James Bancroft - A putative father's disappearance!





I recently came across the above Affiliation Order, dated May 1837, in the local archives concerning an order being taken out by the “Overseers of the Poor” in Keighley to try and recover maintenance money from  James Bancroft, an accused putative father, as support for his alleged illegitimate male child, by a woman called Ann Hey.


The term "Putative Father" was generally used to describe a man, whose legal relationship to a child has not been proved, but who was alleged to be the father of a child, that was born to a woman to whom he was not married at the time of the child's birth.

  The problem of how to support an illegitimate child and it's mother has always been a thorny issue for society since time began, and the  Poor Law of 1576 formed the basis of English Bastardy law. Its purpose was to punish a illegitimate child's mother and putative father, and also to relieve the parish from the cost of supporting the  mother and child. By this act as far back as 1576, it was ordered that illegitimate children should be supported by their putative father, though bastardy orders in the quarter sessions date from before this date. If the child’s father could be found, then he was put under very great pressure to accept responsibility and to maintain the child.
The above order must have been issued with a view to tracking down James Bancroft who had not fulfilled his responsibilities towards an unmarred woman called  Ann Hey, and stated that James Bancroft had previously been served with order to support the child in 1831, to pay the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of Keighley, but had not paid anything.
 “the sum of Three Pounds Four Shillings and Sixpence towards the maintenance of Ann Hey, a single woman, during the time of her month’s laying-in of a male bastard child, born in Keighley, as he was  adjudged to be the putative father”.

And that because he had not paid, it also ordered that he pay a further sum of “one shilling, weekly and every week, for and towards the maintenance of the said bastard child, and that there is now and unpaid upon the said order, the sum of Three Pounds Thirteen Shillings and Sixpence which James Bancroft hath refused or neglected to pay, or obey the said order, and he not having appealed against it. This information therefore craves a warrant to apprehend the said James Bancroft”


So what happened to Ann Hey and her illegitimate child?
Her child was born on 25th March 1831, and baptised at Haworth Church by  the famous Rev’d Patrick Bronte on 24th April 1831. As can be seen from the following parish record, the child was baptised as Jonas Hey, and Ann Hey, this poor unfortunate woman, was marked for evermore  as a  “Spinster” with no mention of any father on the scene.


Jonas Hey's Baptism Record - 24th April 1831

The story takes a sad turn, because when the child was only 8 years old his mother Ann died in November 1839 , aged about 29 years, in the nearby village of Newsholme, in the Keighley Parish area.

Ann Hey's burial record 11th November 1839
 Young Jonas  is then listed in 1841 as living with his Grandmother, Mary Hey, who was a widowed farmer of 67 years living with her son, another Jonas Hey age 20 years. The whole Hey family were living on a farm at a place called 'Dangerous Corner' which is adjacent to where James Bancroft had lived at Cragg Bottom with his family.
By  the time of the next 1851 census, Jonas is living with his Uncle Jonas at nearby New Laithe, both unmarried men listed as worsted weavers. Jonas [junior] is then later shown as living alone at Turnshaw, Oakworth as a woolcomber, and was married to a Martha by the time of the next census in 1871 and, by then, living at Lidget in Oakworth. 

Illegitimacy..the scourge of the working class!
 Illegitimacy has always been around in society albeit sometimes hidden, even within families. I have come across many instances where an unmarried girl, living at home with her parents, has a child which has been listed on census records as her brother or sister, and even registered in that manner in some case. The figure below shows the average illegitimacy ratio for some 98 English parishes, and after 1840 from published official statistics. It is evident that illegitimate births had been on the rise since the middle of the 17th century.



 Before 1540 data is difficult to obtain, and data for the period 1835-1840 is also inaccurate as this was the transitional period from parish registers to civil registration in England. It is possible that in the early 19th century up to 30% of all births were not recorded in parish registers and in some places, especially in larger parishes, non-registration may have been even higher at around some 70%. Indeed my G/G/Grandfather, Timothy Bancroft, was born in 1840, but never  officially registered, even though it was a legal requirement by this time.It seems likely that many of these unregistered births were illegitimate, so the above figures should be treated as an underestimate.

