My journey began over twenty-five years ago. It was whilst attending the funeral of my late Uncle Danny Brockbank at his home in West Derby, Liverpool that the discovery was made of something which would eventually lead me into researching my Brockbank ancestors.
I had found an old, yellowing piece of newspaper amongst old family photographs etc. and on reading the fading print, realised it was from an obituary column detailing the life of a gentleman Mr George Brockbank born in 1839 at Levens, Westmorland. This I have since discovered was my paternal great-grandfather and of whom I had heard mention of many years ago during family get-togethers. Apart from this, I had no other knowledge of George Brockbank and his family. This man sounded such a character, I became intrigued and thought one day, I would love to find out more!
Click here for a transcipt of the obituary of George Brockbank 1839-1931 - Westmorland Gazette 1931
My own paternal grandfather, another George Brockbank was born in Levens in 1880 and was, I later discovered, one of six children born to g.grandfather George and his wife Mary Elizabeth (nee Hodgson). My grandfather left for Liverpool in the early 1900s and set up his own account as a Cowkeeper. This I found by looking on the 1911 census and where I also found him to be newly married to Anne Marie (nee Kearon). It was in Liverpool that my own father, yet ANOTHER George Brockbank, was born in 1917 and had six siblings including a step-sister.
My father joined the RAF during the second world war and this brought him down south where he met and married my mother Hilda Kate Harriet (nee Meads). After the war my father remained in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire where my elder brother Edward, sister Maureen and myself were raised. My father's parents and his siblings all remained in Liverpool, but they were a close family and would visit each other as often as possible.
In 2008 and after attending a family wedding at Muncaster Castle, Ravenglass, I thought this would be a good opportunity to visit Crosthwaite and Pool Bank for a few days to see if I could discover anything about my Brockbank ancestors. I took with me my written copy of the newspaper cutting - my only means of reference. It was in St. Mary's Church, Crosthwaite, with the help of a church warden that I discovered, in the church records, names of five Brockbank members who were interred in the graveyard, but at this time, I had no idea how they were placed within the family.
Sarah Alice born 1873 - buried 1955, William born 1877 - buried 1956, Thomas born 1879 - buried 1942, John James born 1884 - buried 1961. Edith Annie born 1893 buried 1944 (Interred with William).
I took note of their names, dates of birth and dates of burial and continued to Pool Bank to see what I could find there. Unfortunately, this did not prove to be helpful as I could not find anyone around to ask of any Brockbank family either, past or present!! It wasn't until I had stopped at Bowland Bridge for some light refreshment in the tea-shop at the village post-office, that a chance meeting with a couple who lived at Pool Bank, led me back with them to their home where they contacted a neighbour who had lived there for many years but had recently moved to nearby Witherslack. This neighbour was contacted and he agreed to come along to meet me to see if he could help with information regarding the Brockbank family.
By another pure coincidence, this gentleman's mother was a Brockbank before marriage. I was shown the old family bible, where upon the names of George and his wife Mary Elizabeth and their six children were inscribed, including my own grandfather who was born in 1880. Four of the children's names in the bible matched with those that I had found to be buried at St. Mary's Church. The fifth was the wife of one of the children. So here I had valuable information that those interred were the two brothers and two sisters of my grandfather George. The fifth name, Edith Annie was Williams wife. So with this information, we could see that William who was this neighbours grandfather was the brother of my grandfather George, so therefore we both shared the same great-grandfather George.
I was told that the ledgers of George Brockbank, blacksmith, were retained at Kendal Record Office, so the next year in 2009, I returned to Cumbria and visited the record office to view these ledgers. This was such a thrill - to see these old documents, written in my great-grandfathers hand, detailing the accounts for work done as a blacksmith - it was so interesting to say the least and a wonderful insight into the life of a blacksmith in the late 1800s. How fortunate that a family member had had the foresight to deposit these ledgers in safe-keeping. With these ledgers was also a record of George's work as a blacksmith written by a Prof. G. Jones of Pool Bank. Again, a wonderful insight and one which I have had permission from Kendal Records Office to reproduce below.
GEORGE BROCKBANK (1839-1931), blacksmith, practised his craft on the site where a smithy still stands, at Bridge End, where the Lyth Valley road turns sharply of the main Levens to Lindal highway as the bridge over Brigsteer Pool. By his time the Furness Railway was carrying goods and passengers which before 1857 would have had to be taken by the road constructed in accord with a Turnpike Act of 1820. There were, however, still carriers and waggoners on the road and they needed the services of a blacksmith. In 1896 e.g. George Brockbank removed horse-shoes and supplied new ones together with chains and plates for F. Howson "wagoner", and in 1900 he supplied a new linch pin and plate as well as nails and oil for "the waggoner from Kendal".
In that year and 1891 he carried out, on thirty different days, work mostly connected with shoeing for Mrs (i.e. Messrs. ?) Pennington of Kendal. That a Kendal quarrying firm should at least occasionally need the services of a blacksmith at Bridge End is not a surprise, but it is not clear why a customer at Force Forge should do so when, presumably, there were craftsmen nearer at hand.
