I should like to welcome you to our first meeting
of the winter season and update you on the new books which have been published
over the summer months concerning the town of Mexborough which I feel sure will
be of interest to you:-
The First Thirty Years are the Worst by J.R. Ashby. This covers the first thirty years in the life of Doncaster Road Junior School with items of social and local history. Price £3 95
Mexborough & Wath Locomotive Depots by Joseph Raybould. Price £2 50
Can Tha' Remember by Joseph Raybould. This covers the childhood memories of Joe from the 1930s when he lived in the boatyard to 1945. (I personally have read this book and can recommend it as a good read.) Price £3 95.
Mexborough, A Town at War by Giles Brearly. Taken from minutes of the town council from June 1940 to December 1940. (To the local historian this is a must as it gives dates when certain items disappeared from our town and why, such as the first. W.W. gun which stood in Castle Hills Grounds. Price £2 50
THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR AND MEXBOROUGH
I have often wondered why this area went into decline during the latter half of the 19th century. A few years ago whilst studying Social History my classmates and I studied the effects that actions in other countries can have on ours. We covered the affects on the cotton mills of Lancashire caused by the American Civil War, and as the decline in the cotton mills coincided with the the decline in this area I began to wonder if there was a link.
In order to ascertain this I borrowed a video from our local library on a lecture given by a professor of history from the University of California on the subject of the American Civil War, and it appears that my assumptions were correct. It seems that although the American Civil War was happening many thousands of miles away its repercussions were indeed felt here in South Yorkshire.
The Southern States did not have the means to make armaments in the vast amounts needed for the war so looked abroad to firms such as Walkers of Sheffield with all its small subsidiary firms, one being at Kilnhurst and another at Conisbrough.
At first everyone must have had a bonanza, in particular the owners and workers of the barges as they would have been needed to transport the vast amounts of coking coal needed to fire the furnaces. Then they would have been needed to transport the finished armaments and explosives for shipment to the docks for America. (It was thought safer to transport armaments and explosives by water).
Because the Southern States were approaching bankruptcy, and also because they were trying to bring Britain into the war, they refused to pay their bills which involved vast amounts of money. This must have caused an immense chain reaction with many of the small works having to close and thus making their workers unemployed with the resulting hardships that this brought. In addition, the canal workers would no longer be needed to transport coking coal and armaments and therefore it would have caused further unemployment, this time amongst the barge people.
The chain of events is endless. The Southern States refused to export cotton, hoping that this too would bring us into the war. Cotton, besides being needed at the mills for cloth making also went to make fuses for the explosives used in the collieries, and therefore coal production was hit. If a collier could not dig out a said amount of coal in the time allocated he would either lose his job or his wages would be reduced, and again this caused hardship. Thus the actions of the Southern States of America must have devastated this area, causing vast unemployment.
As Tony Greathead of Conisbrough is related to the Booth family, and through them to the Walkers who ran the Cannon Works at Conisbrough, he is to go into this matter further and I am awaiting the results of his researches. He has already informed me that he believes it was about the time of the American Civil War that the Cannon Works of Conisbrough closed and became a sickle works.
THE SUMMER OF '68
I had just left school and was 17 years old, weighed in at 8 1/2 stone and was 5 ft. 7 in. in height. A few years earlier I had helped to school up such horses as Olympic Star, later to be ridden by Harvey Smith in the Olympic Games. The sun was shining and I was riding my young highly strung grey Irish Hunter which was insisting upon trotting crablike with snorting nose tucked into its chest over the cornfields close to the River Dearne. My father had just purchased The Old Farm and was busy making this newly modernised house look similar to the way it had been a few hundred years ago by using beams and artifacts obtained from the numerous old cottages being demolished in the wake of our new relief road.
It was the last decade of innocence when maths teachers always seemed to be male and still wore-chalk covered suits, policemen looked old and had whistle chains protruding from their top pockets and wore highly polished black boots which reflected the light from shop windows as they checked all the premises on their nightly beat, and both police and teachers were figures to be respected. Cars could be left unlocked and you knew that no one would touch it until your return, women stayed at home to look after their families and used twintub washing machine and dreamed of one day owning one of the new Hoover Keymatic automatic washers.
A few weeks ago a copy of the South Yorkshire Times in almost mint condition, dated 29th June 1968, fell into my hands and transported me back to those days not so long ago when everyone seemed to have jobs, a future and above all were happy.
The front page tells of a meeting between the secretary of the Yorkshire and Humberside Sports Council with representatives of both Mexborough and Swinton Councils with a view to the construction of a multi-purpose sports centre (things haven't changed much have they?). Roman Terrace School's new rural block was showing its worth, and the teachers of Highwoods Junior School were to travel to Wakefield to obtain new books for the school. Mexborough Grammar School which had almost five hundred visitors a year to study their sixth form college was entertaining yet two more visitors, one from Japan and another from Australia. The tip of the iceberg was beginning to appear in regard to the decline of the coal industry as Denaby Colliery had finished its working life by the Whitsuntide of 1968 and we find that Hickleton Main Colliery had been given "a two month suspended death sentence" but at this time no one was worried about their jobs. It was also announced that one of the two "humps" in Wath Marshalling Yard was to close with a loss of fifty jobs.
