The Weaver’s Complaint….a poem from 1834

I recently came across a rather long poem written anonymously by someone from Keighley in 1834, which gives a vivid insight into the life of a weaver, and his family around this time, as the industry moved from the cottage to the mill.
There are many examples of 18th and 19th Century BANCROFT families earning a living from hand loom weaving in their homes, before the invention of machinery, which made production on a large scale possible in the mills, and spelt the demise of this cottage industry.
An insight into the living conditions of a hand loom weaver in the nearby village of Heptonstall, is graphically described in the following extract from the book 'The History of the typhus of Heptonstall Slack' by S Gibson: 
" The reminiscences of a Heptonstall Handloom Weaver, born in 1809, shows just how low was his standard of life in this period. His cottage had no under-drawing, was cold and damp, and snow blew in during the winter. His bedding consisted of two cotton blankets, a rough cotton quilt and pillows filled with chopped straw. Furniture consisted of a three-legged table, two old chairs, two three-legged stools and a chest of drawers. Food was monotonous and poor and utensils were scanty. His porridge pan doubled as a frying pan. Owing to a shortage of knives and forks, some of the family ate with their fingers. There were a few broken cups and saucers, and old teaspoon and a jug for fetching milk. The diet consisted of porridge, old milk, treacle, potatoes and oatcake. For dinner he had fried suet with salt and water for gravy. Occasionally he had tea or coffee, but normally drank a brew of mint, hyssop or tansey from the garden. He worked an 11 and a half hour day for 6/6d per week."
Only in the 1840's, in the woollen industries, did the power looms in the factories competed fully and directly with hand looms. Until that time the two existed side by side, with the hand loom weaver reduced to being an auxiliary of the factory, but not yet driven out of existence by competition. Their role was to take up the slack in boom times, and to bear the first brunt of recession. They also acted as a check on the wages of power loom weavers, most of whom were women.
The owners of these newly set up mills were known for their exploitation of their workers, and especially the children who worked for them, and this is vividly shown in the poem.
Bancroft sisters a't Mill...late 19th Century

Here are the first few verses of the poem:

'Draw near, honest people, of every degree
And listen a little, I pray unto thee
While I shall attempt to unfold in my tale
A few of the tricks which in England prevail

Then first, for the weavers, a set of poor souls
With cloths on their backs much like riddles for holes
With faces quite pale, and eyes sunk in the head
As if the whole race were half famished for bread

Indeed, when these wretches you happen to meet
You think they were shadows you see in the street
For thin water-porridge is all they can get
And even with that they are often hard set…..

 The weaver stands staring, the master shouts out
“ Come take this five shillings, or else go without
For charity’s sake, I employ you you know
Or else to the workhouse you’d soon have to go”

 At last the poor weaver is forc’d to submit
This workhouse has frightened him out of his wit
So take it and think so, tho’ it only small
Five shillings are better than nothing at all'

The full poem, all 50 pages, can be downloaded here, but please be aware that much of it is a bit rambling and not just relevant to the life of a weaver.

A Hand-Loom Weaver

Rediscoving a hidden grave


It had been a long time since I visited the family grave where my Great-Grandparents are buried, so with a few hours to spare, I decided to go to Mount Zion Chapel at Ovenden, near Halifax and tidy it up. The sight that met me nearly made me turn round and go home! First of all, although the graveyard paths are well maintained and regularly trimmed, the areas around the graves are left to grown, and I could not even find our grave! I lost my bearings as well, because last time I was there, there was a tree  growing next to the grave, but this had now been cut down, and the site that greeted me can be seen in the picture on the left.

Anyway, after a few hours of sweat and toil I managed to get rid of all the growth hiding everything, and left the grave in a condition my Great-Grandparents would have proud of.


The grave contains my ancestors Timothy and Jane Bancroft [nee Greenwood], together with their eldest son Greenwood, and it was originally discovered by our family about 25 years ago after the death of my Grandmother, when we went through some old paperwork she had left. Amongst her collection of papers and photos was a memorial card to commemorate the life of her husband, John’s father, Timothy Bancroft, who died in 1900 and was buried here at Mount Zion Baptist Chapel.
Up until then I had never really thought much about my ancestors because as a family this was something that we never really talked about much.
It was this one item, the memorial card, that started me on my quest for family research and from the details we soon was able to find the long forgotten family grave at Mount Zion, which was found after several searches in a very overgrown corner of this very overgrown graveyard.

Timothy's Memorial Card
   Timothy was born 5th March 1841 at Warley, near Halifax and baptised at Haworth Parish Church on 13th November 1842 by the famous local minister Reverend Patrick Bronte. His parents, Timothy and Sarah seem to have not bothered registering the birth, even though this was a legal requirement after 1837.
It is not clear why Timothy was born in Warley, or Luddenden Foot as listed on some census records, and yet baptised in Haworth twelve months later, but it seems likely that his father, was moving around with work, and moved back to the Haworth/ Keighley area shortly after Timothy’s birth.

Timothy's Baptism Record

Timothy, who was known as Timmy, was not the quiet unassuming farmer’s son you would expect, because on 8th May 1856, when he was just 15 years of age, he was in front of the local Magistrates on a charge of drunkenness in the village of Cullingworth near where he lived and was fined five shillings plus costs….or the alternative to this fine would have been to spend six hours in the stocks at Haworth!...the full story can be read here.
His first listing in the local census records as head of household was in 1871 at Dole Farm, Back Denholme, and is listed as a Farmer with wife Jane, his widowed mother Sarah, and unmarried brother Michael.
Previously he had been described as a “Delver” [Stone Quarry worker] when listed in the 1861 census, working for his father, together with his four other brothers.
It is not known when the family moved into Dole Farm which consisted of about 21 acres, but it must have been between 1861, when the farm was listed as uninhabited on the census, and 1869 when Timothy’s father died at the farm.

