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Anyone who wasn’t alive and kicking in Mexborough thirty or more years ago (1980 backwards) will hardly recognise the community about which I write, in a town which was the centre of my universe for just short of twenty years.

For starters, Mexborough High Street, when I arrived in 1963, had a Woolies, yes a fully fledged (well half-fledged) Woolworths, on a site presently occupied by B & M), over which on the first floor were situated the offices of the South Yorkshire Times where I began my career as a junior reporter in the autumn of that year.

And come Christmas ’63 it was my task as the ‘junior junior’ to hoof it downstairs and interview Woolies’ very own Santa Claus. Stop the Presses! Those printing presses were by the way situated in an old Chapel at the top end of Roman Terrace, this machinery being formerly the property of the Yorkshire Post, now held together by string and chewing gum as far as I could fathom.

To give you a flavour to savour concerning Mexborough way back when, I’ll introduce a handful of its occupants.

One of those was Joe Eccles, who was to be my first interviewee (as lowest form of junior hack). Joe was a regular visitor to our reception desk, looking well scrubbed, hair diligently Brylcreemed, and wearing a beautifully laundered blue boiler suit. He was, by the way, mad as a hatter.

More or less weekly he would arrive demanding space in the SYT to reveal his convincing testimony that the air was full of microbes, a sort of microscopic dust as far as I could gather, which was being emitted by ‘the authorities’ deserving an exposé in our worthy new columns.

Joe never got the desired coverage, yet his visits continued until our paper moved offices down to Station Road.

All Mexbronians were not mad, I have to report, but many were more than a little odd.

Across the way from our High Street offices, a little way further down towards the market place, there stood a pub, THE pub as far as the Press were concerned, The Albion, known to one and all as ‘The Staff’ after a former landlord I believe.

This is where we reporters (including Chief Reporter Brian Kelly and News Editor John Brocksom) would congregate, and where I was to be found one lunchtime quaffing my John Smith’s in the smoky bar area when I espied an elegantly dressed gent, tidily built boasting a bowler hat, well pressed tweed suit, complete with waistcoat sporting a gold watch on a gold belcher chain.

He looked out of place in our company, which included more than a handful of scruffy type.

“Who’s that,” I enquired of the landlady Marion, a jolly corpulent individual made even larger than life by her wide smile and violently flowered frock.

“Oh, you mean Burglar Bob,” she replied, her face in a serious mode.

Not to be phased, I queried, “But why do they call him Burglar Bob”?

Unflinching in her earnest explanation, she replied (all but patting me on my head for my naivety), “Coz he burgles people”.

And that was that.

Who it was that Bob burgled I never found out, but he must have been good at it as he never appeared as a convicted news item in our rag.

In this context you will not be surprised to learn that the local poacher was one ‘Bush’ Mangham, who by the by supplied yours truly with an illicitly acquired pheasant from time to time, and a rabbit or two.

It goes without saying, almost, that the factor which more than any other changed the character of Mexborough involved pit closures in the 1980s, after my time in the town.
Another character in my pen portrait was a major player in operations at Denaby and Cadeby pits which were, of course, major employers, of Mexborough menfolk.

Industrial relations there were not of the highest order, and so it happened that a year or so into my appointment as a South Yorkshire Times hack there was a strike, with a crucial meeting set for Denaby Miners’ Welfare on a snowy Sunday. I was detailed to ‘cover’ this event by News Editor John Brocksom, a crusty old school journalist whose word was law, but who was the epitome of ‘firm (an understatement) but fair’.
So it was he chose me for the task even though it meant travelling 20 miles from my home in Sheffield, when others on the staff were living locally. But where I lived was my concern, and so I trundled through snow drifts in my ancient Ford Popular to park up in Denaby awaiting conclusion of the National Union of Mineworkers gathering.

After an hour or more, with icicles hanging from my ear lobes I spied the pitmen emerging, at their head the NUM branch secretary Eddie Langford.

Notebook and pencil at the ready I approached this gent: “Mr Langford, I’m Bob Tomlinson from the South Yorkshire Times. Can you tell me what has been decided? Have you anything to tell my readers”.

Hardly faltering in his tracks, Mr L looked me in the eye: “Aye, f..k off”.

Nuff said? Well, no. To my credit, and with shades of my News Editor hovering over my shoulder, I persevered, getting more than a few more words from Big Eddie which I arranged with sufficient conviction to impress the aforesaid John Brocksom.

He actually wrote me a short note of congratulations. What a character he was, a native of Gainsborough, who would regale we cub reporters with tales if carthorses stampeding down the streets of that town, his words uttered through a cloud of smoke from his trusty briar pipe.

He smoked St Bruno tobacco, which I still use  today, he having been my introduction to pipe smoking and tale telling.

Bob Tomlinson

For more, click on the Part 2 button at the top of the page, or click here.