gone inside. He therefore marched into the kitchen, round the large kitchen table, rounded them up and out the door with a bright “Mornin” to the speechless farmer’s wife. 

Present-day Top Withens and the moors

George married Hannah Whittaker, daughter of Whitley Whitaker in 1933, and they had four children, two sons and two daughters

George &  Hannah's Wedding Day

He remembered one bad winter at home, when he had four pigs in a “pig-oil” at the bottom of the famyard. He sold them one Friday night, and they were supposed to be going on Monday morning. “ Onnyway, they nivver went. We took a ten gallon can o’milk to t’roadside for t’ milk wagon  on Sunday morning, and we nivver saw that can again for a fortneet. It was just snowed ower and the milk was refrigerated and taken to t’dairy by a neighbour, and was accepted as being in good condition.”

Whilst still on the subject of milk, he recalled the ways they had of keeping milk during bad winters,as the cows still had to be milked, even when the roads were closed,which prevented it being collected….” Milk was stored in all sorts of peggy-tubs, baths and one thing and another….when we were going to put it in cans, you had to break the blooming stuff up wi’ a hammer and shovel it in…the milk were frozen solid!”

 George’s family moved to Deanfield Farm near Stanbury in 1924, and he took over the running of the farm from his father in 1940. Although very isolated, Deanfield had wonderful views over Ponden Reservoir.
He recalled his early days in the valley, when life was much harder, but there was more fellowship in those days with everyone looking out for each other….” Fifty years sin’ we were all strugglin' on together... not thinking abart going on t’world’s end to find some'at better”

For farmers like George, farming for over 60 years in the Upper Worth Valley, with the land very much as it always had been, with  stones just below the surface when ploughing, he knew had its limitations. "When its ploughed time after time, it gradually moves down t’ hill till you’re down to nowt at t’top. During t’ war each farmer had to plough a certain acreage, regardless of need, and a farmer across the valley accordingly did just that. They’d gotten it reet grand, then during t’neet came a thunderstorm and washed all t’top soil down t’ bottom in a heap…it were a reet mess!” 

1- Deanfield    2- Scar Top Chapel     3- Top Withens

When the family move from Sowdens Farm to Deanfield Farm, overlooking Ponden Reservoir, he  remembered being visited by an old man, who had lived there as a boy when the reservoir was being constructed. There had been an encampment of over five hundred navies occupying fields around the farm, likening the area to the Wild-West. A Brewery was constructed in the area, to try and keep the navies from straying too far away, and a single policeman had to be brought in to quell any troubles! The old man remembered collecting handfuls of small grey worms from freshly dug trenches, which the navies ate, still wriggling! [I wrote an article about the construction of Ponden Reservoir previously, which can be read by clicking here.]
View over Ponden Reservoir from Deanfield

George, after a lifetime of toil, eventually decided to take things a bit easier, so reduced Deanfield Farm down from about 50 acres to 20, and he remembered the doctor calling one day in the Spring of 1995….”just a casual visit to see if I was still living, because he hadn’t seen me for a while….I told him I was going to have a sale, but he advised me against selling up altogether as too many of his patients had done that, moved away, and that were the end on ‘em!

The picture to the right shows George and Hannah standing outside Deanfield Farm, one cold winter's day....which is evident from the size of the icicles hanging from the  gutters !

After his wife Hannah died, George made the decision to spend a couple of weeks in a local nursing home, and liked it so much there that he stayed there for the remaining four years of his life. He passed away in April 2000 at the grand old age of 89 years and his funeral was fittingly held at Scar Top Chapel., where he had been a trustee for over 50 years.

Scartop Chapel

His obituary in the Keighley News said:
 “He took away with him a great wealth of local knowledge and intrigue.”

[I am grateful to Adrian & June Bancroft, and also David Riley for the information and photographs they provided to help with this article]

Samuel Blagbrough Bancroft.... "Strange Death in an Ovenden Public House"

Ovenden Cross Public House

'Strange death in an Ovenden Public House' is the title of an article which appeared in the Yorkshire Evening Post on 12th March 1892, and concerned Samuel Blagbrough Bancroft [1848-1892]  who was born, and lived all his life in Ovenden near Halifax.

Samuel was the son of  John Bancroft [1815-1875], a Master Joiner and Farmer  from Ovenden, and his wife Martha [nee Blagbrough] who together had a family of eight children.

