MEXBOROUGH AND DISTRICT HERITAGE SOCIETY
NEWSLETTER-26th September 1995
The summer of 1995 has been a memorable one for me in that whatever could go wrong did go wrong. It started as long ago as January when I had a fire at my home, the smoke of which caused considerable damaged to every room in the house. By May the work was still not competed on my home and it was beginning to get me down and by June the strain of trying to run our archives, answering queries by mail and telephone, cataloguing items which had been donated, writing articles on our local history for different publications, helping to organise our society, etc.
etc. as well as trying to accomplish the normal attributes of being a mother and running a home began to tell on me and in June following a committee meeting I passed out with chest pains, this was followed not long after by a very nasty illness which seated itself in my head, from which I have still not recovered and my doctor has informed me that I must rest. It is because of this that I find I must regretfully declare that for a time I have no alternative but to take a "back seat" in the running of our Society.
It has just (1st Sept.) been my misfortune to hear of the death of a very dear old friend of our Society. His name was James Rownsley, known affectionately to many of us as just Jim, who passed away on 31st August 1995 in Montagu Hospital aged 80 years. I first got to know Jim in 1991 following the death of my father and after I first became your archivist. As he was the very last of the Horse Marines to work on the canals of our area he was able to help me greatly with an exhibition we put on the following year at Doncaster, scrutinised by many from canal societies and people who had once had connections with working on the canals. He also very kindly donated to our Society the last set of "Barge Harness" that I know of still left in Mexborough. This type of harness was peculiar to horses used in the pulling of a barge and was used in no other trade, so we are are particularly fortunate to have this set. It took a great deal of hard work to get it into its present state of preservation and, along with the exhibition display information which Jim helped to create, has been used for educational purposes in schools and colleges around the area. Jim's story appeared in "An Everyday Story of Mexborough Folk" where I told you of his first job at the age of ten years where he had to take a barge to Goole walking behind the horse all the way - a distance of thirty miles, which is quite a feat for a ten year old. He helped in the compilation of a book entitled "Humber Keels and Keelmen" by Fred Schofield (now no longer with us) and for anyone studying the workings of our canal this must be their "bible" as it covers every tiny thing about life on the canal. He also helped Mike Taylor (who gave us a very interesting talk not very long ago about the canal which passes through our town) with his books on canals and Mike compiled an article about him which appeared in Waterways World magazine in January 1994. This was followed this year by Barrie Chambers giving over a chapter to him in his book "A Mexborough Scrap Book" (p. 79 ) where he describes in detail the actual work of a "Horse Marine". Jim was an old fashioned gentleman with a capital G and the world will be a worse place for not having him in it - he will be missed by all of us.
Now that sad business is competed I can now fill you in on some of the other news affecting our Society. Firstly, a new magazine was published this summer, it was named Yorkshire History and with its emphasis on local history your Society at once paid a yearly subscription for the benefit of all our members, so the first two
publications are now available on request for you to read. Subjects covered are as follows:- Issue No 1 - Stone Heads, The Manningham Strike, Methodism at West End, Matthew Elliss - Farmer and Forger?, Broomhead Hall and the Wilsons. issue No 2 - Dewsbury Minster, The Luddites, Furness Abbey Lands in Newby, Coastal Defences: Flamborough and Bridlington, Tate Wilkinson: Hull Theatre and the York Circuit.
At one of the last committee meetings attended by myself it was decided that next season's excursions should be:-
25th May excursion to Warwick and Stratford 6th July excursion to Durham
7th September excursion to. Worcester
and our visits shall be:-
5th November visit to Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and Beauchief Abbey
28th May visit to John Goodchild's Local History Centre at Wakefield. 25th June visit to The Earth Centre, Denaby Main.
30th July tour of Rotherham.
THE CONSERVATION OF BRODSWORTH HALL
Brodsworth Hall was opened by Princess Margaret on the 5th July 1995 and reopened to the general public at 1 p.m. the following day (as there were so many people waiting to to go in it was decided to allow the ones waiting to look around the premises at 12.30 p.m.).
Our Society first looked around this epitomy of a Victorian country house two years ago on the 27th July 1993, as the staff of English Heritage were hard at work conserving and restoring the interior, structure, and gardens, so we were unable to see the fine articles which once graced this beautiful home. But on the 25th July
this year this was put right as our Society made its second visit, and what a feast met our eyes as we passed through those doors. Congratulations must go to everyone who had a hand in the conservation of this beautiful old house, because of all their hard work and endeavours this capsule of Victorian life has been saved for generations to come, and this month I wish to concentrate on the the hard work of those unsung heroes of the back room who we never see, but glory in their work.
