Herbert Bancroft caught begging from a policeman!

Vagrancy and begging in the streets, has been a problem since the dawn of time, and even today is still a big problem in our towns. Here is a little story of a Bancroft individual caught begging on a Keighley street in 1911, when he mistakenly asked the wrong person for money!

The story concerns a Herbert Bancroft, born around 1882 in Halifax, and appears to have been the illegitimate son of Martha Ann Bancroft who seems to have had at least two illegitimate children before finally marrying a Robert Cockroft in 1897, as the marriage record below clearly shows her as a 40 year old spinster at the time, so her two children were married outside wedlock.

Martha and son Herbert look to have had a tough time in the early days as the following 1891 census shows mother and son living as boarders at 11 Belmont Street in Halifax, where Martha is described as a Woolcomber. The head of the household was a John Halliday, and it seems that the person responsible for the recording of the census was having difficulty trying to work out the relationship between the people at the address because both Martha and Herbert had their initial relationship to the head of the household altered to 'boarder'... maybe there was something more going on between Martha and John, although we will never know for sure.

1891 census

Martha Ann's marriage to Robert Cockroft, seems to have been a short one as by the time of the 1911 census, she is now listed as a widow, living with her married daughter Ada Gaukroger [misspelt Ganganroger] and son Herbert at Haigh's Court in Halifax, with Herbert listed as a Butcher's Labourer at that time.

1911 census

Herbert's job as a Butcher's Labourer, would have included rounding-up and collecting stock for his butcher employer's business because, when arrested for begging in Keighley he described himself as a 'Drover'. It appears that Herbert stopped off overnight in Keighley, on his way back home to Halifax, and was caught out when asking a plain cloths policeman " for a copper to make up his night's lodgings", and was then arrested for begging. This foolish act was compounded by the fact that he had some money on him at the time, albeit only 3 1/2 pence, which would probably not have been enough to pay for his lodgings for the night. For this cheeky act, the magistrates gave him 14 days in prison.


It is little wonder that begging was a way of life for so man people like Herbert, because at the beginning of the 20th century surveys showed that 25% of the population were still living in poverty, with at least 15% living below subsistence level. They had just enough money for food, rent, fuel and cloths, and about 10% were living below subsistence level and could not even afford an adequate diet.

 A Liberal government was elected in 1906 and they made some reforms. From that year the poorest children were given free school meals. In January 1909 the first old age pension was paid, which was hardly generous - only 5 shillings a week for people over 70 years of age. Nevertheless this was a start in helping in helping to reduce poverty in the population, and later that year the government formed wages councils which set minimum pay levels for certain industries.

By 1910 the first labour exchanges, where jobs were advertised were set up , and the following year the government passed an act establishing sickness benefits for workers. This act also provided unemployment benefit for workers in certain trades such as shipbuilding, where periods of unemployment were common. In 1920 unemployment benefit was extended to most workers, although it was not given to agricultural workers such as Herbert Bancroft until 1936.

Early 20th century Drover


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