This post tells the desperately sad story of father Amos Dracup (1818-1869) and son Richard Dracup (1854-1871) who both lived in Great Horton, Bradford and whose untimely deaths – within two years of each other – were causally connected.

  • Amos was born in 1818, the fourth child and first son of Richard Dracup senior (1788-1853) and Hannah Dracup, nee Bennett (1789-1852).
  • Richard junior was born in 1854, the eldest child of Amos and Mary Swaine Dracup nee Milnes (1824-1870).

Both were dead by 1871.

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Map Capture

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Their lives played out mostly in the Upper Green area of Great Horton – the north side of Great Horton High Street (now part of Great Horton Road) and the streets immediately behind it.

Today this area is best identified by the George and Dragon public house, which sits on the corner of Great Horton Road and Dracup Road in south-east Bradford.

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George and Dragon, Dracup Road, courtesy of Tim Green
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Great Horton was an important settlement in its own right, not incorporated into Bradford until 1847 – and still with its own distinct character.

Like Bradford, it had grown rapidly during this period, its fortunes linked closely to the proliferation of worsted mills and the transition from manual weaving to power looms explored in my earlier post ‘Dracups in Great Horton’ (March 2016).

The brief lives of Amos and Richard are inextricably linked together – and with this wider story of economic upheaval and rapid social development, exemplifying perfectly the human costs and consequences that follow in their wake.

It relies exclusively on material available online. I will clarify or extend the text if you can make other evidence available – photographs of the main protagonists are particularly welcome.

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bridge street 2 Capture

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Richard senior, Amos’s Father

Richard Dracup senior was a son of Thomas Dracup (1760-1817) and a grandson of Nathaniel Dracup (1728-1798), the prominent early Methodist.

I am directly descended from another of Thomas’s sons, Richard’s brother Eli Dracup (1799-1837), so Amos is a first cousin four times removed and Richard junior a second cousin three times removed.

Richard senior was an almost exact contemporary of Samuel Dracup (1793-1866) who pioneered the new power loom technology and grew wealthy as a result. Richard’s career followed a slightly different path.

He married Hannah Bennett on 10 October 1808 in Bradford Cathedral, at the age of 21, and at that point his employment was given as ‘joiner’.

This was refined to ‘shuttle maker’ on the birth and baptism records of his three elder daughters, dating from 1811, 1813 and 1815 respectively. The same description was included on Amos’s baptism record, that ceremony taking place on 22 April 1819.

Richard was still listed as a shuttle maker in 1828 and 1834 town directories, but Pigot’s Directory of 1841 was the first to include him as a shopkeeper and the 1841 Census refined that to ‘grocer’. He was now living on Great Horton High Street..

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1841 census Capture
1841 Census

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He must have changed occupation at some point in the late 1830s, at almost exactly the same time as Samuel Dracup began manufacturing Jacquard looms. No doubt the demand for wooden shuttles was about to decline significantly, and Richard was well-placed to anticipate that.

By 1841 his family consisted of six (perhaps seven) daughters and one (perhaps two) sons.

  • Bathsheba Dracup (1810-1882) had married Thomas Milnes in 1835. By 1841 she had borne four children in wedlock, and her older son William (1832-1910), whose father is unknown, was living in Richard’s household.
  • Adah Dracup (1813-1896) had married David Dewhirst in 1834 and they too had three children by this point.
  • Ann Dracup (1815-1874) had married Squire Jowett in 1833. They had a son, also called Richard.
  • Amos, aged 20, was still living at home.
  • Harriett Dracup (1822-1862) was aged 18, living at home and employed as a power loom weaver.
  • Mary Dracup (1824-1887) was aged 16, living at home and also employed as a power loom weaver.
  • Esther Dracup (1827-1915) was aged 13 and still living at home.

Some sources suggest Jane (or Jenny) Dracup (1809-1884) may be Richard’s and Hannah’s firstborn child.

There is a Bradford Cathedral baptism record for 13 February 1809 listing a ‘Jenny, daughter of Richard Drake [sic] shuttlemaker’ and no further trace of this family.

