Some of our ancestors seem to live and die leaving barely a trace in official records, but it's always interesting
to come across a family where this isn't the case. This is the situation with the CRAVEN family from Calverley, WRY;
they weren't particularly rich, and certainly wouldn't have been classed as gentry, yet they seem to have
produced a number of characters who have risen to prominence in their own communities and beyond. This page tells some of their stories.
Sextons and Censuses
Back in 1876, William Cudworth wrote about the history and curiosities of villages in the Bradford area, and this is part of his section on Calverley:
There have been three generations of Cravens who have held the post of sexton. Benjamin Craven first
"gathered them in;" then James, who was sexton for forty years; and his son has held that office now for
twenty-five years. Abraham, a brother of James, was assistant overseer for a long time, and was succeeded
in 1865 by Mr. William Thornton. (W. Cudworth, "Round About Bradford" p460)
The first mentioned here is my 5x great grandfather, Benjamin CRAVEN
(~1750-1834). Cudworth's dates suggest that Benjamin passed the position of sexton to his son James in about
1810, although that was evidently not the end of his public service: Baine's Directory of 1822 lists Benjamin as
Parish Clerk, and his burial entry notes that he had held that position for 30 years.
The burial entry for James (~1784-1850) notes that he had in fact been sexton for 42 years, and the son who
succeeded him appears to be Benjamin (~1830-1879), whose occupation is given as sexton in the 1851 census, though not in later ones.
Assistant Overseers and Enumerators
Cudworth mentions that James's brother Abraham (~1794-1867) had been Assistant Overseer in Calverley, and
this is confirmed by census returns: in 1851 he is listed as "Assistant Overseer and Joiner Master employing 2 men"
(HO107/2313 fo34 p6), and in 1861 as "Collector of Poor Rates" (RG9/3345 fo25 p2). However, he was also an
enumerator for the 1841 and 1851 censuses, with his signature being found as follows:
1841 - HO107/1298/2 fo26 p83 (his household entry is at HO107/1298/2 fo5 p3)
1851 - HO107/2313 fo1 p(i) & fo2 p(iv)
Curiously, in 1851 he signed off the description of the enumeration district on page (i) as "Abraham Craven, Aged 55,
Assistant Overseer, Calverley", but in his household entry his age is given as 56.
Abraham might have felt too old for the job of enumerator in 1861, but it was evidently something that the family
as a whole were not ready to give up, since two of the enumerators for Calverley that year were Samuel Craven
(RG9/3345 fo22 p(i) & fo24 p(vi)) and John Craven (RG9/3345 fo1 p(i) & fo3 p(vi)). Samuel was one of Abraham's
sons, and John could have been either another son of Abraham's, or one of the sons of James, the late sexton
- both were born in about 1822 and living in Calverley at the time.
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Why did he go to Wales (and why did he come back)?
Some ancestors are fairly easy to describe, in that their whole life was spent in one place, and they always followed the
same occupation. This is certainly not the case with John Bilton CRAVEN
(1830-1892), my 2x great grandfather. His father Wilson
and grandfather John (son of Benjamin above) both died relatively
young, and by the mid-1820s their families were living in cramped conditions in one of the poorer parts of Leeds.
A change of career
In the 1851 census John Bilton Craven is listed as a cloth dresser - nothing remarkable, since Leeds was a major centre
for textile manufacture. However, two years later, at his marriage to Hannah ROBINSON, he was described as a
schoolmaster, still living in the same part of Leeds. There are further records of John as a schoolmaster over the next few years,
but a few miles east of Leeds rather than in the town itself.
A change of scene
Their next move was totally unexpected (to me, anyway): from 1859 to 1861 they are found in Tregynon, MGY, where John
is again a village schoolmaster. It would have been interesting to read something of his views on this, but unfortunately the
Tregynon school log books for that period haven't survived. The 1861 census for Tregynon hasn't survived either, but John
and Hannah had two children born there, one of whom died at a few months old and was buried there.
Back to Yorkshire
It's not hard to imagine that someone raised in the slums of Leeds would have longed for open countryside, but maybe Tregynon
was a step too far. Or maybe John realised that Welsh language teaching was coming, so in order to continue as a teacher he
would have to return to England. Whatever the reason, the next I know of him is that in 1864 he and Hannah were back in the
poorer part of Leeds for the birth of a daughter, and John was working as a book-keeper. By 1869, however, he was working as a
schoolmaster again, a little further out of Leeds - but further changes were to follow.
Another career change
In the 1871 census he is back in Leeds and working as a clerk and storekeeper, but 10 years later he has had a complete
change of career and is working as a domestic gardener. In due course this appears to have taken the family a few miles south
of Leeds to Rothwell, where his daughter Elizabeth (my great grandmother)
was married in 1883, and where his mother Ruth (née BILTON)
died about a month later.
