From Indentured Apprentice to Respected Citizen: the Story of Craven Bacon and Linen Weaving in Stainforth

David S. Johnson

As in so many villages in the Yorkshire Dales, the modern economy and social mix of Stainforth have changed beyond recognition from what they had been in the past. Here, as in other villages, textiles and allied trades once played a major part in providing employment and income, and in enabling successful entrepreneurs to climb up the social ladder. One such example, as we shall see, was Craven Bacon.

Very little is to be seen on the ground in Stainforth to remind us of this textile heritage but, by teasing out from early maps and documents and by careful examination of archaeological remains, it is possible to piece together some aspects of this lost industry. Three discrete mills are known to have existed in the township, and all were water-powered. On the banks of the Ribble, a short distance upstream from the bridge, the foundations of one such mill are clear, at least during winter months. Originally a manorial corn mill for Little Stainforth, this was converted and let out in 1792 to a syndicate of five men and women as a carding, roving and spinning mill for cotton. This mill was shown on the Tithe map as ruinous in 1841, suggesting perhaps that it had been a less than successful business venture.

There is also documentary evidence of another corn mill being converted to cotton spinning, operated from 1793 by a dual partnership that also worked a cotton mill in Giggleswick. This mill may have stood just above the stepping stones on the edge of the village where there were some remains until washed away in a disastrous flood. There was also a fulling mill, known to have been operational during the seventeenth century, but its location is not known. It is possible that this was the same building as the mill just above the stepping stones.

The third mill stood just below the stepping stones, on the west bank, and the outlet from the tailrace can still be seen in the wall adjacent to the beck. This was a linen weaving mill. This is where Craven Bacon makes his entry.

On 21st May 1710 an indenture was drawn up between his mother, Jane Bacon of Threshfield and his sister, Marg[a]ret Tempest of Stainforth, on the one hand and Edmund Sanders on the other. He was the linen weaver at the mill here and he was agreeing to take Craven Bacon on as an apprentice for a term of seven years to learn the "mystery or trade of a linen weaver". The indenture, which has survived, binds Sanders to provide his new apprentice with "sufficient meat, drink, washing and lodging and shirts - meet and convenient for an apprentice of his degree", though any other needs he might have were to be provided for by his mother. In return Bacon was required to forswear "cards, dice or any other unlawful games"; "fornication he shall not commit, nor matrimony contract"; and he was forbidden from entering ale houses or taverns without his master's consent, all for the entire term of his indenture. To ensure he complied with the terms of the contract, his sister was bound in the sum of £10 though Sanders was equally bound should he fail his side of the bargain.

Edmund Sanders was by this time enjoying success and he seems to have been in partnership with, or possibly employed by, another linen weaver. A legal agreement drawn up in November 1711 saw Sanders leasing various properties in the township, including Tenter Garth, for 1000 years at 17s annual rent. The witness to this agreement was William Iveson of Stainforth, linen weaver. Tenters were frames on which raw flax was laid out to dry in the sun before the manufacturing process began: the Garth in question is the open, south-facing field above where the village's first school stood, just below the last building in the village on the Silverdale road. The issue of Sanders' status is somewhat complicated, though, as a legal agreement dated May 1705 concerned Stephen Harrison of Stainforth who was described as a linen weaver. Had Sanders originally worked for Harrison, or were they partners? Whichever it was, how did Iveson fit into the equation?

Certainly the name of Iveson had been associated with linen weaving in the village over several decades. An indenture dated January 1724 granted James and William Iveson, linen weavers, tenancy of various lands in the township. The fact that the name James appears before William's in this agreement confirms that he could not have been William's son, but was he William's father or his brother?

Craven Bacon, meanwhile, seems to have been linked to Stainforth, prior to his indenture, in more ways than one. Apart from his sister having married into a prominent local family, the Tempests, there was a link with a long-established Stainforth family whose surname was Craven. Indeed, it is probable that Craven was christened thus because of this familial link. In 1713 Isabell Craven of Stainforth, widow, drew up a will bequeathing all her possessions to her nephew and niece (she was presumably childless) with the proviso that they paid to Craven, son of the late Luke Bacon of Threshfield, the sum of £10 three years after her death.

