The Bancrofts and the Denholme Independent Chapel

Denholme Shared Church...[formally Independent Chapel]

 I wrote an article about St Paul’s Church in Denholme some time ago about it having  to close due to extensive dry rot being found in the building, which can be read by clicking here. After the closure of their building, St. Paul’s Church continued to meet in the temporary premises of the Mechanics Institute until the Bradford Diocese purchased a property on Longhouse Lane, which was the former doctors’ surgery.  Despite its limitations, the building was adapted as a church and the congregation continued to worship there until August 2008 when a decision was made to join the other churches in Denholme and rename the Independent Chapel 'The Denholme Shared Church.'

Many Bancroft individuals were involved with the running of the Independent Chapel, with it's social and religious matters and most of them are descendants of Thomas [b circa 1810] and Pricilla Bancroft ,who came over to Denholme from the Hebden Bridge area sometime in the late 1830’s. Thomas was listed as a ‘Bookeeper’ in the 1841 census, and was drawn by employment to the  local business of 'W & H Fosters', who ran the local mill, which was expanding rapidly at that time, and was the main employer in the area.

A clue to Thomas's sense of public duty , and that of his employers the Fosters, can be found in an article in the Bradford Observer newspaper dated 14th November 1849:
 'A New Mechanics Institute....and institution of the above description has been formed by Messrs W and H Foster, manufacturers of Denholme,. These gentleman with there customary liberality have generously given the use of a room, fitted it up and lighted it with gas. There are already upward of 40 members. Messrs Eli and Benjamin Foster, sons of the senior partners, have kindly volunteered their services as teachers, as has Mr Thomas Bancroft, bookkeeper to the above firm. All these men connected with the above work are all equally industrious in promoting the success of the institution, which it is hoped will meet with every encouragement.'
It seems hard to understand today, the purpose of Mechanics Institutes, but many such establishments were set up in the 19th century to provide adult education, particularly in technical subjects to working men. They were usually founded by local industrialists to provide ultimate benefit to their business by 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.

  The skill of being a bookkeeper seems to have been passed down the family, because his eldest son, Thomas [Jnr] [1836-1911] also gives this as his occupation together with the similar job as ‘Mill Cashier’ at Foster’s Mill. I think that Thomas [Jnr] must have been a rather modest man when it came to describing his job on the census records, judging by his home, his standing in the local community and the family monument which still dominates the graveyard due to it’s height. I suspect that Thomas was probably one of the more important members of the management at Foster’s Mill, and today would be know as the 'company accountant'.

Thomas [Jnr] married Hannah Whalley in 1857 and they went on to have thirteen children, of which only six survived into adulthood. They initially lived in an area called ‘New Road Side’ in Denholme when they first started married life, but by the  1860’s, when Thomas’s situation had  improved, they had moved to a large house in Denholme called ‘ Maine Villas’, which he had built around 1859 for himself and his family, and he stayed there for the rest of his life. After his death, the house was sold to the local council, and because of it's size and position in the middle of the village, the council then ran it as their offices for many years.

Maine Villas

Thomas and Hannah must have had great sadness in their lives, as seven of their children died as infants, as the grave monument lays testament to:
Hephzibah died 1853 age 4 months
Jemima died 1862 age 2 years
Tirzah died 1865 age 9 months
Jeddidah died 1870 age 2 years
Mary died 1871 age 1 day
Ferdinand died 1874 age 9 months
Pricilla died 1875 age 4 years.

They obviously had strong religious principals in the family, as can be seen by the christian names of some of their children….Hephzibah, Tirzah, Jeddidah, Othneil and Shealtiel are all names with strong Hebrew and Biblical connections, and indeed Thomas must have been a well known and respected member of the Chapel, as the following plaque denotes.


Looking at the Chapel records, curiously the first listing of Thomas with his wife and two sons as a full member of the Chapel is in 1879, although it likely that his involvement will have been much earlier, from the 1850’s when his children started to arrive, and sadly were buried in the graveyard.  He is also listed in the church records on many occasions as the person who officiated at the many funerals between 1880 to 1894, probably in the role that  was know as ‘Deacon’ at the time, and he is also mentioned in the Church’s 50th Anniversary booklet

Chapel Members Book

The family monument in the small graveyard is impressive, much taller than anything else on site, and it's construction was only made possible because Thomas bought five adjacent plots and had them turned into one large plot…..which is another clue to the status Thomas must have had in the village.

After Hannah’s death in 1898, Thomas remarried Mary Jane Britain, a lady 20 years younger than himself in 1900, and when Thomas died in 1911, she went to live in Morecambe, Lancashire, where she died in 1916.

Thomas, like his father,  was obviously also a man who felt that public service to the local community was an important duty, because he was at one period a Local Councillor, elected in 1874. He was also appointed to the Denholme School Board, together with his employer, the mill owner Mr. WH Foster and another local businessman, Mr Jonathan Knowles. All three men were elected as 'Churchmen' on the School  Board....William for his involvement with the Independent Chapel, and Messrs Forster & Knowles, with their involvement with the other church in the village, St Paul's.

