|Wool Skep Plate|
Oxenhope, near Keighley is one of those villages which has had a high number of Bancroft families living there over the last couple of centuries..... most of them descended from the family line of Joseph Bankcroft [spelt with a 'k'] and Grace Greenwood who were married in 1752 at Bradford Parish Church.
The father, John, died , age only 56 years, in 1869 and the cause of death was described as “chronic ulcer of stomach etc”. Their gravestone in The Oxenhope Wesleyan Graveyard at Lowertown tells the sad fact of the family's life.
John was succeeded in the business by his sons Joseph Riley Bancroft [1838-1890], and his brother Jonas Bancroft [1850-1913] who eventually became joint owners of the mill property in 1876 when their Uncle George Feather died the previous year and left it to them. Joseph was a prominent member of the community being a member of the Oxenhope Council Board for twelve years, three of them as Chairman. Looking at the census records for this period, it would seem likely that Joseph probably bought his brother out of the property because Jonas, who was twelve years younger than his brother, had his occupation recorded as either 'wool merchant' or 'wool agent' whereas his brother Joseph lists his occupation as ' master wool spinner' on the census records.
During the period 1870-1885 the mill underwent a great deal of alteration. It had originally been powered by just a water wheel, but by the mid 1880’s a steam engine had been installed to supplement the water power system because water power alone was probably incapable of providing the requirements for the expanding business.A great deal of structural work was undertaken to alter and double the size of the existing building from what had originally started life as two cottages. The rebuilt mill was two storeys with an attic, and was double the width of the earlier building.The Bancrofts consistently referred to themselves as worsted spinners in the trade directories and a stock list of 1881 itemised the manufacturing process and the machinery in the mill floor by floor....the ground floor was where the wool was washed, dried and combed, the first floor was used for spinning and the attic area [sometimes known as the garrett] was used for winding and warping. The mill at this time was lit by gas and heated by steam pipes, as confirmed by records from 1881 which proudly say that ' gas meter pipes are now fitted through the mill, and all steam pipes are now fit up to and from the boiler'
Here is an old photograph of this period showing the flywheel of the steam engine being removed from the mill.
Joseph Riley Bancroft continued to run the business until his death in 1890, and his two sons John Walker Bancroft [1867-1945] and Frederick Riley Bancroft [1872-1939] then took over and continued to run the business as 'John Bancroft & Co'. By 1915 the mill produced hosiery, knitting and weaving yarns from its 4,200 spindle machines.
|John Walker Bancroft [1867-1945] and family|
|Frederick Riley Bancroft [1872-1939]|
Frederick Riley Bancroft was obviously something of a textile engineer, as can be seen from the following picture which is a scale model of a weaving loom made by him. He attended a Night Class and was awarded a First Class Diploma in the Elementary stage of Machine Construction and Drawing from the Science and Art Department South Kensington, age thirteen. The loom may have been part of the practical side of the examination. He was also a lifelong member of Oxenhope Methodist Church, being a Circuit Steward, Trustee and Teacher in the Sunday School.
When Frederick Riley Bancroft died suddenly at his home 'Brookfield' in 1939 his brother, John Walker Bancroft, exercises his legal right in line with a previously drawn up agreement, and bought out his late brother’s shares. Frederick Riley Bancroft’s son Norman, was asked to leave the firm, which had been started by his great-grandfather, and he then went into business on his own [more about this later]
A year later John Walker Bancroft brought his only son Sydney into the business and when his father died in 1945, Sydney continued running the business . John Walker's obituary in the local newspaper described him as ' a senior partner in the family firm for 54 years, and a member of the Bradford Wool Exchange for over 50 years....he was also a wireless enthusiast and designed and built the first car to be used in Oxenhope in 1900...he lived at Hillcrest in Oxenhope'.
Documents dating from the period of the second world war show that the mill had moved from producing yarn for weaving and knitting to its war time products of ‘government khaki warp and weft yarn for serge battledress’. Records from this time also show that the steam engine and water wheel of the late-19th century had been replaced by an 80 h.p. diesel engine and water turbine, although a boiler had been retained to provide steam heating. Lighting was now by electricity, from the mill's own supply.
Sydney had married Maud Riley, and retired from the business in 1957 and then spent much of his time working for several charities and for the community as a local councillor, and eventually became Mayor of Keighley from 1971 to 1972.
He was a lifelong member of Oxenhope Methodist Church and was a steward of the Haworth & Oakworth Methodist Circuit, and also had the unique distinction of being elected an Alderman by the local council, when he was no longer a servicing Councillor. He died in 1984.
|Sydney and Maude Bancroft|
Moving back in time again....Norman had been forced out of the Charles Mill business previously in 1939 by way of his Uncle buying his father’s shares and at the time of his death. With the help of many business friends and employees of his former firm, he bought into a business in Keighley called Arthur Ratcliffe & Co at Eagle Mills in Keighley, which had 3000 spindles, and the firm went from strength to strength as it was wartime and all mills were working flat out producing goods for the war effort. Norman’s business eventually merged with the owners of Ponden Mill near Stanbury, who had 2000 spindles and became Bancroft & Sunderland Ltd and they then bought out his cousin Sydney’s business after his retirement, at Charles Mill in Oxenhope, which at that time was operating 3260 spindles, spinning hosiery, hand knitting and weaving yarn. The group eventually consolidated their business at the three mills, and ceased production in 1973 at both Ponden Mill and Charles Mill to concentrated its business at Eagle Mill in Keighley.
Charles Mill was then left unoccupied for many years until it was finally converted into residential use as apartments in the 1980’s, and today is known as Charles Court.
|A collection of old Bobbins from Charles Mill|
The Bancroft's business at Charles Mill shows an evolution involving rebuilding, expansion and additions, but it always remained a small mill concentrating on just one aspect of the textile manufacturing process….spinning, rather than adding weaving to it's range of operations, as other mills in the area did. It is a demonstration that concentration on just one aspect of textile manufacture could permit the survival of a small firm into the modern age.
[I am grateful to Mrs Norma Mackrell and Mrs Dorinda Kinghorn, who are both members of the Bancroft family, for providing some of the information for this article.]