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Now in his 80s, former Mexborough man Brian Kelly recalls DIY entertainment



Brian writes: This is a shot taken in our street (Lorna Road) of the VE Day street party - May 1945. The ladies are being waited on by the men. The figures hanging high across the road are effigies of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun - yes we had been brainwashed sufficiently to hate all things German by that stage. Funny how it evaporates with time - I've had some nice holidays in Germany since then. I'm standing on the right displaying a clean collar for the occasion and my mother is seated alongside. Can't imagine trying to stage this sort of thing in present day Lorna Road - too many cars.

 
At intervals I like to keep in touch with your website. I am now over 80 and live in Cornwall (since retirement) but was raised in Mexborough 1930's - 40's - a schoolboy during WW2.

After reading a couple of your newsletters - an old one from Sept 1993 (good heavens - 20 years ago!) which gave details of Mexborough's cinemas and one of Jan 2013 on the old Hippodrome Theatre (which I can just remember) I was reminded how, especially during the WW2 years, Mexborough folk had to make their own entertainment.

Of course during the war travel was discouraged unless absolutely necessary for the war effort ("Is your journey really necessary?" was the slogan at the time) and because of that we all felt pretty much confined to our home towns.

Consequently any local groups which encouraged any amateur talent available out into the open thrived. Yes the cinema was the main source of entertainment during the war and most of us had radio sets in our homes but if you were a decent singer with a good voice or if you could play an instrument to an acceptable standard then why not join a group and perform for the local community.

The two decades between the wars (1920's and 30's) had probably been the heyday for amateur music-making - choirs, orchestras, bands, music festivals and contests, local 'Messiah' performances, etc. etc. Many homes had a piano (lessons/teachers were readily available) and many young people, prior to the later takeover by electronic keyboards, guitars, amplifiers, learned to play the traditional instruments, whether it be for classical music or jazz style.
 



Mexborough Choral Society

The Mexborough Choral Society shot contains three of my mother's family - called Meek. Mother's uncle Jim Meek (another railwayman), his daughter Ethel and Mother's younger brother Douglas (yet another railwayman). In fact there are a good number of railwaymen and their wives, daughters on the photo including a two from Lorna Road. I remember several faces on there but unfortunately can no longer put names to them. The photograph appears to have been taken in front of the Schofield Tech College - I would guess the late 1940's. Alderman Schofield is standing front left.

Brian Potts adds the following (December 2013):
In the photo my father George Potts is on the back row far left. He was the secretary of the choir under Conductors Arthur Butler followed by Frank Carnelly Lea. George was the organiser of the Celebrity Concerts which were held in the Methodist chapel adjacent to Chapelwalk Steps or in the Grammar school. We would often put up for the night a celeb, I suppose it would have been to help with expense?  George served over 45 years on the railway ending his career as a motive power inspector based at York. On retirement he wrote a book of his memoirs called Bankers & Pilots, by G C Potts The guy third from left is Ron Fareham another railwayman.


 
So prior to WW2 Mexborough had some well-established musical societies of one sort or another. At the outset of the war of course these societies began to lose young men to war service. One of the groups (for whatever reason) that suffered at this time was the old Barnburgh Main Orchestra, well-known and established and made up largely from Mexborough players. It had been conducted by 'Billy' Williams from Alexandra Road but it ceased to function around the outbreak of war (but as I say I don't know the actual reason). I well remember being taken by my father to one of their practices in Jack (son of aforesaid 'Billy') Williams' car - a little square Morris 8. Jack played the trumpet. After the demise of the Barnburgh Orchestra another orchestra was formed and run by Mexborough violinist John Farnsworth. This was based at one time in the Schofield Technical College and later in Park Road School.

Instrumental "blowers" (i.e. woodwind and brass) were catered for by Mexborough's Military Band - the term 'military' referring to the band's instrumental make-up only, no connection with the army. This group was conducted in the post-war period by Fred Tupling. Mexborough's Salvation Army had its own brass band, which used to be seen regularly on Sundays around the town's streets.


Mexborough Salvation Army Band

I have no knowledge of any jazz group in Mexborough. The small dance band played at the Empress Ballroom under the guidance of well-known Mexborough bassist Bert Clegg. Singers practised their choral skills after the war either with Mexborough businessman 'Venny' Chambers' Male Voice Choir or with the mixed-voice Mexborough Choral Society under conductor Arthur Butler. The choirs were regular performers at musical festivals (competitions) around the area (and sometimes further-afield). Mexborough's used to be held in the Grammar School hall, which because of its high ceiling, balcony and wooden floor was accoustically quite good. I have attended both the festival and Messiah performances in the 1940's there.

