Mary Ann Bancroft....The Sheffield Undertakeress!



Mary Ann Bancroft....in later life

I wrote an article some time ago about a Mary Ann Bancroft [nee Pollard] who lead an interesting life as someone who was accused of poisoning children in the Sheffield area in 1875 by making and selling a home-made ‘cordial’ for curing various ailments. The original story can be read here, and I have been contacted by here Great-Great-Grandson with more interesting details of her life.
Mary Ann’s story begins with her birth around 10th January 1802, the daughter of James and Elizabeth Pollard. The place of her birth is a bit of a mystery as various census records show it as either Thorncliffe, Ecclesfield or Attercliffe in the Sheffield area. The Attercliffe register records the baptism on Jan 10th 1802 of a Mary Ann, daughter of James Pollard, carpenter (and a labourer by 1811), and his wife Elizabeth. The Mormon site has her christened on the same date at S Peter’s, Sheffield (Cathedral). Why there should be two entries is unclear unless St Peter’s, later Sheffield Cathedral, was a central collecting point for baptism details.

According to uncorroborated family folklore, Mary was the daughter of a relatively affluent Methodist family but married her father's gardener.  It is said that either the family owned, or her father managed, a scythe and sickle works at Renishaw…..[neither story being able to be confirmed for certain by her descendants.]

Robert & Mary [Ann's] marriage record.

However we do know that Mary Ann married Robert Bancroft on 12th November 1821 at St Peter’s Church, Sheffield, [later to become the Cathedral] and he became a gravedigger at St. John's cemetery in the town. Robert was born in 1802 and in his younger days was a coal miner before becoming a grave digger.

Interestingly, the family were listed as 'Banery' on the 1841 census for some reason, possibly the person taking down the details misheard the occupants or could not read their writing? 

1841 census



Robert died at their home at 155 Duke Street, Sheffield on 20th October 1868 aged 66 years.

The couple had at least 12 children, of which 6 died in infancy. She named one child Robert, after his father, but all of the other children had biblical names and she was said to have been religious and to have read the bible to the family in the evenings.

Her son Robert survived into adulthood and she is said to have made him dress well, carry a silver-topped cane and wear kid gloves: but he was already a coal miner at the age of 11 and that kind of foppishness would surely have brought real problems in a mining community, although this may be just family hearsay.


Robert & Mary Ann Bancroft

Mary rented a room in her house at Duke Street to a Dr. Martin [which might explain where she picked up the knowledge of how to make up potions to allow her to sell them from home in her later life]
 She worked for an undertaker, to a Mr Reed, as a shroud maker and used metal pinking tools to make broderie anglaise patterns on the shrouds and she kept coffin boards in the cellar of her house (then 37 Duke Street.)  She also kept and washed the white silk sashes (sometimes lavender coloured for children) worn by the pall bearers.

As part of her work for funerals she made flowers out of material to decorate the shrouds and her grand-daughter Susannah and other children would help her.  Allegedly her husband Robert didn't like her doing any work and she wore lace gloves to protect her hands. She bought her fabrics in Sheffield, especially at Walshes where the floor manager is said to have escorted her round the shop.

Here is a copy of the 1871 census, where Mary Ann describes herself as an ‘Undertakeress’ !

1871 census


 It is said that she became a little senile before she died and used to unpick the patchwork quilts that she had made, and her son Robert would then rap her knuckles with his silver-topped cane and was quite cruel to her.

When she lay dying in late 1880, her sisters, having been told by her daughter Martha that she did not have long to live, went to see her, but she is alleged to have told them that they had come too late and that she could manage without them after all that time. They were said to have been very upset by that response.

Mr Reed, who she had worked for, arranged her funeral, which was very lavish. She had made her own shroud in preparation for her funeral.

 A wreath from her sisters hung on the back of her hearse and they attended, so it is said, with their footmen and coaches, which sounds as though it was a fairly grand affair!

Archbishop Richard Bancroft's remains rediscovered

Archbishop Richard Bancroft



There has been quite a lot of media coverage recently of the accidental discovery of the tomb of Archbishop Richard Bancroft, together with four other former Archbishops. Richard was a very important religious figure in the early 17th century, as he was appointment by King James to oversee the translating of a new authorised version of the Bible, which was eventually published in 1611 and known as the ‘ King James Bible’

Sadly Richard never saw the completion of his work on the Bible project because he died at Lambeth Palace on 2nd November 1610, and the whereabouts of his final resting place had been a mystery until recently.

