The Minster in the Hills - Part 1

The Minster in the Hills

I recently came across a book about life in the village of Denholme near Bradford, and more specifically about St Paul’s Church in Denholme, which brought back many happy memories of my childhood, as a choirboy there from the late 1950’s.
The village of Denholme had many Bancroft families, who were connected with the Church and who were born, married and buried there, so I though it would make an interesting article for this blog.

St Paul’s Church, is situated at the top of a steep hill, looking over the village of Denholme. It has always been known as “The Minster in the Hills”, after been given this name by the Bishop of Ripon, as he travelled over the hills in his carriage to perform the consecration service in 1846 and caught a glimpse of the pristine stone building glinting in a beam of November sunshine that day.

St Paul's - from the rear

  Historically, the village of Denholme, which includes Denholme Gate and Keelham, was part of the Chapelry of Thornton, in the Parish of Bradford whose records began in 1678. It became a separate Parish in 1846 when St Paul’s Church was built at Denholme Gate, between Denholme and Denholme Clough. The Church was built to serve both areas as it was thought that they would grow towards each other, with the new St Paul's at the heart. However after the building of Denholme Mills by the Foster family, Denholme expanded and left Denholme Clough behind, with the Church in an undeveloped area between the two hamlets.

There had been some opposition to building a church in Denholme in the first place, and the Reverend G Thomas, incumbent of Thornton is on record as writing to the Vicar of Bradford, Reverend William Scorsby, protesting about plans to form new parishes in both Clayton and Denholme in late 1840 saying “ When I entered the incumbency of Thornton, by my appointment, it was on the understanding that the incumbency included Clayton and Thornton”… however his pleas seem to have gone unheeded because  land for the Church had already been given by William Buck, one of the largest landowners in the area. The building, which was completed in 1846, was designed by J B Cantrill and is Early English style with a Gothic Tower, and internally comprises of a seven bay nave, lean to aisles, a chancel, and a vaulted roof with ribs and bosses.
 It cost £3,700 which was raised partly by subscription but also by grants from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the and Ripon Diocesan Societies. St Paul's was originally planned to seat over seven hundred people, although this was later reduced when a choir vestry was installed in 1896.

As has been mentioned earlier, St Paul's was consecrated on 20th November 1846 by the Lord Bishop of Ripon, Doctor Longley, who was later to become Archbishop of Canterbury. At the ceremony he observed that  the committee responsible for the building of the church and taken on the serious liability of an outstanding debt of  nearly £2000, the building having cost around £3750 in total.  A collection was taken on the day, that raised £154-16-00, which was no doubt gratefully received by the committee.
The ceremony was very well attended by twenty eight clergy from neighbouring parishes, although a notable absentee was the Reverend Patrick Bronte, from nearby Haworth, who at the time was convalescing, after undergoing a recent cataract operation in Manchester.

After the consecration service of the church and graveyard, some two hundred people, including the Bishop, had luncheon at the Denholme Gate Brewery, where he expressed pleasure and satisfaction of performing his duties that day, and praised the people responsible for the way they had carried out the work with zeal and perseverance and at last bringing it to a successful conclusion.

St Paul's had some magnificent stained glass windows donated by various local individuals. One of them is shown below…The East window, donated by Mr Jonathan Knowles, one of the original founders in 1846…the centre-light portraying appropriately St Paul.

The East Wing
As I mentioned earlier, there are parish records from St Paul's of many Bancroft families…. I counted 13 baptisms, 21 marriages and 20 burials between 1846 and the 1930’s
The earliest Bancroft burials seem to have been for Martha Bancroft [1791-1849] followed a few years later by her husband Jabez [1789-1854]. Although no gravestone is present to mark the spot, the comprehensive graveyard plan pinpoints it exactly, and shows it as one of the earliest graves on site. Jabez was originally born in nearby Far Oxenhope, the son of Joseph & Judith, and spent his whole life as a woolcomber, which in those days was not an easy way of making a living. I wrote an article about this occupation which can be read by clicking here. The family lived at St Helena, Denholme which is a row of cottages, some of which are still present today.

