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More about William Marchbank and his relatives
Supplied by: Barbara Preston - Feb 2008

With good reason, Cowling knows of Bradford-born William Marchbank, mill owner. What has already been recorded about him appears in other forms on Cowlingweb and, naturally, covers his life in Cowling and the mark he made on the village. This article deals with detail which is perhaps so far unknown.
It was by accident that I found out about him because my great-grandfather's brother, Stephen Chappel Ashton, a commercial traveller, of Bradford, had married into the Marchbank family. I was trying to understand why Stephen's wife, Mary Ann (nee Marchbank), also born and bred in Bradford, should have moved to Cowling with her young family, where she was recorded in the 1881 census. My route to discovering William Marchbank, therefore, began in Bradford rather than Cowling and I am happy to provide here what I have been able to find out about his earlier personal life and the end of it.

The Early Years

William Marchbank was one of ten children born to James and Mary Marchbank, of Bradford. He was born 26 February 1823 and had a joint christening at Bradford on 19th November 1828 with his brother, George, who was two years younger.
In the 1841 census, William Marchbank was living with his parents at Fountain Street, Horton, Bradford, and at that time he was following the same occupation as his father, that of woolcomber. Because of the rounding-down of ages to the nearest five for this census only, he was listed as being 15, even though he was actually 18 years.

Marriage and his Family

The next official documentation I found was his marriage certificate, on which is given the same address of Fountain Street. On 18 August 1845, at the age of 21, he married Ann Emmott (25) at Zion Chapel, in the district of Skipton, at which time his occupation was given as a "Maker Up". It is interesting to note that the marriage certificate shows that Ann (a few years older than William) was already a shopkeeper at Cowling, although it does not state the nature of that business.
However, by the 1851 census William Marchbank lists his occupation as grocer. Local trade directories were not plentiful in the 1840s and a search for Ann Emmott in the years preceding her wedding proved unsuccessful, so it may never be known whether it was Ann who had the grocer's shop before the marriage. But custom and practice in those days, decades before the Married Women's Property Act in 1882, required that, when she married, not only the woman but also her assets became the property of her husband. William, however, was no stranger to the grocery business because one of his brothers had such a shop in Bradford at one time and one of his nieces was a grocer's assistant in the same city.
It is known that William and Ann had two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, but the records for Holy Trinity, Cowling's parish church, reveal that there had been a third, first-born daughter named Ellen, who had a private christening in June 1846 and whose death was registered at Skipton shortly afterwards. Also, the couple had a son, John, who died in infancy in 1848.

The year following the 1851 census was when the Binns and Marchbank partnership was forged. And, as tends to be said, the rest is history.


William Marchbank died on 11 December 1890, just a few months before the 1891 census, in which his widow Ann is recorded still living at their home at Lane Ends.
He was interred in the burial ground of Ebenezer Chapel, Cross Hills. There was a large attendance at his funeral, both from near and far, which reflected his standing within the community. Among the floral tributes were wreaths from his workpeople, members of the United Methodist Free Church, Cowling, and The Liberal Club. In expressing their condolences to his widow, the School Board acknowledged their indebtedness for his work over the previous fifteen years, since the formation of the school.
Administration of William Marchbank's personal estate valued at 1990 6s 1d was granted to his widow. According to the currency converter on, this sum would have had a spending power of 663,940 in 2005.
His daughter Elizabeth predeceased him in 1885; Mary was William's only surviving child and it was her husband, Thomas Watson, who carried on William Marchbank's business after his death.


It would be easy to end the story of the Marchbanks here but perhaps it would not be quite fitting to do so, when there is further information to impart about their relatives who had Cowling connections. Almost certainly it is due to William Marchbank's success at Cowling that many, but not all, members of his family gradually drifted to the village.
His parents
At first, his parents, James and Mary, had stayed at Fountain Street, in the Horton district of Bradford, where they were in the 1851 census. This is where William lived as a boy and it was named as his home when he married in 1845. The couple are found at Fitzgerald Street, Horton in the 1861 census, before finally being recorded at Cowling in the 1871 census at Lane Ends. They may, of course, have been in Cowling for some years before that date. His father, a woolcomber, married Mary Holt at Burnley on 15 April 1816, but he had been christened at Addingham in 1794. In fact, James Marchbank had several brothers and sisters also christened at Addingham. One of them, John (born 1792), was shown to be a Chelsea Pensioner in the early Victorian censuses and another brother, William, is the ancestor of Robert Wildeman, who has also supplied an article on the Marchbanks to Cowlingweb.
James and Mary were married for just over 60 years and remained at Cowling for the rest of their lives. James took an interest in politics and was a staunch Liberal. When he died in 1880, aged 86, his obituary in the Keighley News recorded that "he was widely known and was as widely respected". The newspaper added that the pair's descendants "numbered 104 and that members of the family could be found in both hemispheres". He was interred at Undercliffe Cemetery, Bradford, a wondrous Victorian burial ground, next to his wife whose demise had been three years earlier.