However, Jane/Jenny has historically been attributed to Richard’s older brother, Daniel Dracup. She had also married by this point and already had four children.

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Jane/Jenny Dracup

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Richard may also have had a second son, Aaron Dracup (b.1819) whose whereabouts are a mystery. He appears in some family trees but there is no baptism record for him and I can find no other record that ties him to Richard.

Ibbetson’s 1850 Directory of Bradford described Richard as a ‘provision dealer’, still located on the High Street. The 1851 census reverted to ‘shopkeeper’. White’s Directory of 1853 gave his address as 132 High Street, as did Slater’s Directory of 1855.

The 1851 census showed Richard and Hannah living with Amos, now aged 32, and Esther, now aged 23. The fifth member of the household was Martha Dracup (b. 1836) so aged 15, described as Richard’s granddaughter, who was working as a power loom weaver.

Her age and surname suggest that she may have been Amos’s illegitimate daughter, or else the daughter of the mysterious Aaron. In either case they would have sired her while still a teenager.

At first I thought she might be Bathsheba’s illegitimate daughter, sister of William, but Bathsheba was already married the year before her birth. William also married a Martha Waddington, but that wedding did not take place until 1855. 

Richard’s wife Hannah died on 6 October 1852 at the respectable age of 63, while Richard himself succumbed almost exactly a year later on 12 October 1853, at the age of 65.

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victorian grocer

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What became of Richard’s grocery business?

Richard decided that the executor of his will would be younger brother Nathaniel Dracup (1797-1871), still working as a shuttlemaker, rather than eldest son Amos, even though Amos was 35 by this time.

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Richard Dracup death duty Capture

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Records suggest that Richard left the not inconsiderable sum of £450 – the equivalent of roughly £60,000 today.

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Richard Dracup's index of probate Capture

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It seems that Amos did not inherit his father’s shop, as might have been expected. Town directories show that, by 1856, it was in the hands of one Benjamin Wilson who had married Amos’s younger sister Esther on 6 December 1853, only a few weeks after Richard’s death.

The marriage record doesn’t acknowledge that the bride’s father is deceased. Brother Amos is one of the witnesses.

Does this imply that Amos was not on good terms with his father at this point – or perhaps that Richard regarded a 35 year-old son still living at home as something of a liability? Perhaps there were hints of mental instability. Perhaps Richard’s will would throw light on the matter.

Benjamin was employed as an overlooker at the time of his marriage, so he may have married Esther to acquire an interest in the grocery business.

But his interest was apparently short-lived since the 1861 census found him living next door to the shop at 134 High Street, in a private house, and he had returned to working as a ‘worsted spinner overlooker’.

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Bradford street scene Capture

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The grocer’s shop was listed in the census next door at 132, but there were no inhabitants. It must have been located somewhere on the 200 metre stretch between Dracup Road and Blacksmith Fold on the north side of what is now Great Horton Road.

One contender is what is now known as 682 Great Horton Road, or one of its near neighbours.

The Great Horton Conservation Assessment (2006) says:

‘At the entrance to Ramsden Court is a short row of Grade II Listed Cottages built c.1800, 682-686 Great Horton Road, which was augmented by the addition of 672-676 Great Horton Road in the mid19th century, and has a front elevation which follows the shape of the road, giving the row its distinctive appearance.

Of the three cottages, number 682 was converted to a shop later on in the 19th century with a recessed doorway and large shop window, although many details are obscured by render and paintwork and the oversized signs, above which is a traditional awning. This cottage is the only one to retain the original paired mullion sash window detail as the other cottages have modern replacements. The doors are similarly modern and all openings are set in plain stone surrounds that have been painted.

The gable end of 686 Great Horton Road (on some maps this property is 1 Ramsden Court) is rendered and painted, partially concealing the quoins. Each cottage has a corniced plain stone chimney. The stone roof over the cottages extends over 672-676 Great Horton Road, which appear to have been purpose-built as shops and retain some traditional details. The sill and lintel windows are typical of the mid-19th century, though the windows themselves are of modern styles.’

