THE BENTLEY FAMILY
BILL POSTERS, BELLRINGER, BEADLES, BYELAW MEN
GRAVE NO: Con O536
When Abraham Bentley was born to Joseph and Ann on 21 May 1800 in Wilsden, Bradford, it is unlikely that his parents considered him doing anything other than one of the usual occupations open to his class. Abraham’s father and Grandfather had been weavers and this is the trade stated at the time of his marriage to Mary Patchett in 1822.
By the time the family began arriving, his occupation had changed to that of beadle.
So what is a beadle?
The office of Beadle has its roots in Anglo-Saxon times and the name derives from the word for “proclaim”. Originally the Beadle would call the town’s people to meetings and act as a messenger for those in authority. However, this parish office developed to the level where we could recognize Mr. Bumble the Dickens’ character from Oliver Twist, overlooking the workhouse. They often wore a distinct uniform and could have duties in regard to the church, education and civil matters. The post was to an extent ceremonial.
We hear some of what Abraham’s duties were from the newspaper’s of the time. It is clear that prior to the development of the police service, Abraham as Beadle was expected to intervene in illegal activities. In 1836, The Bradford Observer contains an account whereby Abraham was able to prove an allegation by Robert Gamble that Robert Turner was hawking cloth without a licence. Turner was charged £10.
In 1838, Abraham stopped Henry Heccles who was driving two carts along Tyrrel Street at the same time. At the County Court he was fined 10 shillings and 12 shillings and 6 pence.
In 1841, Abraham was elected to the position of deputy constable, the chief constables being Thomas Buck and Titus Salt; he was appointed Bye-laws man. In 1841, Abraham as Beadle, was awarded £1 10 shillings. In 1843, the Vestry meeting awarded Abraham 1 shilling and 4pence for killing vermin. This duty would probably come under his bye-law officer post.
However, by October 1843, Abraham, disillusioned with his lot, refused to be re-elected as Byelaw man until his unpaid dues were paid to him for the extermination of vermin. He claimed that he was owed £4. The meeting of rate payers tried to pass the matter onto the Commissioners who refused to pay and it was suggested that the Lord of the Manor was responsible. Eventually the matter was settled in Abraham’s favour. The meeting continued in disarray as the Vestry Book had not been brought along to record the meeting and was instead locked in a cupboard and the warden, with the key was away!
In December 1843, Abraham was paid £1 5shillings and 8 pence for destroying and burying 77 vermin at 4 pence per head for the first quarter up to 31 January, Second quarter up to 30 April, £1 0 shillings and 4 pence for the burying 61 vermin, Third quarter up to 31 July 64 head at £1 1 shilling and 4 pence and for the fourth quarter up to 31 October, 58 head at 4d – 19shillings and 4pence. Total: £4 6shillings and 8pence.
The authorities must have been happy with his work as the following year, Abraham was elected as deputy constable, Beadle and Byelaw man again and he continued to hold one or more of these posts until his death in 1851. His obituary listed him as the bellman, which probably formed part of his Beadle duties.
During his adult life he had lived in Market Street, formerly New Street, Bradford. He and Mary had at least seven children between 1823 and 1843; Albert, Elizabeth, Timothy, Joseph, Sarah, Maria and JHP. Abraham dies in about 1850. His wife, Mary continues to work being described as a furniture broker in the 1851 census. She dies in 1856. Her older sons become cabinet makers whereas Joseph initially becomes a book seller in Union Street.
In 1857, Joseph marries Isabella Baxter Pullan, daughter of Henry Pullan the well known Music Hall and Theatre impresario. She had been brought up in a pub run by her parents and her maternal grandmother Mary Dunn. She may have met Joseph when ordering some bills to be posted to advertise entertainments at her father’s premises.
The 1861 census records Joseph as a book seller but he drifts into probably a more lucrative bill posting profession. This mode of communication was important in the days before Cinema, TV and radio. Although there were newspapers, not everyone could afford to buy one. Bills provided free and instant information.
The Bradford Daily Telegraph 22 July 1868 carries this advertisement:
BILL POSTING ESTABLISHMENT
BEGS to announce that he holds the largest and most conspicuous
BILL POSTING STATIONS in Bradford and surrounding districts. Advertisers will find it to their advantage to favour him with their orders, as we can assure the permanency of posting bills entrusted to his care. Orders by post of rail immediately attended to. Union Street Bradford.
In August of the same year the following advertisement was carried in the Halifax Courier on the 29 August 1868:
JOSEPH BENTLEY (SON OF THE LATE ABRAHAM BENTLEY) 48 Market Street, Bradford, Yorkshire, BILL POSTER AND DISTRIBUTER to the Lancashire and Yorkshire, Great Northern, Leeds, Bradford and Halifax and North Eastern Railways; Black Ball, White Star and Eagle Line of Packets Etc; Belle View and Pomona Gardens Manchester; and all principal auctioneers in Bradford.
J.B. returns his sincere thanks for the patronage he has received and he begs and begs to announce e has purchased the exclusive right to Posting and Hanging up boards on all the most prominent and leading thoroughfares in the Town, thereby therefore ensuring that all his Patrons that their bills will neither be torn down or covered by those of any other party; and he employs several men; all work entrusted to him is got out with the utmost dispatch.
