Bancroft’s Chemists…. potions to cure all ailments!

I wrote an article some time ago about the family of James Bancroft [1788-1862] from Halifax in West Yorkshire, who together with his son Anthony [1826-1876], and eventually his Grandson James [junior]  [1858-1923] ran a small business as a Chemist, sometimes known as Druggists, in the town. The original article can be read here.

By the 1880’s the business looked to be still thriving under the management of James [junior], so much so that they were regularly advertising various potions and remedies in the local newspaper. Today these remedies might look amusing, but at the time were much sort after by the general public who could not afford to pay for a visit to the doctor, or too embarrassed to talk about their condition.

Here is a selection of the adverts. [Apologies for the poor quality of some of them]

The first advert at the top of the page is one such case….a potion to get rid of grey hair, offering a solution so that people didn’t ‘loose their position through looking old’…wonder what they meant by that?...maybe to do with future employment or even with romance in mind! The advert says it is not a dye, and is used by hundreds of people….and all this for just one shilling a bottle!

‘Don’t walk lame’ was the heading for this next potion, a foot powder that had marvellous claims for anyone suffering from offensive perspiring, sore or tender feet. 'Makes walking a pleasure', and all this for only three pence or six pence a packet!

And here is another one for a cure for influenza, which purported to “remove pain from the back and limbs, headaches and distressing coughs…and prevent the illness developing into PNEUMONIA” and claiming that hundreds of cases had been cured during the last five years... all for the small cost of just over one shilling a bottle

And for those sufferers of backache, here was James Bancroft's marvellous remedy called 'Lumbago and Gravel Mixture', which was advertised as a cure for backache, gravel and all kidney complaints. The business urged anyone to "ask a neighbour who has suffered, what they think of it"...what better recommendation could anyone ask for!

 And finally, if you were suffering from 'cruel, gnawing pain after eating' you could get relief in 10 minutes by taking 'Bancroft's Bismuth Bitters...The Geat Modern Cure', which had 'never been known to fail'

James continued to run the family business through the 1880’s and early 1890’s, listing himself as a ‘ Pharmaceutical Chemist Manufacturer’ on local records,

I'm not sure how effective these remedies were, but I suspect James became a relatively wealthy man, as the 1891 census shows him as retired at a relatively young age of only 33 years, and living with his widowed mother and sisters, when most of the working classes of the time worked until they dropped.

He later moved to Redditch in Warwickshire, and in 1904 married Martha Johnson at Alcester. 
 He died at his home, called ‘Rooklands’ on 21st March 1921 and his will and estate were handled by a local solicitor back in Halifax.

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:
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:
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]