Samuel seems to have been a rather unpleasant character, who had a life ruled by drink,and it looks as though Samuel had a very difficult relationship with his family. I reported the story in a previous article of his first appearance in the local court on 19th October 1869, when, at the age of only  22 years, he was summonsed to  court on a charge of assaulting his father, mother and sister. The incident was reported as follows in the Halifax newspaper under the heading:

 'A violent son near Halifax.'
Yesterday at West Riding Court, Halifax, Samuel Bancroft, joiner of Ovenden, pleaded guilty to having assaulted his father on the previous Saturday. When the prisoner had gone home, he struck his mother and dragged his sister about by the hair on her head. The father was assaulted when he interfered, and stated that his son was a drunken, lazy and dissolute fellow. The prisoner was fined £2 5s, or else 2 months in prison.

He seems to have finally settled down, because in 1890 he married Mary Ann Ramsden, and the 1891 census shows the couple as living at 9 Whitley Street, Halifax with his occupation shown as a joiner.

But  much more was to come in 1892 when Samuel hit the headlines again, but this time for a very different reason, albeit still involving drink..... his untimely death at the early age of 44 years. The Yorkshire Evening Post had the following report on 12th March 1892.

'Strange death in an Ovenden Public House'
 A man named Samuel Blagbrough Bancroft has died suddenly at the Ovenden Cross Public House.  Last night the Deputy Coroner of Halifax, Mr JF Hill, held the inquest there, Mr John Stirk being foreman of the jury, and Chief Constable Pole was present.
Samuel Blagborough Bancroft, a pavior, was in the inn, last Thursday at 2 0 o'clock, and called for a pint of beer, which was supplied him. Sometime afterwards the landlord brought in a quart jug full of rum and water, and a tot glass was handed to everyone present. The company at that time numbered five or six. Subsequently the jug was left on the table, and the deceased helped himself to two or three glasses more. The drink appeared to  a witnesses to take some effect on him. Anyhow, an attempt to leave later on caused him to fall on the fender, and rolled off with his face to the floor. He was assisted up and guided to a chair, where he was still seated when witnesses left the house. It would be about six o,clock when the man fell.
Replying to the Chief Constable,to the best of his recollection,  it was about four o,clock when the jug was brought in.  The deceased however had nothing else to drink between receiving his pint of beer and this being served. The man in fact did not seem inclined for drinking, as he never drank heartily all the afternoon.
Answering a juryman, he said that the grog was very weak, so much so that he asked the landlord " if it was the tap droppings sweetened?"
Frank Tasker, the landlord, gave evidence that the deceased was in the habit of doing odd jobs for him, and visited the house daily. He complained, on entering the house on Thursday, that he was not at all well. With regard to the grog he provided, it was very weak,there being only about a noggin strength of neat spirit. It was simply in fact what had been washed from an almost empty cask, and a man could have drunk the whole quart without it doing him any harm.He had made the practice of giving the liquor away to his customers ever since he had been in the trade. After leaving the jug on the room table, he went away, having some cattle to attend to. On his return, shortly before eight o'clock, he found the deceased on his knees in the room, with his head on the chair, dead. There was no one else in the place.
Dr. Montgomery, who was called in, attributed the death to an apoplectic fit.
The Deputy Coroner, after hearing the provided evidence,said that he still adhered to his opinion that a man might have swallowed the whole of the drink he had heard of, if he was a healthy man, and it would not have caused death.The man's apparent intoxication might also he said, be a condition accounted for by the development of apoplesy.[sic... should read apoplexy]
The jury therefore decided that he had died through "Natural Causes". 

[From the late 14th to the late 19th century, apoplexy referred to any sudden death that began with a sudden loss of consciousness, especially one in which the victim died within a matter of seconds after losing consciousness. The word apoplexy may have been used to refer to the symptom of sudden loss of consciousness immediately preceding death and not a verified disease process. Sudden cardiac deaths, ruptured cerebral aneurysms, certain ruptured aortic aneurysms, and even heart attacks may have been referred to as apoplexy in the past.]