There is a contemporary directory entry showing 132 High Street being used by The Great Horton Industrial Self Help Society, described as a drapers, grocers and butchers. This later became the Great Horton Co-operative Society.

The co-operative movement grew out of concern about profiteering shopkeepers. The Conservation Assessment records that:

‘In addition to less than satisfactory working conditions, the working classes of Great Horton also had to contend with local grocers who often inflated prices, and in the case of flour (at a time when most bread was baked at home) would not sell in times when prices were depressed.’

We know from Rambles Round Horton by Cudworth (1886) that the Great Horton Industrial Society was formed in 1859 by 14 men who bought flour and groceries wholesale. They began in an upstairs room over a shop in a row of cottages in the High Street known as Topham Row.

But, by 1862 they had expanded into 132 High Street, prior to moving the following year into a new purpose-built store on Blacksmiths Fold designed by the architect T C Hope.

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Great Horton coop Capture
Great Horton Co-op by TC Hope

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But the Co-operative clearly didn’t mop up all demand in the rapidly growing township. By 1871 Benjamin had moved further along the High Street to numbers 192 and 194, described on the census form as a ‘Beer house and grocer’s shop’. His eldest daughter Hannah worked as a grocer’s assistant, presumably in the shop.

In 1881, Benjamin, still located at numbers 192-194, was styled a ‘grocer, innkeeper and hair manufacturer’. In the 1891 Census the premises had acquired the name ‘The Royal’.

This places it as what is now 738 Great Horton Road, just over Dracup Road from the George and Dragon.

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The Royal, courtesy of Betty Longbottom (2007)

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The Conservation Assessment (2006) says:

‘At the end of the row of cottages is an L-shaped mid-to-late 19th century building, possibly built as a shop and houses and is now in one occupation and used as a pub, The Royal. The grey slate roof is hipped at the corner and other details such as the corniced stone chimneys and gutter shelf and architrave remain in place as does an old painted advertisement on the western elevation which refers to the ales of Horton Old Brewery, which stood on the site of the car dealership across the road.’

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Amos Dracup, the woolsorter

Amos Dracup was born on 4 September 1818 and, as we have seen, baptised the following year.

The banns were read for a marriage between Amos, then 19, and one Betty Beedham in the parish of Tong St James on 6 January 1838. Both were described as residents of the parish which is some way from Great Horton, midway between Bradford and Leeds. Could Betty have been Martha’s mother?

It seems that this marriage was brief or never took place for the 1841 census sees Amos once more living with his parents. He was aged 20 and was working as a woolsorter.

A woolsorter selected fleeces according to their suitability for making particular cloths. It was highly-paid, demanding considerable skill, acquired through a seven year apprenticeship.

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Woolsorters at Saltaire mills
Woolsorters at Saltaire Mills

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According to the contemporary History of the Worsted Manufacture in England by James and Stansfield (1857), woolsorters were the highest class of employee in the Bradford worsted industry:

‘…a large number of men who are, as a body, a well-educated, intelligent, and industrious class, performing the duties of life satisfactorily, have few dissensions with their masters, and are intent on providing for the exigencies of sickness and old age.’

The job is described thus:

‘…for making worsted stuffs, a long stapled wool, free from curl, so as to form a fine smooth and straight thread, is required. The separation of this long fibred wool from the rest of the fleece, and the assortment of the whole into various kinds, according to quality, is the province of the woolsorter.

Formerly his art was extremely simple; the fleece was merely torn across the loins, the skirts stripped off, and the remainder divided into three parts. But now the fleece is sorted into very numerous qualities. Most of the worsted spinning establishments employ different terms for designating these qualities, and some make more sorts than others.

Out of English combing fleeces of good pile, eight sorts of combing wool will be selected; these in a large establishment at Bradford are termed breech, one, long two, two and a half, short two, threes, fours, and fives. Also about four sorts of short wool, used in the woollen manufacture, will be separated from a fleece of long wool.

