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Norman Watson

Mr. Watson and his ‘new’ bicycle purchased in the 1930’s. Taken shortly before his death in the garden of his home 7, Doncaster Road, Mexborough.

This month Bill and Ron will be hosting our meeting which will consist of the showing of a DVD which is based on a talk, originally given on 30th November 1993, twenty years ago this year, by Mr. Norman Watson, our late president.  In this talk Mr. Watson used: photos and postcards, depicting Mexborough of 100 years ago; plus his never ending knowledge of local history, to give the last of his talks at the New Masons’ Arms, Mexborough.  This was video taped and the narrative from the video made into a DVD. 

Many of we old retainers, who have been in the society a number of years will remember Mr. Watson, and some of us will have been taught by him.  But what of our newer and younger members who did not get to meet this bastion of local knowledge, or indeed have not heard of him?  So this month’s newsletter is dedicated to our Founding Father, Mr. Norman Walter Watson.

 Norman Watson was the eldest child of William & Ann Elizabeth (nee Harrop) Watson and was born on 17th February 1906 at 59 Hirstgate, Mexborough.  Soon after Norman’s birth the family moved to 2 Machin Street, Mex. where his brother Donald was born on 2nd Sept. 1910 and later their sister Eva. 

It was during his youth that he became an avid walker and once, during the family’s August holiday in Scarborough, instead of going by train like the rest of the family, Norman chose to walk there, taking three days for the eighty mile journey, and arriving ten minutes after the family.  The following year they holidayed in Scotland, and not to be outdone he walked there too.

 Norman was educated at: Doncaster Road School, Mexborough, where his Aunty Dora once taught; Rossington Street School, Denaby Main, where his father was headmaster; and Mexborough Grammar School, where at the age of 14yrs he sat an examination, which on passing it enabled him to place his foot onto the first rung of the ladder to becoming a teacher himself, and from the Grammar School he went to St. John’s Teacher Training College, Leeds.  His first appointment was at Station Road School, Conisbrough and after a short period he was appointed to Adwick Road School, Mexborough as a teacher in charge of History and Music, and it was here that he later became Deputy Head.  I’m sure that many of his old pupils will remember his excursions into Derbyshire, on Saturdays, when he tried to introduce them to the joys of the countryside and hill walking.

 In 1924, at the age of 14yrs, his brother Donald became a vegetarian, something almost unheard of Mexborough, and two years later, in 1926, Norman followed him.  Then one day, while they were out walking with friends, his brother decided to take it one step further and on 1st Nov. 1944 founded the Vegan Society, the worldwide headquarters of which, in Birmingham, is still known as Donald Watson House.

 Norman lived a very simply life never owning a car, television, fridge, or freezer.  He never took a newspaper, was a lifelong non-smoker and total abstainer from alcohol.  His ability to walk long distances was legendary; he knew Derbyshire like the back of his hand and walked there regularly, staying in Youth Hostels. For over sixty years he walked in the Alps where Davos was his favourite centre, and in 1998 the council awarded him a trophy for being their visitor of longest standing.

 Mr. Watson was also a keen cyclist, and until a few weeks prior to his death would cycle to Doncaster, but only owned two bicycles in his whole life.  One was bought in the 1920’s and his ‘new’ one was bought in the early 1930’s.  He once told his brother he would not buy anything which he could not repair himself.

 He was baptised at St. John the Baptist Parish Church Mexborough and remained a devout Christian all his life.  For many years he was also the deputy organist of Denaby Main Parish Church, and for what seemed like decades he was Secretary of the local branch of the Bible Society. but retired early after thirty years to nurse his mother who was widowed and seriously ill.

 On Friday 13th January 1939 his uncle, Leonard Harrop, died at his Mexborough home, 1, Cross Church Street.  Mr. Watson’s mother was his brother and she and her brother were members of one of the oldest families in Mexborough which, using church records, can be dated back as living in the town in 1640.  Leonard Harrop was educated at Doncaster Grammar School and became: Parish Clerk, Clerk to Mexborough Local Board and Burial Board; property owner; estate agent (in its original sense) to the local gentry.  He was a well known member of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society undertaking many items of research for them.  He was also interested in music, art, and heraldry.  But of most interest to us he became the authority on the history of Mexborough and district, collecting volumes of old documents and photos, some of which are now rare, entered into his ‘scrapbooks’.  All of which he past onto his eager nephew who devoured the information and added to it with items he found or information he discovered.