Many of the baptism, marriage and burial records are from a family line descended from Thomas and Mary Bancroft. Thomas was actually born in Ovenden near Halifax in 1840, but seems to have come across to Denholme around 1870, as records show the first two of his their eight children being born in Ovenden and the following six being born and baptised at Denholme. He lived on  the 'Old Road' when he moved to the village, and this is where he also died. Early census records show Thomas to be the son of James and Amelia, although on the 1841 census, he is listed as being one year old with his mother and father in their 50’s, so I suspect that this was one of those not uncommon situations where his mother was actually his Grandmother! he had several older sisters, any of which could have been his true mother, but of course in those days being an unmarried mother was seen as shameful, and something to be covered up at all costs when census records were being taken. By 1851 the census shows Amelia as a widow, and Thomas is now listed as her grandson, together with two other grandchildren, although there is still no clue on the census to which of the unmarried three daughters was his true mother. He must have had a hard start in life, because at the age of 11 years, he is shown as a woolcomber, together with other members of his family. On moving to Denholme, he was initially a spindle and flymaker and later became a mechanic at the local mill [Fosters] and died in 1900. He and Mary are both buried in the churchyard and here is their gravestone.

"In loving memory of 
THOMAS BANCROFT who died December 8th 1900 
aged 60 years.
 Also of MARY wife of the  aforenamed THOMAS BANCROFT who died January 25th 1914 in her 74th year”.

 "Watch and pray for you know not the hour or the day when you will be called away."

One of Thomas and Mary’s children was Frank [1876-1938] who lived all his life in the village becoming a wool sorter in Foster’s Mill, and marrying Janet Dobson [1875-1929] at St Paul's in 1901. The couple lived in Mary Street, and are shown on one side of a large obelisk gravestone at the entrance to the graveyard with other Dobson family members on the other three sides of the stone. Janet died at the early age of 54 years of scarlet fever in the local fever hospital at Morton Banks near Keighley where all people with highly infectious diseases were treated at that time.


Another one of Thomas and Mary’s children was Albert [1878-1930] who married Clara Haworth [1873-1950] at St Paul's in 1904. Clara was Albert's second wife because sadly, his first wife, Ellen Iredale died shortly after their marriage in 1899. He joined the WW1  forces in January 1917, but by August of that year had been invalided out of the army and  returned to England suffering from trench fever and rheumatism. He lived in Denholme on the Main Street, and  like his father, worked as a mechanic at Foster’s Mill in the village, latterly becoming a Publican. Albert had a long association with St Paul's and it is known that he was one of the bell-ringer at the church  for a time.

An interesting grave is that of Joseph and Pricilla Bancroft, who emigrated  to the USA in the 1870's. The census of 1880  shows them living in the Woonsocket Province of Rhode Island, and employed in a local mill. By the 1910 census Joseph is show as a widower, living alone in Lawrence Massachusetts and working as a labourer in what is described as the 'Street Department' which I assume was the local council. Both he and Pricilla died in Lawrence, as the inscription on the gravestone states. Their only child, Roseilla died as an infant and is also shown.

"In memory of ROSEILLA the beloved daughter of JOSEPH and PRISCILLA BANCROFT of Denholme who died March 9th 1870 aged 1 year and 8 months
Also of PRISCILLA the wife of the above named JOSEPH BANCROFT who died at Lawrence, Massachusetts, USA Jan 29th 1898 aged 54 years

Also the above named JOSEPH BANCROFT late of Lawrence, Mass. USA who died January 4th 1915 aged 72 years"

On a happier note, amongst the many marriages of Bancroft individuals recorded at St Paul's, are confusingly these two.... Atkinson Bancroft, son of William and Mary who married a Harriett Prichard, and Absalom Atkinson who married Minnie Bancroft, the daughter of Thomas and Mary.

Part 2 of this article  continues the story, with my short involvement in the choir at  St Paul's in the late 1950’s, and the Church’s eventual closure and can be read by clicking here

I acknowledge the book “Denholme, the Village, the People and the Minster on the Hill” by Terry Hanson, and wish to thank him to allow me to use extracts from his book.


Anonymous said...

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Unknown said...

Excellent reading. My family is Molyneux and I am related to the Whalley and Pickles dynasty