The sorters stand to their work, having, in a good light, the fleece spread out before them, upon a board breast high. Owing to long practice and training, they acquire extraordinary skill, mainly by the eye, and partly by the touch, in discerning the different qualities of wool.

Of late since the use of the combing machine has so much prevailed, the process of sorting in some few establishments for particular kinds of combing wool, has become much simpler, reverting to the ancient practice of making only three or four sorts.’

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boy at loom 1900s Capture

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Woolsorters were amongst those prone to anthrax – which became known as ‘la maladie de Bradford’ – derived from contaminated exotic fleeces, such as Alpaca and Mohair, imported from abroad. The first officially reported cases were in 1834, and it was still claiming victims in the 1880s.

Four years later, on March 13 1842, Amos married Martha Ann Milnes at St Peter’s Parish Church in Birstall. Both were listed as residents of Birstall at the time of their marriage. Amos’s continues to be employed as a woolsorter. He signs his name ‘Draycop’. Martha’s father was Charles Milnes, a weaver.

Unfortunately, Martha Ann died on 25 April 1847 at the age of only 25. They appear to have had no children. The newspaper announcement gave Martha’s address as Field Head, Horton. But, as we know, the 1851 census finds Amos, now aged 32 and a widower, living once more with his parents. He remains a woolsorter.

Just a year or so later, on 16 November 1852, Amos married Mary Swaine Milnes in Bradford Cathedral. He was aged 33 and still a sorter living in Horton.

Mary was a spinster, six years his junior, formerly a power loom weaver and living with her parents on Great Horton High Street, just a few doors down from the George and Dragon. Her father, Richard Milnes, was a cotton warp dresser. Mary was a younger sister of Thomas Milnes who had married Bathsheba Dracup in 1835. This time Amos spells his surname correctly.

This may have been the same Mary Milnes who lived next door but one to Amos as a 16 year-old back in 1841, along with Martha Milnes (35) and Anne Milnes (30).

By 1851, Martha and Anne seem to have moved in as lodgers with the Fieldhouse family, sandwiched between the Milnes and Dracup households, though Martha’s age was now given as 47 and Anne’s as 63. Both were employed as house servants.

The wedding took place only a few weeks after the death of Amos’s mother Hannah. It is also striking that Mary has the same surname as her predecessor, though they had different fathers and were not closely related.

Amos’s five children were born over a period of 12 years:

  • Richard Dracup, the first-born in 1854, just eight months after the death of his eponymous grandfather. He was baptised on 8 October. On the baptism record Amos remains a woolsorter.
  • Anne Dracup (1855-1856) was born on 23 November 1855 and baptised on January 6 1856. Amos remains a woolsorter. Anne (or Ann) died in infancy, most probably buried in June 1856.
  • Hannah Dracup (1861-1942) was born on Christmas Day 1861 and baptised on 2 March 1862, Amos remains a woolsorter.
  • Samuel (Sam) Dracup (1863-1933) was born on 7 December 1863 and baptised on 24 February 1864. Amos remains a woolsorter.
  • Willie Dracup (1866-1945) was born in the second quarter of 1866 but there is no record of his baptism.

By 1861 the family is living at 5 West Croft Terrace. Judging by the order of the census, this seems to be a lost road of just four houses, possibly connecting Blacksmith’s Fold and West Croft Road.

By 1861, father–in-law Richard Milnes, now aged 72, was also a lodger in the family home. He died two years later in 1863.

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Ivegate Bradford

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Amos the waste dealer and tax collector

The 1861 Census described Amos as a ‘worsted waste dealer’ by this point, even though baptism records maintain him as a woolsorter until at least December 1863. Perhaps he had a share in a dealership while still employed as a sorter.

Such dealers acquired waste from mills and from mill workers (some of it no doubt stolen). Waste material might be sold on to mill owners, tailors, rug makers, pillow makers, even to those manufacturing poaching nets.

We know from various trade directories that, as a dealer, Amos worked out of a central Bradford warehouse at 38 Aldermanbury, today located just north of Centenary Square.

