Dracups Head South!


This post describes how three Dracup brothers moved southwards from Great Horton in the 1850s, settling in Lincolnshire, Suffolk and Bedfordshire.

The three in question were sons of Eli Dracup (1799-1837) – Ephraim (1828-1888), Jonathan (1832-1878) and Eli (1837-1928). Eli is my great-great-grandfather.


The brothers’ parents

The previous episode in this genealogical series – Dracups in Great Horton – described how four generations established a Dracup dynasty of sorts in the town of Great Horton, now part of Bradford, West Yorkshire.

They included the redoubtable Nathaniel (1728-1798) who served God as a prominent early Methodist and the equally redoubtable Samuel (1793-1866) who served Mammon as a pioneering Jacquard loom manufacturer.

Eli senior was part of this dynasty, being the son of Thomas Dracup and so a grandson of Nathaniel’s. He married 17 year-old Mary Armitage in Bradford Cathedral on 2 August 1818. She bore him a son, Roger, in November 1819, but died in July 1821 at the age of just 20.

Eli is described as a shuttlemaker on the marriage certificate. We know that he was also a musician, playing the serpent in Horton Old Band.

Eli remarried in August 1827, his second wife being Elizabeth (Betty) Mitchell, born in Manchester in 1804. This time the marriage certificate describes him as a weaver.

In 1818 he signed his own name on the marriage certificate in finest copperplate, complete with curlicue on the capital ‘D’. Nine years later he manages only a rude cross (‘his mark’).

Yet Eli and Elizabeth had five children together: Ephraim, daughter Annis (1831-1923), Jonathan, Edwin (1835-1917) and Eli the youngest, who was not born until four months after his father’s death.

All the surviving birth records also give Eli’s employment as weaver. We do not know why he gave up the family shuttlemaking business, most likely following in the footsteps of older brother Daniel, an old-style hand loom weaver living at Solitary Farm.

He seems to have come down in the world following his first wife’s death, but causality is impossible to establish. His own early demise at the age of 38, just ten years after his second marriage, may hold a clue.


The brothers’ early life

The 1841 Census shows Eli senior’s widow Elizabeth resident at Beckside in Great Horton with her young family, now aged from 3 to 13 years old. Ephraim, the oldest, is already a spinner at a worsted mill. Elizabeth herself is described as ‘Ind.’ (independent).

It seems unlikely that she is still surviving on money left to her by Eli five years previously, but Ephraim’s income would have been insufficient to keep the family.

By 1851 they have moved to Hunt Yard, Elizabeth (now Betty) is working as a laundress, which suggests the money has run out.

Ephraim married his first wife Hannah Mitchell in January of that year and is now living with her at 185 Sellars Fold. Both the census and the marriage certificate describe him simply as ‘mechanic’.

Confusingly, Ephraim and Hannah are living with a different Betty Mitchell, but this is Hannah’s mother rather than Ephraim’s. She was born in 1796, widowed now but formerly married to Hiram Mitchell and also working as a hand loom weaver.

Another resident is Betty’s daughter Mary, Ephraim’s sister-in-law, a worsted weaver born in 1834 who is destined to marry Ephraim’s brother Jonathan.

Back at Hunt Yard live Annis (aged 20) a power loom weaver, Jonathan (aged 19) a power loom overlooker (a superintendent), Edwin (aged 15) a card stamper, Eli (aged 13) a mill hand and a new child Ellen (aged 7) at school. No father is named on her baptism record, but perhaps he explains Elizabeth’s earlier independence.

Indeed we know that Elizabeth remarried in 1852, to widower Joseph Oates, but they are no longer living together by 1861. She is called Elizabeth Oates in the 1861 Census. Joseph may or may not be Ellen’s father, but she was born out of wedlock, so continues to be called Dracup.

The fact that Jonathan was an overlooker at such a youthful age may suggest that he was a trusted and reliable employee, for there must have been strong competition for these roles. But perhaps as a young single man he was cheaper to employ. Jonathan has a more responsible position than older brother Ephraim.

Jonathan married the aforementioned Mary Mitchell in February 1855 at Bradford Cathedral. Now aged 23 he is still an overlooker but the arrival of a young family might complicate matters. Mary is still a weaver, as is her father Hiram.

It seems likely that Hiram is also related to Elizabeth, Eli senior’s wife, though I have not yet verified this.


Departure from Great Horton

Up to this point strikingly few Dracups had strayed far from the vicinity of Great Horton, largely confining themselves to the boundaries of West Yorkshire.