I have over the years had lots of researchers contacting me regarding Archbishop Richard Bancroft [1544-1610], to see if they are related to him as a "Yorkshire Bancroft"....unfortunately he was not a Yorkshire born Bancroft but came from LANCASHIRE, but his story still makes interesting reading.

Richard was the son of John Bancroft & Mary Curwen and baptised on 9th September 1544 at Farnworth, a village in South Lancashire [now part of Widnes in Cheshire]. His early education was at Farnworth Grammar School, and later at Cambridge, firstly at Christ's College & then at Jesus College.
He was ordained in 1570 as Chaplin to the Bishop of Ely, and then became one of the preachers at the University. In 1584 he was made rector of St Andrew's in Holborn and a year later in 1585 was appointed treasurer of St Paul's Cathedral.
On 9th February 1589 he preached at St Paul's Cross and the theme of his sermon was a passionate attack on the Puritans and is said to have "denounced the exercise of the right of private judgement, and set forth the divine right of bishops in such strong language that one of the Queen's councillors held it to amount to a threat against the supremacy of the crown"'
In June 1597 he was consecrated Bishop of London, and from that time, because of the age and incapacity of the incumbent Archbishop Whitgift, he was virtually invested with the power of primate and had the sole management of ecclesiastical affairs.

One if his many duties when Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, was to be present at her death.

In 1604 Archbishop Whitgift died and Richard was eventually appointed his successor, albeit it after strong opposition from parliament because of a ‘Book of Canons’ which he had produced for royal approval earlier in the year.

At this time there was also strong opposition to the current religious practices from the  Puritan movement  who were continuing to gaining momentum and Puritan ministers collected signatures for a petition, known as the Millenary Petition signed by over 1,000 Puritan ministers, calling for a number of moderate church reforms to remove ceremonies, some of which were:
  1. the use of the sign of the cross in baptism [which Puritans saw as superstitious]
  2. the rite of confirmation (which Puritans criticized because it was not found in the Bible);
  3. the performance of baptism by midwives (which Puritans argued was based on a superstitious belief that infants who died without being baptized could not go to heaven]
  4. the exchanging of rings during the marriage ceremony (again seen as unscriptural and superstitious);
  5. bowing at the name of Jesus during worship (again seen as superstitious)
  6. the requirement that clergy wear vestments.
  7. the custom of clergy living in the church building.
The Petition argued that a preaching minister should be appointed to every parish (instead of one who simply read the service from the book of common prayer. In opposition to the Archbishop's policy that clergy must subscribe to the Book of Common Prayer and the use of vestments. The Petition argued for  the setting up of a Presbyterian system of church governance.
In 1608 he was chosen chancellor of the University of Oxford. One of his last public acts was a proposal laid before Parliament for improving the revenues of the Church, and a project for a college of controversial divinity at Chelsea. In the last few months of his life he took part in the discussion about the consecration of certain Scottish bishops, and it was in pursuance of his advice that they were consecrated by several bishops of the English Church. By this act were laid the foundations of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Museum Garden

And to bring the story up to date, Last year, during the refurbishment of the Garden Museum, which is housed in a deconsecrated medieval parish church next to Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s official London residence, builders made the chance discovery of a lifetime: a cache of 30 lead coffins that had lain undisturbed for centuries.
There were records of archbishops being buried in the church, from the 17th to the 19th centuries. But it was thought their coffins had been swept away in 1851, when the ancient church was almost entirely rebuilt, except for its tower. It had been thought that the vaults below had been filled in.

St Mary's Tower

And so they had been – except for the single vault beneath the holy altar, the most important spot in the church. So the archbishops have slumbered on, undisturbed and completely forgotten.
Closer inspection of the coffins revealed metal plates bearing the names of five former Archbishops of Canterbury, going back to the early 1600s.
Building site workers made their discovery by chance as the former chancel at St Mary-at-Lambeth was being converted into an exhibition space. Stripping out some York stone to even out the precarious paving, and enable disabled access to the old altar, they accidentally cut a six-inch diameter hole in the chancel floor – and noticed a hidden chamber beneath.
Attaching a mobile phone to a stick, they dropped it into the hole. What they filmed astonished them…. a hidden stairway leading down to a brick-lined vault.

Hidden Coffins

Inside, piled giggle-piggledy on top of each other, were the coffins. On top of one rested an archbishop’s mitre, painted red and gold.

