The Lectures of Dr. Sykes
We have, in Mexborough, been particularly fortunate as to the amount of local historians to have been born in our town. Many of us will know of our President, Norman Watson and his uncle Levi Harrop. But not many of us know of the exploits of one of their predecessors, Dr. Sykes, who undertook a series of lectures on this topic which appeared in the Mexborough and Swinton Times in 1885.
The good doctor began his
lectures by informing his audience that over a thousand years ago this area was part of the great Brigantian Forest where wolves, deer and boar roamed, this vast forest only being broken in part by plains and glades. One of these was Mexborough Ings, known as the ancient field of Maisbell. From the Humber to the Tyne it was the home of the Brigantes, the most powerful, boldest and warlike tribe in Britain.
The lands ruled by them were extensive, taking in counties we now know as Yorkshire, Lancashire, Durham, Westmoreland, and Cumberland.
This continued until the year 71, when Petilius Cerealis, a Roman General, and governor of Britain, invaded their country, and at Mexborough the sight of Roman Soldiers crossing the ford and ferry over the River Don must have been a
common one as they marching to and fro from their stations at Templeborough and Danum.
The Romans dominated this country for 320 years and following their departure, the country, now having no one to defiant it, suffered raid after raid from the fierce Picts and Scots. The Kentish King Vortiern then invited two Saxon Chiefs by the names of Hengist and Horsa to undertake the defence of his realm. They quickly repelled the marauding invaders, and established settlements in Northumberland and Kent and then turned their warlike attentions on Kent which they conquered in roughly thirty years. But the people of this area were made of sterner stuff and were determined to fight him to the death. To do this they obtained the services of one of the last remaining Roman Military Personnel still in Britain, Aurelius Ambrosius. The Brigantines erected a powerful fortification, now known as Mexborough Castle, Castle Hills, and in 489 Mexborough Ings was chosen as the gathering point for the whole English Army. A traitor betrayed their movements to Hengist and he matched his hordes to Conisbrough and seized the fortification there. From there he advanced to Strafford Sands, which was the nearest ford. But Ambrosius had been informed of his approach, and had obtained the help of Eldol the Prince of Gloucester, Eldad, the Bishop of Gloucester, and numerous men from the west of the country.
Ambrosius now had all the men at his disposal lined up, waiting to do battle with Hengist. The Britons were drawn up in three distinct bodies, cavalry, archers and pikes or lances and adhered to the strict principals of Roman tactics. Whereas the Saxons attacked with their short swords, in one body, charging in one dense column. The Saxons were defeated, some unable to cross the River Don were chased along the northern bank to Sprotbrough whereas others were driven back to Conisbrough.
Where Hengist was captured and beheaded.
Dr. Sykes' next lecture began with the second Danish Invasion in 1013. On this date King Ethelred was dethroned by King Sweyn of Denmark and from this point Dr. Sykes follows the succession of the monarchy until 1042 when Edward the Confessor was crowned. On his succession to the throne Edward, made a powerful Saxon Barron by the name Goodwin, Earl of Wessex and Lord of Conisbrough, he also gave him certain attachments in Barnburgh, Hatfield, and Ravensfield. This remained so until his death in 1053 when they passed to his son Harold until 1066.
Dr. Sykes states that their accommodation in Conisbrough was a fortification, but nothing like the stone castle we see there today. It was a hall or long house situated on a mound on the site of the present day castle. It was defended on its inner edge by a dry ditch which was surrounded by wooden palisades made of woven willow or wattle, supported by strong wooden stakes, with an entrance at the west end.
At the time that Conisbrough was in the possession of Goodwin and his son Harold, Barnburgh was owned by Osul, whereas Mexborough, Denaby and Adwick-on-Dearne were in the possession of three lords by the name of Ulchel, Ulchil and Ulfac. The latter, we discover from Hunter, was the lord of Adwick-on-Dearne therefore the others must have been lords of Mexborough and Denaby.
Edward the Confessor died in 1066, leaving no direct heir, and so the Witangemot, or Saxon Parliament, sat, eventually choosing Harold, Lord of Conisbrough, Earl of Wessex as their new king. But his reign was to be a short, turbulent one as it wasn't long before his brother Tostig, supported by the Norwegian King Hardraade, contested his right to the throne.
Following his brother's invasion, on Monday 30th September 1066 Harold met his brother in battle at Stanford Brid9e, near York, and defeated him. It was following this, while resting, that he received news of the invasion of England by the Duke of Normandy, who had already landed a formidable army at Pevensay, in Sussex. He at once began a forced march southward, passing within eyeshot of his home in Conisbrough, where a number of his fighting force had been recruited to follow their lord into battle.
On 14th October 1066 the exhausted English Army, which had been force marched to Stanford Bridge to do battle with the invading Norwegian Army, and had then, before recouping from that ordeal, had been force marched to do battle with an invading Norman Army, met this army at Senlac Hill, Hastings. Here Harold died from an arrow through his brain and the dragon banner of England was captured.
The country was to change for ever. Harold, Lord of Conisbrough, was dead and all the lands owned by him fell into the hands of William the Conqueror, who gave Conisbrough to William, Earl of Warenne, a maternal relative of his who was betrothed to his step-daughter Guandreda.
What happened to the Saxon Lords of this area? Ulchil, one of the Lords of Mexborough became a sub-tenant of Earl de Laci of Pontefract, as did Osul of Barnburgh. But the fate of the other two, who fought by the side of their king at Stanford Bridge and Hastings, is not known. Maybe they ended their days, as many of the noble lords of England did that day, fighting to the death, by the side of their king at Hastings.
Bibliography: A series of articles found within The Mexborough and Swinton Times throughout the year 1885.
What Did You Do in the War?
Next year will be an event filled one as we commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the end of the 2nd World War. For this, in conjunction with Mexborough Library, Mexborough and District Heritage Society will be arranging exhibitions, displays, and Reminiscence Coffee Mornings.
To ensure the success of these events we will need you help. Have you any photographs taken during the war, which you would allow us to copy and display. Photographs taken of yourself or relatives: in uniform serving your country; as a child; on a day out; at a dance; V.E., V.J., or V. Day Celebrations. Or indeed any photographs connected with the 2nd World War.
If you have no photographs available have you any documentation, or artifacts, such as Gas Masks, or Ration Books which you could loan or donate? Also what was life like for you during the 2nd World War? Come and tell us at one of our future Reminiscence Coffee Mornings.
For more details contact, J.R. Ashby on 01709 590352. Or pop in and see me in The Local History Room, Mexborough Library.
Alternatively contact Lynn Taylor at
Mexborough Library on 01709 582037.
The Bottom End Group
On Saturday 13th November 2004 the group held their first Open Day/Coffee Morning, which was held in the Meeting Room of Mexborough Library.
The morning proved to be a great success and was attended by a number of very enthusiastic people. One lady bringing twenty three photographs of the area, which were eagerly copied and placed in the ever growing file on this area of Mexborough.
The participants were so keen that another meeting by members was arranged. This to enable them to photograph the north side of Wath Road, from the Plant Hotel to the Roman Public House.
Don't forget if you have any photographs or information on the Main Street or Wath Road areas of Mexborough the group would be all too pleased to hear from you.