little boy’s body hung limp from the hooked
implement which had fished him from the depths of the
South Yorkshire Navigation Canal, at Mexborough.
He had brown tousled hair, was kitted out as neat as
when dressed by mum that morning with dark, short
trousers, and sporting one of those patterned cardies
that Granville wore in ‘Open All Hours’.
Heartbreaking if it wasn’t so matter of fact for this
young reporter despatched from the nearby South
Yorkshire Times Offices to “see what all the fuss’s
Yet there was one detail that tugged the heartstrings
and stayed with me through the intervening 40-odd years:
the young lad’s sandals, brown ribbed, plastic I think,
his white socks standing out against the ribbing, still
fastened tight even though their wearer must have
struggled so hard against his fate.
I just thought, how can he still be dressed so neatly
and yet now be dead. An accident, of course, that
merited a short formal inquest. Just one of those
situations which confronted a weekly newspaper reporter
in those days. Your presence at the scene of a fire or
accident was taken for granted by police, fire crew and
the like, and true to say bad news is good news for
Indeed each morning the ‘duty reporter’ would phone
round every local police fire and ambulance station to
check out any overnight incidents, standard procedure in
the 60s and 70s.
It seemed that you, the local hack, were granted freedom
of this place, and in return told its people about
themselves, warts and all.
Another tragic occasion springs to mind: a print night,
early 1960s, national news had reported that a Comet
aircraft had come down in the Bay of Biscay, a
Mexborough girl among the passengers. Close to Press
deadline I was sent to interview the young lady’s
family. Daunting? Not really, for the family sort of
expected a Times reporter to be interested.
I even took away a picture of their unfortunate
daughter. Mission accomplished. The town was told to pay
Canal deaths were not uncommon, but I can tell you that
in those days it was not unknown for police discovering
a body in the cut to give it is push down to the next
lock, and thence to some other bobby’s patch. Naughty
In this rather morbid context, memory has just brought
back a smile, in the shape of Reggie Thomas, quite a
‘character’, small, sort of curled up, crippled, with
cheery red nose.
Must have been in constant pain, though he never showed
it when he chuckled over some jolly tale delivered from
his regular seat in the Best Side of The Staff public
house, mentioned in my previous meanderings.
Reg was a proof reader for the South Yorkshire Times,
though by rights he should not have been there, as he
expounded in his own favourite yarn. Apparently,
donkey’s years earlier he had been late back to work,
returning from the pub I wouldn’t doubt, but was spotted
by the then owner of the paper Mr Turner, father of our
present day (1960s) proprietor Eric Turner.
That great high panjandrum sacked Reg on the spot, yet
amazingly suffered the misfortune of snuffing it before
he could tell anyone in authority to act on his
decision. Naturally enough Reg was not letting on, and
so he worked on for another 20 or so years until it
seemed his problems caught up with him despite his
cheerful demeanour, and he drowned in the canal.
It was assumed that this was no accident, and that Reg
had simply had enough, and jumped. I cannot for some
reason recall the inquest verdict, which is unusual if I
tell you that I found inquests the most fascinating
procedures, not least because the Doncaster Corner,
Kenneth Potter, employed a very attractive young female
assistant, bespectacled, with auburn hair and a spring
in her step.
I tried on occasions to catch her eye, with a view to
maybe setting up a date, but she stepped a bit too
lively, invariably taking her hook before I could get to
Mr Potter set up court locally in the old Market Hall,
which also hosted meetings of Mexborough Urban District
Council. What a contrast of styles the old hall
witnessed, from the gravity of a well ordered inquest,
the Coroner intent on a sensible and factual conclusion
to affairs, while in an evening Labour-controlled
Council affairs were often filled with sound and fury
signifying ignorance and scant regard for any sensible
debate as the Labour members waged a bitter war of
insults against the Citizens’ Party opposition.
On one occasion Citizens’ lady councillor Mrs Doris
Leach had the phrase “sterile old cow” hurled in her
direction. I did not report that remark in consideration
to Mrs Leach. Maybe I should have told all.
Enough of that: where inquests were concerned many
proceedings involved pitmen, pneumoconiosis victims,
plagued by coal dust in their lungs. There would be a
pension attached to the condition, the severity of which
was expressed in percentages...50, 60, 70 per cent and
so on. One hell of a job eh?
No wonder absenteeism figures at local pits were
exceeding high, especially on ‘Miners’ Mondays’, when
packed pubs provided a profitable market for itinerant
traders plying their trade, with baskets of tasty
morsels such as muscles, cockles and the like, oh and
offal including delicious pigs’ feet in jelly, all to be
washed down by a pint or four of Barnsley Bitter
(Barnsley was the very best beverage but its days were
numbered as I think John Smith’s bought out the brewery,
calling time on this tangy, tawny ale).
A much more sensational inquest at that time (held in
Wath) concerned the murder of Adrienne Pamela Taylor, a
local St John Ambulance Nurse done to death by arsenic,
administered in her daily flask of soup by her partner,
a local golf professional jealous of her infatuation
with a hunky lorry driver.
Having done away with Adrienne, her angry lover had
committed suicide by detaching gas piping in his
apartment. Forensic evidence could have come from the
pages of a crime novel, detailing the dates on which she
had ingested the arsenic from residual traces in her
Coverage of the inquest earned a front page by-line for
me and colleague John Clarke, for at this time I had
temporarily abandoned the Times to become district
reporter with The Sheffield Star evening paper. However
after a year working with John, a fine reporter who had
begun his career like me with the SYT, I returned to the
weekly, my true home.
I’ll end on a lighter note, relating the merry tale of
Effie Corker, a Wathonian who nevertheless amused,
charmed Mexboro’ readers by producing a child each year
(I stopped counting at 12), and each year a local
reporter was sent to record the event, accompanied by a
photographer, either the indomitable Harry K. Wingate,
or the talented but finicky Darryll F. Briggs, who
always wanted a better photo than the one he had just
taken, even if it was a road accident ... “Do it again
for Darryll lads”.
That pair were part of a fine team that served THE
Times, which way-back-when sold more that 50,000 copies.
You, the reader, couldn’t get enough of us. Nor we of
Hopefully Bob will be filing more copy, recalling his days in
Watch this space!
For Part 1, click here
For Part 3, click here