The Other Zillah Dracup (1830-1885)

My post about the first wave of Dracup emigrants to the United States featured Zillah Fieldhouse, nee Dracup (b.1828) who followed the Mormon Trail from Bradford to Utah in 1866.

She was descended from Nathaniel Dracup’s oldest son, John (1752-1824), her parents being Nathan (1802-1870) and Betty Dracup, nee Bottomley (b.1802).

But she had a contemporary, another Zillah Dracup, who was descended from Nathaniel’s fourth son William (1770-1843) and born to Simeon (1805-79) and Hannah Dracup, nee Sowden (1805-69).

There is also the merest hint of a third and final Zillah – a girl of that name was born in the East of Bradford in the final quarter of 1842, but I can find no subsequent trace of her, so it is likely that she died in infancy.

Zillah is a biblical name, one of the Old Testament names beloved of Nineteenth Century Bradford Methodists. She was part of the mystically significant seventh generation descended from Adam and Eve.

She was one of the two wives of Lamech, involved in the first biblical polygamous relationship, her Hebrew name meaning either ‘shadow’ or ‘to be or become dark’; or ‘bell’, to ‘ring like a bell’. She had a daughter called Naamah, sometimes described as the first weaver.

Zillah is also the name of the housekeeper narrator in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (1847), and, shortly afterwards, became one of the 200 most popular girls’ names in England.

Until her latter years, Zillah and her family lived in a small area to the south-east of Great Horton, stretching from Bank Bottom to Beldon Hill.

Zillah’s immediate family

Simeon Dracup married Hannah Sowden in St Peter’s (Bradford Cathedral) in February 1829, when both were aged 24. Hannah was the daughter of Robert Sowden, a Great Horton weaver. Simeon was also a weaver.

My family tree includes six children in all:

  • Zillah their first born.
  • Isaac (1832-91) who later married his cousin Sarah Dracup (1832-1914) and had six children with her between 1859 and 1873.
  • Jacob, also born around 1832
  • Henry, born in 1834, who died in May 1847 at just 13 years of age.
  • Jabez (1836-1899) who married Margaret Holdsworth (1840-94) and had five children with her.
  • Nathaniel Dracup (1844-1905) who married Martha Kay and seems to have been childless.

Five of their offspring were born by the time of the 1841 Census and yet the family could not hold together in these early years, presumably because grinding poverty forced them to parcel their children out to friends and relatives.

Simeon and Hannah, both aged 35, had only Henry (aged 7) and Jabez (aged 5) with them at their home in Pickles Hill.

Isaac (aged 9) was living with his grandfather, the weaver Robert Sowden, nearby in New Road, off Great Horton High Street.

Jacob and Zillah are nowhere to be found, however, though they may already have been employed in the mills by this point.

1851 to 1861

By 1851 though, the young family had managed to draw itself more closely together. They lived at 17 Beldon Hill. Simeon was still employed as a hand loom weaver but his wife Hannah was no longer working.

Zilla, now aged 21, was a power loom weaver specialising in worsted, neatly encapsulating in this one family the progress towards mechanisation pioneered by distant relative Samuel Dracup who was now at his peak as a jacquard loom manufacturer and also living close by.

It is most likely that the family worked predominantly in Samuel’s Lane Close Mill, or in nearby Cliffe Mill.

Jacob, aged 19, was working as a stuff piece finisher, while Jabez, aged 15 was a millhand. Apart from Nathan, who was still at school, the whole family was employed in weaving, even Robert Sowden, also resident, and described as a ‘pauper hand loom weaver’.

We do know that Jacob Dracup had a brush with the law in August 1857. There are newspaper reports that a man of that name – employed as a labourer and occasional contractor and living in Cleckheaton – was charged with defrauding the Inland Revenue by selling ale from his house without a license:

‘Suspicion of his having done so had been entertained, and to make suspicion certain, a singular specimen of humanity, named William Peel, with a sharp hatchet-face and a bandaged head, was sent in to call for a pint. He did so on July 15th and paid a penny for what he received, and an exciseman, named Dewes, entered at the same time, and now corroborated the statement of Peel. The Bench, on referring to the Act of Parliament, said they had little discretion in the matter, as they were in all such cases ordered to impose a penalty of £20, but as this was the first offence, and they hoped it might operate as a caution, it was mitigated to £10 and 15s. costs, or, failing payment, he was ordered to be imprisoned three months, the bench observing at the same time that he was not only defrauding the revenue but the fair dealer.’

There are no records of Jacob’s admission to gaol so we must assume that he paid the fine.

Henry is missing, having died in 1847. His one claim to fame was the brief announcement of his death in The Leeds Intelligencer of 22 May 1847.