Around this time Temperance Societies were at their most active, warning the working classes about the evils of drink. The local Temperance Magazine produced the following warning to pub landlords:

"If there is a business in which the candidates of hell are labouring, it is yours, and full well you know it.
Were it not a conscience killing business, you would not take the last sixpence from the trembling hand of the drunkard and give him in relief a poison that, ere the next rising sun, may send him to his tomb.
Were it not a demoralising traffic, you could not stand by unmoved, and see the last spark of mortality and virtue driven from the mind of a man by the poison you administer.
Were it not an inferior business you would not be so assiduous in servicing the devil with victims for his abode of endless misery, for he exalts over every drunkard you prepare for the drunkard’s doom.
Then cease this business of ruin, ere the cry of humanity ceases and ere the wrath of angry heaven be poured out upon your head, for God has announced “a woe to him who putteth the bottle to his neighbour’s lips”.

The evils of drink!

Jabez Bancroft - The "Wrecker" of Mantra Mill.

The Water Tank being dislodged from the Tower at Mantra Mill

I came across this interesting story in the Keighley News archives, about a Jabez Bancroft [1854-1933] and the interesting jobs he had as a Metal Broker and Demolition Expert.

Jabez was born around 1854 in an area called Bocking which is on the outskirts of Keighley, within the Bingley Parish area.

His parents were Joseph and Deborah [nee Mitchell] and they were part of the large family of Shuttlemakers and Woodturners, who I wrote about previously and which can be read by clicking here.

At the tender age of 7 years, Jabez started work in the factory of George Hattersley & Sons, at their Northbook Works in Keighley. The company was well known around the world as Loom Manufacturers.

Jabez did not seem to stay working at Hattersley's, because by the time of the 1871 census his job was listed as a Joiner, and  he then went back working with the rest of his immediate family as a Woodturner, and continued with this after his marriage to Elizabeth Ann Ramsbottom in 1875. They had 5 children, 4 sons and 1 daughter, and by 1901 Jabez’s occupation  had changed again because the census of that year shows him as now being a “Machine Broker” and later as a “Metal Broker”. He is listed as being in business on his ‘own account’ which would have meant he was self employed. It seems clear, from details written at the time that he was involved in big demolition jobs from this time onwards. Evidence of this business is shown by an incident in 1905, where he was called as a witness in a bankruptcy case of an iron broker called Seth Ormondroyd, regarding a dispute over the ownership of a boiler, an engine and other plant equipment which were being sold off as part of the sale and demolition of and old mill in Thornton. Jabez was one of the persons negotiating to handle them as part of the demolition job, but in the event did not do the work.

Mantra Mill and Water Tower

He often used explosives in connection with his demolition work, and when interviewed by the press about this, he related an incident when on one occasion he was trapped in a crank-pit of a big steam engine, after setting a time fuse to go off. The ladder with which he intended to get out of the pit had broken and the sides of the pit were covered in slime and grease making it impossible for him to climb to safety. When asked how he managed to survive, he said:… ‘I just stood there with his hands behind my head, hoping for the best and fortunately when the charge went off, none of the broken pieces fell my way’!

Another  press article says he was a person who could cope with electric shocks….’ He was able to allow the high voltage to pass through his body apparently without inconvenience, and was able to grasp electric cables charged with a current which would have seriously injured most men….he could put his hands on the plugs of a motor vehicle engine and stop it!’

 In early 1931, a large four-storey, 111 feet long corn mill called Mantra Mill and owned by  W & J Bairstows, at South Street in Keighley was destroyed, in what was said to be one of the most destructive fires ever seen in the town. Due to the nature of the business undertaken at the mill there was a great deal of combustible material held there, so the fire completely destroyed the mill building. Jabez then took on perhaps his most spectacular feat of demolition by pulling down the huge water tank and tower which was left standing at the back of the burned out mill. The water tank on top of the tower weighed over ten tons, and with the aid of only one assistant Jabez pulled the tank down to the ground with only a wire rope and a winch. He then had the job of blowing up the stonework of the 80 foot tower with can only imagine the health and safety nightmare this would cause today! [ The photograph  at the top of the page, taken from the Keighley News, shows the water tank on top of the 80 foot tower falling, and the one above shows the Mill and Water Tower before the fire, and gives a good indication of the size of the mill, before the fire, and water tower]