Archbishop's Mitre

It isn’t surprising, then, that six archbishops were buried in Lambeth, where the Archbishops of Canterbury have lived for nearly 800 years. What is surprising is that they should choose to be buried in tiny St Mary’s, rather than mighty Lambeth Palace itself.
The end this story, in the preface of the new King James Version of the Bible, the translator refer to Archbishop Bancroft as "chief overseer & task-master under his Majesty, to whom were not only we, but also our whole Church,much bound"

King James Bible

Martin Bancroft….a prolific thief of poultry!



The Birch

  Here is an interesting but sad story about a man called Martin Bancroft, born in 1871 at Ovenden, near Halifax who started a life of crime at an early age of about 13 years of age, when he was found guilty at Halifax Petty Sessions of stealing pigeons.
He was the son of a John Bancroft, an out of work stoker on the 1881 census and Ellen [ne Sutcliffe]
 
1881 census

Martin’s first brush with the authorities were when he appeared in Todmorden court on 3rd January 1884, aged only 13 years, where he was ‘whipped’ or birched and find £1 for the theft of pigeons.
A sentence which including whipping a 13 year old child may seem extremely harsh today but in 1884 this was not an unusual punishment.
Judicial birching in 19th-century Britain was used much more often as a fairly minor punishment for male juveniles, typically for petty larceny, than as a serious penalty for adult men. This was applied to boys aged up to 14 in England and Wales, and up to 16 in Scotland. In this juvenile version, the birch was much lighter and smaller, and the birch was administered privately by a policeman, usually immediately after the magistrate's court hearing, either in a room in the court building or at the nearest police station.
However, despite the whipping, Martin did not seem to learn from this experience because 9 months later he was in court again at Todmorden for stealing other poultry. This time he was given one month’s custody and sentenced to be whipped again.

Birching in a Police Station

Within 3 months he had done it again, and this time appeared in Rochdale court on 12th January 1885, pleading guilty of stealing a goose this time, for which he was given 1 month in a Youth Reformatory. It seems pretty clear that these offences must have been committed out of desperation for food, for it continued because after a gap of 4 years he appears 4 years later in Halifax court for the theft of 2 chickens and a pigeon, although by now he is using the alias of ‘Joseph Ackroyd’. This time he was sentenced to 3 months and 6 weeks consecutively for the 2 separate offences. The fact that he was now using an alias is probably because he was hoping if he was caught again the authorities would not link him with his earlier record, but it did not work because over the rest of his life he used other names as well. The only ones we know for definite are Joseph Ackroyd, John Smith and William Roberts.
He continued to offend, stealing various poultry each time in  1896 1899 and 1900, again presumably to eat.
Martin seems to have tried to go on the straight and narrow, because in 1891 at the age of 20 years he tried to join the army  in the West Riding Regiment, when his occupation was given as a ‘Fireman’

Attestation Paper
However this change in his lifestyle did not seem to last very long because very shortly after signing up he was found to have given false answers on his attestation papers when asked if he had ever been sentenced to a term of imprisonment. His answer was 'no', and when this was discovered he received a further term of imprisonment of one month

The answer was NO !

Sentence for 'Giving false answer on attestation'

 By 1892 he was in court again in court at Preston, convicted again of stealing poultry and pigeons.
Whilst Martin continued to offend into his adult life, his crimes, other than stealing poultry to eat were mainly shop and house break ins, for instance in 1902 he was convicted of a Counting-House break-in, which today we would call a Bank, and was sentenced at Leeds to 3 years ‘penal servitude’, which was the term in those days of imprisonment with hard labour.

His occupation on the following prison record is a ‘Stoker’, and the record also shows other interesting information about his description such as:
Height: 5’ 6”
Hair colour: light brown
He had a blue dot on his left wrist,
The number of previous convictions, 
 His two other alias’s 
 The other prisons he had previously served in…Preston, Strangways [Manchester], and Maidstone


His offending was far and wide, initially in his local area of Todmorden, but then spanning out to Leeds, Preston, Rochdale, Salford, Maidstone, probably these were the areas where he had been imprisoned and then started re-offending on his release.



Looking at the records, it seems as though Martin died on the Isle of Wight in late 1920 at the age of only 49 years. I have been unable to find exact details about the circumstances of his death, but it most likely was while he was servicing another prison sentence there.
 

  To finish this sad story, here is a prison record showing just some of his convictions, which paints a sorry picture of this man’s short life, offending from the age of 13 years.