Only Isaac is absent, and difficult to trace.

There is an intriguing reference to an Isaac Dracup in an 1848 White’s Directory entry for Great Horkesley, a few miles north of Colchester, in Essex. He is associated with the National and Infant Schools located in the village.

But he is not to be found in that parish in the 1851 Census, and this employment seems inconsistent with Isaac’s later work, which is exclusively in the worsted mills.

At the time of his marriage to Sarah in May 1857, he was a dyer, in 1861 a singer at a stuff dyer, in 1871 a stuff dyer, in 1881 a singer. A singer operated a singeing machine, to remove loose fibres as part of the finishing process. By 1891 though, he was living on his own means.

The 1861 Census shows the family still located on Beldon Hill. Simeon, aged 56, was now employed as a ‘camber (or cumber) board borer’. A camber board is part of a loom – a frame bored with as many holes as there are threads in the warp, each a fixed width apart.

His wife Hannah has resumed work as a hand loom weaver and daughter Zillah, now 31 years old, remained a power loom weaver. In contemporary terms, she was already ‘on the shelf’. 

Jabez, aged 21, was an overlooker, or foreman, while Nathaniel, aged 17, was a general jobber or mill hand. All were working with ‘stuff’, so manufactured cloth.

Isaac was living elsewhere, in a house on Great Horton High Street with his wife Sarah, also a power loom weaver, and two young children – Martha and Paul.

Jacob’s whereabouts are more uncertain, but there was a Jacob Dracup, reputedly aged just 20, lodging with Jacob Watson, a woolcomber, and his family in nearby Bowling. Also present was a six year-old called Henry Dracup.

It isn’t clear why Jacob would claim to be several years younger, and he is employed as a joiner. But he and Simeon could have been working together on the manufacture of hand looms.

And this is most probably the same Jacob Dracup – as we have no other evidence to suggest there was another man of that name living in England at this time.

It is conceivable that Jacob Dracup might have been Henry’s father and Jacob Watson’s daughter – Sarah Ann, a 21 year-old stuff weaver – his mother.

The 1871 census has Sarah still living with her parents, unmarried, together with a grandchild, Sarah Anne Dracup, aged 4. This might suggest that Sarah Anne Watson had a longstanding unmarried relationship with Jacob, spanning at least the period from 1854 to 1866.

One further possible insight into Jacob’s whereabouts is given by three valuation records relating to property in St Paul’s in Bedford, but these most likely refer to Jonathan Dracup (1832-78) who moved to Bedford at this time. Why he would have adopted the name Jacob is a mystery.

1871 to 1881

Simeon had moved back to Pickles Lane by 1871, inhabiting number 11. Hannah his wife had died about 18 months earlier. Her 4 September 1869 burial record cites her address as Beldon Lane, so the move to Pickles Lane had been fairly recent and took place shortly after her death.

Simeon is now aged 65 and his employment is described as ‘harness board maker’. This is an alternative name to ‘cumber board’ – part of a hand loom – so his work is unchanged.

Zillah, now aged 41 and still employed as a worsted weaver, has taken over the role relinquished by her mother.

Nathaniel, now aged 27, is also resident. He is employed as an overlooker in a worsted mill.

The fourth and final inhabitant is Martha Dracup, described as Simeon’s niece, born in 1840 and employed as a weaver in a worsted mill.

The 1861 Census included an entry for Simeon’s older brother Moses Dracup, who was living on Pickles Hill with a Mary Dracup, who may well have been his older sister. There is also a daughter called Martha present, aged 21, working as a stuff spinner in a mill. Moses died in 1870. This is most likely the Martha in question.

The way in which Martha has been taken into Simeon’s household contrasts sharply with Zillah’s fate a decade later.

Meanwhile, Isaac was living at 299 Great Horton High Street, just down from the White Horse Inn, together with wife Sarah and their four children, the two eldest (aged 12 and 9) already employed in the mills.

Jabez is a near neighbour, at 317 Great Horton High Street, with wife Margaret, who he had married on 23 July 1864. She was 25, he 26; she a weaver and the daughter of a warp dresser. By 1871 they already have four sons all aged 6 and below.

We know they had recently moved from 103 New Road, since the 1868-69 Bradford Poll Book gives them at that address. Jabez remains an overlooker at a worsted mill.

Jacob’s whereabouts are still unknown and it is quite likely that he is dead by this point – he does not appear in the Poll Book.

Simeon died in the first quarter of 1879 at the comparatively venerable age of 74, so his death wouldn’t have been entirely unexpected. I could find no notice of his passing in the local paper. He seems to have been close to daughter Zillah, but what was the nature of his relationship with his three surviving sons, Isaac, Jabez and Nathaniel?

