REMEMBER MONTAGUE BURTON?
We all must have our own personal memories of Montague Burton. Whether it be Christmas celebrations dancing to the Frank Loveland Band at the Ritz Ballroom, on the upper floor, or shopping to buy that extra special garment. For me it will always be dark wood shelves carrying suit lengths of cloth and wide topped cupboards, long coats hanging to my right, and the smell of wool. This year, the prominent Art Deco facade of Montague Burton has dominated the High Street of Mexborough for sixty-six years. Standing as it does, like a landmark of pre-war splendour, amid the cluster of smaller premises, many have asked why such a beautiful building should have been constructed in such a position.
It appears that by the 1930's, the old Mexborough High Street had become both a traffic and pedestrian hazard, and to alleviate this Mexborough Urban District Council had made plans to re-model the High Street by both widening it and creating a shopping centre which was to be the finest in South Yorkshire. To accomplish this the south side of High Street was to be demolished, commencing with the Hippodrome, and the old shops gradually replaced by new. Many prestigious firms showed great interest, but the first of these to open new premises here was Montague Burton.
Retail sales outlets had stood on the site of Montague Burton at 60-64 High Street, Mexborough since 1878 and had been known as Victoria Buildings. Prior to the construction of the new premises two retail sales outlets, Clayton's Grocery Shop and Tylers Boot and Shoe Retailers had stood there. Their demolition commenced on February 1937 and construction of the new premises, by Messrs W&A Forsdike Ltd, Sheffield began soon after, with the laying of the foundation stone by Raymond Montague Burton.
After completion, it was described as being a 'Cathedral of Commerce'. The building was constructed of fire-resistant materials, the floors from basement to roof being of reinforced concrete, supported by steel girders. All internal fixtures and fittings were of 'Fumed Oak' with all floors covered in herringbone patterned oak wood blocks. To the fore of the building was an uninterrupted expanse of glass, for display use, over which ran the chain of merit, the links of which carried the names of towns in which could be found other branches. The whole window was to be illuminated at night. The windows were framed by black polished granite with a facia, on which the name of the firm appeared, being of emerald pearl finished Italian Granite. A pediment, again covered in granite, carrying the name of the firm in Neon Sign Lettering, which again was to be illuminated at night, crowned the whole building.
Mr Arnold Shaw, J.P. Chairman of Mexborough Urban District Council, in the presence of members from both Mexborough and Swinton Urban District Councils and over forty other local dignitaries from civic, industry and professional life, opened it at a few minutes after noon on Friday 9th July 1937. Following the opening they were entertained to a celebratory luncheon at the 'new' Empress Ballrooms. Here Mr B. Blaskey read out a telegram from Sir Montague Burton, who due to ill health was unable to attend, his place being filled by his eldest son Mr Stanley Burton. B.A. , the telegram stated how sorry Montague Burton was that he was unable to attend the opening and how important he felt the new building was to the shopping facilities and dignity of the town. Mr Stanley Burton. B.A. then responded with a toast "The success of the new branch". Further toasts and numerous speeches told how much commerce and industry had improved the prosperity of Mexborough over the years.
One of the first apprentices to be employed at the new branch following its opening was Mr David Scholey who started in 1938 under the managership of Mr Chambers. He well remembers it to this day and in particular the opening hours that were 9am-7pm with the exception of Thursday, which was half-day closing, and Friday and Saturday, which were late night closing. On the latter two evenings the store was to close at 8pm and 9pm respectively but if a customer arrived at one minute to closing time then you had to stay until that customer was served and then remain until the tills had been cashed up and balanced, and the shop was clean and ready for opening the following day. this could be as late as 11:30pm.
Mr Scholey remembers that during those early years the first floor remained empty and was only occasionally let for functions. This remained so until the Second World War when he remembers c.1940-1942, allied troops, used it as a billet. It is believed that the Air Cadets followed these. The Drill Hall, Highwoods, Mexborough was opened in 1938 and the troops, which were stationed there during the war, must have made a grand spectacle marching along the High Street to their billet at Montague Burton.
The Second World War changed everything; increasing numbers left the retail trade to join up and Montague Burtons Mexborough Branch was no exception. Firstly Mr Chambers, the manager, left to fill a post at another branch, his position being filled by Mr Spense, who unfortunately died of cancer a few years later. Then his young assistant Mr David Scholey left to join the armed forces with the youthful Mr Deakin taking his place.
Burton's Dance Hall.
The first floor of Montague Burtons could be accessed via an external door which opened onto the High Street and in March 1945 Mr & Mrs David Squires leased the first floor and after some alterations the Ritz Ballrooms was born.
But in c1950 Montague Burton, requiring additional factory space, requistioned it, turning it into a 'Burling and Mending Centre'. This was an extremely skilled craft where a steady hand and good eyesight were essential. Lengths of suiting material were pinned to a frame and, under a strong light, examined for faults. If a fault was discovered, then the skilled hands and eyes of the mender came into play and with the use of special needles, knots and stitches it was repaired. All managed by the tiny, bustling body of Miss Cromack from Sprotbrough.
