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.
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
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.
Watson was the eldest child of William & Ann Elizabeth (nee Harrop)
Watson and was born on 17th
at 59 Hirstgate, Mexborough. Soon after
birth the family moved to 2
Mex. where his brother Donald was born on 2nd
and later their sister Eva.
was during his youth that he became an avid walker and once, during
the family’s August holiday in
instead of going by train like the rest of the family,
chose to walk there, taking three days for the eighty mile journey,
and arriving ten minutes after the family. The following year they
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
Conisbrough and after a short period he was appointed to
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.
1924, at the age of 14yrs, his brother Donald became a vegetarian,
something almost unheard of Mexborough, and two years later, in
followed him. Then one day, while they were out walking with
friends, his brother decided to take it one step further and on
founded the Vegan Society, the worldwide headquarters of which, in
is still known as
Donald Watson House.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
never married but was very close to his sister and their children
and would walk in Derbyshire on a regular basis with his niece.
died in February 2000 at the ripe old age of 94yrs leaving his
collection of priceless documents and photos to the society.
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
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
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
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
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