Country Seats and Mining Communities

The area west of Doncaster developed a range of colliery settlements from 1850 onwards, linked to the exploitation of Barnsley coal in the exposed and concealed coalfield. They included single terraced rows at the pit gates like Long Row at Carlton near Barnsley; new but largely unplanned small colliery villages; expanded old villages to create colliery towns like Mexborough, Wath, and Wombwell; large new colliery villages away from the pre-existing ones such as Parkgate, near Rotherham; and largely planned colliery villages engulfing existing settlements like Maltby and Denaby, together with those villages that grew up along side existing ones such as the villages of New Edlington, New Rossington, Bentley New Village, and Woodlands.

Denaby main is a typical colliery settlement built on low-lying Don floodplain after 1864 – the nearest earlier villages of Mexborough, Old Denaby, and Conisbrough were all a mile or more away. The colliery was to be the deepest and most easterly mine in the South Yorkshire coalfield for 30 years. It reached the Barnsley 9′ 8″ seam at a depth of 448 yards in 1867.

Within 15 years, the Denaby and Dearne valley landscape had radically changed with pit-head gear, steam chimneys, pit works and offices, spoil heaps, tramways, rail sidings, colliery cottage terraces, chapels, a Victorian gothic church, and a school house. A 2nd phase of residential building came in the 1880′s as a more planned ‘pit village’ with a second school, a Co-operative store, and allotment gardens.

In 1889 the Denaby Main Colliery Company came to an agreement to mine at Cadeby under the magnesium limestone outcrop east of Denaby on the Copley estates at Sprotbrough, Cadeby, Scawsby, and Marr Grange. Cadeby colliery opened in 1893 and Denaby township expanded further into Conisbrough parish with 700 houses, three shops, ‘management’ villas, a Roman Catholic church, another Anglican church, a Wesleyan chapel, and the Denaby Main Hotel, or ‘The Drum’ as it was known locally, in a 2 phase development next to the South Yorkshire Railway from 1889-93. Around a further 1900 houses were added to Denaby by both the coal company and Kilner glassworks bringing the total population to approximately 2500 persons living in 1500 properties. The houses were all built in 2 blocks, one half in the parish of Denaby and the other in that of Conisbrough. They were separated by a ‘service’ area containing churches, chapels, schools, the Miners Welfare Institute, and eventually, by 1930, a cinema, market place, park, cemetery, and the Fullerton Hospital. Much of the terrace row layout and design was uniform in red brick.

The town was a ‘company town’ and most of the early miners were not locals. They had no local allegiance to the pre-existing agricultural community. Lose your job, lose your pit house! Hence a tendency for a social split within the workforce between loyal ‘company’ men and ‘union’ men.

In the 1960′s much of the 100 year old property was rendered obsolete and was redeveloped. Denaby Main Colliery closed in 1968 and and Cadeby followed in 1986. The latter site had a brief reprise as the ‘Earth Centre’. The Denaby colliery winding wheel still survives as do others at Edlington (Yorkshire Main) and Bentley.

Speaking as part of the generation that just missed the industry (leaving school in 1992), I am under no illusions that it was easy work. My friend John from Thurnscoe describes the job this way:

Nivver Agen. 1972.

If thaz fed up wit miners annorl wot the dooin,
An thinks the’ll bring t’country darn inter ruin,
If tha thinks tharrit’s easy ‘n’ really nowt innit,
Why dunt tha guh an pay ‘em er visit !
Thall av t goo early t gerront reight path,
An ang up thi cloze weer later thall bath,
The’ll get thi er leet from t’safety lamp room,
Then tek thi tert shaft, darn weer thall zoom.
Thall see t’windin rope on wot thall will ride,
“A do ope it’s strong,” thall seh t thi guide;
Wen steppin ont chair thall grab t’safety rail,
An wi thi ‘eart i thi mouth darn t’ole thall sail.
Wen ridin darn t’shaft thall think, intit dark ?
“Ow far is t’bottom?” A think thall remark,
 Wen ontert sump boords tha lands weer thump,
It’s then az the tell thi thaz er long way to ump !
T’flooer is uneven an tha guz weer stoop,
Bi careful ert rope, it might throw er loop,
An wen ontert paddy thaz elped weer push,
Dunt miss thi futtin o thaz trampl’d int rush !
So nar thaz inbye an that’s the coal face,
Duz tha still think it’s er nice cushy place ?
It’s not wot tha thowt, a think thall agree,
Az thar bumps thi ed ‘n’ drops t one knee !
T’coal cutter’s growlin an kickin up t’dust,
Thar thinks thall dee, choke thi it must !
An just wen tha seems t get used to it orl,
Sumbody sharts, “the’s been er roof fall!”
“Wot’s orl the fuss ?” a can just ear thi say,
It means tha guz art er much longer way!
Az tha crawls art on thi ands ‘n’ sooer knees,
A miner’s life’s ‘easy’ just az tha seez.
Then, at long last, thaz back int pit bottom,
Tha checks orl thi limbs t seef thaz still gottem,
An wen thaz met wit onsetter’s stare,
Thaz ivver s pleased t gerron that chair !
Burritint finish’d yit, tha must tekker shower,
T rid thi ert grime an smell like er flower,
But thaz got t gerrin among olrt mad crush,
Weeritint private an weer tha musnt blush.
So wot’s tha think nar, sat safe at ooam,
Ov orl the miners, wot’s tha think tooam ?
Anno wot thall seh wen tha talks t thissen,
“Al nivver guh darn er coal mine agen!”
John Davison.