There were a few honourable exceptions:

  • Isaac Dracup (d. 1835) and his wife Angeline began a family as early as 1815 in Tamil Nadu, India, while Emanuel Dracup’s unknown wife gave birth to William Archibald Somerset Dracup in Madras in 1821.
  • Robert Dracup (1794-1866) was already resident in Canada by 1818, marrying Amelia Crosby that year in Nova Scotia.
  • George Dracup (1824-1896) a great grandson of the Rev Nathaniel, and his wife Jane were living with a young family in Liege, Belgium throughout the 1850s.
  • Another Eli Dracup (1836-1907), a great-great grandson of the Rev Nathaniel, had based himself in Glasgow by 1860.

But it seems to have taken until the 1870s for Dracups to be firmly established south of the 49th Parallel and I can’t establish any definite Dracup presence in Australia before one Joseph Dracup emigrated there via Lincoln in 1886.

I plan to write more about some of these early travellers in future posts.

The three brothers all left Great Horton within a decade. The 1861 Census records Betty still living in the town with married daughter Annis and her family, accompanied by Ellen. Edwin is also married, employed as a warehouseman and living elsewhere in Great Horton with his wife and two young children.

Ephraim is living in Skirbeck Church Road, Skirbeck, Boston, Lincolnshire, roughly 100 miles from Great Horton in a south-easterly direction. Now aged 32 he is working as an engine fitter.

He has four young children, Ernest, Frederick, Walter and Ellen, all born between 1854 and 1861, so all still at school. Ernest was born in Skirbeck in April 1854, suggesting that Ephraim departed from Great Horton before that date.

Jonathan, now aged 29, is living in Middle Street, Wickham Market, Suffolk, about 100 miles further south-east than Boston and some 10 miles north-east of Ipswich. He too has a young family: Emily, Edmund and Rose Melinda were all born in Wickham Market. Emily, the eldest, was born between January and March 1857, showing that Jonathan and his wife had left Great Horton within two years of their marriage.

Eli is lodging at his brother Jonathan’s house, aged 23 and not yet married. Both brothers’ employment is given as ‘mechanic turner’. We have no records to show whether Eli left Great Horton with Jonathan or followed him south.


Why did they leave Great Horton?

What caused this family exodus from Great Horton during the 1850s?

We know it was a period of rapid expansion in the town. In 1831 the population was 10,782, but this increased fourfold in just 50 years, topping 46,000 by 1881. Unfortunately though, the employment opportunities for adult males did not keep pace with this expansion.

The remaining cotton manufacturers were largely wiped out by the collapse of a larger company which gave them credit. This left a handful of mill-owners manufacturing worsted with the aid of power looms. Samuel Dracup tapped into this new opportunity but it seriously damaged the prospects of many of his contemporaries.

Increasingly mill-owners employed women and children to operate their looms while relatively few men were retained as overlookers and mechanics. This led to industrial unrest and what Blewett calls ‘gender antagonism’.

Writing of Great Horton’s larger neighbour she says:

‘Children of both sexes under the age of seventeen represented the vast majority of industrial workers in Bradford in 1833-50. Factory owners and overlookers believed that children and young females could be easily subordinated to the rules of mechanized factory life. The great reservoir of cheap labor would be replenished with migrants, a rising birth rate, and early marriage. Working class family income depended on the pooled wages of low-paid children, adolescents and married women with children who often returned to the mills.’

There was a general strike in 1842, inflamed by the Plug Riots (so named because the mills were brought to a standstill by removing bolts from the boilers preventing the raising of steam). There were incidents across West Yorkshire, at least six rioters dying in nearby Halifax. The rioters marched along Great Horton Road.

At the same time, the railway began to afford a more convenient means of travel for those seeking employment further afield. By 1840 the North Midland Railway connected Leeds with Derby. A line between Bradford and Leeds opened in 1846.

Here is part of a roughly contemporary Bradshaw’s map. It shows the Leeds and Bradford Railway and apparently the East Lincolnshire Railway, linking Grimsby and Boston, built in 1848 (though this is not named).

It does not show Wickham Market Station, which did not open until 1859. It includes the Bedford station on the London and North-Western Railway, opened in 1846, but not the Midland Railway Station opened in 1859.


Bradshaws Capture


These two factors help to explain why Ephraim, Jonathan and Eli left Great Horton and the mills when they did.

During their absence mother Betty survived a further eight years dying in 1869. Brother Edwin lived well into the Twentieth Century, dying in March 1917. He is still a warehouseman in 1871 and 1881 but by 1891 he has become a clock cleaner and in 1901 he is a ‘wool manufacturer’s piece loom man’. By 1911 he is a widower with private means.

Sister Annis married her husband Benjamin Denton, a tailor, in September 1855. He is still a tailor in 1871 but in 1881 he is described as a ‘tailor out of occupation’. By 1891 he is again employed as a tailor. He died in 1897, but Annis outlived him by 26 years.


What happened to Ephraim?

Ephraim remained in Skirbeck, but his wife Hannah died in April 1865 at the age of 33. In December of the same year he married again. His second wife, Jane Ann Wallhead, was born in Boston, Lincolnshire in 1837. She was a widow, having previously married Thomas John Pool in June 1858.

She bore Ephraim three further children: Ephraim, born in 1867 in Skirbeck, Herbert born in 1870 who died in infancy and Alice Maud, born in Lincoln in 1876.

The family appear to have removed to the parish of St Peter at Gowts in Lincoln in 1870 or thereabouts. They are resident there by the time of the 1871 Census. Ephraim is still employed as an engine fitter. He remained in the same parish and the same employment in 1881, dying in Lincoln in 1888 aged 59.

Boston had a population of some 15,000 by 1851, with an additional 2,400 located in the suburb of Skirbeck. I have no record of Ephraim’s employment but a contemporary History, Gazetteer and Directory of Lincolnshire, published in 1856 points to the most likely candidates:

‘In Boston and Skirbeck, are six steam and 11 wind corn mills, an oil mill, several large breweries and malt kilns, some extensive curriers, a tannery, and several iron foundries and machine works. Near Skirbeck Church are Boston and Skirbeck Iron Works, belonging to Messrs. Tuxford and Son, who employ several hundred hands in the manufacture of portable steam engines, thrashing machines, mill work, iron bridges, patent slips, pile-driving engines, etc. These works extend over an area of five acres, and were founded many years ago, on a much smaller scale; by the senior partner, Mr. Wm. Wedd Tuxford, who was the first manufacturer of the portable farm yard steam engines, and combined thrashing, shaking, and dressing machines, which are now extensively made here and at Lincoln.’

This illustration of a steam ploughing windlass designed by Tuxford and Sons appeared in the Engineer in 1871.


Tuxford Capture


There is a similar entry for Lincoln:

‘From railways and inland navigation Lincoln possesses great facilities for trade and commerce, and since the opening of the former, one of its iron foundries and machine works has grown into an immense establishment for the manufacture of patent portable and stationary steam-engines, agricultural implements and machinery, etc. This establishment, called Stamp-end Iron Works, is carried on by the spirited firm of Messrs. Clayton, Shuttleworth and Co., who employ about 700 men and boys. Their steam-engines for setting in motion their boulting, thrashing, straw shaking, riddling, and winnowing machines etc. are on wheeled carriages, drawn by horses, and they are equal in finish and workmanship to railway locomotives. They generally vary in size from 4 to 14-horse power.’


What happened to Jonathan?

We can identify roughly when Jonathan left Wickham Market because a child, Laura Helena, was born there in May 1863, but sadly died in February 1865 in Bedford. Jonathan was still employed as a turner when she died. He spent no more than a decade in Suffolk.

By 1851 Wickham Market had a population approaching 1,700 persons, though this fell below 1,600 a decade later. Middle Street was presumably the middle portion of what is now the High Street (there was an Upper Street and a Lower Street too).

I have no record of exactly where Jonathan and Eli lived (the schedule number on the census doesn’t necessarily correspond with their house number) but No 60 is now Abbotts, an estate agent.

Nor do we know where they worked, but the Post Office Directory of 1865 identifies their most likely employer:

‘The extensive engineering and iron works of Messrs. Whitmore and Sons are in this parish, giving constant employment to over 200 hands: these works are supplied with gas manufactured on the premises, and it is proposed to extend the supply to the whole town.’

Whitmore and Sons later became Whitmore and Binyon when John Whitmore (1802-1872) withdrew and the business was carried on by William Whitmore and new partner George Binyon.

According to the Wickham Market Conservation Area Appraisal:

‘The works was enlarged in 1867, and largely rebuilt in 1885. The company were chiefly notable for the beam engines it manufactured for flour mills. To the rear of the site was a substantial gas works. The First World War poet Lawrence Binyon and the architect and illustrator Brightwell Binyon were both reputedly members of this Quaker family. Hasnips’ shop on High Street and the adjoining buildings are probably the last remnants of the works.’


whitmore and binyon


There are some grainy old pictures of the workforce here and here but I’m not confident enough to identify a likeness of the younger Eli and I have no photograph of Jonathan.

The 1871 Census records Jonathan living at 61 Well Street in the parish of St Paul’s Bedford. He is now a dealer in boots and shoes.

