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.
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.
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’