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While researching the First World War, Ron James happened upon this Golden Wedding report in the Mexborough And Swinton Times of April, 1915. It concerns the great-great-grandparents of Heritage stalwart Graham Oliver, and contains a fascinating insight into a couple who spent their lives in the local pottery industry.


Link with the Old Pottery Industry
Mr. and Mrs. George Oliver

On the occasion of the celebrations of their golden wedding, there was an interesting gathering of relatives and friends at the home of Mr and Mrs George Oliver, Pottery House, Kilnhurst, on Easter Monday. Mr. Oliver, who is a native of Swinton, and is 73 years of age, and Mrs. Oliver, who came to reside in Mexboro’ when quite young, and is 69, are in the best of health and very active.
They were married at Mexboro’ Parish Church, and at the happy celebration gathering on Easter Monday were present the bridesmaid, Mrs. Mary Davis, Mexboro’, and Mr. Geo. Freeman, of Marr, the best man. Mr. and Mrs. Oliver have nine daughters and six sons living, having had sixteen children. All but one have married, and Mr and Mrs Oliver have 40 grandchildren.
Mr. Oliver, who is highly respected, has all his life been engaged as a pottery packer, and it is his happy boast that for fifty years he has never been a day out of work. This is surely a remarkable record. He commenced at the old Don works, Swinton (which then employed some 300 men), at the age of 15, and here he remained for some 9 years. He assisted in packing on an average a truck load of earthenware per day. After their marriage, Mr and Mrs Oliver went to reside at the Pottery House, near the Kilnhurst Pottery (Messrs Hepworth and Heald) – which is the oldest existing pottery in Yorkshire – and where Mr Oliver still is and has been engaged as packer for the past 47 years. For about 9 years Mr Oliver walked from Mexboro’ to his work at Kilnhurst, before the G. C. Railway was opened. The couple have occupied their present residence for 35 years.

Mr Oliver recalls the changes which have taken place in the district during his lengthy residence here. Mexboro’, he said, was quite a new place. New methods had been introduced into the making of earthenware articles. When he commenced at the Kilnhurst Pottery there were engaged seven men and seven girls, or women, in the “printing” but now a machine, necessitating the work of one man, does this, and could do three times the work if desired. The changes in the conditions of life in the pottery industry had been considerable. Young women and boys were now receiving 1 per week, whereas they once received only 3 shillings. At the time “when you could very nearly count the number of houses in Mexboro’,” land was obtainable at a low price, and Mr Oliver had a friend who bought land at the spot where Garden Street now is at the price of 4d to 6d per yard. He considered himself lucky to sell the same, two years later, at 2s. per yard. This land was now worth possibly five times the latter price. At the spot where Mr Pettit’s premises, in the High Street, are situated, was once a gate which allowed access to the Common, and people came in large numbers from neighbouring places to attend camp meetings held there.
Mr Oliver recalls many happy days spent angling, both on the river and the canal. The waters teemed with fish, chub, perch, roach etc., and in his words he has seen “loads” caught.

The first railway development at Kilnhurst was the construction of a branch line – then the system was known as the South Yorkshire Branch Line.
The present glass works at Kilnhurst, now owned by a London firm, owed their origin to four working men, three of whom were Messrs. Sykes, Rylands and Tillotson, and subsequently the brothers John and William Wilkinson assumed management of the bottle manufacturing industry.
Mr and Mrs Oliver recall the two disasters at the old Warren Vale pits at Kilnhurst, which happened in their early days and as a result of which explosions many lost their lives. The Swinton roads and fields were covered as though with soot, and several of the tubs were blown clean out of the pit. Mr Oliver was easily able to recall the sinking of the present Thrybergh Hall shaft at Kilnhurst. During the boring operations four men lost their lives, through a mishap with the hopper, whilst they were being raised to the top, after they had been preparing a charge. He assisted in recovering the bodies.
The principle industry at Mexboro’ in his early days was that of the old iron foundry, and the glass houses. At that time there were the Rockingham, Rawmarsh and Newhill potteries.

Mr and Mrs Oliver can also recall the great Sheffield Flood. Many bodies and a flotsam and jetsam of articles and goods from the ruined homes came floating down the river, so that “drayloads of coffins were required.” Three of the victims lie in the Kilnhurst churchyard, and several in Mexboro’ churchyard.
Mr and Mrs Oliver’s family have enjoyed robust health. The happy couple were, it is needless to add, the recipients of hearty congratulations and good wishes.
The Times, Saturday 10 April 1915