A fifth child called Priscilla was born in 1865 and died in 1867. A sixth, Jesse Lund Dracup, was born in October 1869 and a seventh, Albert Eli, in April 1872. Three years later wife Mary died at the age of 41 and Jonathan outlived her by only three more years, succumbing himself on 13 July 1878 at the comparatively tender age of 46.

There is an entry for Jonathan in the National Probate Calendar:

’19 August. The will of Jonathan Dracup late of the Town and County of Bedford Shoemaker who died 13 July 1878 at the town of Bedford was proved at the town of Northampton by Eli Dracup of the said town Engine Turner the Brother one of the Executors.’

Jonathan left ‘Personal Estate under £200’.

This implies that Eli is also apparently resident in Northampton in the summer of 1878. We have no other confirmation for this, however. Other records suggest that he remained in Wickham Market for some years after Jonathan left it.


What happened to Eli?

Eli married Sarah Rose Todd in July 1866. She was born in Ipswich in 1845, but was living in Middle Street by 1861, not far from Eli and Jonathan. Her father Edwin was a baker, born in 1814 in Kingston upon Thames.

A daughter, Ada May, was born to Eli in April 1867. She later married one William Nicholls, who was Mayor of Bedford in 1921 and 1927.

The 1871 Census shows Eli and family living in Middle Street, just a few doors from the house he shared with Jonathan’s family a decade before. The census schedule number is surely a misleading guide to the house number since the corresponding handsome detached residence must have been beyond Eli’s means. His employment is described as ‘engine turner’.

Other children born at this time were Albert Ernest, born 1869, who was later an engine driver and Florence Rose, born 1870, who married police constable Albert Emory.

Two subsequent children were also born in Wickham Market: Victor Ernest, born 1872, who died in 1880 at the age of 8 and Arthur Eli, born 1876 (my great-grandfather).

He began his career as a waiter (1891), but was subsequently described as a more glorified club waiter (1901) and then became a timekeeper with the gas department of the London and NW Railway (1911). He died at the age of 45 in 1922.

Two further children were born in Bedford: Mabel Ellen, born 1880, who married William Lenton, described in the 1911 census as an engineer’s fitter, and Herbert Cecil, born 1883, who was a gas fitter’s labourer.

The photograph at the head of this post was taken in 1894 or thereabouts. The picture might have been taken ahead of Arthur Eli’s marriage in 1895.

Eli (aged 57) and his wife Rose (aged 49) are seated. To their left is Mabel Ellen (aged 14) and to the right Arthur Eli (aged 18). There is a striking physical resemblance to the younger me – he may even be sporting the redhead gene. That’s Herbert Cecil (aged 11) seated on the floor.

At the rear, from left to right, are Ada May (aged 27), Albert Ernest (aged 25) already an engine driver and Florence Rose (aged 24). Their respective spouses and young children are not pictured.

The 1881 Census places Eli and family at 19 St Leonard’s Street in the parish of St John’s, Bedford, a bijou three bedroom property that must have been new when they moved in. The location is close to Bedford St John’s station, the goods yard and locomotive shed. It is a short walk to the nearby Britannia Iron Works. Eli’s job is ‘engine turner at works’.

By 1891 he had moved to 26 St Leonard’s Avenue close by, a slightly more substantial terraced house, where he still lived in 1901 and probably remained until the death of his wife Sarah in 1910. In 1891 his employment is given as ‘iron turner’ and in 1901 as ‘iron turner/fitter’.

He was most likely operating a lathe to turn iron castings to the appropriate shape and size. This was the precision engineering of its day.

This 1880s map shows the church, the station and the iron works. St Leonard’s Street and St Leonard’s Avenue are just to the south.


Bedford map Capture


By 1911 Eli is boarding with his daughter’s family, the Lentons, at 27 Honey Hill Road. Aged 73 he is still working as an ‘engineer’s turner’.

Bedford was a rapidly expanding town. In 1851 the population had been under 12,000, but this had reached 20,000 by the 1880s and increased to 35,000 by 1901.

Eli’s most likely employer in his early days in Bedford was the Britannia Iron Works, built between 1857 and 1859 which specialised in the production of agricultural machinery.

An 1870 edition of The Engineer includes the picture below.


Britannia ironworks Capture


There is also a fascinating description, which begins:

‘The Britannia Works are situated on the banks of the Ouse, which is crossed close to them by the Midland Railway, from which a private siding runs into the delivery shed…Entering from the road through a handsome gateway we find ourselves in a large quadrangle or yard, to the west of which lie the proprietors’ private offices, the clerks’ offices, drawing office and storerooms. We have never been in a pile of buildings better designed for their intended purpose than these.’

The gatehouse stands to this day, though the original company closed in 1932.