And, by 1869, he was respectable enough to be elected a collector of assessed taxes for Horton, within the tax district of East Morley, which included Bradford

In his fascinating History of Taxation and Taxes in England (1888) Dowell described assessed taxes as principally property taxes plus ‘those on the carriages, servants, horses, hair powder and armorial ensigns’. These miscellaneous taxes were generally transformed into licenses following reforms introduced in 1869.

As for the property tax:

‘The charge included  every inhabited dwelling-house in Great Britain, worth, with the household and other offices, yards and gardens therewith occupied and charged, the rent of 20l. or upwards. There were two rates of duty, 6d. and 9d. The lower rate touched —1. Shops, described as ‘any dwelling-house occupied by a person in trade who exposes to sale goods, in any shop or warehouse being part of the same, and in the front ground or basement story’; 2. Liquor houses ‘ occupied by any person duly licensed to sell therein beer, ale, wine or other liquors ‘; and, 3. Farmhouses, ‘occupied by a tenant or farm servant and bona fide used for the purposes of husbandry only.’ In all other cases, 9d. was charged.’

By 1871, the national yield from this tax was £1.368m.

Dowell adds:

‘The old system of local assessment and collection still prevailed; but the assessment was loose to a degree, while in the collection many of the collectors seemed, in their proceedings, more intent upon advertising goods in which they dealt, than collecting taxes, for which they left notes of demand that passed unnoticed into the waste paper basket, in consequence of their being mistaken for ordinary puffs of tradesmen’s goods. The unsoundness of the system, and these irregularities in practice, formed a constant subject of vexation to the commissioners of inland revenue. Bills were prepared for altering the method of assessment and collection, but for various reasons were not pressed.’

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Market street bradford Capture

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Amos’s disappearance and death

On 4 May 1869, a notice appeared in the Bradford Daily Telegraph:

‘Mr Amos Dracup, waste dealer and collector of assessed taxes, Great Horton, went out of his warehouse on Thursday last, and has not since been seen.’

On the same date, the Bradford Observer added:

‘DISAPPEARANCE OF TAX COLLECTOR. – Within the last few days Mr Amos Dracup, of Great Horton, waste dealer, and collector of assessed taxes for the township of Horton, has disappeared. We are informed that Mr Dracup went out of his warehouse on Thursday afternoon and his friends have not since heard of him. He bore an excellent character for steadiness and sobriety, and was much respected by his neighbours. We have not been able to ascertain further particulars.’

This story was repeated again two days later, and also carried by the Leeds Times of 8 May.

Almost three weeks elapsed before the next item, in the Bradford Observer of 26 May. This was repeated in the Bradford Daily Telegraph that day – and in the Observer a day later.

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John Buckley Sharp (1831-1886) was an auctioneer based at 23 Well Street, Bradford.

The Commissioners had clearly established that Amos was a ‘defaulting collector’, so he must have failed to hand over the requisite sums. Consequently his business stock and furniture was auctioned off to the highest bidder, to try to cover some of the shortfall.

The stock itself appears little more than refuse. The intriguingly named ‘botany fribs’ were nothing more than small and dirty locks of Australian merino wool.

Amos’s business must have been close to collapse, and it is likely that the auction raised very little cash to offset his debt to the Revenue.

Some three weeks later, the Bradford Observer for 17 June 1869 resumed:

‘THE COLLECTOR OF ASSESSED TAXES FOR GREAT HORTON: – On Friday a letter was received at Great Horton, Bradford, containing the melancholy announcement that Mr Amos Dracup, late collector of assessed taxes for the township, had been found drowned in the sea on the borders of the county of Essex. The unfortunate man having, as it is reported, got into difficulties in connection with the office which he sustained, left home on the 29th day of April last, and had not been heard of since until the receipt of the letter referred to.’

Two days later, the Leeds Times carries the same story, with slight variation:

‘…On Friday, however, a letter was received by some of his friends in Great Horton, with the intelligence that his body had been found immersed in water on the borders of the county of Essex, but under what circumstances has not become known; nor will it, perhaps, ever be known whether his melancholy death was the result of accident or his own determined act, but there is too much reason to suspect the latter. He was a man generally respected, and his integrity was never called in question until his continued absence became fully known to the police.’