Jabez died two years later on the 8th October 1933, a few days before his 80th birthday at his home at 5 Cliffe St, Keighley, and was buried at the local cemetery at Utley, on the outskirts of the town.
 In Affectionate Remembrance of Jabez Bancroft of Cliffe Street. Keighley
Born October 16th 1854--Died October 8th 1933.
Also of Elizabeth Bancroft his beloved wife
Born January 30th 1853 Died December 3rd 1937
Also of Jabez their son and dearly loved husband of Jane Bancroft
Born May 27th 1882--Died December 18th 1941.
To the memory ever dear.
Also Henry Bancroft Born May 7th 1876--Died Oct.20th 1950

His obituary in the Keighley News said:
‘Keighley has lost a well known character by his death….he had been in business on his own account for over half a century….his principal occupation being that of  “The Wrecker”.

 The poor quality picture below, taken from the Keighley News, shows the 80 foot stone water tower actually being blown up by Jabez, one quiet Sunday morning in 1931.

How did 'Flappit Springs' get it's name?

How would a place called 'Flappit Springs' get it's name?......the answer is that it refers  to the area near Cullingworth in Yorkshire, where part of the process of the tanning of hides, known as flaying, was carried out in 'Flay Pits', using water from a local spring....... here are the details, and the Bancroft connection.

I came across this scrap of a letterhead recently, which was in the archives of a local Keighley printing firm, and which shows the occupation of a John Bancroft of Flappit Springs [spelt wrongly on the letterhead as Flappet]….the only question was which John Bancroft did this refer to, as there were several individuals with that name living in this area at the time, all related and all about the same age…. two of them even had a wife called Sarah which made the job of researching even harder!
After some searching I think I have the details, so here goes.
John was born 2nd September 1827, the son of William Bancroft and Hannah Bartle. At the time of his birth his father was listed as a ‘Husbandman’ living nearby in the Denholme area. A husbandman was a job description given at the time to a free tenant farmer or small landowner. The social status of a husbandman was below that of a yeoman farmer, who was generally the person who both owned and farmed the land. William and Hannah had a large family, of at least ten children, which probably explains why John seems to have spent his early years living with his grandparents, Joseph and Martha Bartle in a row of farm cottages called Providence Row on Cullingworth Moor, as his parents were probably short of space in their house with such a large family. The censuses of 1841 and 1851 show him living with them as a weaver and later a delver. His grandfather, Joseph Bartle was described as a 'master delver' so it seems probable that both men worked in the Flappit Quarry, which was close by to where they were living at Providence  Row.

Flappit Quarry
By the time of the 1861 census he was now married to Sarah [surname not known] and was still living in the same row of cottages on Cullingworth Moor, but he was now shown as a ‘Tanner', with no children but employing two other men to help with the work. [Some internet sites wrongly show his occupation as a ‘Farmer’, but when you look at the actual image written at the time, the handwriting is poor, and could easily be misread, but on close inspection it is definitely ‘Tanner’, and his wife is shown as ‘Tanner’s Wife’]

The letterhead, shown at the top of this article, is dated 18th June 1853, so it all seem to fit in with the census records, and we can therefore be fairly certain that this is when he took up the trade of a tanner and currier. Another family also operated a tanning business in the Flappit Springs area during this period. Records show three brothers, William, Jonas & Jonathan Brooksbank listed as tanners from 1851, and Jonathan was still running the business in 1871 with his father Joseph who had previously been a weaver. I cannot find any evidence to support  whether the Bancrofts & Brooksbanks worked together in some form of partnership, or were in fact rivals in business, but looking at the proximity of where the two families were living, it seems hard to believe that they were not working together in some form or another. It seems likely that John probably worked for the Brooksbank family initially, and then decided to set up business on his own.

By the time of the next census in 1871 he is now shown as living at a farm called ‘Cow House’ at the other side of the Cullingworth village, and his occupation is still shown as ‘Tanner’. He is at this time still showing his wife Sarah, with no children, but with a 12 year old unrelated girl described as a 'servant'. As can be seen from the following map dated around this time, the tannery at Cow House was quite a large concern, and as far back as 1785 there are records of a lease being taken out on the  premises as a tannery at an annual rent of £3 a year by an earlier tenant. It seems likely  that John took out a lease and moved to these premises from Flappit Springs to enlarge his existing tanning business.

