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Memorials of Old Mexborough
by J R Ashby

Some Old Memorials … we will seek out such old buildings as may repay us for our trouble.
On the left of Doncaster Road, coming from the town of that name, and just before we reach Pinfold Lane some old farm buildings are to be seen. The history of them, or their earliest tenants, seems to be unknown; but upon two of the buildings we notice letters and symbol carved on the stone lintel over each of the doorways.
The first on the left hand side of the entrance is as follows:- and immediately in front of this a building facing the south, with lettering very similar, and to all appearances cut by the same person who was author of the preceding:- Although no knowledge can be obtained with regard to these buildings, we look with reverence upon the handiwork of past generations, which for two centuries has defied the ravages of time and decay, and remain proofs of the thorough workmanship of those who have long since passed away.
Still continuing along the main road, to the right appears the National School, a neat stone building. Upon this site once stood the structure which formerly served in a like capacity, but was far inferior to the present edifice. The first was a long, low stone building approached by the ascent of two steps up to the little porch.
The floor and roof consisted of stone flags; the interior being partitioned for the purpose of forming a separate room each for boys and girls. For the Schoolmaster, in one corner stood an old desk and armchair, the remainder of the rooms containing the seats and desks for the scholars. The demolition of the schoolhouse in 1845 has removed from our midst an interesting fabric, but as time cycles the world expands, and that which did duty well erstwhile, becomes all too strait for the enlarged requirements of succeeding generations.
Passing along the same side of the road there shortly appears the remains of the old Rock pottery, although at the time of writing the wreckers are in possession, - and speedily upon a portion of the site will be raised a temple to the spread of Wesleyanism; for here will be built the new Wesleyan Chapel.
After the death of Mr Reed, the owner, in 1870 the pottery was taken by Mr Sydney Wolf until 1883. Passing to Mr Wilkinson, it was worked by him till 1885 when the place was dismantled, the plant being sold by auction. Little now remains save the old cupolas, recalling to the memories of many the prosperity of the pottery in its palmist days.
So, hastening on, we will turn towards the Market Hall, and pursuing an easterly direction make a line for the old Church. On the left of Market Street are two little cottages, types of many in country villages, but to these is attached an interest not exceeded by any other. Here dwelt Mrs Kilham, the Mexbro’ Centenarian, who died in September, 1891, having lived for 103 years, 100 years after the death of her mother and residing in this house for 74 years.
A few steps along the same side of the street are six quaint cottages with courtyard running along the front. In these are to be found the old people, who, having passed through their active years, seek retirement from the battle of life and spend their last days in enjoyment of a well earned rest. Upon the wall over the central doorway is the dilapidated form of a stone tablet which originally bore the arms of William Horne, and a Latin inscription.
The whole is so corroded by the tooth of time that scarcely any of the carving is discernable. It is interesting, however, to know the inscription which appeared on the tablet – “Deo et pauperibus per Gulielmum Horne, generosum, anno aetatis suae 54 ann D’ni. 1669”; shewing that, owing to the generosity of William Horne these buildings were founded in 1669, the same year in which the farm buildings were erected which we noticed off Doncaster Road. In accordance with the will of one, Calverley, dated April 25, 1721, the Almshouses were endowed with 5 yearly to be derived from the charge upon the “George and Dragon” farm, in Mexboro, now owned by Mr Montagu.
Leaving these houses which have proved a haven of rest to so many, we proceed further to where on the right is the house of Dr Twigg, once the home of Mr John Reed whom we mentioned in connection with the pottery. In the grounds adjoining the house is a Gothic arch facing the roadway and richly carved with grotesque figures and heads, the whole having been designed and carried out by the late Robert Glassby in 1859. Continuing our journey to the junction of Church Street and Pinfold Lane, standing away from the road on a rising ground is the house where the last named was born on December 18, 1835, and who after much perseverance, overcame all obstacles and forced his way into the world of Art. His death in London on August 3, 1892, was regretted by many in all classes of society; at his funeral Her Majesty being represented, and sending a magnificent wreath inscribed as “A mark of respect from Queen Victoria”.
A few paces onward through Church Street brings us to a group of farm buildings on the left. We will let our minds dwell upon one of these which to many is a spot fraught with hallowed associations, as here occurred the advent of Methodism in Mexboro. Our authority for this is an article from the “Christian Miscellany” as follows:- “Mexborough – now a busy, thriving place, lying on the Don – was about three-quarters of a century ago of limited dimensions and very sparsely inhabited. It had a small Church, and, as our story will show, some form of local government.
The parish clerk, Robert Glassby, who was also its schoolmaster, held the office of constable, and evidently considered it his duty to keep the peace and prevent any approach towards disturbance. At this time Methodism had no existence in the village although it is only six miles from Rotherham. A change was, however, at hand. In the year 1804, the Rev Robert Newton, DD, was appointed to the Rotherham circuit. His fame as a preacher of distinguished eloquence and power had already been spread abroad, and he was the first Wesleyan preacher who visited the place.
In what is now called Old Mexbrough, near the church, on the opposite side of the road, stands an old farmhouse, enclosed within walls, then occupied by a Mr Sellers. Mrs Mary Styring, of Wickersley, near Rotherh, ‘a mother in Israel’, who felt an interest in the place, got his consent to come and preach to the people. Among the hearers, or perhaps we should say the onlookers, was the important official who blended in himself the threefold office of constable, schoolmaster, and parish clerk. Irritated that anyone should presume to interfere with the religious care of the parish, and zealous to preserve the peace, he told the preacher that if he should presume to come again he would apprehend him.
Dr Newton was not likely to be deterred from his work by these threats; he announced another service in a month’s time, and again made his appearance at the place and began his service in the same house. The parish clerk, also true to his word, had engaged several men to render their help in taking the preacher, and had provided handcuffs for the purpose. So well was the intention known that a man from Wath, James Thorpe, an old Methodist, along with several others, came with the expectation of seeing the apprehension.
As the service proceeded the men employed said to the official, ‘Shall we take him?’ ‘No’, replied the constable, ‘he has not said anything amiss against the King or the country’. The service still progressing, again they whispered, ‘Sha’n’t we take him now?’ ‘No’, again was the reply, ‘he has said nothing wrong’, and so the service was peaceably concluded and the congregation dismissed.”
The untoward surroundings, and grave difficulties under which these pioneers of Wesley’s teachings laboured, explain the cause of their success. The meetings held in the farmhouse kitchen progressed under the feeble light of the old fashioned tallow candle, the preacher aiding himself by holding a “dip” in his hand while reading, the snuffers lying hard by for the frequent trimming of the lessening flame.
Truly an uphill fight, yet bearing results which compel the fraternity of to-day to applaud the self-denial and stubborn nerve of their forefathers. The cause of Methodism continued to grow, meetings being regularly held in the farmhouse until in 1833 such progress had been made that a fine chapel was built; soon, however, to be superseded by a new building which is being erected on the site of the Rock Pottery as before-mentioned. We now turn to the next building, - the home of Mr Varah Lockwood. The most interesting portion is certainly the interior, although the exterior still bears the traces of its past history. Here upon our right we notice the large iron ring, still firmly fixed in the wall, where once was tethered the traveller’s horse; for be it known this was the village hostelry graced by the presence of Dame Varah, known far and wide as the vendor of prime home-brewed ale.
Close by on our left is the time-worn horse-block, by which many a farmer has remounted his horse after having satisfied the cravings of the inner man. Within the house we centre our attention upon the old kitchen, once used by the frequenters of the inn, and but little altered since it served as the public-room; and as we look at the large open range we feel envious of the times when, as an open house, customers could here seek a retreat from the bitter blasts of the wintry tempest, and find solace and comfort in the imbibing of hot spiced ale and other luxuries.
From the Church register we gather that in 1765 Thomas Varoh married Martha Darling, henceforth to be known as Dame Varoh. Now the nearest doctor lived at Wath, so this good lady was singled out to perform the delicate operation of vaccinating the children, her daughter afterwards becoming her successor as vaccination officer for the district. A Dorothy Varah become the wife of the Rev Leonard Jasper Hobson, Incumbent of Melton and Mexboro’, on Oct 10, 1803. The regime of the Lockwoods commenced in 1817, on the union of the two families by the marriage of Joseph Lockwood, of Bolton Mill, to Martha Varah.
The Inn was then closed, but while Joseph Lockwood followed the avocation of a farmer and miller, his better-half carried on the business of apothecary, draper, and grocer. Many are the items of interest in connection with this house and its successive occupants, but our time will not allow of a prolonged stay. Two venerable cottages adjoining must not be left unnoticed, and though soiled with the grimy hand of time during latter years, the thatched roof and lattice windows with diamond-shaped panes almost compel us to forget the progress which has been made around. Here to, close by, is the village smithy, or as it is more commonly known Cooper’s blacksmith shop; and though one cannot say concerning it, that “Under a spreading chestnut tree, The village smith stands”, The old shop greatly adds to the charm and picturesqueness of this portion of the district which especially forms our theme.
We will now cross the road to a group of farm buildings. Here we see upon the wall over the entrance the name of a former occupier, shewing that they belonged to “William Dickinson, farmer and maltster”. Advancing to the Church gates we come to the spot where formerly stood the stocks and where transgressors of the law, often to their utter chagrin, were forced to spend a few miserable house in durance vile, - hours frequently made viler by wags who indulged in the pastime of plying the victim with sundry defunct and altogether undesirable specimens of the feline tribe, unsavoury eggs, or such sweet missiles as came to the ready hands of the tormentors.
With the advance of civilization and the improved (?) method of punishment, the stocks fell into disuse and were removed, no doubt to the disappointment of many of the rising generation who would gladly have availed themselves of an opportunity to enjoy a little sport at the expense of some ill-favoured mortal. Quitting the site ingloriously associated with the faults and failings of men of the past, we will enter the gates of the churchyard, and so proceed to the task of the old Church. More to follow in succeeding newsletters about the Church ….

We should like to offer Julia Ashby, our Chair, our best wishes for a speedy recovery after her stay in hospital following a slight stroke. We miss you … get well soon!

We are approaching the AGM when it is time to select a new Committee. It has always been our policy to encourage one or two new members to join the group each year – new blood, energy and ideas is most important! You don’t need to have any specialist knowledge about local history, just an interest.

We meet monthly and this tends to be a social occasion as well. We are particularly keen to find a new Secretary - Marion Allen has done this job for 21 years. She is willing to work alongside anyone who would like to be trained in the use of the computer to carry out routine tasks. It is not a demanding job and you don’t need to have secretarial training, just an hour or so a week to spare and the interest. Please give Marion a ring on 01709 889775, or speak up at the AGM!

NEXT MEETING: Tuesday 29th April Annual General Meeting followed by Bring and Share your Old Photographs Please bring along your old photographs and albums.

The Society’s archives will also be available on the evening.

(Copyright: this newsletter may not be reproduced, in part or in its entirety without the permission of Mexborough & District Heritage Society.)