Brother and Nieces

Living with James and Mary Marchbank at their Lane Ends home at the 1871 census was William's recently-bereaved, eldest brother John Marchbank. John's youngest daughter, Ruth Ellen, was also there.
In 1881, one of William's nieces - John's eldest daughter, the above-mentioned Mary Ann Ashton and her two children, Eleanor Elizabeth and Charles Herbert - were living at New Street. It turns out that they had made the move half-way through the previous decade, because the Admissions Book for Cowling Board School shows Eleanor and Charles registered to attend school at the beginning of 1875. Sadly, Mary Ann died in 1882, her address then being given as Road Side, and she is buried in Holy Trinity churchyard. Her husband, Stephen Chappel Ashton, also died that year, and he, too, is buried at Undercliffe Cemetery, with other members of his family. Their orphaned teenage children were left at Cowling to be brought up by their Marchbank relatives.
Two more of William Marchbank's nieces, Elizabeth and Hannah (again, his brother John's daughters), were recorded at Cowling and living at New Street in the 1881 census. In addition, William Marchbank's unmarried sister Martha has joined his own household.

Marriage of William Marchbank's Niece

In 1888, William Marchbank's niece Ruth Ellen Marchbank (his brother John's youngest daughter), married Jonas Bradley, a Cowling man. This was two years before Jonas was appointed schoolmaster at Stanbury Board School. Jonas's teaching methods were innovative and his nature study lessons eventually became nationally adopted as a subject in its own right. He remained at Stanbury school until he retired and he gained a reputation as being an early authority on the Brontes. The couple appear to have had no children.


William Marchbank's great-niece, Eleanor Elizabeth Ashton (daughter of Mary Ann Ashton, nee Marchbank) also married a schoolmaster who was a native of Cowling. He was Willis Forte and the ceremony took place at Cowling Parish Church on Christmas Eve in 1886. He was appointed to Oldfield Board School, on the moors between Cowling and Stanbury, near Haworth, and the couple had three children, Rupert, Mary and Eleanor, while living there.

The 1891 census shows that Eleanor Elizabeth Forte tutored the girls at Oldfield school in sewing (she was a dressmaker before her marriage) but, before long, she was helping with the infants' class. In spring 1901 she would have been pleased to be recognised as an infants' class teacher by the Board of Education but sadness was on its way. Willis died suddenly a year later in his 41st year. Eleanor continued to teach at Oldfield Board School for a further two years but by 1904 she is recorded in the Log Book of Cowling Board School as a teacher. Her elder daughter Mary also joined the staff at Cowling Board School and Mary received a glowing report from school inspectors in 1912. Both mother and daughter remained at the school until 1913, when Eleanor Elizabeth remarried and became Mrs Percival Ellison.

Emigrations and Returns

In 1911, Willis and Eleanor Elizabeth's son, Rupert Forte, who had left Cowling Board School on 15 January 1900 to go to "the Trade School", embarked on the s.s. Canada with a destination of Portland, Maine, via Halifax Nova Scotia, before finally heading for Saskatchewan. Following their mother's remarriage, his sisters, Mary and Eleanor, travelled on the Empress of Britain to join him in the spring of 1914. Sadly, Mary Forte died at Regina, Saskatchewan, in August 1916.
By October 1922, their mother, Eleanor Elizabeth Ellison, was a widow again and, at the age of 58, she crossed the Atlantic on the s.s. Caronia, just before Christmas that same year, presumably to be with her remaining daughter. Her destination was Bloomington, Illinois, which is south west of Chicago. Son Rupert was already back in Yorkshire before her departure - living at Sheffield, where he spent most of his working life. His marriage to Lilian Thornton was registered at North Bierley in 1916.
Many years had been spent in America when Eleanor Elizabeth returned to Yorkshire around 1938, where she then made her home at Sheffield. It is not known if she had stayed in Bloomington during the whole of her time in the United States.
Eleanor Elizabeth Ellison died unexpectedly in 1940 at Cleckheaton (although her home address was still Sheffield) and she was brought "home" to Cowling for her funeral at the Cowling Methodist Church. Several members of the Fort family were mourners. Probate of her will was granted at Wakefield to her son, who was at that time described as a shipping department foreman. Her effects amounted to 147 16s 6d, which converts to a spending power of 23,644 in 2005.
Rupert Forte eventually moved back to Cowling six years before his death in 1955. At his funeral, services were held at his house at Keighley Road and the Bar Chapel, Cowling, before committal at Skipton crematorium.

Charles Herbert Ashton and Margaret Annie Fisher and their son John Fisher Ashton

Charles Herbert Ashton, son of Mary Ann Ashton (nee Marchbank) remained in Cowling, where he worked as a warp dresser. He married Margaret Annie Fisher, daughter of John Fisher (by his second wife), land agent for the Wainman family at Carr Head and they had one son, John Fisher Ashton. Charles died in 1944 at Calverley, where his son lived, and there he is interred in the parish churchyard of St Wilfrid's.
John Fisher Ashton who, like his father, attended Cowling Board School, moved on to Keighley Grammar School. He married Amy Croft at Keighley on 8 June 1922 and his death was registered at Bradford in 1969.


Sources: The Victorian censuses (films, fiche and ); parish registers; IGI (International Genealogical Index of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints on ); the national index of Births, Marriages and Deaths and relevant certificates; FreeBMDs website; memorial inscriptions for St Andrew's Methodist Church, Cowling, transcribed by the late Christine Johnstone for Keighley Family History Society; Colne Library (post-1858 probate records); the log books of Cowling Board School by courtesy of headteacher Mr S J Smith; the log books of Oldfield Board School by courtesy of headteacher Mrs M Redpath; passenger lists ( and ); The Bronte Society Archives; the Craven Herald and the Keighley News.
Many grateful thanks are due to Josie Walsh ( ) for her invaluable help.
Marchbank's memorial stone at St Peters, Crosshills.

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