The bulk of Brockbank's work, set down in detail on page after page in his ledgers, was carried out for local farmers in Lyth, Witherslack, Ulpha and Meathop, including the farms owned by Mr. T.A. Argles of Eversley. Some of the farms were large and in those pre-tractor days required many horses whose shoes had to be removed, sharpened and renewed periodically. There was also a lot of gear, in the way of ploughs, harrows, spades, forks and gavelocks to be steeled, set or repaired. Besides local farmers, Brockbank had customers at a distance from Bridge End, e.g. in Winster, Bowness, Windermere, Hincaster, Ninezergh, Farleton, Milnthorpe and Heversham. One article for which, perhaps he had a special reputation was the scythe. He made one in 1883 for Dr Hart of Heversham Grammar School and at other times produced scythes for the Ulverston ironmonger, Warhurst. For the corn scythes he made for local farmers he usually charged 10s.6p. A service occasionally performed for the farmers, one presumably calling for strength, courage and dexterity, was ringing a bull.
In addition to his labours for farmers, he carried out work from time to time for the Witherslack Surveyor of Highways, the Rural District Council, the County Council and the "Lyth Cut Master". In his work for the District Council in 1900, which included pump repairs, there was evidently a need for rock-blasting, for he paid "Ellwoods for Dynamite 1s.2p."
He was clearly possessed, as country craftsmen sometimes were, of several kinds of skill. Some small sketches in one of the ledgers suggest that in different circumstances he might have become an engineer; and it may be significant that one of his sons, Thomas Brockbank, went with a scholarship from Heversham Grammar School to Queen's College, Cambridge (note- this was actually Oxford) and became a teacher of mathermatics and classics. His mathematical books after his death were gratefully accepted by the University of Sheffield as a donation from George Brockbank's granddaughter, Mrs J.S. Ainsworth of Pool Bank.
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1883 Account for Mr Christopher Phillipson
1883 Account for Mr Warhurst, Mr Robinson Airey, Dr. Hart (mention of 3 corn scythes) & William Wearing
1901 Account for Edward Powley & W. Cottam (note 'ringing of bull 3s 6p')
1904 Account for H.C. Hodgson
Ledgers of George Brockbank - retained at Cumbria Record
Office, Kendal. Ref. WD31.
Covering dates 1883-1972. Extent 3 Files. Archival history Acc. 937.
Creators Brockbank, George, fl 1883-1905, of Bridge End, Levens, Cumbria. Blacksmith
Customers included 1883 Mr Christopher Phillipson, Mr Warhurst, Mr Robinson Airey, Dr Hart, William Wearing,
1898 Mr John Prickett, 1901 Mr Jas. Rickett, Mr Edward Powley and William Cottam.
As I now had names, and dates of birth and deaths etc. of some family members, I was able to access the census records using this information via the internet which in turn has enabled me to further my knowledge. On the 1841 census, I find my great-great-grandfather William Brockbank was born in 1814 in Colton, Lancs. William was also a blacksmith. At the age of 25yrs he was married to Alice (nee Graveston). Six children were mentioned, Thomas b. 1835, John b. 1837, George (my great-grandfather) b. 1839, Mary b. 1841, Alice b. 1846, Elizabeth b. 1850 and finally Hannah b. 1854. They were all living at Bridge Row, Levens. William died in 1891 aged 77yrs and his wife Alice had died previously in May, 1887 aged 75yrs.
In the 1901 census, I find great-grandfather George Brockbank at home with his wife Mary E. and five of their children, all living at Bridge End Smithy, Levens. George took over the blacksmith business upon his father William's death. I also noted that one son, Thomas at the age of 22 years, was an undergraduate at Oxford. With this information I went to Oxford University's admissions office and indeed found Thomas's admission records and notes of his achievements.
Thomas Brockbank born 4/11/1878 in Lyth, Cumberland. Second son of Mr George Brockbank
School - Heversham
Queens College - Oxford University
Matriculated (joined) Oct 1899
Ist degree honours in Maths Moderations
Ist degree in final honours in 1903
BA in March 1904 (degree ceremony)
MA in 1908
Brockbank, Thomas b. 4 Nov. 1878, son of George Brockbank, Bridge End Levens, Milnthorpe, educated at Heversham Grammar School 6 years under Dr. Hart & Mr Price, elected November to 1898 to Hastings Exhibition, passed Responsions and additional subject in June, healthy & strong, had an attack of pneumonia two years ago, but got over it, cannot sing or play, has played football, proposes to be a schoolmaster if he cannot get a fellowship, lives 2 Back Quad top right, under Allen.
His tutor was TW Allen, the college's classics tutor. The Hastings Exhibitions (not quite as much as a scholarship) were available to pupils from certain schools in the north of England. The college's entrance book records him as entering the college on 12 October 1899. He seems to have left the college around Christmas 1903
In the 1881 Census, George Brockbank is found to be living at Birr Tree, Crosthwaite & Lyth, with his wife Mary E. and five of their children, my own grandfather less than a year old. I have yet to find out where Birr Tree was situated or if it is still in existence, perhaps with a different name. Hopefully in time, I shall find the answer. The 1891 Census shows he was now living at 1, Bridge End, Levens.