There is an 1874 print reproduced online showing the making of ploughshares inside the iron works. It appeared originally as an engraved plate in the Illustrated London News and was published in July of that year.

At some point though, Eli moved to work at Nicholls and Sons, a carriage builder and later a motor car manufacturer owned by William Nicholls whose son, also called William, married Eli’s eldest daughter Ada May in 1888.

Bedford’s Motoring Heritage, by Wildman and Crawley records that the Nicholls’ machine shop was under the control of ‘Granpa Dracup’ known as ‘a highly skilled engineer’.

In 1918 or thereabouts, Eli moved to 44 Honey Hill Road where he lived for the remainder of his life. Albert Ernest and his family were located at 138 Honey Hill Road.

Eli died in Bedford in 1928 at the venerable age of 91.



March 2016

11 thoughts on “Dracups Head South!

  1. Hi Tim,

    Many thanks for a fascinating article. Bit of a shock to start with when I recognised the photo at the top of the page. I am a Great-Great-Great-Grandaughter of this Eli Dracup through his daughter Ada May and her daughter, Doris Mabel. My Grandmother, who is now 92, remembers Ada (Grandma Nicholls as she calls her) when she lived in Wickham House in Bedford – I’ve seen several family snapshots.

    I think we are something like 4th cousins once removed!

    Deborah Smith


    1. Hi Deborah

      Thanks so much for taking the trouble to respond – and sorry if the photograph stopped you in your tracks. A quick glance at my family tree suggests we are indeed third or fourth cousins.

      I’m desperately short of photographic evidence from this period, so if you have anything further you can share featuring either Eli or Arthur Eli I would be tremendously grateful.

      Thanks and best wishes



  2. Hi Tim, I have this same photo showing my great great grandfather Albert Ernest Dracup. His daughter, my grandmother, was Hilda May Dracup who married Archibald Turner. My father was born at 138 Honey Hill Road Bedford. I spent many school holidays with my grandmother’s sister Phyllis, at her home in Blunham, Bedfordshire.


    1. Hi Sally I do hope you can read this
      Interesting to see on Ancestry that My Great G Grandfather Frederick Dracup left his money to Albert E Dracup or at least it was awarded to Albert

      Eric Heyes


      1. Eric
        Fascinated to read this. I have no record of a Frederick Dracup in my tree so would be interested in seeing what info you have that might link him to Albert. Sadly my Ancestry subscription had to be cancelled due to the excessive cost compared to how little I used it, once I had researched as far as I could. A copy of the will would be lovely to see, if that is possible?

        Sally Hickliong


  3. Hi Tim,

    Greetings from Adelaide, South Australia! I love your pages; like Deborah, I’m a descendant of Ada May. She was my great-grandmother, and my grandfather, Cyril Eli Nicholls, was one of her younger sons.

    To add to your ‘picture’ of Eli, in the book ‘Bedford’s Motoring Heritage’, by Richard Wildman and Alan Crawley, it says that the first turner of the Nicholls machine shop was ‘Granpa Dracup’. William Henry Nicholls (Ada’s father-in-law) started his own business as a carriage builder and wheelwright in Bedford in about 1880; William (Ada’s husband) took over the business, and moved from horse-drawn vehicles to the motor car; the book states a machine shop at the back of their premises was under the control of Eli Dracup, a ‘highly skilled engineer’.

    I don’t have any pictures of the Dracup family, unfortunately, although I do have a couple of Ada.

    Best wishes,


    1. Hi Wendy,

      How lovely to hear from you! That’s very useful information which I hadn’t known before, so thanks for sharing it. I shall amend the post accordingly.

      I wonder about the chronology. Did Eli move to work in the Nicholls machine shop first, so enabling future husband William to meet Ada May? Or was it that William and Ada May’s relationship led to Eli being taken on at the machine shop? The first is more romantic; the second, perhaps, more likely!

      Best wishes,



  4. Great to see you still plodding along with the Dracup tree Tim,
    I really admire you dedication,Ephriam one of the sons you mention is my Great G Grandfather, His son being Frederick D, My Grandmother being Ethelwyn Dracup.
    I recenly found a probate record on Ancestry, it shows Frederick left his money to Albert E Dracup, another who was mentioned in these comments
    Unfortunatly I have no photos for you

    Erin Heyes Liverpool UK


    1. Hi Eric,

      Thanks for your information. I can see from my offline tree that Ethelwyn (1880-1922) married Ernest Edmund Britten (1879-1927) and there were two children, Eric (b. 1910) and Olive (b.1915). It would have been great to have unearthed a photo of Ephraim, but maybe we’ll discover one eventually.

      Best wishes,



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