The highlights of page 2 were the 11-plus results for the area which were aptly placed next to the births, deaths and marriages column, which in turn took its place next to advertisements for Wigfall's Furniture Shop where bedroom suites could be purchased for the princely sum of 49 1/2 gns. (£51.97) and dining room suites for 39 1/2 gns. (M2.47).
On page 3 can be found Mexborough Notes where it tells us that a new Compton Organ was installed in the New Oxford Road Wesleyan Reform Church, and their old one, which had been dismantled and put into storage following the demolition of their old church to make way for the new relief road, was transferred to St. Stephen's Methodist Church in Gainsborough. It also tells us that the new Church of England School on Sedgefield Way was to open on Thursday 4th July 1968 and the general public were invited to a coffee morning there for them to have a look around. Mexborough Grammar School
besides preparing for their G.C.E. examinations were to put on a production of "The Gondoliers" by Gilbert and Sullivan, while Mexborough Secondary School were to hold their Summer Fair where a Go-Cart could be hired. There were also to be fair ground stalls, cartoon film shows, a fashion show, an adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby, and in the evening a "Black and White Minstrel Show". Their first Summer Fair was in 1967. Then last but not least comes the chemists' rota which tells us that the duty chemist for the week was Harry Dew's, 8, High Street, Mexborough and advertisements covered such shops as the Service Centre, 80a Bank Street, Mexborough where Hoover Automatic Washers could be purchased for 79 gns. (£82.90).
The next page of interest to the inhabitants of Mexborough is page 6 (page 5 being Denaby and Conisbrough notes) which appears to have been their photos page and besides the usual weddings there can be seen views of Mexborough Outside Market being moved to its new temporary site at the side of the Montagu Arms Hotel. Then hidden in the bottom right hand corner of the page can be found an act of vandalism which resulted in £1,000 worth of damage done to Waddington's Boat Yard in Swinton (nothings new is it?).
Page 7 was the entertainments page and tells us that if we wished we could see Dino De Laurenti's production of The Bible at the Majestic, or The Sound of Music at the Empire Goldthorpe, whereas at the Odeon Rotherham could be seen Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin in the Wild Ones. Alongside these appears a large advert' for Belle Vue Manchester. Ohl do you remember that place? It was like an inland Blackpool where you could go to the zoo, gardens, fun fair, or go dancing, wrestling, ten pin bowling, go stock car racing or visit the model village. I wonder what is there now? Obviously there were not so many cars on the roads as today since next can be seen a huge quarter sheet spread on excursions arranged by the Yorkshire Traction Co. Ltd. through which you could also obtain bookings on the B + I Line Passenger and Car Ferries.
This is then followed by the sports pages with a whole half page taken up by the results of fishing matches and tells of the eighty finalists who took part in the National Federation of Anglers Fishing Match sponsored by the Angler's Mail with a prize of £5,000 to the winner. This is then followed by a write up complete with photos of what must have been one of the last Nipsy Cup Finals ever held, this took place on 20th June 1968 at the Rockingham Colliery Sports ground (this sport entailed hitting a piece of wood so that it sprung into the air and then hitting it as far as you could and the winner was the person who could hit it the farthest. (Please read Can Tha' Remember by J. Raybould for a full explanation).
The paper goes on to tell us of the re-opening of the casualty ward of Mexborough Montagu Hospital, the shortage of teachers in this area, and the power cuts which had caused landlords to serve beer from jugs as in years gone by. But the whole of the rest of the written portion of this newspaper is dominated by the opening of the new Church of England School on Sedgefield Way complete with photos on the back page and to do credit to this I would like to cover it at length in a future newsletter.
The next seven pages of this newspaper cover advertisements and I was very tempted to skip over them until my eyes alighted upon a few of them. The first which caught my eye was the Public Notes Column, not very interesting I hear you say until you read what is covered. It was the 1960s and Mexborough like many other councils of the day was having a purge upon the old Victorian housing as the modernist idea began to take its grip. Most of the old cottages and houses which until this time had graced the Church Street area had just been demolished to make way for the relief road. Now it was the turn of the older houses further afield and the Public Notes Column tells us that Regent Terrace was to be demolished, being two blocks of stone built three storied terrace house which were once to be found on a cart track between Dolcliffe Road and Carlyle Street close to the top of Chapel Walk Steps.
As I stated previously the older type of housing was quickly disappearing and new modern houses taking their place, and a new three bedroomed house on the Clayfield Estate could be purchased for the sum of £3,200, whereas an unmodernised terraced house in a good area could be obtained for
£500. Further adverts tell us that an 'E' Type Jaguar Car would set you back £1,295 or a more modest Ford Cortina £665. The last advertisement is for a guided tour of the newly opened Ferrybridge Power Station.
Although this newspaper will appear to some people to be too modern to be quoted in a local history newsletter, it does contain some very interesting points and covers a time in our history when more change came about in our town than was caused by the introduction of the pits in the middle of the 19th century.
J. R. Ashby
NEW PROGRAMMES ARE NOW AVAILABLE - if you haven't received one, please ask a committee member.
NEXT MONTH'S MEETING is ANOTHER 20TH CENTURY MAGIC LANTERN SHOW by Brenda Mitchell a Ena Walker and should be a very Interesting and highly entertaining evening using audio-visual presentations. So ... put the date in your diary - TUESDAY, 29th OCTOBER, 7.15 pm at the New Masons' Arms, Mexborough.