To return to the story, Craven Bacon was duly indentured as apprentice to Edmund Sanders in 1710 but the trail peters out for a number of years: we must assume that Craven served out his term of seven years afterwards remaining in Sander's employment. The latter drew up his last will and testament in March 1726 in which he left his entire estate, barring due allowances to his wife, to his son, also Edmund. Though Edmund senior is described as a linen weaver in the will, there is no specific mention of the mill in the document; it vaguely refers to all his "messuages houses lands and tenements whatsoever", both owned and leased by him. He died the following year and the inventory drawn up then to accompany the will described him as "linen draper" and items listed and valued range from husbandry gear, livestock and domestic possessions to "goods in the working shop" as well as a shop in Settle. It may be safe to assume that Edmund senior, at some point before his demise, had handed over day-to-day running of the mill to the Ivesons, with Craven Bacon, while he dealt with selling the completed linen cloth.

Confusingly, William Iveson and Edmund junior, both signatories to the bond, were noted as yeomen farmers rather than linen weavers, though two years later Sanders was described, in a deed for various lands and a house with malt kiln, as a linen weaver. That same year, 1729, a further indenture was registered by which Craven Bacon was taking on Christopher Dobson of Stainforth as apprentice linen weaver. Bacon had come full circle: within less than two decades he had progressed from raw recruit to employer.

It would seem logical to conclude that Edmund junior had stepped aside from the linen business as he was described in a deed of 1735 as a maltster, someone who makes malt from barley for the brewing of beer; but another deed from the same month that year noted him as linen weaver. The relationship between the other people in our story - Bacon and the Ivesons - is equally difficult to sort out as they appear from time to time in seemingly similar roles. Bacon acted as witness to a transaction in June 1736 and described himself as a linen cloth weaver; in the same month James Iveson (linen weaver) took over Sanders' (maltster) two messuages with various fields, and the malt kiln and Tenter Garth. In this business the witness was Thomas Rawson of Stainforth, described as a flax dresser. From this we could surmise that Sanders was withdrawing from his business activities and that Rawson was processing the raw flax ready for Bacon and the Ivesons to turn into linen cloth, but James Iveson was variously referred to as linen weaver and flax dresser in 1736. Perhaps terminology was rather loose at that time and perhaps Rawson was employed in various roles in the business. His general absence from the set of legal transactions suggests he cannot have been a major player.

There is a gap of ten years before we meet our protagonists again. Two indentures, dated November 1746, demised lands in the township from James Iveson, linen weaver, to Robert Brown, a prominent resident, and in each case the witness was Richard Iveson who was probably James's son. Craven Bacon also crops up in that year as a linen weaver so they may well have still been in partnership.

On Christmas Day 1751 a further name enters the field. John Leeming of Stainforth, linen weaver, acted as witness in a memorial between Brown on the one hand, James's widow Ann and son Richard (linen weaver) on the other, and Craven Bacon (linen weaver), for lands that James had held rights to. He, presumably, was an employee. In 1768 these same lands were the subject of a further indenture between Richard and Bacon. Even before this time Craven Bacon had become a respected member of the local community and, in 1760, it was he who was appointed joint collector of taxes for the township; he was in the position in 1768 to release a messuage of land in Bentham, indicating that his investment and business interests spread far beyond Stainforth.

Craven enjoyed a long life and two minor transactions in 1778 confirm he was still living in Stainforth and still active: a surviving receipt, dated 17th February, was for gin purchased by him, and a further receipt, dated 3rd June, was for the sum of "five shillings for the use of Craven Bacon for spars bought". By this time he must have been well into his seventies.

This short tale provides a certain degree of insight into the social complexities of eighteenth-century village life in Stainforth, and into the historic importance of textile industries in the vicinity. It also, perhaps, provides further ammunition to help destroy the long-held myth that social and demographic conditions in Dales villages were unchanging until recent times. We have evidence in this story of one young man - Craven Bacon - permanently migrating from Wharfedale to Ribblesdale, of pre-existing kinship links between Threshfield and Stainforth, and of social mobility in his rise from indentured apprentice to prominent member of the village community.