Oxenhope in the Great War

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.

Edgar is named on the Oxenhope Wesleyan memorial.
He died, age 65 years, on 1st March 1962.

[I am grateful to be allowed to use extract from the excellent book “Oxenhope in the Great War” by Norma Mackrell. Anyone who wishes to purchase this book, the profit of which go to Manorlands Hospice in Oxenhope, can do so on the following website.]

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.http://bancroftsfromyorkshire.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/timmy-bancrofts-narrow-escape-from.html
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”