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.

The Honeymoon….a carriage ride around Manningham Park!

St Peter's Cathedral, Bradford

I recently attended an annual service at the Bradford Cathedral, and while I was soaking up the atmosphere of this magnificent 15th century building, my thoughts went back to the time when my Grandparents were married there.
My Grandparents, John Bancroft and Hettie Watson, were married on 23rd September 1911 in the Cathedral, and as some stories are not always passed down through the generations here is the story of the lead-up to their special day as told to me by Hettie many years ago.

['Hettie' is misspent on the marriage certificate]

The ingredients for this marriage, were not made in heaven, but it was probably a marriage of convenience which suited them both…no doubt the plan was hatched during their courtship over a wall where their farms met. Having said that they were happily married for over fifty years and raised three children.
John and Hettie grew up on adjoining farms, John at Nettle Hole Farm and Hettie at Black Carr Farm, and they must have therefore bumped into each other all the time as they worked on their respective farms. John and his brother Greenwood, had been living a solitary life on the farm and since their parents had died in 1900 and 1905, and after their sister, Sarah Hannah had married and moved on, it was probably necessary for John to have a woman about the place, as the two bachelor brothers would have been struggling to keep everything in the house running satisfactory.

Meanwhile, Hettie was still living with her parents and younger two sisters on their farm, and as well as having to work on the farm she was also working as a weaver in a mill in the nearby village of Thornton…. a job she hated.
When Hettie announced to her parents in her broad Yorkshire dialect “ am bahn wed John from’t Nettle Oil” [I am going to marry John from the Nettle Hole], all her parents, who did not approve of the marriage, had to say on the matter was “ Tha’s med thi’ bed, nah thi’ can lig on it!” [you have made your bed, now you can lay on it!]. However Hettie, having reached the age of 21 years, did not need their approval, so the wedding went ahead.

 My Grandmother was a very formidable lady, and obviously was out to make an impression with all their friends and relations, so the wedding took place in no ordinary church, but in the Bradford Cathedral, also known as St Peter's in those days. As can be seen from the following photograph, no expense was spared on her wedding dress and hat, or indeed my Grandfather’s outfit.

 A honeymoon in some seaside town for the newlyweds was out of the question because all the livestock on the farm had to be fed and the cows milked that evening, so not wanting to just go straight  home to Nettle Hole, Hettie thought of a grand gesture to impress everyone by organising a carriage ride around nearby Manningham Park, no doubt with plenty of people present to admire the newly married couple in all their finery.

The family farm had always been known as " Nettle Hole" up until the time my Grandparent's married, but thereafter it seems to have had it's name changed to "Nettle Hall".....maybe Hettie thought it was time to give it a more glamorous name, befitting her new position as a farmer's wife!

To finish, here is what I think is a lovely picture taken at Blackpool in the 1950’s, a place they really loved, which I think shows the affection that the couple had for each other.