Benji Bancroft’s grave mystery

Grave marker stone

During the refurbishment of Oakworth Methodist Graveyard, the above grave marker-stone denoting ownership was uncovered showing Benjamin Bancroft as the owner [ known as Benji on the burial record], which posed more questions than it answered!

The grave has no proper gravestone, but on searching the burial records for this plot a mystery is unearthed. The first person owning the plot was a Joseph Heaton and his name is later crossed out on the grave record and replaced by Sarah Bancroft – Benji’s wife Sarah.

The first person buried there was Joseph Heaton’s wife, Sarah, in 1853, and then the grave is taken over for the burial of Benji Bancroft followed by his wife Sarah, their daughter Esther Ellen and a still-born grandchild.

Bancroft burial record

Were the families connected in any way?  or did the Bancrofts buy the unused burial space from the Heatons?

To add further to the mystery, Sarah Heaton’s husband  had bought a second plot nearby on the same row. 

His wife Sarah died first aged 49 in 1853 and buried in 23/0. Their granddaughter Elizabeth died aged two in 1853 and is buried in the second grave 23/L.  Joseph Heaton died aged 71 in 1876 and “chose” to be buried with his granddaughter rather than his wife for some reason. He lived with his daughter Mary and her family (all buried in 23/L)

At first, I wondered if Joseph had been married twice, and the second wife did not like the idea of being buried with his first wife, but it turns out that he never remarried, so we must assume that he bought the second plot for his children, and he then chose to be buried with them, rather than his wife for some reason. In any case this made one of his grave plot purchases surplus to requirements, and so was probably the reason it was sold off by his family to the Bancrofts.

Looking at Benji Bancroft’s life, he was the son of Joseph Bancroft and his second wife Nelly Bradley. Joseph had been married twice, firstly to Judith Smith who died at an early age of 34 years leaving him with four young children to look after. He them married Ellen, known as Nelly, Bradley and they together then had 10 children to complement the four he already had! Joseph lived to a good age as described on his death certificate…'age at death 83 and three quarters…cause of death ‘old age’! He was buried in an unmarked grave at Haworth Church.

Benji was the last born child of the family, being born in 1814 in an area called Greenwood Vale between Oakworth and Haworth, and baptised on 6th June of that year at Haworth Parish Church. He was destined to continue his father’s path in the textile industry, which was not an easy occupation at the time as the following article on the link below describes in details.

He was married twice, firstly to Ann [surname not know as I cannot find a record of the marriage] and they had a son Jabez. The family appear on the 1841 census living at Hainsworth, a village near Keighley, albeit was actually in the Bingley parish area. Unfortunately the marriage was short lived because Ann died the following year in 1842 at the age of 26 years and was buried in an unmarked grave at Haworth Parish Church.

census 1841

Benji remarried two years later to a Sarah Binns at Bingley Parish Church on 7/5/1844. I assume they used the Bingley church because he was still living in that parish, and although Sarah is shown living in Keighley at the time, she originates from Lothersdale near Skipton. Interestingly the marriage record shows that although Benjamin could not sign his name and therefore just left his mark, Sarah was able to write her name

Benji & Sarah's marriage

By 1851 Benji and family had moved over to Lower Wyke, on the outskirts of Bradford, probably to continue looking for work as a woolcomber, and was living next door to his elder brother John who was also listed as a woolcomber.

Unfortunately for Benji and many others like him, this type of cottage industry was starting to decline with the invention of machinery which could do the job much quicker and with many less workers in large mills and so by the time of the 1861 census Banji and family are living back in the Oakworth area and he is described as a ‘Stone Quarry Labourer’ which was probably the only sort of work someone with Benjamin’s limited skills could obtain.

census 1861

Benji died on 18th May1870 age 55 years [although the burial record says 57 yrs] in the Lidget area of Oakworth, and was buried at the Wesleyan Graveyard….the first Bancroft ro be buried in this plot [23/0] followed later by other members of his family.

To add further to this sad story, Benji’s eldest son, Jabez, died less than five years later in early 1875 at the age of only 35 years of age, and he together with his family are all buried in the same graveyard in another unmarked grave.

Volunteers at work 2019
This Wesleyan Graveyard has recently been bought by a person, Andrew Heaton, who has ancestors buried there and as well as restoring it, he hopes the local community will one day take over the maintenance of this important feature of our village as it is of significant historic importance to the residents.
The Graveyard, according to Chapel records, has 725 graves, many without gravestones, in which are buried 2452 named people including a significant number of infants. A sad fact of Victorian life in the village is that there were 449 children buried at the site who died under the age of five, as well as 123 unnamed infants who were either stillborn or died before they were named, which is a staggering 23% of the occupants of the graveyard. The last burial there took place in 1968, and as the restoration continues I feel sure that more interesting facts about the people buried there will be unearthed.

I am grateful for Andrew Heaton providing much of the information for this article. For more details about the graveyard and details of the restoration, please go to Andrew’s website here:
And  here's Benji's marker stone after the volunteers dug it up.


Benji's marker stone

After restoration 2019

The graveyard before restoration 2018

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