THE SUMMER OF '94
Welcome to our first meeting of the winter season. The summer has been absolutely beautiful with sunny skies most days, and this year, for the first time in many, I have a garden that looks like one and not a quagmire.
It started in May with the Local History Festival held at Doncaster Race Course to mark the 800th anniversary of Doncaster obtaining its Charter, it was a great day spoiled only by the weather as the rain poured down all day.
The end of the month saw many of us looking around what was left of Barnburgh Hall and Dove Cote. As a child I would accompany my father here, where as foreman of the joiners working for the N.C.B. at Denaby Main, would come quite regularly here to do maintenance work at the hall, and I hadn't been there since the late sixties with him and Lou Smith, the gentleman who used to look after the property for Mr. Payne, who lived there in those days. Lou kept the gardens to the hall immaculate, the lawns of which were like a bowling green and the tiny box hedges dipped to perfection. I walked up the lane to Lou's home on the corner as I had done many times before as a child but when I turned that corner and stood by the hedge to Lou's home looking in the direction of where the hall had been I was, to use Yorkshire vocabulary "gob smacked". The hall which had dominated this area of Barnburgh had gone, the stable block which my father had worked to maintain which I had last seen with mahogany polished cupboards to house the horses' tack and harness was derelict, and the access roads as the stable yard was covered in an undergrowth which was at least 3 ft. high with saplings twice my height, and instead of taking a leisurely stroll along well-maintained paths to the Dove Cote as I had on my previous visits, it took us ages to fight our way through acres of undergrowth.
On our return I spoke to Lou's daughter, who I hadn't seen for years, and like me was upset at the demolition of the hall which we both described as needless vandalism. She hated what this small area of Barnburgh had become compared with the past, and told me nostalgically of the time my father had to climb a tree down the lane to rescue one of his apprentices who had become stuck there. She told me that her father was now a very ill old man and a few weeks after our visit I heard of his death.
Most of the original part of Barnburgh Hall was being lived in by the Middle Ages when the Cressacre family lived there, and when Henry VIII was on the throne Anne Cressacre married John More who was the only son of Thomas More who was then the Lord Chancellor.
In 1535 Thomas More was beheaded because he disagreed with the king on the question of divorce, and the family moved to Barnburgh Hall where they lived until 1820 and it is thought that most of the hall dated from the times that they lived there.
The hall is known to have had a 'priest hole' which is a small secret room used during times of religious persecution and civil war to hide priests etc. This priest hole was accessible through a sliding panel in the wall, and when the building was visited by Hunter (the same person who wrote Hunter's South Yorkshire) before 1827, he wrote that a 17th century portrait of a member of either the More or Cressacre family which had been painted onto the wainscotting (wood panelling) of the hall had by that time been wall papered over. I wonder what happened to this portrait when the hall was demolished?
The hall was finally purchased by the National Coal Board after passing through many hands and was lived in by one of their managers by the name of Mr. Payne and was demolished by them in the 1960s, leaving just the outbuildings and the mediaeval dove cote. Like so many others at the time, I thought it to be a needless waste.
June saw the hundredth birthday of Tower Bridge in London plus the 50th anniversary of D Day, and our newsletter that month covered the story of our local D. Day hero Cpl. Waters, a former miner at Denaby Pit.
May's newsletter covered my thoughts on the origins of Mexborough/
The end of June saw us at Clifton Park Museum in Rotherham being given a guided tour by the very pleasant curator, who delighted in showing us the new covered courtyard to the rear where you can look through the large Georgian styled window into the fully equipped Victorian kitchen. In the courtyard we found washing appliances of differing ages and used by people from all walks of life, from the vast items used in the laundries of the large houses, to the tub, peggy leg, and rubbing board used by the everyday family.
July saw the death of Reg Glen at the age of 101 years, who was the last of the Sheffield Pals, which some of the men of Mexborough joined during the First World War. His death came a few days before the 78th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.
The beginning of the month was our excursion to Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale, and if you didn't go then you certainly missed a good day out. The sun shone all day and we started by going to see the first iron bridge in the world built at lronbridge in 1779 by Abraham Darby III. Some of us then walked on to the china and tile museums whilst others, like my son and I, went on the coach to Blists Hill open air museum. Before going, I did hear one or two people make the comment "What has Coalbrookdale got to do with Mexborough and district?", well it was Abraham Darby I of Coalbrookdale who perfected the making of coke, and without it we would not have had the coal and steel industries. It also showed vividly what the Denaby of the 1880s would have been like with its pit, canal, shops, and board school. The newsletter that month told us all what could be seen there and all about our excursion.
Over the spring and part of the summer your committee have been very busy. In the February newsletter I told you how we were planning to publish a few stories which I had written about Mexborough people, and by May I had rewritten, reshaped, corrected, and finally typed out all four of the stories to be included in the book. This left the job of putting those stories onto a computer (this being preferable to typewritten work, it being quicker and easier to correct if need be) and this long tedious work was done by Marion and Ros, leaving me free to obtain some of the illustrations for it, and by superhuman efforts on the part of Marion who among many other things bound the booklets single handed, the first few were on sale to our members by the 23rd July 1994 at our exhibition in Mexborough Library. The first lot were sold out that afternoon, and a second lot was got ready for sale at our meeting at Hickleton Hall later in the month.
