October 2009 newsletter
by J R Ashby
As I have stressed frequently items of our local history never fail
to surprise me.
Like the part played by South Yorkshire in
the history of aviation.
25th January 2003, 25th March 2003 and again on 26th October 2004 I
wrote newsletters on Mexborough’s promotion of this innovative form
of transport between the wars: how Sir Alan Cobham’s, fantastic,
flying circus would visit; the talk, given in Mexborough, by Amy
Johnson after her solo flight; and the temporary airdrome at
Highwoods, on fields now occupied by the Firestation.
It was at
this time that Mr.Philip L.Scowcroft came to give us a talk on the
subject of the Doncaster Air Shows and its involvement in pioneering
He also left an article, which could be use as a
newsletter, for the benefit of those who were unable to attend that
As it is the centenary this year, of the first flight
across the English Channel by the Frenchman Bleriot, I thought it
would be a fitting time to put it into print.
Apart from various
nineteenth century balloon ascents Doncaster’s, far from
undistinguished, aviation history began in 1909 with an Air Display,
Britain’s first, beating Blackpool for the honour by two days and
scheduled to take place at the racecourse from Friday 15th October
1909 to Saturday 23rd.October 1909.
This was less than six years
after the first heavier – than – air powered flight by the Wright
Bros and only months after Bleriot's pioneering cross – channel
This was a major feat of organisation, run by the two
committees, a local one of councillors and another, including
celebrated contempory names in flying like aircraft designer Louis
Voisin and prolific thriller – writer William Le Queux.
centre of the course was cleared by lopping bushes, filling in
ditches and moving railings.
Local builders H.Arnold & Sons
built four hangers, all be it only small ones, measuring 40ft 3in x
45ft 3in, and also observation stands.
A hundred policemen were
drafted in from the West Riding -2- Constabulary to reinforce the
The major railway companies made excursion
provisions; the Great Northern Railway provided facilities for
foreign visitors at Doncaster Station and donated a trophy.
Extra taxis were brought in and Doncaster’s trams were expecting
rich pickings; indeed the Racecourse Route carried over 50,000
passengers and netted an extra £500 over the week.
engaged were: Samuel Franklin Cody who was an American, but had
signed naturalisation papers during the week and paid an enormous
£2,000 fee; the Frenchmen Roger Sommer, Hubert Le Blon, Leon
Delagrange, Molon, Saunier and Prevot; another American, Captain
Lovelace; and Englishmen, Edward Mines and Captain Windham.
The meeting was bedevilled by high wind, fatal to those fragile
aeroplanes, the best day being Saturday 16th October, when perhaps
100,000 people saw the fun.
Because of the weather, two days
25th & 26th October were added, to the annoyance of the fliers who
were paid no extra.
Only two hundred and twenty-six miles
official flying time was clocked, one hundred and thirty–six by
Sommer, who also registered the longest flight of twenty–nine miles.
Delagrange set a new world speed record of forty–nine point nine
miles per hours.
The French indeed took the honours; Sommer flew
a Farmar Biplane, Delagrange, Molon and Prevot Bleriot monoplanes.
Cody disappointed expectations, by crashing his machine, a specially
built Cody Flyer, on the first Saturday, though he flew a little
The council lost £2,506 18s (£2,506.90) net, inclusive
of £50 for the presentation cup and £94 1s 2d (£94 06) for a Mansion
Not all the cups were awarded because of the restricted flying, at
least one being won in 1934 when Doncaster’s Airport opened.
at least more flying took place at Doncaster than at Blackpool whose
sponsors, the Royal Aero Club, meanly tried to ‘black’ the fliers
who had gone to Doncaster.
A year later another air display,
organised by the private company Aviation Courses Ltd.
place at the racecourse on 19th – 24th September.
It had been
scheduled for June but following the death of King Edward VII it was
Again most of the flyers were French: M.M.Junien,
Manet, Ladougne, Bruneau de Laborie, Paul de Lessops and le Beau (of
the 1909 heroes Delagrage and le Blon had been killed in flying
The aviators included an intrepid Belgian lady,
Helene Dutriev, but her engine failed to arrive.
The flights in
1910 were more ambitious, Ladougne and le Lessops flying over the
town (no one had gone outside the racecourse confines in 1909); de
Lessops reaching a height of 2,400ft against a maximum ceiling of
200ft the year before.
Public response was less, the novelty
having doubtless worn off, but the meeting’s achievement showed the
developments in aviation in just twelve months.
lost £2,145 and went bust, but the corporation, by letting the Race
Course Common to them, recouped £531 of its losses the year before.
These displays were a prelude to the many between the wars at
Doncaster, Armthorpe, Bawtry and Mexborough by Sir Alan Cobham and
others and, more recently Finningly – all helped to make the areas
By Philip L.Scowcroft.