This was all that was reported locally, but more detail can be found in the Chichester and West Sussex Journal of 15 June 1869, which had no local interests to placate and so pulled fewer punches:

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Ferring is in West Sussex rather than Essex, a village of about 250 inhabitants with a beach close to Goring on Sea. The New Inn was built in 1830 and is now known as the Henty Arms.

Amos was five years younger than he appeared to those who recovered his body. Almost certainly a non-swimmer, the method he had selected for drowning himself was no doubt rendered necessary by the gently shelving beach at Ferring. His watch helpfully recorded the time of death.

I wonder if he knew and was was influenced by Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1839) in which Bill Sikes tries to drown his dog:

‘The dog, though. If any description of him were out, it would not be forgotten that the dog was missing, and had probably gone with him. This might lead to his apprehension as he passed along the streets. He resolved to drown him, and walked on, looking about for a pond: picking up a heavy stone and tying it to his handkerchief as he went.

The animal looked up into his master’s face while these preparations were making; whether his instinct apprehended something of their purpose, or the robber’s sidelong look at him was sterner than ordinary, he skulked a little farther in the rear than usual, and cowered as he came more slowly along. When his master halted at the brink of a pool, and looked round to call him, he stopped outright.

‘Do you hear me call? Come here!’ cried Sikes.

The animal came up from the very force of habit; but as Sikes stooped to attach the handkerchief to his throat, he uttered a low growl and started back.

‘Come back!’ said the robber.

The dog wagged his tail, but moved not. Sikes made a running noose and called him again.

The dog advanced, retreated, paused an instant, and scoured away at his hardest speed.

The man whistled again and again, and sat down and waited in the expectation that he would return. But no dog appeared, and at length he resumed his journey.’

Presumably the cheque for £290 was to make good the sum he had appropriated from tax revenue. Such a sum is broadly equivalent to £30,000 today.

Why did Amos head for the south coast, so far from home? He is unlikely to have had friends or relations there who would help him. Was he perhaps considering the possibility of deserting his family and escaping to the Continent?

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Ferring beach courtesy of roy Stannard
Ferring Beach courtesy of Roy Stannard

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It was not unusual for tax collectors to succumb to temptation.

The Bradford Observer of 13 December 1866 reported that:

‘A collector of income and assessed taxes at Wigan, named David M’Williams, absconded on Saturday and is said to be a defaulter to the amount of more than £1,000. His wife and family accompanied him in his flight, for which he had evidently made careful preparations.’

M’Williams was subsequently sentenced to five years of penal servitude.

The Bradford Daily Telegraph of 29 September 1868 reported:

‘ABSCONDING OF ANOTHER TAX COLLECTOR. – It is rumoured that Mr W Gingell, the collector of assessed taxes for the Township of Tranmere, has disappeared, and there is a defalcation in his accounts to the extent of £120. Mr Gingell, who resided at Hill House, Higher Tranmere, had held the office for very little more than a year. It is not expected that the ratepayers will have to make good the defalcation; for, if we are informed correctly, the friends of Mr Gingell have arranged with the Commissioners of Taxes for payment of the deficiency – Liverpool Courier.’

The Bradford Observer of 13 July 1869 included a small item mentioning that ‘the UK Temperance and General Provident Institution for Mutual Life Assurance had sent a gratuity of £10 to the widow of the late Amos Dracup who was insured at that office’.

This was probably a goodwill gesture, since I imagine life assurance would not normally be payable in a case of suicide.

Less than a year later the papers were reporting Mary’s death, on 29 June 1870. She was just 46 and must have struggled hard to keep her young family together:

Richard was already 15, but Hannah was only 8, Sam 6 and Willie 4 years of age. The Leeds Times gave her address as Blacksmith’s Fold, Horton, suggesting that the family had to vacate West Croft Terrace to find a smaller, more affordable home.