Prior to the age of coal and railways, the Don ‘barge’ navigation to the west of Doncaster was a landscape of feudal estates and ultimately the landed houses and parks of Tudor and post Tudor country gentry. Tickhill preserves a gentile, country market town atmosphere, with its castle, mill pond, and buttercross, as do parts of old Conisbrough, on the hill with its fine mediaeval castle. To the south west, the tranquiltiy of the Roche Abbey monastic site as part of the parkland belonging to the Sandbeck estate, contrasts with Maltby’s mining township. The Copley estates in and around Sprotbrough, High Melton, and Marr, the Brodsworth House and estate, and Cusworth Hall, recall the properties of local landowners fortunate enough to have mineral rights to exploit.

Bawtry grew as a ‘new’ market town and river Idle port in the late Middle Ages with a long wide market street on one of the braided stretches of the Great North Road, another of which reached Doncaster via Blyth. The town’s plan involved Church street and Wharfe street reaching Idle wharfage from the wide Market street. By the late 18th century coaching inns had developed in the form of The Crown in 1780, and The Angel, along with other large Georgian houses. As the head of navigation on the river Idle, Daniel Defoe, visiting on one of his rural rides during the early 18th century, described Bawtry as “the chief center of exportation in this part of the country, especially for heavy goods, which they bring down hither from the adjacent counties such as lead from the smelting houses of Derbyshire, wrought iron and edge tools of all sorts from the forges of Sheffield, and from the country call’d Hallamshire”.

A busy wharfage also exported Derbyshire millstones to Holland, Sherwood Oaks to Medway naval dock-yards, and imported London merchant produce and Baltic softwood timber. All this was lost with Vermuyden’s drainage changes, the completion of the Chesterfield canal in the 1770′s,  and improvements in the Don navigation, cutting out the need for overland carrier wagons and pack horses to Bawtry’s wharfe.

The Dutch house with its gables (c. 1690) on Church street recalls Bawtry’s period as a river and merchant’s centre port as does the new west tower of Bawtry church built in 1712 to replace a collapsed tower in 1670 at the beneficence of Samuel Dawson part of an influential local merchant trading family. He resided in the opulent merchant house of 1691 on the market square now functioning as Barton’s garage. Further elegant Georgian town houses still front South Parade on the Great North Road south facing the Bawtry Hall estate. The hall was built in 1755 by Pemberton Milnes, a Wakefield woollen cloth merchant, and in the early 19th century it became the residence of the Dowager Viscount Galway thence via Lord Crewe and the Peakes family until occupied as an RAF command centre during World War II and ultimately a headquarters of ‘Bomber Command’. It is now Bawtry Hall Conference Centre and a church mission head quarters. Bawtry’s mediaeval church is dedicated to St. Nicholas given the maritime trade of the ancient wharfage -  a 1930′s Ship Inn still exists on the Gainsborough road on the site of an earlier ale house.

The GNR reached Bawtry from Retford by 1849 courtesy of the ‘Navvie’s’ employed by the cotractors Messr’s Peto and Betts. It necessitated a long viaduct, originally a log trestle affair, over the Idle meadows. This was replaced by the current 29 arch brick structure 6 years later to be given a cement reinforcement in the 1970′s.

The railway resuscitated the town, and the station accrued a wealth of goods facilities: a covered goods shed, a grain warehouse, weighbridge, crane facility, and horse stabling. By the 1890′s it had 11 shopping trains daily in each direction, including a night mail even though the town’s population was a mere 900.

In the 1920′s and 30′s the station was a hive of activity – town freight traffic, mail bags, signal box, Harworth Colliery coal traffic, coke and tar from the gas works, pick up main line goods trains, Doncaster commuters, and main line travellers. In World War II the Doncaster Rail Control Centre was constructed in the King’s Wood cutting complete with concrete roof, blast proof doors, and short wave radio facilities. Royal trains used the Misson branch as a siding for overnight stops in wartime.

The motor age and bus transport helped bring Bawtry’s railway age to a standstill in 1968 after 120 years, leaving only the Station Hotel as a reminder.

Tickhill slumbered, post mediaeval, off track from the Great North Road and with its castle redundant and partially demolished in 1645. Parts of the castle survives along with elements of two of the town’s mediaeval buildings, namely, the Augustinian Friary which had 8 friars at the dissolution of 1538; St. Leonard’s hospital for ‘Lepers’, re-sited in 1470 and surviving in Northgate as the parish room to the 13th century parish church of St. Mary the Virgin. The 18th Century turnpikes from Balby to Worksop and from Bawtry to Tinsley brought some coaching trade to the ‘Red Lion’ as the London to Glasgow mail (‘Royal Forrester’) called here for a period, whilst the ‘Scarborough Arms’ was used by drovers and the Earl’s rent day dinners. The railway age brought the end of droving too. Fairs continued to be held in the market place until the 19th century with a new buttercross being constructed in 1777.

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