News From the Local History Room
Welcome to our new Venue Early this year your society, like all
others who held evening meetings in the libraries of the Doncaster
area, were informed that they could no longer accommodate evening
A committee meeting was held at which the decision was
made to obtain alternative accommodation, for our society’s monthly
It wasn’t just a case of finding a hall it had to meet
certain criteria and some of these were: it had to be on a bus route
for those using public transport; it’s exterior had to be well lit
and in a busy area so our members felt secure; there needed to be
secure parking for our cars; also, if possible, the hall had to be
on the ground floor, for our members who, for whatever reason,
couldn’t manage stairs.
The first establishment tried by your
society was Mexborough Working Mans Club but this was found, by
some, to be unsatisfactory.
Although it did not meet all the criteria we required it was then
thought best to return to our old base of the New Masons’ Arms and
arrangements were made for us to again hold our monthly meetings
At last we could relax and concentrate on finding
speakers, but as they usually require 6-12mths notice and we had to
be fitted into a specific slot this was difficult.
It was at
last accomplished and everyone gave a big sigh of relief, we were
back in our old home once again and meeting our old friends every
month, or so we thought.
Then when we went for our August
Committee Meeting there, the landlord dropped a bombshell, he was
leaving and if a new landlord could not be found the pub would be
put out to lease or sold.
In a very short time it we saw the New
Masons’ closed a boarded up and your committee had to start all over
again looking for new premises.
There was only a few weeks to go
to the start of the new season and we had no alternative but to
cancel our September meeting as we had nowhere to go and October’s
would have been likewise if certain members of the committee hadn’t
seen an advertisement stating that the Miners Alms had been taken
over by a new landlord.
We at once went to see him and
discovered that it was David, who was a frequent visitor to the
Local History Room and very interested in local history.
explained our plight to him and he was only too happy to help us,
informing everyone that the function room was newly cleaned and
decorated and that we could have it free of charge, likewise the use
of a projector and screen, he could also accommodate us on the dates
At last we had a new home all we had to do now was
to find out if the speakers, we had previously booked, were still
available and luckily some of them were.
We were now up and
running for the start of our new season Let’s hope that we will be
in our new home for as long as we were at the ‘New Masons’ Arms’ and
I can see no reason why we cannot be as happy.
In Honour of William Blount (The Electric Man)
summer Julia was approached, at the Local History Room, by a group
of young people who were studying for a Lifestyle Award.
They wished to know what an old metal box, situated at the junction
of Dolcliffe Road and Bank Street, was originally used for.
was able to tell them that it was the last remaining, intact,
junction box in existence, used to control Steel Lighting.
was installed in the early 1920’s and that one of the men who
installed it was William Blount.
They were interested to know
something about the man and she was able to tell them that he left
school in 1918 and went to work for Yorkshire Electrical Power, who
was then laying cables, for Mex.Urban District Council, to provide
the shops and homes of Mexborough with electricity.
U.D.C.then asked him if he would turn on, and off, the street
Firstly this was done by illuminating every light
individually, but as the amount of street lighting increased they
had to buy him a bicycle. It was following this that junction boxes
Shortly after this he studied to become one of
the first, qualified, electricians in our town.
informed them of some of the other jobs he did, such as: Erecting
Mexborough’s extensive Christmas Lights which extended from the
Royal, Bank Street to Post Office Square, where they culminated in a
chain of lit cartwheels, stars, and a huge Christmas tree The
putting up of Mexborough Illuminations (remember them?) erected at
times of note such as V.
E.and V.J. Days plus a number of
coronations ending in that of our dear Queen.
The lighting of
Mexborough Markets was reliant on him He read the Electric Meters
Repaired household appliances rented out by Mexborough
After finishing paid employment at
9.30p.m.he would then repair the household appliances and wiring of
friends and neighbours.
During the war he became an A.R.P.Warden,
ensuring that the people of Mexborough were safe.
The young people were so surprised by the number of jobs he did, and
the dedication he showed to the people of Mexborough, for over
50yrs, that they decided to honour him.
They: discovered the
present owner of the junction box and arranged for it to be
renovated; researched the original colour which the box had been
painted, which was Brunswick Green, and painted it; obtained a brass
plaque and had it inscribed, which the owners of the box have had
bolted to it; not content with that they took a piece of waste land,
close by, and creased a garden, in memory of William Blount.
Wednesday 28th July 2009 Julia and her Mum attended a presentation
Julia says “we hear such negative reports of
teenagers, in the newspapers and on T.V. it has been refreshing to
work with such polite, hard working, good young people and I believe
that William Blount, my grandfather, would have been proud of them,
as we all are”.
TOP - ’The Doncaster Airshow of 1909 & 1910
ABOVE - The last remaining intact Street Lighting Junction Box, of
its type, in existence. The brass plaque erected by the young people
reads: ‘In honour of William Blount (affectionately known as the
Electric Man) who illuminated the lives of the people of Mexborough
for over 50yrs.'
(Copyright: this newsletter may not be reproduced, in part or in its
entirety without the permission of Mexborough & District Heritage