The Bastardy Examination Board
  "Bastardy Examinations", to determine the name of the father, must have been a very traumatic experience for any young woman, as the fear of ending up in the local workhouse was always the ultimate threat from the authorities for any unmarried mother and child . The examination would take place before two Justices who inquired into the circumstances under which the woman about to give birth to an illegitimate child had fallen pregnant. Legally a woman who knew herself to be likely to bear an illegitimate child was obliged to present herself for examination, but in practice this only occasionally happened, and examinations occurred more often after the birth. Bastardy Examinations were particularly keen to discover the identity of the father, in order to force him to provide a bond, known as a "Bastardy Bond",  to indemnify the parish against the costs of maintaining the child. Evidence of paternity claims had to be "corroborated in some material particular"... something that was often impossible to achieve to the disadvantage of the poor woman being brought before the examining committee.

Prior to the 19th century, the Poor Laws stipulated that the putative father was responsible for the maintenance of his illegitimate child. If he failed to support the child, the mother could have him arrested on a justice's warrant and put into a workhouse, or even prison until she agreed to name the child's father. Local authorities issued public funds to maintain the mother and her child until the father could do so. Those public funds were to be reimbursed by the putative father, though this rarely happened because many fled and disappeared without trace. In an attempt to stem the rising costs of poor relief, the local authorities quiet often attempted to reduce their liability for illegitimate children by forcing the fathers to marry the women.


The cost of child-support expenditure could potentially consume a significant proportion of a parish's budget. In Sowerby Bridge, a large township in  nearby Halifax, West Yorkshire, between 25 and 38 per cent of annual expenditure on the poor was dispensed to unmarried mothers between 1818 and 1828. If the parish could enforce and collect maintenance payments, this could moderate the parish's costs of child support. Under the terms of affiliation orders, unmarried mothers in that area typically received between 1s 6d and 2s 6d per week in the early-nineteenth century. It is difficult to provide a contemporary equivalence of value, although it is worth noting that in the late-eighteenth century, a typical male agricultural labourer might have been earning around 10s a week. Unmarried mothers would thus be receiving as much as a quarter of a male labourer's wage. 



 In the 1833 Poor Law Report, the Commission Report on Bastardy, appointed the previous year to investigate the situation, revealed that the Poor Laws encouraged "licentiousness between unmarried couples". More relief was being issued to maintain illegitimate children than to support legitimate children. Not only were the mother and child given relief, but costs were rising because mothers were shipped back to their original parishes to avoid long term responsibility for their illegitimate children. Young men, accused solely on the word of the mother and unable to pay the surety, were, innocent or guilty, forced into early and unsuitable marriages which the commission felt were detrimental to the country.
 


The Bastardy Examination Board
So who was James Bancroft.... and what happened to him?
James Bancroft was the son of Joseph and Isabella [nee Jowett] and was born on 7th June 1811 in a cottage in the Deanfield area of Keighley Parish called 'Cragg Bottom', which is an area of rough isolated moorland near the village of Stanbury and is the neighboring property to 'Dangerous Corner' where the Hey family lived. The nearest church was however at Haworth which is where he was baptised on 10th August of the same year. Joseph and Isabella had a large family of at least 12 children, so life must have been quite tough for them, particularly as his only means of earning a living was as a hand-loom weaver, with maybe a few acres of rented land to grow crops in order to feed their family. It is therefore not surprising that by the time of the 1841 census, Joseph, who was by then widowed, only had the youngest 5 children still living at home. The other children had all left, including James. Despite extensive searching of all available records, I have not been able to find any record of this James Bancroft after the original affiliation order was made against him in 1831. There are several other James Bancrofts around at this time, but none of them have proved to be the one in this article, so I can only assume that when he was accused by the "Overseers of the Poor" of being the child's father, he did what many men did in those times... run away and either changed his name or emigrated, leaving poor Ann Hey to struggle as an unmarried mother with a child, at a time when society found this a very shameful situation.

I do not know whether the authorities ever caught up and apprehended James Bancroft, but I suspect he got away with it, as he appears to have just vanished into thin air!
 Despite searching records both in the UK and abroad there is no trace of him.
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