Timothy Bancroft and his Bastardy Order

And when did you last see your father? - by William Frederick Yeames

In times gone bye,  having a child out of wedlock was a very serious matter indeed for any unfortunate young woman, and the following story must have been the talk of the wash-house in the sleepy village of Oxenhope in Yorkshire in the 19th century.

 Following on from the Poor Laws of 1601, care of the poor fell to a resident's parish. In cases of an illegitimate birth, parishes always tried to identify the father and make him legally responsible for the child's maintenance, to keep the costs off the parish relief rolls. Nineteenth century changes allowed the mother to be granted a Bastardy Order by the courts, thus holding the father responsible for maintenance of the child

Here is a copy of Bastardy Orders issued in the small village of Haworth in Yorkshire, which covered only an eight year period in the Oxenhope area, between 1812-1820, showing the size of the problem, particularly when you bear in mind that this only refers to cases where the man was found!....there must have been many more cases where the father could not be proved, or where he just disappeared. Two third's of the way down the list is one Timothy Bancroft from Haworth, the man who the courts decided was the father of Susey Feather's illigitimate child.

The Bastardy/Affiliation Order was issued by the Justice of the Peace at the Petty Sessions or Quarter Sessions following an examination. The Order obliged the putative father to pay for the child’s maintenance or face a possible prison sentence. After the New Poor Law of 1834, the parish authorities lessened their role in bastardy cases leaving the woman the option of applying herself for the bond from the Petty Sessions. - See more at: http://www.genguide.co.uk/source/bastardy-bonds-amp-documents-parish-amp-poor-law/140/#sthash.KUwsTLf7.dpuf
The Bastardy/Affiliation Order was issued by the Justice of the Peace at the Petty Sessions or Quarter Sessions following an examination. The Order obliged the putative father to pay for the child’s maintenance or face a possible prison sentence. After the New Poor Law of 1834, the parish authorities lessened their role in bastardy cases leaving the woman the option of applying herself for the bond from the Petty Sessions. - See more at: http://www.genguide.co.uk/source/bastardy-bonds-amp-documents-parish-amp-poor-law/140/#sthash.KUwsTLf7.dpuf
Haworth Bastardy Orders

  So here is the story of Timothy Bancroft, who looks who seems to have led a very unconventional, and some would say shameful life for the time.
 
 Timothy was born around 1790, in an area called Leeming, a small hamlet near Oxenhope, several miles from Haworth, the son of  John and Martha Bancroft, and was baptised on 17th December 1790 at Haworth Parish Church.


Timothy's baptism 17th Dec 1790

His father, John, probably earned a meagre living as either a hand-loom weaver or woolcomber, as most people in this area did, and in fact Timothy and his siblings all eventually earned a living from the wool trade. As early as 1813, Timothy is listed in records as a woolcomber, which was a trade not without it’s difficulties, as the following article describes here.
On 22nd November 1813 he married Hannah Baldwin on Haworth Church. Interestingly neither Timothy of Hannah could write there names, and just put there cross on the marriage register. Timothy’s brother James was one of the witnesses. The marriage looks as though it was organised in a hurry because by January 1814, the couple had their first child, a son they called Joseph.
Timothy & Hannah's marriage

Unfortunately things took a turn for the worst for Timothy, because  his past came back to haunt him.  Five years after his marriage to Hannah on 25th December 1818 a local woman called Susey Feather was granted a court order naming him as the father of her 10 year old child, Betty, who had been born  in 1808. It is unclear why there was such a long delay after the child’s birth, before her mother took out the order against Timothy

Susey Feather's Bastardy record
Susey Feather had been subjected to the shame of having her illegitimate 11 week old child, Betty, baptised on 14th October 1809 in Haworth, with no mention of a father on the record. She was shown as living in Uppertown, an area in Oxenhope in the Haworth parish area….the same area where Timothy and his wife were living at the time!
Betty Feather's baptism
 Things then look as though they took another unusual turn in Timothy’s life because by the time of the 1841 census Timothy is now living with Susie, who is now listed as Susanna Feather, and a second illegitimate daughter Sarah Feather, together with a child called Amelia Bancroft age 9 years. There is no evidence to confirm who Sarah's father was, as the baptism record just shows her mother's name, as a spinster, but it must be reasonable to assume that the father of this child was also Timothy. I have not been able to find any records for the other child, Amelia's baptism

Sarah Feather's baptism


And it gets even more interesting because next door on the 1841 census lives Susie’s ‘Feather’ family relations, and then next door again is Timothy & Susie’s illegitimate daughter Betty living there, now using the ‘Bancroft’ name, with two Bancroft children, Mary age 10 years and John age 5 years, which most probably are her illegitimate children

1841 census
By this time, it looks like Timothy’s wife, Hannah, had had enough of all these goings-on because she was back living with her mother, Sarah Baldwin, in another part of Oxenhope, so obviously something very serious must have happened, as it is highly unusual at this time for a man to be openly living with the unmarried woman of his children , whilst his wife lives in another location nearby…… and producing the census must have been a nightmare for the census enumerator, trying to decide which children were Bancrofts and which were Feathers!

By the time of the 1851 census, the situation looks as though it had changed again!...Timothy is still living at the same address in Uppertown, Oxenhope, but now with  his daughter Betty living with him, and listed as his daughter and still shown with the ‘Bancroft’ name, but now listed as  a widow, with her son John also living there.[ I suspect Betty was now listing herself as a 'widow' for respectability reasons.... as an unmarried woman with two illigimate children! and I have never found any marriage record for her] The surprising thing is  next door is Susie, now shown as ‘Susan Feather’ with her daughter still shown with the  'Feather' name, but now listed as Sally  [Sally being often used as a variation of Sarah].
1851 census

 The interesting point to notice is that Sally Feather ,a 34 year old unmarried woman, is described on the census as Susie’s ‘illegitimate daughter’ which is highly unusual as this term was usually only used when describing children’s relationship. It therefore seems clear that both the Bancrofts and the Feathers were living in a very open relationship and everyone around knew what was going on, which although today would not cause anyone to give it much thought, but in the 1850’s was somewhat unusual in village life.
The 1838 Ratable Value lists for Oxenhope showed him as being a man of some substance owning a row of six houses, a smithy and a house/shop, which would presumably have been his grocer’s shop, as this had been his occupation in later life. This probably explains the reason why the Bancrofts and Feathers were all living next door to each other in the same row of houses in Uppertown, Oxenhope.....Timothy probably owned all the houses! The picture below shows what I think were Timothy's row of houses.

Timothy died on 7th February 1858 at his home in Uppertown, Oxenhope, and was buried in the village graveyard at Lowertown, in a grave owned by a John Feather.

Surprising therefore, when his will was published on 19th April 1858 he left an estate valued at less than £200, which seems very little for a man with sizable assets....maybe he had to spend it all supporting his illegitimate family! Unsurprisingly the executor of the will was John Feather, who's grave he was buried in, which must have meant they were close friends in life.

Uppertown Cottages - 2016



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