In 1891 John and Hannah were back in Leeds, and he was working as a florist, but John died about a year later. He was buried
at Beckett Street Cemetery in Leeds, in a so-called "guinea grave" - a public grave where for a relatively small fee the deceased
were commemorated (8 at a time) on a simple memorial. However, he has a further memorial inscription on a family grave
elsewhere in the same cemetery.
I entitled this section "Why did he go to Wales (and why did he come back)?" but I might equally have asked "Why did he
become a teacher (and why did he stop)?" Did John discover that he wasn't really very good at teaching (though he did
work in at least three different schools), or was it something like a succession of breakdowns or mid-life crises? I would love
to know, though I'm not sure I ever will.
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Classrooms and Couplets, or Pupils, Poems and Plays
Whatever the truth about John Bilton Craven, it seems that teaching as a career became firmly established in the family. His brother Robert was a teacher (see below), and the three children of his daughter Elizabeth and her husband
Samuel BARTLE (my great grandparents) who survived infancy all became
teachers. Of these, the eldest two, Eliza ("Ida") and Arthur (my grandfather)
graduated from Leeds University in 1906 and 1910 respectively, and their sister Gertrude Mary ("Marley") trained as a
primary teacher in Leeds, eventually becoming a headmistress and being appointed MBE for services to education. Arthur's two
daughters also studied at Leeds University and went into teaching, and some of his descendants in later generations have
followed a similar course.
Playwright and dialect poet
Another thread running through the generations in this family is its literary achievements. One of the more prolific writers was
Arthur BARTLE, my grandfather, who wrote several short plays and a considerable
number of poems. Some of the plays were published and performed, but it seems that paper shortages connected with the First
World War restricted what could be published, so any hopes he may have had of becoming a more full-time dramatist were dashed.
He had a number of poems published in the Leeds University journal and local newspapers, but many more survive only in manuscript
form. His writings make frequent use of Yorkshire dialect, and provide an affectionate and humorous, though often incisive, view
of his world and those who inhabited it.
One of Arthur's daughters followed him into print with a book on wild flowers and another based on the diaries of a relative of
her husband's who worked as a YMCA lady volunteer in France during the First World War.
An earlier poet
However, the Craven literary tradition can be traced back to a much earlier time. Robert,
a younger brother of John Bilton Craven, wrote a large number of poems to accompany magic lantern shows, details of which can be found at Lucerna, a website dedicated to the history of magic lanterns. In 1872 he had a volume of poems published - "A Tale of a Story without an End and Other Poems".
These had apparently been written over a period of 15 years or so, and their themes include the personal (e.g. "To Miss F.A.C."
[Fanny Amelia CARPENTER, whom he later married], and "On the Death of my Sister") and the topical (e.g. "On the
Treaty of Peace, 1856"). There is humour and warmth in them, though in some places the verse seems to a modern ear rather laboured and
Some of these poems reflect a setting in Norfolk, where Robert spent much of his life. His wife, Fanny, was from King's Lynn, and
members of her family were involved in breweries and public houses. However, Robert, like his brother John, was a teacher, and
this provides a context for some of the poems. And like his brother, Robert seems to have led a rather nomadic existence, as follows:
||birth, baptism, and 1841 & 1851 censuses for Robert CRAVEN
||birth & baptism of Julia Elizabeth Mary CRAVEN; baptism of John Carpenter CRAVEN
||birth of John Carpenter CRAVEN
||1861 census; births & baptisms of Robert Lound CRAVEN & Fanny Alexandra CRAVEN
||Great Ryburgh, NFK
||birth & baptism of Ellen Amelia CRAVEN
||newspaper advert; birth of Mabel CRAVEN
||baptism of Mabel CRAVEN
||newspaper advert; birth of Susan Dearnes CRAVEN
||baptisms & burials of Oswald & Louisa CRAVEN
||Terrington St John, NFK
||1881 census; baptism of Susan Dearnes CRAVEN (in South Lynn, NFK; "of Terrington St John")
||newspaper advert; 1891 census
||death of Robert CRAVEN
The sources given here indicate that the family were actually living in most of these places, rather than just visiting. The one exception is Caddington, where one of Robert and Fanny's sons was born in 1860: the previous year they had been in Thornham, and a few months later they were recorded as living there again when the baby was baptised. (Does Caddington provide a clue to where the family originated? - see below.)
The majority of the records also show that Robert was working as a schoolmaster, and in all but one of these places a school was established during the 19th century by the National Society for Promoting Religious Education, a body connected to the Church of England. (The exception was Slaidburn, where there was an older endowed school.) It therefore seems likely that the National Society was moving Robert between schools at fairly regular intervals.