circa 1880
The buildings at Cow House are still there today, albeit very much altered from when John Bancroft ran his tannery business from there.
Cow House - 2013
Looking at the actual work of a ‘Tanner & Currier’....  It cannot be underestimated how important the production of leather was one hundred and fifty years ago, in the mid 19th century, before the invention of modern day products such as rubber, plastic and vinyl.  In the days before the invention and widespread use of these modern synthetic  materials, people had to rely on leather for many everyday items....from the baby who was rocked in a cradle suspended on leather straps, to the child who wore leather shoes and boots, to the mother who sharpened her knives on a well-worn strip of leather nailed to the kitchen cupboard, to the father of the family who wore buckskin breeches to tend to the livestock, and dealt with the harnesses and trappings of the horses..... the tanned hides of animals provided a great wealth of household items and clothing.

The Tanner and his Tannery or Tan Yard were to be found in most towns and villages throughout the country, many of them small concerns, run by farmers as a sideline to their main business of rearing livestock.
 The tanner's craft was not a nice one; it was one of the smelliest and physically hazardous of occupations. The hides were soaked [flayed] in a pit or vat to loosen the hair and the smell could become quite odious. Lime was also used to speed up the process of softening the animal hides, and could just as easily soften and loosen the hide of the tanner himself !
 The hide was then removed from the soaking and spread across a "beam", which was usually just a section of log. The curved surface of the beam would ensure that the knives (used to scrape away any remaining hair) would not encounter a sharp edge underneath the hide and accidental rip into it. The thoroughly scraped hide would then have tannin, made from tree bark added, before being finally soaked again, and when the tanner felt it was ready, would be hung over drying lines, usually wooden poles whose widths helped to keep the one side of the tanned hide from touching the other.  After the tanned hide had thoroughly dried it would be rather stiff and unwieldy for use and had to be softened without damaging it, so would be covered with a mixture of tallow and neat's-foot oil. The piece of leather could then be rubbed and worked by hand, before being passed to the Currier for the next step in the process.

The Currier would bring the piece of leather to its final state. He would stretch and burnish the piece of leather until it was a uniform thickness and suppleness. The more the Currier burnished the surface with his iron "slicker" or scouring stone, the thinner he stretched it and the softer it became.The process of currying still takes place today by machine, except in the case of certain high value goods, which are still hand finished. Generally speaking, the arrival of the machine age effectively killed off the skill.

Going back to Flappit Springs, the exact area where the hides were treated  is shown by the red marker on the following map. They were flayed (wet and then beaten) with water from springs in the field behind some cottages. Providence Row houses, where John Bancroft lived originally with his Grandparents can be seen at the bottom of the map.


Little evidence remains today of the area where the flay pits were in use at Flappit Springs. The following photograph shows what is left of them behind the row of old cottages. The hollows in the ground were the pits where the hides would have been laid out and flayed, and are still just about  visible today, but the springs, which provided the water to flay the hides has long since dried up.
Old Flay Pits
  I am not able to confirm exactly when John died, but by 1881 his wife Sarah is shown as a widow and living at Richmond Street, Bradford with an unmarried niece. The space left for her occupation is left blank, so it seems probable that she lived on her own means and did not need to work. She later moved to Keighley, and ran a boarding house at 24  Mornington Street, before finally moving to 7 Midland Terrace, Keighley, where the 1911 census shows her living alone and describes her as 'living on own means' There is a monumental inscription record for a  John & Sarah Bancroft , in a Bingley Cemetery showing a John Bancroft who died 23rd November 1879, with his wife Sarah dying 10th January 1906, which may be the correct couple.

The only evidence still left at Flappit Springs, which denotes the tanning activity there in the mid 19th century is the pub across the road, which was originally called the Fleece Inn on old maps, but today is aptly names ‘The Flappit’

Fred Bancroft 'MM' in World War One

Fred Bancroft  

Here is an interesting article to coincide with Remembrance Day later this month, describing an act of great bravery by Fred Bancroft of Silsden during WW1.

Fred Bancroft,was born in 1896 at Ickornshaw, a small Hamlet near the village of Cowling, and was part of a large family of 15 children of John Henry and Agnes Bancroft. I wrote an article previously about how this family managed to live in very poor conditions in a very dilapidated house, which can be read by clicking here. Because of these poor living conditions, the family moved to Silsden, near Keighley when Fred was a small boy.