 After teaching for thirty years Mr. Watson had to take early retirement in order to nurse his recently widowed and ill mother.  When their father retired he had built three houses one being ‘Counterscarp’ (now named ‘Parkside’) 9 Castle Hill Avenue, and it was here that Norman lived with his mother until her death in 1959.  He them moved to 7 Doncaster Road, which was one of the other two semi-detached houses built by their father, this allowed his sister Eva, her husband Peter, and their four children to move into the more spacious accommodation they required.

 Mr. Watson’s expertise in local history was well known in the area and he was always willing to give talks on the subject.  He frequently told of the time he was giving a talk to a group of OAP’s and was discussing the ‘Welcome Home Jim Cottages’, to be found on Church Street, when a man in the audience, to everyone’s surprise, declared that ‘I’m Jim’ and the words were painted over the top of the door of the cottages to welcome me home from the 1st WW.

 In the middle of 1987 Mr. Watson, Councillor Douglas Axe and Marion Broadhurst (now Marion Allen) formed Mexborough Heritage Society (now known as Mexborough and District Heritage Society) and he became our first Chairman with Marion Boadhurst as our Secretary.  After his retirement from this post he became Honorary President, but still attended 99% of our talks and committee meetings, bringing with him old and interesting photos and documents and telling of their importance to our history and the stories behind them.

 He never married but was very close to his sister and their children and would walk in Derbyshire on a regular basis with his niece.

 He died in February 2000 at the ripe old age of 94yrs leaving his collection of priceless documents and photos to the society.

 News From the Heritage Centre 
Mexborough and District Heritage Centre

As you have read, in 1987 Mr. Watson, Councillor Douglas Axe, and Marion Broadhurst (now Marion Allen) founded Mexborough Heritage Society.  After a short time, in order to encompass the surrounding areas which once came under Mexborough Parish, this was renamed Mexborough and District Heritage Society.
For a number of years prior to this Walter Ashby had begun to collect artefacts relating to the history of Mexborough with the intentions of opening a Heritage Centre.  On becoming a member of the heritage society Julia, his daughter, began to collect documentations telling of the extensive history of Mexborough. When taking over Mexborough Urban District Council at the beginning of the 1970’s documentation telling of Mexborough’s history had been sent to: the Archives of Doncaster, Sheffield, Wakefield, Leeds and Rotherham; plus the universities of Sheffield, Leeds and Hull; also some had passed into the hands of private collectors. The idea was to bring back to Mexborough as much as possible to enable the people of this town to study its vast and fascinating past.  One box of papers became two, these then grew into a filing cabinet full, which again grew into two filing cabinets plus documents stored in cupboards, boxes and under beds, and visitors were coming to Julia’s home, to study these papers from all quarters of the globe.  At this stage help was required as it was taking over the house and the family.
The society, after many years of negotiations with DMBC, obtained an office, in 2001, in the basement of Mexborough Library and it was named ‘The Local History Room’ where the legacy of Mr. Watson, plus the collections of Julia and others came together.  In 2004, with the help of Lottery Funding, it was officially opened to the public with, after 11yrs of training, Julia as Research Manager.
But after serving the public for ten years we were told that our rent was to increase by a staggering 50%.  This the society could not sustain and despite: the endeavours of the public, in the form of a petition; the work of our councillors; plus Ed. Milliband MP; it closed on the last day of March 2011.
From then work was undertaken, by members of the society, headed by Julia as Research Manager, in the ref. section of Mexborough Library.  Then on
21st June 2012, following refurbishments, Mexborough Library was re-opened, for this a display was erected by the society.  The library was official re-opened by Mayor Peter Davis who asked Julia and Bill what was the function of the society and what they did, to Julia’s complete and utter shock he stated that ‘as you are providing a service for the general public you should have an office in the library get in contact with Neil Stopforth, Head of Library Services and he will arrange it for you’.  A few days later Bill wrote to the Mayor and set the ball rolling for negotiations, to enable us to move the archives back into the library, this to be in the ref. section.  On 22nd April 2013 the move was complete and it is now opened, with Julia reinstated as Research Manager.  It was agreed that it should be named Mexborough and District Heritage Centre, to encompass the whole of the surrounding area.  An official opening is to be arranged for a later date but at present it is open to the public during the following hours:
Monday & Thursday

 Let us all hope that, once again anyone, from wherever on the planet they reside, can have a base from where to obtain information concerning Mexborough and District.

Copyright: This newsletter may not be copied, in part or in its entirety, without the permission of J.R. Ashby