The booklet 'An Everyday Story of Mexborough Folk' contains stories about four Mexborough people, Thomas Barron and The Phoenix Glassworks, Jim Rownsley the Horse Marine, Mr. Jolly the Postman, and Walter Ashby the Joiner, and tells how normal, everyday people we meet in the street are sometimes not so everyday after all! As I told you in February we have tried to make it so that it is not too expensive and at a price of £2 95 I believe we have succeeded, so hurry up and get your copy before it goes on sale in our local libraries and gets snapped up As a matter of historical interest, it is one hundred years since the first book on the local history of Mexborough was released, being `Memorials of Old Mexborough' by William J. J. Glassby which was published in 1893 but released to the public in January 1894 (information from The Mexborough and Swinton Times, January 1894.)..We still have a few copies of our facsimile of this book left.
At the end of January I was approached by Doncaster Road School about the history of the building and subsequent history of their school, and over the summer I have been studying newspaper reports which cover the meetings of Mexborough Local School Board. These tell of the construction of the building, and lead ultimately to its opening. I then studied the early log book which covers the first 30 years of its life, telling of the typhoid, smallpox, and scarlet fever epidemics which were prevalent at different times. I also saw how education in our schools changed over the years from the basics of reading, writing, and doing simple maths, to the education which more closely resembles that of the present day: the children's opera which was put on to raise money for the hospital, music lessons, and Music Festivals which they took part in, the Boar War, Bag Muck Strike, and the First World War saw the first school nurse and lady doctor, the Powder Works with their Canary Girls, the shortages, and the Zepplin Raids. Studying Doncaster Road School has taught me so much about education in our town and how forward we were in comparison with the surrounding district until the W.R.C.C. Education Dept. took over our schools. Mr. Brown the headmaster in those days was teaching French, Algebra, and Domestic Science prior to this, and we also had a primitive type of Teacher Training College at The Central Board School (later to be know as Dolcliffe Rd., School) before the turn of the century. I have now finished typing "The First Thirty Years are the Worst" onto a computer which a kind friend allowed me to borrow over the summer, and with any luck this will then be published by Doncaster Road School as a booklet and sold to raise funds for the school. On that point, is there anyone with old photos of the school which they could let us borrow to be published in the book?
Like a pebble dropped into a pond the knowledge that there is a group of people in Mexborough interested in the history of our town has grown, and over the past few years that 1 have been your archivist I have answered questions and tried to help people from most corners of the country, but when a letter flopped onto my mat from Florida U.S.A. well, I was astounded. It came from a Mrs. Maureen E. Humphrey wanting news of a family who originally came from Swinton by the name of Round. She is also related to the Ashby Family so I can help her there but can anyone help with the Round Family of Swinton?
Another surprise came in the middle of August when Mr. Clemitshaw got in contact concerning a family who had emigrated a few years ago from Mexborough, and found when their long case clock needed repairing that "Rick's Elliot 1779 Watch and Clockmaker of Mexborough" was engraved upon it. I have so far traced the firm in the directories of 1861, 1862, and so on to 1867 when it appears they leave Mexborough and move to Rotherham, as I find them listed in Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World Vol. 2 where they are said to be living in Rotherham in 1871. Prior to these dates I will have to consult church records and Census returns at Doncaster Archives and Local History Dept., so I will keep you informed about this. Just as a matter of interest, this query came all the way from New Zealand, so we certainly are becoming well known aren't we?
How can I mention the summer of '94 without saying something about Lullaby Tunnel, the Dearne Valley Opera based on "The Day the Earth Trembled" by Frank Vernon of Mexborough which was written by him in 1988. It was staged in an open air amphitheatre at the old Hickleton Colliery site on the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd of July 1994. It was the largest open air community opera ever to be seen in this country, and the cast alone consisted of 200 children, 4 male voice choirs, 1 ladies choir, the Grimethorpe Brass Band, a swing band, string quartet, jazz singer, and 20 soloists and principal singers, with 30 non-singing actors. Then there was the audience which was seated in an amphitheatre with room to seat 1,500 every night.
The basic story behind the opera tells how on the 24th April 1942 there was what appeared to be a minor earthquake in the area which was felt by many. Certainly, it was felt in Mexborough as my mother, whilst living on Market Street, has told me of feeling the quake at the time. It caused devastation underground in the collieries of the area, in particular at Barnburgh Colliery, which seemed to be the epicentre of the quake. In places the ceiling and floor met. Rescue teams were sent in to bring out survivors with little hope of finding anyone alive, but in fact it had buried 14 men alive and killed 3 others, and the opera tells of how these men survived without food, water, or light, until the rescuers found them. The write up about the opera in the South Yorkshire Times tells us the reason behind the opera being given this title. After days of being buried, the men gave up hope and took off their boots and laid down to die, the oldest miner then began to sing a lullaby to the youngest who was only seventeen, but in this case it was not to go to sleep for the night, but for ever.
As I was unable to attend the opera owing to my son's school match, I was wondering if any of you had taken a video of the T.V. programme about it on the 18th July, or if not, the radio programme on it on the 22nd July, and would be kind enough to loan it to me so that it can then be copied for the archives.
Then, last but not least - OUR SOCIAL EVENING IS TO BE HELD ON THE 8th DECEMBER 1994 AT 7:30 p.m. AT THE NEW MASONS' ARMS, DONCASTER ROAD, MEXBOROUGH, and the tickets this year are to be £4 50 to cover the buffet. There will be a local history quiz with a difference.
Can you please contact me if you wish to attend and don't forget that you need not pay the full amount in one lump sum, but in portions if you wish, but please remember that all money must be made payable to me before the 8th November 1994.
I'm going to close now and let you listen to Eric Holder and don't forget if you wish to look at anything in the archives or wish to ask any questions on local history, all you have to do is get in touch with me.
Your Archivist, J.R. Ashby