by J R Ashby
Our gentleman, who came to Mexborough on his first visit, during the
early years of the young Queen Victoria’s reign, came with his
guardian on a holiday to fish for salmon.
He stated that at that
time Mexborough resembled the valley close to Ramsey on the Isle of
Visits to Victorian Mexborough The first time our Victorian
visitor came to Mexborough was in the early years of the young Queen
The gentleman, for that is what he was, came
with his guardian on a holiday to fish for salmon, of which there
was an abundance.
The country was still reeling from the effects
of the Corn Laws, past by parliament to prevent the import of corn
and therefore protect the livelihoods of the British Farmer.
in effect it increased the price of stable foods, such as bread, to
the point where only the rich could afford it and the poor starved.
Our gentleman, and his guardian, stayed at a hotel named the Masons’
Arms, the landlord of which was Mr. John Parkin, and despite the
hardships, brought about by the Corn Laws, their host made sure they
wanted for nothing and only charged them three shillings (15p) per
day for their room and board.
In those far away days it was only
a small village, consisting of a population of approx 1,100 people
living in three hundred stone built houses, under the care of the
Lord of the Manor, Captain Edward Cater.
The River Don was
extremely clean, fast flowing and many Ply-Boats and other water
vessels, from Sheffield, still used it to convey goods.
of the river between Mexborough and Conisbrough was thought of as an
exceptional spot where to indulge in the gentleman’s favourite sport
Mexborough was then known for the production of earthenware and there
was two main manufactures of this type of pottery. These being
Mr.Samuel Barker, of the Old Mexborough Pottery, and Taylor, Reed
and Co., of the Rock Pottery, Bank Street. There were also many
small quarries producing local sandstone with two, because of their
sheer size stood out from the rest, these were owned by Mr. Samuel
Bennett and Joseph Palfeyman.
But the main trades, by far, and in which the majority of men were
employed was that of agriculture and the waterways, and it was as
common to see men walking the town with weather-beaten faces,
battered hats and sailor’s clothing as it was to see the farmer’s
smock. The tiny parish church, which only consisted of an alter and
an aisle, was under the care of the Rev. Leonard Jasper Hobson.
There was also three Methodist Chapels, one belonging to the Wesleyan’s,
another the Primitive Methodists and lastly a little known, and now
obsolete, religious body named the Methodist New Connexionists, or
Kilhamites as were then known.
Our gentleman’s second visit was made when the railway line between
Sheffield and Doncaster had recently been constructed, by the
Midland Com. in 1849, and he tells us that his journey by ‘Iron
Horse’ was dirty, cold and cramped as he made his way along the Don
Valley in an open carriage.
But despite this he goes on to tell us that the scenery made it all
worthwhile as at that time the journey down the Don Valley, at
Mexborough, was one of the prettiest and most pleasurable that could
be taken, with the river meandering through grassy hills and
‘romantic high rocky outcrops’ and enliken’s it to Ramsey and Glen
Helen on the Isle of Man.
Indeed our visitor was so cold and cramped, by his open air journey,
that when he came to alight at Mexborough, at the bottom of Ferry
Boat Lane at the wooden construction which was used as both a
station and platform, he could not manage all the treacherous steps
down from the railway carriage and fell some distance before being
rescued by Jonathan Carnelley, one of the constable of Mexborough.
He first met Carnelley on the first fishing holiday he had made with
his guardian some years previously, when Jonathan was the only
constable and looked after not just Mexborough but all the villages
in the area.
Now in the middle of Queen Victoria’s reign he discovered that there was
a District Inspector and four constables serving Mexborough alone.
He also stated that Mexborough had increased in size with new
houses, streets, works and industries. There was much demand for
Mexborough Sandstone and many new quarries could be seen as well as
many men found to be employed in its quarrying, carving and shaping.
here was also an iron works, known as the Don Iron Works where a pottery
had once stood. Another industry beginning to emerge was the
manufacture of glass and he states that he had seen four sites where
it was produced and glimpsed men working in the glow of large
conical shaped buildings, as well as barges at wharfs unloading
coal, sand, and limestone, and lines of wicker crates, standing
packed and ready to be place on board.
He also stated that he was pleased to report that three potteries were
still manufacturing their wares. On his last visit to Mexborough, in
1891, he found that Mexborough had changed out of all recognition.
He again travelled by train, but this time in a comfortable, warm,
covered carriage, and alighted on the platform of a purpose built
station. Mexborough had grown tremendously since his last visit,
with streets of new houses and rows of recently built well-stocked
An imposing new bank had been constructed close to the new market place
and hall, the latter of which was where the Local Board now met in
The chapels, which had been there on his last visit, had either been
extended or new ones constructed and the Local Board had built, for
the children of its populace, large new Board Schools. In the forty
years since his last visit one of the industries, which had been so
prevalent then, had all but disappeared, this being that of the
potteries and another was diminishing, this was the waterways, which
was being replaced by the railways.
Many new works had sprung up, and ones which were in their infancy on
his last visit were now international names. One of these was the
Phoenix Glassworks, or Barron’s Glassworks as it is known locally.
Forty years previously it had employed 38 men and 39 boys, but now in
1891, 362 men worked at the glassworks and many more in their
numerous warehouses at different ports around the U.K. But the main
industry, by far, and the employer of a workforce which numbered in
its hundreds, was the pits, with the vast complexes of Denaby and
Manvers Main on Mexborough’s doorstep and dozens of others in close
He then goes on to tell us that although most people looked on the
incoming of manufacture and industry with optimism, saying that it
brought employment, prosperity, and a better lifestyle, other could
only see the drawbacks. They stated that the River Don was now only
a slow moving, sunken, open sewer, where no fish could possibly
live, its water made foul by the sewage and foundry waste from
Sheffield, Rotherham and every other town and village which occupied
Areas of Mexborough, instead of the picturesque views of yesteryear,
were now like images from hell, with tall chimneys belching out the
blackest of smoke and red glowing furnaces surrounded by men who
scuttled around it to feed its insatiable appetite.
Also men could be seen walking the streets, black from working like a
mole in the bowels of the earth Despite this our visitor states that
all these things indicated progress. He goes on to say that he did
not see the starvation and poverty he once did when Mexborough could
only employ a few agricultural labourers and watermen.
The citizens, now that employment was guaranteed all the year round,
were: better fed; better housed; and their educational and spiritual
needs were catered for to a high degree, which he states can only be
a good thing. In short Mexborough had had to make large sacrifices
but on the whole the population were far better off in 1891 than
they had been at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign when
Mexborough had been a beautiful and picturesque place, known
nationwide as an excellent spot for Salmon Fishing.
Information obtained from: Mexborough & Swinton Times March 1891.
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