This process of Burling and Mending proved to be too costly an enterprise and therefore the factory was closed. In c1954 the first floor was again taken by Mr & Mrs D. Squires, but alterations again were needed. The first thing being that during their absence the large room next to the ballroom had been used by the Imperial club as a centre and it was agreed with Montague Burton to knock the wall through converting this particular area into a Tea Bar. A license was applied for to Doncaster Court to enable Mr & Mrs Squires to hold a Sunday Dance Club which involved everyone, who attended, being made members and issued with their own membership card. The police were in favour of the license being given as it kept the youths off the streets, and so the license was granted. The whole ballroom was then refurbished and the Ritz was ready for business again.
The ballroom was to be opened on six nights a week: Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday were to be for Modern Ballroom Dancing; with Tuesday and Thursday kept for Old Time. Two bands played Old Time dance music there, one was led by George Bulyvant with Mr & Mrs Ernest Osbourne as M.C. the other was lead by Frank Loveland(Sen) with Mr & Mrs Purseglove as M.C.
I have been informed that the most popular type of dance at this time was Modern Ballroom Dancing and many bands came to the Ritz to play there, but the most popular was The Frank Loveland Band. He was the son of the Old Time Dancing bandleader and his band consisted of from five to six members including the M.C. Wilf Rickets. Other bands included John Froggat, Jack Sheldon, Gladys Talbot and the Modenaires.
Mrs Squires informs me that many people came from miles around to dance "Up Burtons", as it became known. There was always a happy atmosphere and many romances began there. One couple that met .there on VJ night in 1945 are still together and celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary in July 2002.
One of the stories I have been told is how some of the Doncaster Rovers Football Team, including Charlie Williams, came to the Sunday Dance Club, but had to be turned away because they did not have membership cards.
The Ritz Ballroom was very popular with the young people of this area, and it could have been this which brought about its downfall. In c1956 Montague Burton applied to increase the rent of the ballroom by a large amount, this proved to be too much for Mr & Mrs Squires and the ballroom had to close. A sad end to a once popular venue.
Anyone wishing to read more on the topic of Montague Burton can view a file which has been set up on Saturdays at our Local History Room at the Mexborough Branch Library.
Written By Julia Ashby, with thanks to Mr & Mrs D. Squires, Mr D. Scholey, Mr Deakin, Mr R. James and The South Yorkshire Times.
This month we continue with the list which was taken from a Trade Directory by our late President Mr Norman Watson. Is your ancestor mentioned here? Can you remember some of the names? Although Mr Watson wrote no date on his copy we believe it to be from around the beginning of the last century, possibly 1902.
Police Sergeant. 48 Hallgate.
Fishmonger. 33 High Street.
Coal Merchant. Dolcliffe Road.
Beerhouse. 69 Market Street.
Melton View, Pinfold Lane.
Grocer. Bank Street.
Granger Mrs Sarah.
Furniture Dir. 16 Market Street.
Coal Agent. 39 Hirstgate.
Colliery Agent. 118 Doncaster Rd
Pork Butcher. Main Street.
Groves Mrs Kate.
Shopkeeper. 40 Swinton Road.
Boat builder. 105 Main Street.
Grocer. 14 Swinton Road.
Shopkeeper. 8 Dodsworth Street.
Victualler, Red Lion. 41 Bank St.
Paperhanger. 47 High Street.
Painter & Paperhanger. 143 Market Street.
Solicitor & Clerk to the School Board. Main Street.
Stationer & Smallware Dealer. 17 High Street. h. Adwick Road.
Clerk. Dolcliffe Road.
Hancock Mrs Mary. J.
Dressmaker. 31 Hartley Street.
Bootmaker. Main Street.
Refreshment Rooms. 59 High St.
31 Albert Place.
Tobacconist. Main Street.
Shopkeeper. 26 Swinton Road.
Basket Dealer. 31 Bank Street.
Clerk. 32 Adwick Road.
Harrop Levi Napolean.
Engraver, House Agent & Valuer. 1 & 2 Cross Church Street.
Shopkeeper. 44 Pitt Street.
Hastings James & Wm.
Furniture Dirs. 49 & 51 High St.
Hatherley Sidney 0., M.R.C.S. Surgeon. Sharrow Lea, Main St.
Hattersley Albert Edward. (J.W.& A.E.). h. Wath Road.
Hattersley J.W. & A.E. Solicitors. Hope Street.
Hattersley John Wm. (J.W.& A.E.). h. Swinton.
Heald John F.
Manager. 14 High Street.
Beer Retailer. 7 Adwick. Road.
Hosiery Knitter. 48 Bank Street.
North View, Dolcliffe Road.
Hewer Harold M., M.R., C.M. Surgeon. Cumberland House,
Grocer. Main Street.
Book Keeper. 36 Hallgate
Tobacconist & Yeast Dealer. 12 High Street.
Hobson Miss Elizabeth.
Dressmaker. 31 Belmont Street.
Hodgson Rev. Joel. (Primitive Methodist).
Traveller. 37 Station Road.
Butcher. 6 High Street.
Shopkeeper. 2 Wilson Street.
Tailor. 53 High Street.
Hudson William R.
Board Schoolmaster. Park Villa, Dolcliffe Road.
Huey John James. L.S.A.
Surgeon, Medical Officer of Health to the Urban District Council, Surgeon to Montagu Hospital & to the employees of the Denaby & Cadeby Main Collieries Limited, Bank Street.