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Lights out...

Courtesy of Ron James ‘Lights Out’ A Candlelight Vigil held on the evening of 4th August 2014 at Mexborough War Memorial.

The Summer of 2014 This summer has been an extremely trying one for me as it will forever be overshadowed by the serious illness of my mother which culminated in her death in July of this year. Because I was involved in her care on a 24/7 basis I was unable to participate in the running of the society and therefore, this year, unlike other years, I have to rely for part of the writing of this newsletter, on hearsay and newspaper articles to inform you of the happenings of your society over the summer months.

The summer was dominated by commemorations of the outbreak of the 1st World War. The events began by Margaret Roper, in her dual capacity as Chair of Mexborough & District Heritage Society, and a member of the Board of Governors of Doncaster Road School, worked tirelessly, with members of the school, plus Molly Beardsley and Bill Lawrence from our society, to create a World War One Activity Day. That Thursday morning dawned with bright sunshine and the field to the rear of the school was full of memorabilia, such as: bell tents; an army assault course; and a table full of items including shell cases, tin mugs, barbed wire cutters, etc etc. these had all been brought by Ben, Helen and David McCabe, members of the Great War Society. Ben dressed in the uniform of a British Tommy, his father, David, wearing that of a German soldier, and his mother Helen, dressed in clothing of the day, introduced the children to the memorabilia and informed them of what they would have been used for at that time. It was well attended by all the children of the school who seemed to enjoy this alternative form of learning and showered everyone there with questions about the war and the artefacts on show.

Then on Wednesday 16th July 2014 came the day which the schools of Mexborough, in conjunction with Mexborough & District Heritage Society, had been working towards for many months. Again we were lucky enough to have brilliant sunshine, as young people from all the schools in Mexborough began to gathered, outside Tesco Supermarket, on the High Street, in order to pay tribute to all the fallen of the 1st WW. The High Street was packed with hundreds of people as the young people sang songs popular at the time, read poetry, and read out the names of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. The British Legion, Dave & Ben McCabe of the Great War Society, wearing uniforms of the time, and Gary Ardon of the Naval Association, were all there. Bill, when asked about the event stated “What better way to commemorate the part played by the people of Mexborough than when that tribute is led by the great grandchildren of those who gave their lives nearly a century ago?” and I must agree with him. Everyone involved should be justifiably proud of any part they took and it doesn’t matter how big or how small.

Then a few days after on 26th July, again in brilliant sunshine, Mexborough Market Traders paid their tribute to the fallen, in the form of a World War One Commemoration Event. For many months I had worked on a display which depicted: the home front, including the Zeppelin Air Raids, the work done by the women in the munitions factories and on the farms; those who lost their lives; then lastly the local war memorials. On the 16th we had erected our display beneath a gazebo on the High Street, but on this occasion it was sited within Mexborough Indoor Market and proved, as always, to be very popular. A march past by the British Legion took place and a minutes silence was held, in memory of those who lost their lives; this was followed by a display of children’s traditional games, and music of the day was played. Some of the shops on the High Street dressed their windows accordingly as did some of the market stalls; and Kidz Du Care performed a series of dances. The High Street was full of people from the whole district.

On the evening of Monday 4th August 2014, exactly one hundred years since the declaration of war, members of the British Legion and Mexborough & District Heritage Society met at 9.30p.m. at Mexborough War Memorial to commemorate this milestone in our history with a ‘Lights Out’ Ceremony. We erected our exhibition, on the road side of the memorial, and as the street lights were scheduled to be turned out between 10p.m. and 11p.m. candles were lit and arrayed around the war memorial and that of Sapper Hackett VC. Passers by, seeing the display and candles, began to migrate towards the memorial and quite a number congregated there, besides those of the organisations involved. Seren, Margaret’s Granddaughter, read out a poem she had written specially for such an occasion and at the exact time that war was declare there was a minute’s silence. The evening proved to be a very poignant, moving, and extremely atmospheric one, and will be remembered by everyone who was there.

Exactly one month after this, your society was also to be found at the newly opened Montagu Academy (the amalgamation of Montagu School and Park Road Schools) where again we erected our display but this time Bill gave a small talk to each class as they viewed it.

But that is not where it ends as on 16th Oct. we are to exhibit, on Thursday 16th Oct. at Thurnscoe Local History Group’s Exhibition to be held at the Coronation Club, Thurnscoe. Then on Sat. 18th Oct. comes, Doncaster Family History Society’s Festival, held as usual at the School for the Deaf. This takes a full day, and is usually attended by hundreds of people from all over the country. There are talks on the subject of genealogy throughout the day, computers are available fitted with census returns, baptism, marriage, death, burial and parish records, and experts on the subject are always available to help with any problems you may have.

As usual this summer has been a very busy one for your society. Well it keeps us out of mischief doesn’t it?

The Loss of Two Outstanding Old Members
Thank you to all those who gave. As you all will know my mother died in July of cancer in the Rotherham Hospice and her funeral was held at Rotherham Crematorium the following week. At the funeral many of you were good enough to give money in lieu of flowers, the proceeds of which went to support hospice. A few weeks ago I received a very nice letter from them stating that, thanks to your good selves, we were able to raise £121.45. They would therefore like to take this opportunity to send to you all their heartfelt thanks for your kind gift.

Joe Raybould ‘The Railway Man’
There seems to have been something in the air on Market Street, this year, as besides the death of my mother, who had lived on Market Street for the past forty years, early in the year Joe Raybould, our ‘Railway Man’, had a stroke and was taken to hospital. He stayed there for some time and it was here, on 23rd August 2014, in Rotherham General Hospital, that he lost his life. He was buried, at Mexborough Cemetery, with his beloved wife Maud and their daughter Heather, on Wednesday 10th Sept. He, and his limitless expertise of local railways, will be forever missed.

News from the Heritage Centre
A few years ago a programme appeared on BBC 2 which touched on the subject of what happened to the bodies of the unfortunate people who died in the workhouse. The lady presenting the programme stated that, at that time it was believed that they were sold for dissection.

On Sunday 31st August 2014, on Channel 4, there appeared another programme, this being a ‘Time Team Special’ entitled ‘Secrets of the Body Snatchers’ presented by Sir Tony Robinson which reiterated this fact and proved what happened to the bodies of the poor without a shadow of a doubt.

It also elaborated on the facts giving far more information and its repercussions on us today.

The first part of the programme informed us of the huge increase in the numbers of medical students following the Napoleonic Wars. This brought about a vast increase in the demand, by Medical Research and Medical Training Establishments, for bodies to be used by desperate student doctors for dissection and anatomisation. Tony Robinson then covered the fate of those who had been executed and the part played by the infamous body-snatchers Burke and Hare, who resorted to murder in order to furnish their customers with the bodies they so urgently required.

Then came an article which covered, although a common practise 150yrs ago has its repercussions today with those who are studying their family history. Tony went on to cover the 1832 Anatomy Act which stated that anyone having possession of an unwanted cadaver, could sell it. He then covered: the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which brought about the infamous workhouses; what it meant to those who were that destitute, that they had no alternative but to go to the workhouse; plus the alternative which was starvation and hyperthermia.

It appears that the elderly, worn out by a lifetime of grind who could no longer work to earn their daily crust, formed the vast majority of inmates. From records which have been discovered by the Time Team Group, it appears that when they died, their bodies became the property of the workhouse and if their families could not afford to bury them or did not come to claim the body, then their bodies were sold to training hospitals and other establishments for dissection. Normally the whole body in one piece would be sold, but they had found reference to the obscene practise, by some workhouses, of filling orders for parts of bodies. Following the death of someone in a workhouse the body would be sold to a businessman then, in the Dead House which was a room to the rear of the building, the body would be chopped up and the parts sent to different establishments who wanted particular parts for specific anatomical studies. Following their studies the remaining bits would be thrown into a Charnel Pit.

As you will understand, as I have previously stated, this has vast repercussions for people studying their family history. Only the deaths of such persons were recorded and as no burial service took place they are not listed on Parish Records or Burial Registers. Also as they have no grave they have no headstone and therefore are not listed under Monumental Inscriptions. It appears that they were thought of as subhuman and of an underclass, in fact a non-person, and as such some of the very poorest from our historical past have been partly erased from our history.

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