Bills sent by post promptly attended to.
Bills posted and distributed in any part of the United Kingdom on the most reasonable terms.
These advertisements were repeated many times.
In March 1869, The Bradford Daily Telegraph printed the costs and expenses of Mr. (later Henry William Ripley’s unhappy 1868 political campaign to be the Liberal candidate for Bradford. A total of £46 19 shillings and 6 pence was paid to Joseph for bill posting. Others were mentioned in respect of providing stationery and printing so it appears that Joseph’s part was to make sure the bills were distributed and posted. Ripley’s success was reversed following an inquiry following a petition against him heard by Baron Martin. Joseph may had also been one of Ripley’s supporter. Ripley’s campaign was based on pushing through amendments to the flawed Reform Act in order to give a greater number of men the vote. he also wanted to promote education both generally and also technical and university education. He also said he wished to help the Irish who were still treated as second class citizens.
In October 1870, Joseph was elected to the post of Beadle. However, he did not have long to enjoy his role as he died on the 1 December the same year aged 38. All his adult life he lived in Union Street which was off Bridge Street and is now probably under the stretch of Hall Ings going up to Manchester Road. It originally ran from Bridge Street and threaded its way through to Croft street where the Union Foundry stood on the corner of Croft Street and Manchester Road.
After Joseph’s death his widow, Isabella carried on his business. An Advertisement in the Bradford Daily Telegraph, 8 December 1870 stated:
MRS BENTLEY, Widow of the late JOSEPH BENTLEY, Bill Poster, &c, begs to make known to the Advertising Public that she intends to continue the Business of her late husband, for which she has engaged Efficient Staff, and hopes to continue to receive the commands of those who have hitherto entrusted their work to her late husband. Orders left at the Office, 11 Union Street, will receive prompt attention.
Joseph and Isabella had two children, Kate Isabella and Annie. Kate Isabella married Frank Forrest a butcher in 1879. They were both living in Brunswick Place at the time, where Kate’s grandfather, Henry Pullan had a music hall. After a spell as a butcher, Frank became a publican at an establishment in Westgate. He died in 1892 and Kate moved to Scarborough to run a hotel in Castle Street where she married Fred Kendrew her employee in 1902. Isabella and her second daughter, Annie also moved to Scarborough where they ran an Inn in Eastborough. Isabella died on 17 August 1911. Kate Isabella and her first husband are buried in the same grave as Joseph and Isabella at Undercliffe Cemetery.
Did the family business of bill posting finish with Isabella? Joseph had an older brother, Timothy born in 1829 who started out as a cabinet maker and in the 1861 census he is living in Eastbrook Lane with his wife Mary (nee Hall) plying his trade. However, ten years later he is living in Bower Street, Little Horton where his occupation is that of Beadle and Town Cryer often called a Bellman. In 1870, his expenses as a town cryer, 10 shillings were listed in Mr. Ripley’s political campaign expenses. He received the same fee for the same service four years later. However, he acted as a witness in a case brought against Mr. George Poole and his campaign team for non-payment of printing costs incurred by Mr. James Brown of Manchester Road. Timothy could say he was eventually paid but he had to chase his costs of Bill Posting. Mr. Brown did eventually get paid.
What is a town cryer? The position of town crier has existed since the eighteenth century. The town crier was employed by the local council and was often called the bellman. He made public announcements keeping the townspeople up to date as to what was happening. Bellmen were “not to be hindered or heckled while performing their duties”. To injure or harm a town crier was seen as an act of treason against the ruling monarchy. The town crier was also used in connection with the courts.
An example of his duties is reported in the Bradford Observer (18 June 1870), the newspaper included an account of the annual summer fair held at the new markets and fairground, Leeds Road Bradford. The Mayor, the aldermen and Councilors arrived and walked around the grounds led by Timothy Bentley in his role of town crier. Despite the pouring rain Timothy proclaimed the fair to be open for three days in the name of the Queen, the Mayor Aldermen and burgesses of the town. The Mayor then spoke.
Ten years further on in 1881, he is listed on the census as a master bill poster. His son Charles W is recorded as a stationer at the age of fifteen. Timothy died on 31 March 1889 aged 60. His obituary was very brief for someone who had enjoyed public office.
The 1891 census shows his widow in still carrying on the bill posting trade from Bower Street with the help of Herbert Ernest. Bower Street still exists and is not far from Union Street. Timothy and Mary’s other children had taken up other trades: Carrier (Abraham), bookseller and then fine art dealer (Arthur Hall) mohair weaver (Harriet), stationer and shop man (Charles William), staymaker and then corsetiere (Maria), drysalter (Joseph). However, Herbert left the trade to join the fire brigade. He may have been following in his older brother Albert Henry’s footsteps, who also joined the fire brigade. Joseph comes back to bill posting and he is also a cashier. However, this looks like the end of the family’s connection with bill posting and public service.
• Births death and marriage records,
• Newspapers: Bradford Observer, Leeds Times, Bradford Daily Telegraph, Bradford Weekly Telegraph.
Researcher Deborah Stirling