Amateur Thespians satisfied their desire to perform at J. Verdi Popple's Green Room Club - started, I believe, before the 1930's. After WW2 local school attendance officer Harry Dobson saw a need for a second theatrical group and formed the Mexborough Theatre Guild which, as we all know, attracted the young Keith Barron and Brian Blessed through its doors.

Perhaps as a side issue here - did the post of School Attendance Officer, or "School Bobby" as we all knew it, hold some attraction for those of an artistic bent since H.Dobson's predecessor in the job was Charlie "Bobby" Smith. He played the double bass and encouraged his two sons Cyril (double bass) and Leslie (violin) in string playing. Leslie went on to become headmaster at Roman Terrace Junior School. 'Bobby' Smith was held in fear by us young kids probably as a result of the parental threat with his name if we even considered scrounging off school. Later when I encountered him I found he was actually a nice old chap.

On re-reading this I recognise a link between the name Verdi Popple, Alexandra Road and the role of headmaster. Verdi Popple lived in Alexandra Road as did his two brothers who were both headmasters - Billy Popple at Dolcliffe Road School and Eddie Popple at the National School. Edward B. Popple, to give him his proper name, was a singer of some note in the area with a good baritone voice. He sang in the Parish Church Choir and often as soloist in public performances of Messiah and the like. He taught me, among other things, to read music and play the recorder at the National School during the war years.

Now I want to hark back to those war years. Does the Society have any record of the wartime productions by the Mexborough Musical Comedy Society (before later being known as the South Yorkshire Musical Comedy Society) presented in the Empire Cinema - converted to theatre just for these weeks?

I remember being taken to most of these shows and as I recollect they were (I only guess at the years):-

No No Nanette - 1941?
The Arcadians - 1942?
Rose Marie - 1943?
The Desert Song - 1944?
Merrie England - 1945? (with Walter Midgley, celebrated Yorkshire tenor)


Among the participants I remember were - Lynette Chappell (musical director), Milton Fowler, several railwaymen - Jack Snelgrove, Ron Fareham, Henry Tyas, Frank Smeaton, Alf Llewellyn, Albert Wood, Deborah Mann, Ethel Meek, Ethel Richardson, Freda Woofenden, ---Panther?

An orchestra of local players numbered about 12-15 and included Ethel Straw, pianist, who kept the music shop down by the market.
 



Mexborough Concertina Band

The Concertina Band shot contains a couple of characters I knew well. In the centre of the middle row, wearing medals, is Edwin Purshouse and on his right (our left as viewed) is Sol Jeavons. On Edwin's other side I believe is his brother. Both the Purshouses were railway engine drivers. Edwin Purshouse conducted Mexborough Military Band in the early 1960's when I played with them. It was a good period when we re-equipped with new uniforms and played many engagements such as the Yorkshire Miners' Demonstrations, Durham Miners' Gala, civic parades and Remembrance Day in Mexborough, concerts in Clifton Park Rotherham, Rosehill Park, Castle Hills Mexboro ---etc. Sadly it was relatively short-lived.
 


In this 'memory extravaganza' does anyone recall the wartime charity cricket matches played on Mexborough Athletic Ground? These were staged in the summers of, I think, 1942 and 1943. The sponsors were Mexborough butchers Percy Beaumont (1942) and H.G. Constable (1943) and we lads were thrilled to see the star names such as West Indians Learie Constantine and A.E. Martindale, Yorkshire and England players Herbert Sutcliffe, Len Hutton, Maurice Leyland and Arthur Wood and Lancashire and England's Eddie Paynter, together with the Derbyshire bowlers Bill Copson, Tommy Mitchell and George and Alf Pope. What? playing on Mexborough's ground? Yes indeed - there were big crowds each year and I enjoyed every minute of it.

A word of warning - all of these recollections are from my memory only - and I readily admit it isn't what it used to be. I don't have any actual records to help so there may be errors.

Well what a long wander down Memory Lane. Hope it jogs a few 'Old-timers'

Best wishes - Brian Kelly.

If you have any memories of the topics raised here, or photos, please contact us.