Timothy Bancroft’s farm narrowly escaped a flood!


Cowlaughton Farm location
 Here’s an interesting story, taken from the local newspaper at the time about Cowlaughton Farm near Cowling, a small village between Keighley and Skipton in Yorkshire, where a Timothy Bancroft lived with his family in the 19th century.

The 60 acre farm was fairly isolated and in 1849 during a period of really heavy rainfall was nearly flooded when a nearby mill dam collapsed.

Timothy & Margaret's marriage banns

Timothy and his wife Margaret [nee Gawthorp] had lived on Cowlaughton since their marriage in 1835 and had eight children. He was the son of Isaac and Mary [nee Judson] who like their son were weavers and later farmers at another nearby farm called “Fairplace” I wrote an article some time ago about Isaac deciding to sell up and move off his farm after the death of his wife which can be read by clicking here.The article describes Isaac’s complete belongings being auctioned off and gives a good insight into how he must have lived.

Timothy's Baptism at Haworth PC

Timothy is described on all the census records between 1841-1871 as a “weaver an later a farmer of 60 acres” as most farmers were at this time, sustaining their poor living as farmers with a little extra income from hand-loom weaving.

1841 census

He married Margaret Gawthorp on 18th May 1835 in the their local Parish of Kildwick, and Margaret, died in 1865 leaving him with three children still at home, no doubt able to help him with the farming and weaving, and when he retired from the farm one of his sons, also called Timothy took over the tenancy of Cowlaughton Farm.

1881 census

Timothy [snr] did eventually remarry a Mary Loynd in 1872 and the couple are shown on the 1881 census above as retired and living with Timothy’s youngest son Benjamin on another farm called “Springhead” nearby.

He died on 23rd October 1890 as the following funeral card shows, and when his will was published shortly afterwards it shows that he left a sizable sum, in those days, of £220 19s 6d

Funeral Card


Timothy's Will

Moving onto the circumstances regarding the flood, to the west of Cowlaughton Farm. There was a mill dam, known locally as “Cowlaughton Dam” which supplied the water power needed for the nearby Ickornshaw Mill which was built in  the 1820’s and was originally powered by a small water wheel using water from a nearby small pond, which kept running dry in summer. The answer was to have a larger reservoir to keep the mill, and the other mills downstream, running in times of drought. And so Cowlaughton Dam on Ickornshaw Moor was built.

The mill changed ownership several times, and seems to have run fairly smoothly. It was however under owner William Watson’s watch that things began to go wrong at the dam.

 A newspaper report in 1849 stated that “the embankment had for some time been in a condition to excite some anxiety with regard to its ultimate security”, but no action was taken about the impending danger of the embankment bursting.

Then towards 11 o’clock at night on Sunday, April 8, 1849, “the waters burst the embankment, and rushed with uncontrolled force and rapidity down the bed of the stream” towards the village of Ickornshaw."

Cowlaughton Embankment

The remains of the embankment for Cowlaughton Dam showing the huge breach between the points marked A and B

It first hit Cowlaughton Farm, which at that time was situated on the right bank of the beck. Fortunately, the bridge across the beck to the farm gave way and allowed the torrent of water to pass, which “enabled the occupiers of the farmhouse to rescue themselves and their cattle”.

As the water roared down Summer House Clough towards Ickornshaw it is said to have reached a height of 15 to 20 feet carrying with it huge stones, some weighing several tons. Large trees were ripped out by the force of the water and “walls thrown down – rocks piled up against the stems of trees seven or eight feet in height”. In one place the ground had been washed away down to the bedrock, leaving a hole “big enough to contain a large house.”

The newspaper also reported at the time that “the water entered a tenement further downstream occupied by a widow and her two small children, and immediately filled the room between 4 and 5 feet deep. As there was no escape through the door, a hole had to be broken through the floor above and the battered mother and her children were pulled to safety.”

Fortunately, no lives were lost but the damage in the area was enormous.

The dam was never rebuilt, and Ickornshaw Mill was by-passed by the torrent and survived undamaged although it was later severely damaged by a fire in 1886 when it’s high had to be reduced from four to two storeys


[I acknowledge that some of this information came from the Keighley News]


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