The reason for this may be impossible to determine, but Robert was at some of the schools in the first few years of their existence, so perhaps he was there to help to get them off the ground; elsewhere, perhaps his job was to sort out a school that was struggling. And he might have lived and worked in far more places than are listed here: the evidence provides only snapshots of his life, so where else might he and the family have been?
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A well-known broadcaster
Those familiar with BBC television programmes may have been wondering up to this point whether I have
any connection to John CRAVEN (b.1940), who is best known for his work on Newsround
(originally John Craven's Newsround) and Countryfile. I am happy to report that I do.
In 2012, as part of Find My Past's series on famous family trees, prominent genealogist Roy Stockdill
wrote an article about John Craven's ancestry. His research took him back to John's 4x great grandparents
Abraham CRAVEN and Elisabeth STANSFIELD, who married in Calverley, WRY in 1793. This couple feature in
my own research too: Abraham's father was another Abraham (bapt. 1736/37, Calverley), and his grandparents
(ie John Craven's 6x great grandparents) were Abraham CRAVEN and
Ann CARR, who married in Calverley in 1729. And as this couple were my 6x great grandparents
too, John Craven and I must be 7th cousins.
Roy Stockdill's article giving details of his research can be found at
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Where did the Cravens come from?
Abraham CRAVEN and Ann CARR married in Calverley in 1729,
and he was buried there in 1770 and she in 1784, but I haven't as yet found any earlier records that definitely relate
to either of them. Abraham doesn't appear to have been baptised in Calverley, though Roy Stockdill noted a number
of much earlier CRAVEN entries in the parish registers there. So if he didn't come from Calverley, where might he
have come from? I have found the following possible baptisms, though there may of course be others:
7 Dec 1690, Leeds, WRY - Abraham son of John Craven of Wortley (born 10 Nov 1690)
(The Exchequer Court of York had an administration of the estate of a John Craven of Wortley in 1723, who might have
been the one mentioned here, but I have not yet found a corresponding burial record.)
28 Jul 1700, Bingley, WRY - Abraham son of John Craven of "Hell-wike" (Eldwick)
(There is a possible burial for John as Jonathan Craven of Helwick, mason, in Bingley on 6 Apr 1717, Bingley; and a possibly related probate for Jonathan Craven of Elwick in 1727 in the Exchequer Court of York.)
26 Feb 1703/04, Leeds, WRY - Abraham son of Joseph Craven of Tenters (born 16 Feb 1703/04)
(A Joseph Craven of Mabgate was buried in Leeds on 22 Feb 1735/36; this is probably connected with a probate for John Craven of Leeds in the Exchequer Court of York in 1735/36.)
4 Jun 1704, Keighley, WRY - Abraham son of Samull (sic) Craven
(A Samuel Craven was buried in Keighley on 19 Dec 1711; this is probably connected with a probate for Samuel Craven of Keighley in the Exchequer Court of York in 1711/12.)
7 Jul 1706, Addingham, WRY - Abraham son of John Craven
(A John Craven "late of Addington" (sic) was buried in Leeds on 24 Mar 1719/20, possibly the one mentioned here.)
11 Oct 1706, Guiseley, WRY - Abram son of Jeremiah Craven of Yeadon
(A Jeremiah Craven, labourer of Low Yeadon, was buried in Guiseley in 1715 - the exact date is unclear.)
Further research is needed to establish whether any of these entries might relate to my Abraham, or if he was baptised somewhere else entirely.
While researching Robert Craven, the schoolmaster and poet (see above), I came across an intriguing entry in the 1861 census for Caddington, BDF, relating to John Hight BLUNDELL, a local landowner, and his wife Marianne. She had been born in Keighley, and I discovered that they had married in Keighley in September 1860, she being the daughter of John CRAVEN, a mill owner. Meanwhile, Robert's son John Carpenter Craven had been born in Caddington earlier in 1860. So was this just a coincidence, or had Robert and his family been visiting a rather distant cousin (second or third, perhaps) and/or her fiancé before their marriage?
There is still a lot to find out about the origins of this family, so if anyone reading this can tell me more, do please get in touch.
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Abraham CRAVEN (d.1770) - Details and Ancestor Chart
Benjamin CRAVEN (~1750-1834) - Details and Ancestor Chart
John CRAVEN (~1782-1813) - Details and Ancestor Chart
Wilson CRAVEN (1804-1844) - Details and Ancestor Chart
John Bilton CRAVEN (1830-1892) - Details and Ancestor Chart
Elizabeth CRAVEN (1857-1942) - Details and Ancestor Chart
Page last updated 18 March 2021