Fred was a Dyer's Labourer at the Silden Dyeworks, and at the outbreak of war enlisted in January 1916 in the West Riding Regiment, no doubt encouraged to join up by the Government's recruitment campaign lead, by Lord Kitchener, and he went out to France in March of that year. He won the Military Medal, and the background to this was reported in  the Keighley News in September 1917, telling the following story:
'Private Fred Bancroft, one of four soldiers on Mr. and Mrs. JH Bancroft, 11 Walker’s Place, Silsden, has been awarded the Military Medal for gallantry and devotion to duty whilst in action. The deed for which Private Bancroft gained the coveted honour is described by his Commanding Office [ C.E.M. Logan] as follows:-  On the 25th of August 1917, a small party of the 24th Labour Co. was proceeding on the railway at  [blanked out at the time for security reasons] when the enemy’s shelling became very heavy. One shell exploded near the party and mortally wounded one of his comrades. The rest of the party ran for cover except Private Bancroft, who remained very cool and collected. In spite of the continued shelling, which was very severe, he proceeded along the rail track to obtain a stretcher, and returned with another man to help carry his comrade to the dressing station. Unfortunately the man died, five minutes after being admitted, or Private Bancroft would undoubtedly have saved his life, as shells continued to fall round the place where he was lying helpless’
'Private Bancroft has also received written congratulations from other officers in respect to his gallantry. On September 8th, the company to which he is attached went on parade when his Commanding Officer pinned the ribbon on his breast. He will receive the medal later. Private Bancroft, who is 21 years of age, is attached to the Labour Co., West Riding Regiment. He enlisted in January 1916, and went out to France towards the end of March the same year.'

 The Keighley News commented on him again  in the following year, with a photograph, saying he had been  wounded at the Battle of the Somme. As is well known, the Battle of the Somme was one of the most infamous episodes in the whole of WW1, where more than 1 million men were injured or lost ;there lives. The newspaper report stated:
'During the battle of the Somme he was engaged on work near the front line for a considerable time and was later wounded. By October 1918 he was still convalescing in Ripon Convalescent Hospital.'

After his convalescence, Fred went back home to Silsden, and married Mary Ann Dean at Silsden Parish Church on 25th November 1919. 

Fred was one of five brothers who took part in WW1. The tragic story of the whole family can be read by clicking here.

Fred died in St John's Hospital, Keighley on 19th May 1961.


The Military Medal was first established on 25th March 1916 and was awarded to personnel of the British Army, and other forces, for bravery in battle on land. The inscription on the reverse of the medal says "FOR BRAVERY IN THE FIELD". It was only discontinued relatively recently in 1993. Anyone awarded this, was allowed to use the letters 'MM' after their name.

Also shown above is a hat badge from the West Riding Regiment in which Fred Bancroft served, and which can be seen on the photograph of him at the top of the page.

The 'Hole House' Mystery

Hole House - circa 1850

For many years I struggled to find the location of the house where my G/G/G/Grandparents Joseph and Nellie Bancroft lived in the late 18th and early 19th century called ‘Hole House’, which was listed in parish records as being somewhere in  the Keighley Parish area.

 Joseph had been baptised 31/5/1755 at Haworth Church and is listed as being from Far Oxenhope on the parish record. He married twice, first to Judith Smith, in 1784 at Bradford Church, and at which time he was living at Leeming, Far Oxenhope, where their four sons, William b1784, Abraham b 1785, Joseph b 1787 and Jabez b 1789 were then all born. He was a weaver by trade, probably working at home with a handloom, as was a common occupation in the area at this time, and possible did a little farming to help sustain his family.

Shortly after the his fourth son, Jabez, was born in 1789, his wife Judith died at Far Oxenhope of what was described of “ the gripes” which was a bowel complaint, when only 35 years old.

 He then married again on 13/101794 to Ellen Bradley, known as Nelly [daughter of John Bradley], at Haworth church. Both are listed “of this parish” on the parish record and both left there marked cross on the parish register, as can be seen on the above picture.

Joseph and Nelly then moved away from Oxenhope and set up home at  Hole House, Oakworth,  in the Keighley Parish, probably in connection with his skill as a weaver, as there were several new woollen and cotton mills springing up in the vicinity which would have provided plenty of opportunities for employment, as handloom weavers had started to move from their cottage industry at home to the new mechanised mills The nearest mill being Vale Mill, which was in the valley just a few hundred yards below Hole House, had been newly opened in 1785, and due to its size would have been heavily recruiting workers such as Joseph, who had a skill such as weaving.