Already by 1870, the wool waste dealership at 38 Aldermanbury had been taken over by one Solomon North (1839-1921).

Previously a farmer in North Bierley, where he still lived, he was described in the 1871 Census as a ‘short wool dealer’. He was still running the business 40 years later in 1911.

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lunchtime at the mill
Lunchtime at the Mill courtesy of Bradford Timeline (Flickr)

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Richard Dracup junior’s suicide and the inquest

The 1871 census showed all four orphaned children living with their Aunt Ann Jowett, Amos’s elder sister. Ann’s sons John, William and Frederick were also part of the household and all were living at 5 Westcroft Terrace where Amos and his family had once lived.

Richard was employed as a cotton warp dresser – operating a machine to wind yarn onto looms, preparing warps for weaving. Hannah, at just 9, was described as a ‘worsted spinner – scholar’, suggesting that the family may have been struggling to make ends meet.

The 1874 Factory Act had not yet prohibited the employment in mills of children under the age of nine, that age increasing to ten in 1875.

Although Hannah survived into old age, Richard’s life was nasty, brutish and short. The Bradford Daily Telegraph of 6 November 1871 broke the news of his demise:

‘SUSPECTED SUICIDE IN BRADFORD. – On Sunday morning the body of Richard Dracup, 16 years of age, residing in Westcroft Terrace, Great Horton, was found in the old corn mill dam at Great Horton. A man named Petty was taking a walk by the side of the dam, when he saw a man’s clothes on the bank. He concluded that some man was drowned, and on a search with drags being made, the deceased was found.’

Richard was in fact 17 at the time of his death. The man who found his clothes was most probably Christopher Petty (1833-1910), an off-duty policeman who lived in Old Road.

The old corn mill was also known as Beckside. It had been purchased by Samuel Dracup  – a distant relative, descended from Thomas Dracup’s brother George – in 1858 and enlarged into a substantial worsted mill.

This was Richard’s workplace, located a few hundred metres to the north of his home, between Old Corn Mill Lane, Beckside Road and Beckside Lane.

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beckside mill Capture

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.A second report in the same paper two days later provided a brief summary of an inquest held on the Tuesday night following Richard’s death:

‘It said that the deceased had been much depressed by some persons taunting him respecting the conduct of his father, who about two years ago absconded from Great Horton and was found drowned in Suffolk [sic]. The jury returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased had drowned himself while in an unsound state of mind.’

A much fuller report was provided by the Leeds Times of 11 November 1871:

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Mr Barstow was no doubt William Barstow a solicitor and district coroner. The Kings Arms, on the High Street between Saint Street and Westcroft Road, was built in 1739 and was a regular venue for such inquests. Enoch Swaine was the landlord at this time.

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Kings Arms in 1908 Capture
The Kings Arms (1908)

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There are a few candidates for the person named Long’, but the strongest was perhaps Sarah Long, at 47 Upper Green, which is just behind Dracup Road. The 1871 census shows that the inhabitants included Alfred Long (aged 20) and Frank Long (aged 18) both unmarried.

Martha Simpson is not easily identifiable – there was no close neighbour of that name. Perhaps the closest resemblance would be Mary Ann Simpson (b.1851) who lived with her sister Susannah (b. 1854) at Stowell Mill Street in Little Horton, some 20 minutes’ walk from Great Horton. They might have been the ‘two young women’.

So the best conjecture may be that Mary Ann and Susannah met Frank and Richard at 47 Upper Green on Saturday night. Richard was clearly attached to Mary Ann and gave her his portrait, though whether this was simply to demonstrate his attachment, or in anticipation of a pre-planned suicide, we do not know.

It is not clear, either, whether Richard’s suicide was spontaneous or premeditated. Were those who taunted him doing so that night, or had he had been taunted previously by third parties, or are both of these statements true?

And we do not know whether he recorded his message to Martha in his memorandum book before seeing her or afterwards – it is unclear whether the notebook was found with his clothes.