Zillah ‘goes mad’

What is clear is that Simeon’s death was too much for Zillah. On 14 June 1879, some six months after his demise, she was admitted as a pauper patient to the South Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum.

The Asylum had opened just seven years earlier, in August 1872, specifically to relieve overcrowding at the Wakefield Asylum and across the West Riding. It was located in Wadsley Park, Sheffield, then open countryside.

There were two substantial three-storey wings, for males and females respectively, separated by the central administrative block, including staff accommodation, offices, kitchen and dining facilities.

During this early period there was space for 750 patients. Sick and infirm patients were housed in large wards on the ground floor. The first floor provided day rooms for those able to walk about and the top floor housed their dormitories.

A laundry, bakery, brewery, chapel and a range of workshops were accommodated in separate buildings nearby. The first Superintendent was Dr Samuel Mitchell,

The names of all patients admitted between 1872 and 1910 have been transcribed and are freely available online. Zillah is the only Dracup representative.

The given cause of her insanity is ‘grief’, suggesting an explicit connection with Simeon’s recent death.

The most used taxonomy of insanity at this time was published in the Manual of Psychological Medicine (Bucknill and Tuke) in the very year of Zillah’s admission. It suggested five categories of insanity:

  • Idiocy, imbecility and cretinism – states of undeveloped intellectual power
  • Dementia – where intellectual power has been weakened or destroyed
  • Delusional insanity – marked delusion, either melancholic,  exalted or destructive in character
  • Emotional insanity – a morbid state without delusion, whether melancholic, exalted or destructive in character.
  • Mania – a state of general mental excitement or exaltation.

Zillah was presumably a victim of ‘emotional insanity’ with a melancholic character. Grief and bereavement were not uncommon causes for admission to asylums at this time – alongside religion, pregnancy and childbirth, intemperance and heredity.

But it seems odd that Zillah could not find refuge with one of her three surviving brothers. The 1881 Census shows all three living nearby:

Isaac, aged 50, had moved a little further along Great Horton High Street, to number 247, living there with his wife, three sons – all employed in manufacturing Jacquard looms – and two daughters.

Jabez, now 45, was living at 5 Westcroft Terrace, some distance away from the family’s usual stamping grounds. This had been the abode of Amos Dracup and family shortly before his disappearance in 1869. Jabez has with him his wife, four sons and a daughter. He is still an overlooker while his wife and two sons are also working as millhands.

Nathaniel, 37, is also a little further away, at 11 Broad Lane, in the area known as Laisterdyke, living with his wife. He too remains an overlooker and his wife is not working.

Space would have been at a premium with the families of Isaac and Jabez; less so in the case of Nathaniel and Martha. Could they not cope with her mental instability? Did they refuse to help her, or were relationships already impossibly strained for some reason? Perhaps we shall never know.

The Evolution of the Lunatic Asylum

In the Eighteenth Century a few small private institutions provided for the scions of wealthy families but, until the advent of public asylums, poorer people were dependent on their families or parish support, often provided through the local workhouse or prison.

Since the primary purpose was to protect the public from this ‘madness’, priority was normally given to custody and preventing escape. Physical restraint was widespread, often justified as preventing anti-social behaviour, suicide and self-harm.

Extensive reforms were introduced during the early Nineteenth Century. Local authorities assumed statutory responsibility for the accommodation of mentally ill people and regimes began to emphasise care rather than control.

The 1845 County Asylum Act heralded a major expansion, with some 60 asylums built over the next 45 years.

The 1853 Lunatic Asylums Act set out processes for the detention of pauper lunatics, which required a medical certificate signed by a doctor or apothecary following personal examination of the patient and an order authorised by a judge, clergyman or poor law relieving officer. However, families often played a significant role in the admissions process.

Patients were unable to appeal their detention but friends and relatives could secure their discharge by undertaking to care for them, preventing them from harming themselves or others.

But the reasons for detention often seem inadequate, even risible, by today’s standards. Women were often more likely to be admitted, and this could be as a consequence of depression.

Recovery and release rates were not always low, but declined significantly with patients’ age. But it is a mistake to assume that remaining in the asylum was completely involuntary. An asylum’s regime could be thought preferable to the workhouse, if that was the only alternative, and the diet in an asylum might well be better than what would be affordable outside.

A ‘moral treatment’ system had evolved which encouraged rational behaviour through a combination of rules, supervision, rewards and punishments. Asylums often encouraged patients to work in facilities associated with their asylum.

There was complete segregation between private and pauper patients, and normally between male and female patients.  They typically received breakfast, lunch and tea, working betweentimes on the asylum farm, or in the bakery, laundry or kitchen.

Patients were encouraged to spend time outside, in the gardens or engaging in sports and pastimes.

