The Lectures of Dr. Sykes
Part 1 of this series of newsletters, informed you of the earlier lectures given by Dr. Sykes. The first of his lectures began with the fierce
Brigantes who occupied this area of the country until 71 B.0 and included such events as the Battle of Maisbelli, otherwise known as the Battle of Mexborough and Conisbrough, which took place in A.D. 487 and his lecture culminated with the death of King Harold, Lord of Conisbrough, at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
This newsletter will commence following the Norman Conquest, when the statuesque figures of William, Earl of Warrenne, and his wife Lady Gundreda, step-daughter of William the Conqueror, resided in the Old Saxon Hall within Conisbrough Castle. They seem to have been very happy there and during their lifetime made little or no alterations to the existing Saxon buildings within the castle.
1073 saw the Earl become joint Grand Justiciary of England and in 1088, he became Earl of Surrey. In 1078 he founded a priory on his lands at Lewes in Sussex, where he stayed on his travels between his estates in Normandy and Conisbrough and it was here that he was buried in 1088.
In 1087 William the Conqueror died and was succeeded by his second son William Rufus. During his reign the Warrenne's remained loyal to the throne but following the death of the king in 1100 William the Conqueror's youngest son Henry seized the throne excluding Robert the elder brother. Many, including the Warrenne family, believed this to be wrong and sided with Robert when he landed an army at Portsmouth in 1101.
Discussions were held between Henry and Robert whereby the later, exchanged his right to the English Throne for the Duchy of Normandy. Robert then returned to Normandy leaving Warrenne to the mercies of King Henry I. Henry immediately confiscated Warrenne's English Estates, including those at Conisbrough, and banished him from the country, but following the intervention of Robert, Duke of Normandy, Warrenne was pardoned, and most of his money and lands restored, and in 1106 Warrenne commanded the third army division, for the king, at the Battle of Tinchebrai.
The Second Earl of Warrenne and Surrey held Conisbrough for fifty years and following his death in 1133 was succeeded by his eldest son, yet another William. It was he who began alterations to the fortifications of the castle by the construction of a stone outer wall.
In the new earl's lifetime it appears that the estates of Conisbrough consisted of twenty eight towns and villages and it was he that bestowed the tithes and churches of some of these upon the Priory of Lewes, these were as follows: Conisbrough, Braithwell, Dinnington, Harthill, Fishlake, Hatfield, Thorne, the two Sandles, Wakefield, Halifax, Dewsbury, and other smaller parishes.
In 1135 civil war broke out between Stephen and his sister Matilda. It appears that the third earl seems to have spent most of this time in France where we find him in 1144 defending Rones, in Normandy, for the king. Then in 1147 he set out on the Crusades where it is believed he died.
His estates and lands were then inherited by his daughter Isabel, who was 'married off' by King Stephen to his illegitimate son William of Bois, Earl of Boulogne and Mortaigne, and the new Earl Warrenne and Surrey. By 1159 the new earl was dead and having no children poor Isabel was once again placed at the mercy of the new king, Henry II, he too 'married her off', this time to Hamline Plantaginet, his half brother, and it is from him that the second line of Warrennes descend who went on to hold Conisbrough for two hundred years and it is certain that he was the builder of the castle we see there today.
In the meantime at Mexborough, Roger-de-Busi, who had been granted Mexborough by William the Conqueror, granted Mexborough to a Saxon by the name of Ailric who gave half of Mexborough Church to Nostel Priory, while his granddaughter's husband, Adam-de-Montbegon, gave the other half to Bolton plus his lands in Mexborough, which remained so until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536.
An old document, within our archives, informs us that in the 41st- year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, that for the sum of £540 10s (£540.50p) Boltonon-Dearne and Mexborough were sold to Anne Blount and Frances Trappes Byrnard. I quote: "Do give and grant to the aforementioned Anne Blount, Widow, and Frances Tappes Byrnard, Esquire, all those Manors of Bolton Super Dearne (Bolton-on-Dearne) and Mekysburgh (Mexborough) formerly belonging and appertaining to the late monastery of Monnckbretton in our said County of York. Also all that Rectory and Church of Boulton Super Dearne in our said County of York". The document then goes on to list the items purchased and the responsibilities of Ann Blount and Frances Trappes Byrnard, following their purchase of Bolton-on-Dearne and Mexborough, these include such things as: "the free disposal and right of patronage of the vicarage of the Church; messusages, houses, buildings, structures, barns, stables, dove cotes, yards, orchards, gardeus land tenancies, meadows, feedings pastures, commons, heaths, moors, marshes, ways, woods, water fisheries, fishing leets, free warrens, knights fees; wardship marriages; court leets, bondsmen and women, mines, quarries, tolls of fairs and markets, and service rent charges". The document is eleven pages in length and therefore lack of space prevents me from going further.
During the peaceful rule of the monks Mexborough was protected from the distress which fell on the rest of the country, particularly during the civil war between Stephen and Matilda, and it was during this time that a poem
began to appear:
The happiest people under the sun
Dwell betwixt the Dearne and the Don
The Earl Hamline kept a large extensive household at Conisbrough, and the steward there was Otho-deTilli who had a monument erected at the top of Hall Cross Hill, Doncaster, this was damaged in the C17, but was still in existence at the time of Dr. Sykes' lectures in 1885.
Another cross erected by Otho was the cross at Braithwell which implored the passer to pray for the brother of the king.
Most of us know that Mexborough also had a cross; this being situated on the banks of the River Don close to the ferry, but Dr. Sykes informs us of another. This Wayside or Prayer Cross was situated on Castle Hills; and was possibly of Norman origin, but unfortunately he could not inform us of the donor or the year that it was placed there. This cross, in 1885, hadrecently been moved to the home of Joel Kirby, Vine Villa, Church Street, and on the demolition of the property on 26th August 1950 was removed to the home of the Building Contactor, Charles W. Swingler.
To be Continued: