Bancrofts caught gambling...on the day of rest!

Pitch & Toss in progress

 Following on from last month's article about George Bancroft, which can be read by clicking here, the area around the village of Oxenhope near Keighley seems to have had some strange 'goings-on' in the late 19th century involving several Bancroft individuals. 

This activity usually took place on Sundays...'the day of rest', at some of the remote stone quarries in the Oxenhope area, especially those which had a quiet  public house nearby. Illegal  'Pitch and Toss' gambling went on in the stone quarries and pubs and became so successful that men were employed to keep an eye open for the police. [The rules for pitch and toss were that coins were thrown at a wall or marker and the person throwing the nearest to the mark then gathers up all the coins, throws them all in the air and keeps all coins which land on the head side. The game then continues with the remaining coins until they are all won]

 Stone embankments would be built in amongst the rise and fall of the landscape to hide any activity from prying eyes. The spotter's job was to peer out of the embankments and warn gamblers of any police presence. As news of the gambling leaked out, people came from as far away as Harrogate to take part.... One man even moved his family from Bradford to Oxenhope to be 'nearer his work'.

The rise & fall landscape around Deep House Delph Quarry

. Local police officers were powerless to stamp out the practice for many years, until they decided to co-ordinate. Bradford, Halifax and Keighley police forces who poured hundreds of men onto the moors one Sunday, and virtually surrounded everybody within the area... and that was the end of organised gambling! It is quite possible that this included George Bancroft, his public house, and the nearby quarry of Deep House Delph, although he does not appear to be involved in any reported prosecutions himself.

An article in the Yorkshire Evening Post of 8th May 1891 gives an insight into one of these 'goings- on' concerning two Bancroft brothers Asa and Albert, who together with a group of others were caught red-handed by the local police:
 ....'Today at Keighley West Riding Court, Asa Bancroft a labourer of Keighley and Albert Bancroft a millhand of Haworth [together with seven other men] were summoned for playing pitch and toss at an Oxenhope quarry  on Sunday last. Police Constable Walker stated the case. Suspecting that gambling was going on, the officer went to an adjacent farm, and procured an old suit of clothes, disguising himself, and retracing his steps to the quarry. In his "uniform" he was not noticed, and he saw the men playing at pitch and toss. Immediately he disturbed the gamblers, they made off, leaving money on the ground. He made chase and captured two of the defendants, and the others subsequently admitted the offence. A fine of 3s/4d was inflicted on each defendant.'
George Bancroft's  brother-in-law, Joseph Drake,who had married his sister Emma, is reported to have been fined 3s/4p in 1874 when caught playing pitch and toss on a piece of waste land near Scarr Hall, Oxenhope, as usual on a Sunday.

 A couple of years later in April 1876, the landlord of another public house in Oxenhope called 'Dyke Nook' was fined the large amount of 50 shillings and had his licence endorsed, for opening licenced premises during prohibited hours when navvies were found gambling...His establishment was described as 'Hell on Earth!'
A report of another similar incident is described in an old book called "A Springtime Saunter" by Whiteley Turner, which tells in vivid detail the circumstancees surrounding a large pre-planned police operation at an illegal gambling meeting at a site west of the Oxenhope quarry, outside a public house on the way to Hebden Bridge:
'….the Travellers Rest beerhouse had a short life after the raid made on a gambling “school” in the vicinity on Sunday July 9th 1891. That was a remarkably well-designed capture. Not one of the sixty “scholars” suspected the gaily-attired, picnic-like party of men who drove right into the “school” were police. The “crows” picketed on commanding stations en route had seen in them no foe. Their straw hats were stylish, and their Havana’s smelt beautifully. Even when the horses drew up, and the party got out, some of the gamblers were entertaining hopes of a good subsequent time at the inn. It was not until handcuffs jingled and staffs were revealed that they realised the true situation. Confusion prevailed, and a stampede ensued. Seven officials, who since the small hours had remained in covert making notes from the time the first “scholar” appeared at 11.50 am, now took up the chase.

When the police counted up their prisoners, it was found twenty-two were in their clutches. An old gray-haired man, with a deep sense of remorse, implored his custodian to “kill me straight off.” An additional wagonette, engaged to carry away the “spoil,” now arrived on the scene and quickly the victims were having a trip at the expense of Government. Supt. Fearnside could now cry quits. He was here, and was no doubt thinking of the fine Sunday morning a year ago before, when he, his groom and another were up here driving, and they chanced upon the self-same “school.” The superintendent dismounted and seized one of the “scholars,” whereupon the rest at first made off, but on perceiving the Superintendents was single-handed, they returned. They threatened to pitch both him and his turn-out into the reservoir did he not let the man go. Powerless to cope with so strong a force, Supt. Fearnside had no alternative but to comply. After the laps of a year therefore, the net has been cast, and a good haul made, besides fourteen others who at the time escaped, by who’s identity was established beyond doubt; one of these audacious enough to linger and grab what gold was in the ring, leaving silver and copper behind. Tried at Todmorden, three were committed for 21 days; twelve were fined £2-11s or 21 days; nineteen £2, and 15shillings costs or 21 days, and two were asked to pay 21s. Four of them elected to “go down.” Beyond the inn, there is the site of the “school,” and judging by the well-pounded circle in the road, we fear “scholars” still assembles....'

The quiet, and well worn, track to Deep House Delph Quarry

 It seems hard to believe today, the extend to which illegal gambling went on in the late 19th century. As a way of trying to divert the working classes away from this activity, Mechanics Institutes were set up in the 19th century to provide adult education, particularly in technical subjects for working men. They were usually founded by local industrialists who had the vision to see the ultimate benefit to their business of 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.

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