We do know that Richard must have been profoundly disturbed on leaving the house late that night.

He probably took a footpath between Upper Green and Dracup Road, so that Mary Kellett – a worsted weaver aged 67 living at 51 Dracup Road – heard him only a few minutes later, working himself up to the act of suicide.

Having walked past number 51, he must have headed the few hundred metres across open land to the dam beside Beckside Mill.

In Rambles Round Horton (1886) Cudworth describes how:

‘A stream, having several sources of supply near Cliffe Mill once fed the old corn mill at Beckside, and meandering down to Shearbridge was called Horton Beck…

… Dracup’s trustees purchased the old corn mill and water rights connected therewith, occupied by John Beanland, and comprising the dam field, West Croft, etc…

…. Beckside Corn Mill, with three closes of land, barn and about a dozen cottages, although not Beanland’s property, shared a similar fate, having been purchased for an ” old song ” by Samuel Dracup, after the mill had stood unoccupied for some time, and after being considerably enlarged and adapted to the worsted manufacturing business was let to Messrs. John & Robert Turner and others.’

Did Richard hesitate and deliberate before removing his clothes and jumping into the water? Most likely he did. But life must have seemed bleak and completely devoid of future promise.

Traces of the location of Richard’s suicide can still be seen at the eastern end of Brackenhill Park where there is a bridge and a large pond. A few years later the Bradford to Thornton Railway was constructed and passed close by the spot.

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site of Richard's suicide Capture
The site of Richard’s suicide

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Aftermath and afterthoughts

The 1881 Census shows what happened to Richard’s three younger siblings. Ann Jowett died in 1874 but another widowed aunt, Bathsheba Milnes, living with her unmarried daughter Hannah, took all three into her house at 204 High Street. Hannah, aged 19, is now a stuff weaver; Sam, now 17, and Willie, only 14, are both mill hands.

Bathsheba died the following year. Her daughter married Joseph Blackburn Hattersley, a widowed engineer, in June 1883. All three of Richard’s three remaining siblings married between 1887 and 1889. 

  • Sam (1863-1933) married Elizabeth Smith in 1887 and they had four children.
  • Hannah (1861-1942) married Charles Galloway in 1888 and had two daughters.
  • Willie (1866-1945) married Sarah Hattersley in 1889 and had two sons, calling the eldest Amos.

None called their male children Richard.

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Mill Girls at Armley Mills

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The marriage records gave Amos senior’s employment as either ‘woolstapler’ or ‘woolbroker’.

A woolstapler is a dealer in wool, the ‘staple’ element meaning:

‘A place appointed by royal authority, in which a body of merchants had exclusive right of purchase of certain goods destined for export.’

These retrospective descriptions of him as a prosperous merchant do not match the contemporary newspaper description of his auctioned stock. They are almost certainly inflating his status, which must have suffered as a consequence of his demise.

For the Victorians remained conflicted about suicide. Killing oneself was a violent criminal act, directly contrary to Christian teaching and belief. As recently as 1823, suicides had been buried at a crossroads with stakes driven through their hearts.

Their property could still be confiscated until 1870, although the Crown normally waived this right.

But suicides continued to be buried separately, often on the north side of churchyards.  

Victorian inquests often determined that suicide was a consequence of the victim’s temporary insanity.

According to the contemporary typology, Richard especially might be considered an exemplary case of melancholia:

‘Nineteenth-century diagnostic classification regarded melancholia as a form of insanity characterised by depression and an intensity of ideas. The patient unceasingly pondered his own desperate condition and was gradually consumed by feelings of self-abasement. Often in cases of melancholia intense depression was for a considerable time free from any suicidal desire. When the misery of existing became too tortuous to bear then the patient was forced to choose between perpetual torment or escape by suicide.’ (York 2009).

Suicide was finally decriminalised in 1961, ninety years after these deaths. But the religious authorities continued to find it problematic and a full Christian burial was not accorded to suicides until 2017.

I can find no record of where Moses and Richard are buried, but perhaps this post will serve as a memorial of sorts.

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TD

August 2019

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