Vale Mill, Oakworth
 Whilst living at Hole House they had ten of their eleven children, eight sons and three daughters, to add to Joseph’s four sons by his first marriage. The children were Grace b1797, Jonas b 1797 d 1801, Betty b/d 1799, Mary b 1802, Timothy b 1802, John b 1803, Michael b 1805, George b 1810, Isaac b 1812, Mathew b 1808, Benjamin b 1814 [born at nearby Greenwood Vale]

Nelly died in 1828 aged only 58 doubt the fact that she had eleven children in sixteen years,had something to do with this.

Joseph died 10/4/1838 at the home of his son Mathew at Harden Heights, which is about 5 miles away from Hole House. His death certificate, denotes the fact that he was a very old man for the times, because it lists him as a weaver of 83 and three quarter years old, and the cause of death is listed as “old age”!!

Joseph Bancroft death certificate.

Rev'd Patrick Bronte buried both Joseph and Nelly at Haworth Church, but there are no gravestones to commemorate this.

Now to the story about the reason why I could never find Hole House in my  early research........All Joseph’s fifteen children, from both marriages, were baptised at Haworth Parish Church with the exception of one daughter Betty, who for some reason which I have not been able to clarify, was baptised in 1799 at Keighley Parish Church. Over the years I have found all the Haworth baptism records for their children, and they all list the area where Joseph and Nellie were living as either ‘Hole House’ or ‘Hoil House’, and I accepted this variation because the way the word ‘hole’ was pronounced in olden times, using the Yorkshire dialect, was either  ‘hoil’ or ‘oil’. It was only when I found the entry for  their only child who was not baptised at Haworth... daughter Betty, who the Keighley Parish Church records described as being born at ‘Hoyle House’ that everything fitted into place!

Hoyle House is a small row of cottages, in the village of Oakworth near Keighley still there today...I had never realised that Hole House was in fact today known as  Hoyle House!....and is less than a mile from where I live!

Hoyle House - circa 1900
So here is my theory about all this…. It seems likely that Joseph and Nelly was not able to read and write very well...if at all, and this is confirmed by the fact that both just made their mark on their marriage record, shown above, rather than signing their names. They would probably not have been able to write their address down, or read what had been written, and so when asked by the vicar where they lived, would have said ‘Hoyle House’.The vicar, or whoever had the task of making the entry in the parish record,  probably made the assumption when taking their local accent into account….ah yes, they means Hole House.

Just why or when 'Hole House' became renamed as ' Hoyle House' is unclear...maybe the map makers were so fed up of everyone calling it 'Hoyle House' they decided to just go with that! The name  however had certainly changed by the time the above map was produced around 1900.

Hoyle House as it is today 

Bancrofts caught gambling...on the day of rest!

Pitch & Toss in progress

 Following on from last month's article about George Bancroft, which can be read by clicking here, the area around the village of Oxenhope near Keighley seems to have had some strange 'goings-on' in the late 19th century involving several Bancroft individuals. 

This activity usually took place on Sundays...'the day of rest', at some of the remote stone quarries in the Oxenhope area, especially those which had a quiet  public house nearby. Illegal  'Pitch and Toss' gambling went on in the stone quarries and pubs and became so successful that men were employed to keep an eye open for the police. Stone embankments would be built in amongst the rise and fall of the landscape to hide any activity from prying eyes. The spotter's job was to peer out of the embankments and warn gamblers of any police presence. As news of the gambling leaked out, people came from as far away as Harrogate to take part.... One man even moved his family from Bradford to Oxenhope to be 'nearer his work'.
The rise & fall landscape around Deep House Delph Quarry

. Local police officers were powerless to stamp out the practice for many years, until they decided to co-ordinate. Bradford, Halifax and Keighley police forces who poured hundreds of men onto the moors one Sunday, and virtually surrounded everybody within the area... and that was the end of organised gambling! It is quite possible that this included George Bancroft, his public house, and the nearby quarry of Deep House Delph, although he does not appear to be involved in any reported prosecutions himself.

