FOR MANY years I searched in vain to find the grave of a Jabez Bancroft in the Wesleyan graveyard at Dockroyd in Oakworth, writes Jarlath Bancroft..

The graveyard had been neglected for many years, and was tremendously overgrown with ivy, brambles and trees.

Then it was bought by Andrew Heaton, who has ancestors buried there and as well as restoring it, Andrew hopes the local community will one day take over the maintenance of this important feature of our village.

The graveyard, according to chapel records, has 725 graves, in which 2,452 people are buried, the last in 1968, including a significant number of infants.

There are names of 21 Bancroft individuals buried there, although only one grave is marked with a gravestone, that of Jabez Bancroft, of Chapel Lane, and some of his family.

The gravestone, although damaged by the weather and time, has some beautiful carving on it, including a hand with the finger pointing up to heaven!

Here are the details I have on Jabez, who from family tales passed down the generation was quite a character.

Jabez was born on May 5, 1845 in the Cross Roads area, the son of Michael and Ann Bancroft, who had eight children. Michael is shown on census records as being a weaver and later a woolcomber and a milk dealer.

Jabez was married twice, firstly to Mary Hannah Wood Williamson on December 24 1866, who died at a young age in January, 23.? They had two children.

Family folklore shows Jabez in a less-than-flattering light, as it was rumoured he proposed to his second wife, Mary Ann Berry, on the way home from his first’s wife’s funeral.

They decided to wait a little while, as propriety at the time dictated a period of mourning to stop wagging tongues in a village where everyone knew everyone else.

Jabez married for the second time just under four months after he buried his first wife, on May 19, 1874, quietly at Keighley Register Office, probably because this was away from prying eyes in the village.

Jabez went on to have a further six children with his second wife.

Quite a bit of mystery surrounds some of his children. One son Edwin, born in 1879, and a shoemaker, seems to have left his wife and vanished off the scene sometime after the 1901 census.

Family rumours have him as disappearing to somewhere in South Yorkshire.

No one seems to know the reason why he left his wife, or why she reverted back to her maiden name, then had a child using that surname.

Another son, Isaac, born in 1883, changed his name to John Stevenson and did a ‘moonlight flit’ to Philadelphia in the USA sometime between 1910-1915, and was never heard from again by the family.

Another of Jabez’s sons, Joseph born in 1875, found work at a mill in Keighley at the tender age of 10 and had to walk three miles to work then three miles home.

The 1861 census shows Jabez and his family living at nearby Bocking, with Jabez listed as a worsted spinner at the age of 15.

By 1871 Jabez had married Mary Hannah and the couple were in Edward Street, Keighley with two young children, and he had a job as a stone mason. The 1881 census shows him living at Bocking again, with his second wife Mary Ann and five children, and still working as a stone mason.

The final census showing Jabez is from 1891 when he was living with his wife and six children at Chapel Lane in Oakworth, directly opposite the graveyard. He is listed as ‘Chapel Keeper’.

The records from the Oakworth Methodist Chapel show that he was the Chapel Keeper, or Sexton, from 1884 to his death in 1898.

The duties of a Church/Chapel Sexton were many, and usually entailed the maintenance of the chapel and area around it, as well as managing and maintaining the graveyard.

This usually included some grave digging, and there is evidence in the chapel records of Jabez digging graves, with his name shown next to some of the grave details.

Jabez died on May 3 1898, just before his 53rd birthday, at his home in Chapel Lane, very close to the chapel and graveyard he had looked after for 14 years.

After Jabez’s death the job of Chapel Sexton was taken over by his son Arthur from 1898-1939.

I am grateful for Andrew Heaton providing much of the information for this article.

Visit for further information about the Dockroyd graveyard, and the book Andrew has written about it.

* More stories about notable Bancrofts in the Keighley area can be found on Jorlath Bancroft’s blog