NEWSLETTER - 29th April 1994
A few weeks ago I was asked about the history of one of our local schools
and it was then that I realised the lack of knowledge I had about the road outside this school which gave it its name and thought it would be a good idea to go into the history of not just this road, but our whole system of roads.
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE ROADS IN MEXBOROUGH TO 1894
There were Iron Age settlements in the Doncaster area long before the Romans came here. There were in some areas extensive oak woodlands and in others open woodlands with beech, ash, and lime trees. Game, fish and wild animals were plentiful with red deer in abundance, and there would also have been creatures such as brown bears, wolves and even beavers.
To the north of the River Don lay the land of the tribe known to the Romans as the Brigantes. Some were arable or pastoral farmers, but others, those who lived in the Pennines, led a semi-nomadic life and from time to time would raid the lowland settlements to steal cattle.
It was about this time (54 - 71 A.D.) that a defensive double row of earthen ramparts and ditches were constructed to help protect the people of our area from the raiders. These earthen ramparts went from Wincobank to the Dearne Valley and were known as the Roman Ridge. For many years this was thought to be a Roman Road and certainly in Hunter's South Yorkshire and John Guest's Rotherham it is written of as such.
The River Don was fordable at Mexborough,and as far back as this we had a track (I cannot call it a road) running through our town, crossing the river in at least two places one being at Strafford Sands (meaning Street Ford). We know this track
locally as the Pack Horse Track, but to give it its correct name it is Packman Lane. It comes through the town now from Old Denaby, over what was the Ferry, up Ferry Boat Lane to Church Street and from there up Quarry Street to Doncaster Road, which it crosses. It then goes up Harlington Road through the Manor Estate, joining the last untouched portion of track and then to Harlington itself. Last month I reported to you how Mr. Watson in November had told us how in its long history it had brought us, among other things, Nottingham lace, metal goods from Birmingham and woollen cloth from Leeds.
A little while after the Romans came to Britain there was an uprising, and a number of forts built to police the area, the first of these being at Rossington Bridge, large enough to hold 3,000 men, and another at Templeborough which held 800 men which included 240 cavalry. As you probably remember from your school history lessons the Romans were excellent road builders, and it seems logical to suppose from a military point of view that the two forts should be joined by a road. The Templeborough site is now completely obliterated by a huge steelworks and no trace of a road can be found, but traces of a road have been found at Church Lane, Warmsworth going in the direction of Templeborough and this must have been the first road as we now know it in our area.
There is no evidence as yet to prove that a Roman Road passed over Strafford Sands, although its name suggests this (Strafford meaning Street Ford and a Street being a Roman Road). As the fords at Mexborough were the only ones for miles around, it does seem logical to suppose that they would have used this ford and there is proof that they used the Packman Lane which crosses here. A Roman horse sandal (the horse shoe as we know it was not invented then and a piece of protective metal was held onto the horse's hoof using thongs of leather) was found, and hoards of Roman coins have been found at the north side of the river close to the lane.
By 410 A.D. the Romans had left Britain and the Saxons had started to invade. Without the Romans to maintain them, our roads started to go into decline. The next time I find note of the roads of Mexborough is in reference to Strafford Sands and is contained in the story of a battle which took place on a level piece of land to the north of the River Don opposite Strafford Sands, between the Britons under their king Ambrosius Aurelianus and the Saxons under their leader Hengist, in which the Saxons were defeated and Hengist was beheaded at Conisbrough
The crossing downstream of Denaby Railway Crossings crops up quite frequently in the history of our roads and it is here again mentioned in the case of "The Miracle". We must jump a few hundred years for this, to 15th July 1524 to be exact. The roads of the Doncaster area were in comparatively good order when William Nicolson, travelling with his wife, two children, a dray, six oxen and two horses and accompanied by Robert Leche, his wife, two children and their servant Ric Kychen, tried to cross Strafford Sands. In those days any fords carried a toll, but William Nicolson described Strafford Sands as being free for anyone to use and therefore must have been used in preference to the ferry where a ferryman had to be paid. When the travellers got to the ford they found the river to be in flood and when they tried to cross the dray, oxen and horses were dragged under. One of the horses was drowned, and the dray, with everyone in it, was turned upside down, the people inside praying to our Blessed Lady for help. William Nicolson and Ric Kychen, by the use of one of the oxen pulled themselves to safety. Robert Leche with his two children got to land alright, but his wife was pulled down with the dray to the bottom of the river. The dray continued on for a further 300 yards, turning over three times. All the people who had by this time got to the banks of the river knelt and prayed to Almighty God and to The Blessed Lady to show them a miracle and this is how William Nicolson says they were all saved. When they got to Doncaster they found it to be "Mare Mawdleyn's Day" and they declared that a miracle had taken place and songs were sung and the bells rung.
As you can see from the story of The Miracle, people in those days really took their life into their hands when they contemplated travelling. The state of English roads had got into so bad a condition that the government brought in "The Statute for Mending the Highways" or "Statute Labour Act", which stated that the condition of the roads became the responsibility of the people of the parish through which the road ran and it was their duty to spend 4 - 6 days every year in its repair. Mexborough can have been no exception.