An article in the Yorkshire Evening Post of 8th May 1891 gives an insight into one of these 'goings- on' concerning two Bancroft brothers Asa and Albert, who together with a group of others were caught red-handed by the local police:
 ....'Today at Keighley West Riding Court, Asa Bancroft a labourer of Keighley and Albert Bancroft a millhand of Haworth [together with seven other men] were summoned for playing pitch and toss at an Oxenhope quarry  on Sunday last. Police Constable Walker stated the case. Suspecting that gambling was going on, the officer went to an adjacent farm, and procured an old suit of clothes, disguising himself, and retracing his steps to the quarry. In his "uniform" he was not noticed, and he saw the men playing at pitch and toss. Immediately he disturbed the gamblers, they made off, leaving money on the ground. He made chase and captured two of the defendants, and the others subsequently admitted the offence. A fine of 3s/4d was inflicted on each defendant.'
George Bancroft's  brother-in-law, Joseph Drake,who had married his sister Emma, is reported to have been fined 3s/4p in 1874 when caught playing pitch and toss on a piece of waste land near Scarr Hall, Oxenhope, as usual on a Sunday.

 A couple of years later in April 1876, the landlord of another public house in Oxenhope called 'Dyke Nook' was fined the large amount of 50 shillings and had his licence endorsed, for opening licenced premises during prohibited hours when navvies were found gambling...His establishment was described as 'Hell on Earth!'
A report of another similar incident is described in an old book called "A Springtime Saunter" by Whiteley Turner, which tells in vivid detail the circumstancees surrounding a large pre-planned police operation at an illegal gambling meeting at a site west of the Oxenhope quarry, outside a public house on the way to Hebden Bridge:
'….the Travellers Rest beerhouse had a short life after the raid made on a gambling “school” in the vicinity on Sunday July 9th 1891. That was a remarkably well-designed capture. Not one of the sixty “scholars” suspected the gaily-attired, picnic-like party of men who drove right into the “school” were police. The “crows” picketed on commanding stations en route had seen in them no foe. Their straw hats were stylish, and their Havana’s smelt beautifully. Even when the horses drew up, and the party got out, some of the gamblers were entertaining hopes of a good subsequent time at the inn. It was not until handcuffs jingled and staffs were revealed that they realised the true situation. Confusion prevailed, and a stampede ensued. Seven officials, who since the small hours had remained in covert making notes from the time the first “scholar” appeared at 11.50 am, now took up the chase.

When the police counted up their prisoners, it was found twenty-two were in their clutches. An old gray-haired man, with a deep sense of remorse, implored his custodian to “kill me straight off.” An additional wagonette, engaged to carry away the “spoil,” now arrived on the scene and quickly the victims were having a trip at the expense of Government. Supt. Fearnside could now cry quits. He was here, and was no doubt thinking of the fine Sunday morning a year ago before, when he, his groom and another were up here driving, and they chanced upon the self-same “school.” The superintendent dismounted and seized one of the “scholars,” whereupon the rest at first made off, but on perceiving the Superintendents was single-handed, they returned. They threatened to pitch both him and his turn-out into the reservoir did he not let the man go. Powerless to cope with so strong a force, Supt. Fearnside had no alternative but to comply. After the laps of a year therefore, the net has been cast, and a good haul made, besides fourteen others who at the time escaped, by who’s identity was established beyond doubt; one of these audacious enough to linger and grab what gold was in the ring, leaving silver and copper behind. Tried at Todmorden, three were committed for 21 days; twelve were fined £2-11s or 21 days; nineteen £2, and 15shillings costs or 21 days, and two were asked to pay 21s. Four of them elected to “go down.” Beyond the inn, there is the site of the “school,” and judging by the well-pounded circle in the road, we fear “scholars” still assembles....'

The quiet, and well worn, track to Deep House Delph Quarry

 It seems hard to believe today, the extend to which illegal gambling went on in the late 19th century. As a way of trying to divert the working classes away from this activity, Mechanics Institutes were set up in the 19th century to provide adult education, particularly in technical subjects for working men. They were usually founded by local industrialists who had the vision to see the ultimate benefit to their business of having a workforce which was more knowledgeable and skilled. The Institutes were also used as libraries for the adult working class, and helped provide an alternative pastime to illegal gambling and drinking in public houses.