In the 1911 Census, I find my great-grandfather George Brockbank, (now a widower as his wife Mary Elizabeth had died in 1905 at the age of 61 years) at home in Pool Bank having moved there in 1906 when he became tenant farmer. His children, Sarah Alice, Mary, William, Thomas and John James are living with him, all single, and all helping on the farm. I was surprised to see Thomas also working on the farm as I would have thought he might have pursued a career in teaching after gaining his degree from Queen's College Oxford. Perhaps he had for a few years after leaving university - this is something else that I would like to find out in time. My grandfather George was now married and living in Liverpool.
During my research, I have also made contact with local Cumbrian family history societies and these have been most helpful in offering all kinds of useful information. I became a member of the Cumbria Family History Society in 2009 and it was after submitting a quest for any known history of the Brockbank family in their quarterly newsletter that I heard from a gentleman in Ulverston who informed me that the wife of my g-g-grandfather William was his g-g-grandfather's sister (Alice Graveston born 1812) All the information which he gave me regarding the family matched all that I had found on the census records. This gentleman has kept in contact and as he himself is an avid family history researcher, he has kindly sent me further information about the family. Looking through local church records etc. he has been able to give me information going back to my 7xgreat-grandfather John Brockbank who was married to a Mary Taylor of Colton on the 19th September 1696 and they had a son William.
(1) John Brockbank of Kendal married Mary Taylor of Colton at Colton on 19th September, 1696 and they had a son William.
(2) William Brockbank born 1722 married Agnes Burnes of Oxon Park at Colton on 25th January, 1747. They had the following children; (1) Mary 1748; (2) Thomas at Oxon Prk in 1751; (3) Robert at Oxon Park in 1754; (4) William - see (3) below; John at Bouth in 1761 (6) Margaret - nothing known; (7) Agnes of Oxon Park 1769, buried at Colton in 1798 aged 29yrs. William (senior) was buried at Colton on 10th March 1800 aged 78 yrs.
(3) William Brockbank born 1756 of Abbot Park was baptised at Colton in 1756. He married Ann Penny of Nibthwaite in 1778. They had a son John - see (4) below.
(4) John Brockbank, son of Wiliam Brockbank of Bouth was baptised at Colton in 1761
(5) John Brockbank son of John of Oxon Park was baptised at Colton in 1787. His wife was Mary. Their children were (1) Mary 1810, (2) John 1810 both at Oxon Park; (3) William at Nibthwaite in 1814, (4) Thomas in 1816 at Nibthwaite; Robert at Nibthwaite in 1818; (6) George at Nibthwaite in 1821 and (7) Richard at Nibthwaite in 1823.
(6) William Brockbank born at Nibthwaite in 1814 married Alice Graveston at Crosthwaite in 1836. Alice Graveston was born in 1812 and was the daughter of Thomas Graveson and Alice Kirby of Haverthwaite, Colton Parish. William and Alice's children were; Thomas 1835, John 1837, George 1839, Mary 1841, Alice 1846, Elizabeth 1850 and Hannah 1854
(7) George Brockbank born in Levens 1839. Married Mary Elizabeth Hodgson(b. 1844 in Burton- in- Kendal.) in 1872 Their children were; Sarah Alice 1873, Mary 1875, William 1877; George 1880, Thomas 1878 and John James 1884
Another interesting find I have is a postcard sent in 1911 to Anne, my paternal grandmother in Liverpool. This was sent by Sarah, my grandfather George's sister from the family home in Pool Bank.
The postcard depicts a Kendal market scene and the gentleman pictured in the forefront (white beard and hands in pockets) is George Brockbank senior - my great-grandfather. I am trying to imagine the journey William would have had, cycling all the way to Liverpool from Pool Bank to see his brother George and sister in law, Anne. In the postcard message, Sarah is obviously asking Anne if George recognises his own father in the picture!
The reverse side reads as follows:-
Pool Bank Sat
Dear A. (Anne) All being well & a fine morning Wm (brother William) hopes to be with you some time tomorrow (Sun) He intends cycling through & talks of starting about 4 a.m. I hope it will be fine for him as he is looking forward to the ride though I guess he will find it rather a long ride. Ask G. (George) if he knows this picture & if he knows anyone. I don't know whether he has one or not.
Yours S (Sarah)
I have also found a receipt from Francis Warhurst, Ironmonger, of Ulverston to Mr W Brockbank for the supply of "Best Iron". William Brockbank was George Brockbank's father.
I have found my family history immensely enjoyable and interesting to research. All of these "little snippets" which I have managed to acquire, have helped me to build up a fascinating insight to family life and that of a blacksmith in the 1800 and 1900s. One of the most delightful things to come from my research has been to discover the beautiful countryside of Crosthwaite and Lyth.
Jean Abbey (née Brockbank)