Thomas and Hannah must have put great store in a good education for their children because all their surviving sons went on to have good careers.
Shealtiel  and Thomas Vivian were both clerks in Fosters Mill, possibly taking over from their father at some point....making that three generations of the family doing the same job.
Ernest was the Railway Station Master in nearby Cullingworth.
Othniel eventually became the Principal Clerk for Customs and Excise in Lancaster.
Hugh Victor was a Bank Accountant.
Workers at Foster's Mill
Like many other villages in the West Riding, Denholme saw a big increase in population in the 1800’s.  People like Thomas Bancroft [Snr] would have been attracted to the area for employment, because of the establishment of a textile mill build by the Foster family, and others came because of  the many new jobs created with the building of local reservoirs and the new railway. Foster's Mill was first built in 1838, but was blown down during a storm the following year. It was then rebuilt in 1840 but suffered a fire in 1857 and was again rebuilt in 1858. It then continued in the hands of the Foster family until 1969 when Fosters sold the premises.  Many workers seeking employment, settled in the housing built by the mill owners and Foster's Mill was the largest employer in the area, as can be seen from the above picture of village workers making their way to the mill for the morning shift which start at 5.30am. I wrote a story about one of these young workers, a boy called Tom Bancroft, who describes his first day at Foster's Mill at the tender age of 11 years, which can be read by clicking here.

 Many of the new arrivals in the village had belonged to a church or chapel in the area in which they had previously lived and they brought with them a desire to continue worshipping at their chosen denomination.

Date Stone

A date stone of 1844 is built into the boundary wall of the Chapel graveyard but the founding group were meeting earlier than this and from 1838 they worshipped at the Old School, a building used, from time to time, by all denominations. The Reverend James Gregory, a minister at Kipping Chapel in nearby Thornton, supported the Chapel’s founding. Students from Airedale College also helped. Whilst a Congregational foundation, they chose to be called Independent and the members of the Church who helped to build the Church, called themselves the Independent Group of Workers. Some of the folk who settled in Denholme belonged to the congregational movement and they originally travelled to Kipping Chapel in Thornton to worship. However that must have seemed a long way for them to walk, and they started meeting in rooms borrowed from the Methodists in the Sunday School at Lodge Gate.  In February 1843 a Denholme Congregational Chapel was founded with a membership list of 9 people.  Revd James Gregory  was involved in the setting up of the chapel and led the first service at Denholme.  An appeal was started for a building, and enough money was raised so that in 1844 the foundation stone, shown above, was laid.  The cost of the land purchased was just £100 and the building itself finished and opened on the 11th May 1845 at a cost of £1000.  The costs were greatly reduced due to the labours of the congregation, who worked in the mill during the day and laboured on the building during their spare time.  These chapel folk were know as the ‘Independents’ a name which was frequently given to the Congregationalists because they were free from the established church, they governed themselves independently.  Hence the name 'Independent Chapel'.  Things seemed initially to be going well, however by the 1860’s the Chapel were floundering and Mr John Hill a lay pastor from Allerton came over to preach and help the with improving things in 1868.  The congregation were greatly encouraged by his presence and in 1869 numbers had grown again and a Sunday School was built at a cost of £100. [the picture below shows the Sunday School alongside the Chapel, shortly before it’s demolition.]
The Sunday School....shortly before demolition
  The Jubilee Booklet in 1894 however records number of scholars down to 157, but things much have been going well for the chapel building was extended in 1896. In 1948 dry rot was discovered in the timbers of the roof and after extensive repairs it was re-opened with a dedication service on the 23rd March 1951.  In 1972 the Congregational Churches voted to create a new denomination called the United Reformed Church, so the building became Denholme United Reformed Church. In 1986 Denholme URC were approached by the Baptist Church members asking if they would consider the two churches joining together.   On the 12th of October 1986 the first joint service was held in the URC building, and subsequently the two churches went on to become 'Denholme Edge Church', a new name for a new partnership between the URC and Baptists. In 1989 the building was extensively refurbished, the pews removed and the floor levelled.  The old Sunday School building was demolished and a new meeting room, toilets and a kitchen added to the chapel building.  This was at a cost of over £100,000 raised from grants, monies given from the sale of the Baptist Chapel, and funds raised by the congregation.
Change came again, when in 2008 the congregation of St Paul’s had been fully installed and the Church changed it’s name again to what is it know as today…’The Denholme Shared Church’. At this time, whilst most of the fixtures and fittings at St Paul’s were removed and sold off, two splendid stained glass windows from St Paul’s were restored and installed in the Denholme Shared Church. They  illustrate ‘Joshua, Captain of Israel’ and Christ, Calming the Storm.

Joshua, Captain of Israel

Christ, Calming the Storm

 Today the Church has a relatively modern look inside…..gone are the rows of pews, replaced by new loose seating, and all look towards the magnificent organ as can be seen from the following photographs.


Around the Church interior are various other items which denote the involvement of many Bancroft individuals from this are just a few:

To finish off this article, here's an amusing little story about Victor Bancroft, commemorated on the above plaque, who was one of Thomas's sons, and was also involved with the Independent Chapel. Between the two world wars, Victor used to put on a magic lantern show in the various churches and chapels in the area.  On one occasion, he was giving a slide presentation at nearby St Paul's Church using his large brass adorned projector to show his collection of coloured glass images, usually of a religious nature. The images were  projected onto a screen  which was lowered by a rope and pulley in front of the chancel arch. On one occasion someone let go of the rope, and the screen fell into position with a crash, striking the vicar on the head in the process!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jarlath, thanks for postings to FB, I enjoy reading these articles ~ season's aloha from Hawaii, where we are currently posted, Kate T