Between the house being given to English Heritage in 1990 by Mrs. Pamela Williams and its reopening (we cannot say opening as dinners and teas were held there for the villagers in years gone by, so it was open to the public in those days) a great deal of hard work and money (£3.9 million) has been put in to make it look as though nothing has been done to it at all since Mrs. Williams left.
In 1905 Charles Thellusson, who was Mrs. Williams' great uncle, had Brodsworth Colliery sunk and at the same time had Woodlands built for its workers, but in doing so nearly rang the death knell for Brodsworth Hall as by the time English Heritage took it over the mine workings had cause mining subsidence resulting in the hall being 8 in.(20 cms.) out of true, and water was not being removed from the flat foofs and leaked into most of the bedrooms. So one of the first jobs was to erect a vast false roof which enveloped the whole top of the building under which numerous workmen stripped away the old roof replacing it with a new
one as near as possible in likeness to the old, but this time giving it enough tilt to ensure that all the rain ran off into guttering.
When the present Brodsworth Hall was built for Charles Sabine Thellusson in 1861-64 (the designer was Chevalier Casentini of Italy, but the work was directed by the London Architect Philip Wilkinson, and internal furnishings by Lapworth Brothers of Old Bond Street London) it was constructed of locally quarried pale magnesian limestone, some from the estate itself. This had been badly eroded by acid rain and other pollutants to the point that birds had made large nests in the resulting holes, and after the stone was cleaned it was found that extensive areas had to be both repaired and replaced. This included some of the urns and balustrades which ornamented the roof. As if this was not enough, the old building had been attacked by rising damp resulting in a band of erosion roughly 3 ft. (1 m) high around the whole building and much of the affected stonework had to be replaced.
Even more horrors were to be found inside the building, and here I must quote from an interview given by Peter Gordon Smith (the general manager of Brodsworth Hall) to the Heritage Today magazine in June 1995 where he describes the interior of the hall when they first took it over in a most graphic manner. He states "the carpets stained with dog urine writhing with insect life, stuffed birds which were little more than skeletons and blackened drapes which proved to be crimson when cleaned".
Insect infestation did indeed prove to be the main problem, and urgent treatment was needed to soft furnishings and carpets. A technique pioneered by the Victoria and Albert Museum was thought to be the best method of dealing with this particular problem. This meant placing as much of the affected material into an industrial freezer as possible in order to deep freeze it, therefore killing all insect life and their larvae. Of course with such items as furniture or stuffed birds the ancient method of fumigation had to be employed and then the contents had to be stored in a fumigated warehouse while the house itself underwent a thorough clean to rid it of many other kinds of insect pests such as beetles and woodworm.
While all this was happening another team of workers were conserving other items such as the paintings some of the oil paint of which had started to flake and this needed to be secured before the surface dirt could be removed. Some of the beautiful gilded furniture was in a similar state and here again flaking had to be secured, in some cases before it could be even moved, this furniture then underwent structural repairs and received a light wax polishing.
The emphasis throughout the whole conservation programme was to use the gentlest possible cleaning techniques even with quite large items which on the surface you would not think required it such as the marble sculptures, many of which were obtained through Casentini the designer of Brodsworth Hall after they had been exhibited at the Dublin International Exhibition of 1865.
The Drawing Room walls at first glance (or is it my bad eyes?) appear to be wallpapered but it is in fact crimson damask silk wall panels. Two of these had to be removed in order to repair the plaster work beneath and they were sent to the Hampton Court Textile Conservation Centre for repair, while the rest were stitched and supported here. Now an almost invisible nylon net holds many of the most
fragile textile surfaces such as these in place.
The kitchens came next and it must have been extremely tempting (certainly it would have been to me) to clean and restore them and all their multitude of utensils and crockery to the point where it once again could be used, but this would have ruined the continuity of the theme, this being of a house which has just been left to English Heritage. So everything was given a very gentle clean, even the two cooking ranges which were supplied by Farr and Sons of Doncaster did not receive the customary black leading and were treated with the same gentleness. Then everything was just left.
When English Heritage took over the house in 1990 over 17,000 different items had to be painstakingly photographed and catalogued so it was as long ago as October 1994 that the contents began to be moved back into the hall. In readiness of the reopening in July this year, only thirty of its fifty rooms will be open to the public states Caroline Whitworth, English Heritage's Northern Curator of Works of Art and Furniture, in an interview with Yorkshire Journal Magazine, "The opening in July is only the start of the story".
English Heritage Magazine Sept. 1989.
Yorkshire Journal Summer 1995.
Heritage Today June 1995.
Brodsworth Hall ( Guide Book) by English Heritage.
J. R. Ashby.