He had married Jane Greenwood at Bradford Parish Church on 25th July 1870.
The Marriage certificate shows Jane, as having to put a mark where the signature would normally be, which points to the fact that she must have been unable to read or write. Timothy was able to sign his name. 

Timothy & Jane's marriage certificate
 It seems clear that Timothy never strayed far in his early life because his future wife, Jane, was the daughter of John and Hannah Greenwood who lived at the adjoining farm at Bradshaw Head, between Far Oxenhope and Denholme.

Shortly after the marriage Jane had their first child, Fred, but he died in infancy and was buried at Horkinstone Baptist Chapel, Far Oxenhope on 14th November 1971, in a grave next to Jane’s parents grave.

By 1881 Timothy had moved with his wife and three children. Greenwood b1875, Sarah Hannah b 1878 and John b 1880 to Intake Farm, Manywells, Cullingworth. It must have been very difficult to sustain a living for him and his family at Intake Farm as it consisted of only thirteen and a half acres which is probably why the family moved again before 1891 to take on the tenancy at Nettle Hall Farm, Thornton, a larger farm of 30 acres.

Timothy continued to live at Nettle Hall until his death on 5th May 1900, the cause of death was listed on his death certificate as heart failure.

Timothy's Death Certificate

It is unclear as to why he was buried at the Mount Zion Baptist Chapel at Ovenden, as this is some distance from the home and it is highly unlikely that Timothy was a follower of the Baptist faith. It is known that the undertaker they used, resided in a village half way between Nettle Hall Farm and the Chapel, so this is the most likely reason why he ended his days there.

His wife Jane, and later son Greenwood were also buried in the same family grave at Ovenden.

Greenwood Bancroft

As was common practice in those days, their son Greenwood had been given his mother’s maiden name. He led a quiet life running the farm with his brother John, after their parents deaths. He died in 1922 at the young age of 47 years from acute appendicitis because the condition went undetected, as it later came to light that his appendix were on the wrong side of his body to normal, thus causing the condition to go undiagnosed until it was too late.

The only picture of Jane which I have is the following one, showing her in later life with her son John, probably taken around 1900, around the time of Timothy’s death. no pictures of Timothy exist.


In loving memory of
Nettle Hall Farm,Thornton
Who died May 6th 1900
age 58 years
also of JANE, beloved
wife of the above,
who died may 21st 1905
age 66 years
also of GREENWOOD, son
of the above
who died Feb 8th 1922
aged 47 years
“They rest in peace”

Two Bancroft brothers honoured for War Work

It is very unusual to come across two brothers in the same family who received honours for their work in the WW2 Armaments Industry, but here is the story of two brothers, Tom and Clifford, who did just that.
I wrote an article some time ago about Tom Bancroft, who received the O.B.E for his work as manager of an aircraft factory at Sherburn-in-Elmet, which was responsible for producing the Swordfish aircraft in WW2, a plane which, although quite old in design by then, nevertheless was very important to the war effort, and was partly responsible for sinking the German Ship ‘Bismark’. His story can be read here.
His younger brother Clifford, followed a similar career to Tom and was awarded the British Empire Medal [B.E.M] for his work at a Midlands plane factory during WW2.

Three brothers - [L to R] John Harold, Thomas & Clifford

Clifford was born in Denholme, near Bradford on 20th June 1899 at 6 Old Road, a small terrace house in the village. He was one of a family of five children to John Bancroft and his wife Alice. John was an Overlooker in Denholme at Foster’s Mill where most of the people in the village worked, and the following 1911 census shows the whole family living at that address.

1911 census

Like most men of his generation, Clifford signed up for WW1, although he expressed a preference for the RAF rather than the Army,which must have been an unusual event in 1918, and probably shows his interest in aviation at this early stage in his life. His attestation papers show the date he signed up as 14 April 1918 at the age of 18 yrs/295 days, and gives his occupation as ‘fitter', probably working at Foster’s Mill where his father and brother also worked. His RAF joining papers give further details. Like many attestation papers of the time, Clifford’s are slightly fire and water damaged because in 1940 a German Bomber struck the War office in London where many of the records were kept.

After the war Clifford maintained a keen interest in Civil Aviation, and whilst holding the position of Chief Engineer with Imperial Airways he was sent to Papua New Guinea and set up an Aviation Service for the Gold Industry…. the first plane ever to be used in the country. The plane was used to carry the gold from the mines in the interior of the country to the port on the coast. Here is a picture of Clifford with a plane at the Salamoa Aerodrome outside the Plane Hanger, which was made of bamboo!

Salamoa Aerodrome, Papua New Guinea

Going back in time to the outbreak of WW2 Clifford was working for the Aircraft Industry in Lancashire, probably with help from his brother Tom who worked there, before being transferred to their Midlands factory as the Manager. The local newspaper when reporting his B.E.M. award said “ his guidance and consistent encouragement to the employees was quickly reflected in increased production….and for his assisting to bring record production at the Midlands Aircraft Factory he has been awarded the British Empire Medal”
I have no details about Clifford’s life after WW2, other than the fact that he died at Worthing in East Sussex in 1975.