By 1880, over 40,000 patients were housed in county asylums, more than double the number admitted in 1860. But, as asylum populations rapidly increased, it often became impossible to sustain the more enlightened regimes which had evolved. Sedatives and restraints were often necessary to manage the more unruly inmates.


For obvious reasons it is hard to find direct testimony from pauper patients in Zillah’s position. But there is a handful of contemporary accounts from wealthier private patients.

In the year of Zillah’s incarceration, Herman Charles Merivale published My Experiences in a Lunatic Asylum under the pseudonym ‘A Sane Patient’.

Merivale was a writer and civil servant who had been committed to Ticehurst, a private asylum, in 1875.

My head was full of the weakest, the most varying, the most wandering fancies—the fancies of sheer and long-continued exhaustion. These parties, games, entertainments, meals, without a friend’s face near me, without hope, wish, or volition; with the shouts and cries of the really violent to wake me sometimes at night; with every form of personal affliction to haunt and mock and yet companion me by day; with poor fellows playing all sorts of strange antics round me, herded together anyhow or nohow, with or without private rooms of their own—more, I am afraid, in proportion as their friends could or would pay for them or not, on the footing of ‘first-class patients’ than on any other intelligible principle; with Death in the house every now and then, falling suddenly and terribly on one of these unhappy outcasts from some unsuspected malady within, which they could not explain, spoken of in whispers, and hushed up and forgotten as soon as might be; with the warders—‘attendants,’ if you like it better—playing their rough horse-play all over the great house, the Philistines making sport of the poor helpless Samsons, and varying their amusements by coarse and gross language which made the chilled blood run colder;—the story makes me shrink in the telling, and almost regret that I have undertaken to tell it.

But the evil wants cautery to the very core, and I believe that every story of the kind should be told. To me personally death was very near indeed in that house more than once, from the most complete and absolute exhaustion of brain. I felt it at the time as I have known it since. Death in utter solitude, save for the warders by my side, whose duty it was—or they interpreted it as such, some of them—to hold me down and jump upon me, or kneel on my breastbone, if I turned round or uttered any wandering words in bed.’

Herman Charles Merivale

Christian Watt was a Scotswoman from Aberdeen, born in 1831, who was admitted to Cornhill Asylum in 1879. This makes her Zillah’s exact contemporary, though she remained at Cornhill until her death some 40 years later.

She also attributed her damaged mental health to grief, in her case following the drowning of her son Peter some five years beforehand:

‘The doctor had asked me to go for a rest to Aberdeen Royal Mental Asylum. After a great deal of thought I consented, for something must break. … The world is so unwilling to accept the disturbed mind functions in exactly the same way as the normal one. It is a tremendous problem the mind is trying to cope with; perhaps if I had been less of a thinker and a more dull person it might not have affected me in the same way. … I entered by a small gate set in a high granite dyke, and was admitted. The nurse who gave me a bath commented on how clean I was. We went through endless corridors, and in each section I noticed the door was firmly locked behind us which gave an eerie feeling. … Not even the pangs of sheer hunger could have forced me to eat in the dining room. … Patients were gulping and stomaching their porridge in such a slovenly and distasteful manner. … Then I feigned some excuse to skip dinner, the sister said, ‘If you work in the kitchen you can eat there.’ The Physician-Superintendent was one of the Sibbalds of Balgonie – a well-to-do Fife family. He was a kindly, skeely man, genuinely interested in his patients. I spoke with him for an hour, and then I was fixed up with a job in the kitchen. I did not want any of my children to visit me, for it is not the sort of place bairns should see. … Being in the asylum is a terrible stigma. … It seems impossible for the public to be sufficiently educated to the fact that a mental disorder is an illness. Probably the most tragic factor is that the person can be as right as rain one day and tragically sick the next.’


Zillah died on 21 July 1885, six years after her admission. She was 55. Of the 31 names on her page of the admissions register, one-third (10) died in their institutions, two more had not improved, half (15) had reportedly recovered, and three more were released.

Zillah’s three brothers outlived her.

Isaac died in April 1891, shortly after the 1891 Census, at the age of 59. His final period of ‘living on his own means’ was presumably because he was ill and no longer able to work. He was buried in Clayton Methodist Chapel.  

Jabez died in December 1899 at the age of 63, remaining an overlooker until the end of his life. He was buried on 30 December in the Great Horton Wesleyan Chapel.

Nathaniel also remained an overlooker and died in 1905, aged 61. He too was buried on 30 December, in his case in Heaton, a Baptist cemetery.

Did they visit their ‘mad’ elder sister before she died, or did they strive to forget her?

Were they completely clear of conscience or perhaps beset by guilt?


November 2019

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