By 1694 - 95 a system of roads in Mexborough can be seen to start their emergence. The main one, not, as I expected, Church Street, (which seems to be little more than a jumble of paths) covered a similar route to that of our present day Doncaster Road but does not turn right after Bull Green (at the bottom of Doncaster Road) and then through Denaby, but continues straight on through The Pastures for a while, where it forks, one turning right and crossing the River Don at Strafford Sands and thus to Conisbrough, the other going on to Doncaster through Cadeby. The other two roads come from Old Denaby, one crossing the River Don at a ford close to the bend in Church Street and then joining Doncaster Road, just above the Miners' Arms public house, the other being our old friend The Packman Lane, which came through Old Denaby Wood, through the village to Ferry Boat Lane, over the Ferry to Mexborough and up Ferry Boat Lane, passing Sir William Reasby's Boat House (which suggests that the river was used as transport also). It continued on up Melton Street, past Mexborough Old Hall (here I must apologise as last month I made the error of saying that Doncaster Road was not there when Mexborough Old Hall was built but research this month has proved me to be wrong) turned left onto Doncaster Road and then right up Harlington Road. This seems, except for portions of Doncaster Road, to be the best of the three.
The condition of the roads in this country continued to deteriorate and in 1706 parliament created the Turnpike Trusts. This meant that a group of businessmen could buy from the parish a length of road and by charging a toll for its use would keep it maintained.
In 1764 the Tinsley to Doncaster Turnpike Road was opened which went through Conisbrough and Hooton Roberts. This was a great boon to this area as for the first time in hundreds of years we had a well maintained road capable of carrying goods, passengers and mail with speed. (A mailcoach travelled at an average speed of 10 miles an hour). Passengers also, for the first time, could travel in relative comfort and communications took a huge leap forward.
This Turnpike Road is easily visible on Jeffrey's Map of Yorkshire 1772 - 1800, which also shows that we still had a path where Church Street now runs and that Doncaster Road was still our main road, along with Packman Lane. But this map goes further and shows a road which is forming to the west where what is now High Street forked, one going in the direction of Wath and the other Swinton. Also we can see a path to Adwick-on-Dearne.
Greenwood's Map of Yorkshire 1812 reveals a system of roads in our town which I believe the majority of us would recognise. Packman Lane is still easily visible and by now so is Church Street and Adwick Road, although the latter did not cover the present day route but its old one over Dolcliffe Common from Pinfold Lane, also can be seen Quarry Street and Melton Street.
High Street is as it was before with the exception of the fork to the west which is now a little further over, incorporating a group of houses called Wellington Row, after which it forks, now passing the Don Pottery (which was almost opposite the L.N.E.R. Sports Ground) and then to Swinton. The 1839 map basically is the same as the map mentioned previously, but on this can be seen the new route of Adwick Road (the one it holds today). No longer does it pass through Dolcliffe common but now hugs the extreme eastern edge, therefore putting the Woodfields (Woodfield Avenue) to its left (before this they were to the right).
In 1836 came a milestone in the history of Mexborough, when an act was passed through Parliament to enable a railway designed by Stevenson to be built with the station close to the boundary of Swinton. This was opened in 1840 and connected the West Riding of Yorkshire to London by rail for the first time. The passengers at this time had to alight at Swinton and then catch the Aquabus to get to Doncaster. In 1841 the people who ran the Doncaster to Tinsley turnpike, which ran through Doncaster Road, thus taking some of the traffic from Doncaster Road and also to improve it. But as with everything this took many years and an old gentleman I know can remember a time when the end of Church Street was closed and the track from his house to Doncaster Road was called Cobble Stick Street.
These letters were, as you can see, written about road conditions in the winter months and travel for the everyday person can still have been a summer activity even in the 1890's, this being evident by the fact that on Good Friday 1894 The Mexborough Cycle Club held its first bicycle outing to Blythe. This must have been when the roads first began to dry out after the winter months.
We complain about the state of the roads today, having pot holes and the tarmac needing repair but how well off we are compared with the past.
Information taken from:-
The Doncaster Region in Roman Times. A Doncaster Museum Publication. Hunters South Yorkshire.
Rotherham by John Guest.
The Miracle taken from The Bessacarr and Cantley times, who in turn obtained it from the Doncaster Gazette.
Basic information on Statute Labour and The Turnpike Trusts, taken from Work Out Social Economic History.
Information on Tinsley to Doncaster Turnpike. Doncaster Local History Department. Maps used: 1694 - 1695, Jeffrey's Map of Yorkshire 1772 -1800.
Greenwood's Map of Yorkshire 1812, 1854 O.S. Map. Information on the Discontinuation of Tolls at Mexborough. Document in our own archives.
Information on the condition of the Turnpike Road at Mexborough taken from The Local Board Book.
Condition of the roads in Mexborough 100 years ago taken from Mexborough and Swinton Times.
If you would like further information on the subject or would like to study any of the documents mentioned above please do not hesitate to ask.
Your Archivist, J. R. Ashby.
P.S. A little piece of modern history - Clothing Rationing was abolished 45 years ago this month (15th March).