This blog is produced to assist all genealogy researchers of BANCROFT families originating from the county of YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND.
For more information go to the "Bancrofts from Yorkshire" website on:
As a child, I have fond memories of spending summer times on
holiday in Galway, Ireland with my maternal Grandparent, and on speaking to my
mother recently about this, it all came flooding back.
Looking through some old photos, I found the above old photo
of me with my Grandfather Ned, bringing home the turf in his Donkey-Cart, or
"Ass-Cart" as he always called it. I was about 12 years old at the time. [“Turf”
is the name used in Ireland for dried peat.]
It may seem strange to many people nowadays that even in the 1960’s peat was still been
cut from bog-land and widely used to heat the homes in rural Ireland, but this was the
norm in the small town where my Grandparents lived, indeed it is still very
common to this day to see people using this fuel in the home. My Grandparents would have paid the owner of the bog land a
certain price per yard for the right to cut turf for their own use, although at one time the family did own some bog-land of their own.
The photo above shows the type of cart many people had in their
back yard, ideal for being pulled over wet bog-land because of it’s large
wheels, by a donkey at the time…..can’t remember the name of the donkey, if
indeed had a name, but my Grandfather always seemed to have a donkey around on
land at the back of their house, as many others did, and I remember going to
sleep one warm summer’s evening with the bedroom window wide open, to be woken
up in the morning with the donkey sticking it’s head through the window and
braying for food!
My Grandfather, assisted by his brother-in-law, Tommy, had
the job of cutting and then transporting the dried turf back home.
Cutting the turf was very labour intensive in those days and
involved cutting into the wet bog with a specially shaped shovel called a ”slean”.
“Saving” the turf
involved turning each piece of turf to ensure the sun and wind could help in the
drying process. The turf was then placed upright or 'footed' for further drying.
Footing the turf involved placing five or six pieces
of turf upright and leaning against each other in a small stack in order for the wind to get
between the turfs to full dry them out fully, ready for storage.
I well remember seeing the sweat on Tommy’s brow, cutting turf on a hot summer days, then stopping for a rest and a cigarette. He and Grandad then loaded it
on the cart after drying and brought it the few miles home to be used through
Their home had a large black range in the kitchen which
heated the house and was used for cooking as well. It seemed as though we were
continually going outside to the shed for another hand full of turf to keep it stoked
up, and then emptying the ashes out because it filled up quickly due to the
peat not lasting long. Today many people use commercially cut blocks of peat, which
are compressed and therefore seem to last a lot longer.
My mother remembers friends in the town, although not in
her time, as children having to each take a piece of turf to school with them every morning in
order to heat the classroom, otherwise there was no heat for the class!
And just to finish with, I still have the wonderful smell of burning
turf in my head from those happy times years ago.
I recently read a book called “Oxenhope in the Great War”
which was a very informative story about how WW1 affected this little village
in Yorkshire and the lives of the men and women who lived there, where 370 men
left home to serve King and Country and 54 of whom never returned.
Usually my articles about WW1 are tinged with sadness about
all the young lives lost during this terrible conflict, but in this article I
want to talk about people who survived, In particular one individual called Edgar Bancroft who was born in the
village, was called up in 1916, and not only survived the war, but stayed on
for 6 months after the end of the conflict in the army of occupation in Germany
because he wanted “ to have a bit of
smooth after the rough!”
As in most areas of the country, many men volunteered to
fight, and the above newspaper advert uses comradery and patriotism to try and
persuade men to sign up, and many did. The 2nd Bradford Pals
Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment visited Oxenhope on a recruiting
parade and on 24th March 1915. The men, women and children of
Oxenhope, who had been taken out of school that day all watched as the soldiers
marched and were welcomed in the village.
Edgar was born on 3rd November 1897 in Oxenhope,
the younger son of Alfred and Sarah [nee O’Hara]. Alfred was a master tailor,
who later in life became a farmer and cattle dealer living at Stone Top Farm.
Edgar became an apprentice plumber, working in Keighley for a Tom Slater.
He was called up and enlisted with the York & Lancaster
Regiment on 12th September 1916, and travelled by train from
Keighley to Halifax, where he reported to the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment at
their collecting depot. From there he was sent to the transit camp at Clipstone
near Mansfield, and was the youngest man in the hut. After training, he went to
France, travelling overnight by train to Dover, then drafted out to Abbeville
and St. Omer.
He did not go into combat immediately, but eventually served
at Ypres and Passchendaele. One of his memories there was standing directly behind
a gun and watching the large shells for a second or so as they went down the
trajectory. Some of the guns were huge and before a battle when the artillery
put over a massive barrage, the ground would shake like a jelly, and the guns
would leap into the air as they recoiled.
He joined the Machine Gun Corps when volunteers were called
for and was given two days leave as a reward. Sixty other lads who hadn’t
volunteered were also drafted into the MGC, but without any leave.
Edgar was later transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and
the 9th Kite Balloon Squadron, and he would watch the officer go up
in the balloon to check and correct the range of the artillery fire. However,
sometimes the Germans sent over a plane to shoot down the balloon, and when the
officer saw it coming, would have to quickly parachute out. One particular
morning this happened several times.
As mentioned earlier, at the end of the war Edgar was asked
to stay on for an additional six months, and went to Germany with the army of
occupation, and was most impressed with the city of Cologne. Although he was
offered promotion to sergeant, he declined to stay on any longer, and was
demobilised on 7th August 1919, transferring to the RAF Reserves.
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
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 downloadedhere, but please be aware that much of
it is a bit rambling and not just relevant to the life of a weaver.