Memories from Dorothy and Gerald Corfield, with John Adam from the History Group, and Keith Scott
Dorothy began by recalling that the shops opposite the Co-operative building on King Avenue and Fowler Crescent in the 1940s and 50s were:
Shirbon’s shoe shop, Meadow Dairy, Cooke’s newsagents, Thrift grocery, the fish and chip shop which was probably owned by Bramhald at the time, Burras Peake – tailoring and menswear, Marshall’s haberdashery, Potter’s ironmongery, Farrars’ butchery, and around the corner on Fowler Crescent were Addy’s chemist, Hopkinson’s grocery and bakery and Guest’s, another haberdashery.
She told John that those living on King Georges Road where she lived, she didn’t need to go up to the Aberconway end of the village because the main shops were at King Avenue and there were just small corner ‘house’ shops elsewhere so those people living further away would travel to King Avenue for their main shopping. John recalled that people rarely went to Doncaster because there was also a market on Fridays and on some Tuesdays. He knew his mother got most of her goods for the weekend from the market. Dorothy noted that the market was one day a week in the 30s and 40s and the market area was just an ash surface where the stalls were set up by the holders themselves. Gerald added that Billy Ball, the fishmonger, used to cart his stuff from across the road. Dorothy remembered watching Porters selling crockery, and pots and pans, as well as towels, in an auctioning manner. She was on her way home from school and stopped to watch them ‘absolutely goggle eyed’. John remembered the pot sales where the vendor used to spread a tea or dinner service across one arm, and beat with a stick as he indicated what price he was going to charge. He would say something like ‘I don’t want £5’ and bang the stick, and reduce to £4 and bang again, and when he was ready to sell, he would appear to drop the service, but would gather them up into a stack.
Dorothy noted that only one part of the market area was used in those days, but John recalled both sides being used with vegetable stalls near to the Nelson Road shops. She spoke about when her family had had a stall on the market, and sold fruit and vegetables. They were regulars who had a stall, but casual people had to be there early to wait for a place and sometimes from 6 am until 10.30 am before a place became available. The market could go on until 6 pm. Her family had a nursery at Branton and sold produce from it including tomatoes, salad vegetables and cabbage.
Gerald talked of journeys into town by bus being about 9d (4.5p) at the time, and the stop was at Sergeant’s Corner but people could wait up to one and a half hours for the bus because the buses were either full on arrival or with standing room only. Sometimes, he said, people had to get on there but go into the village to come out again! Dorothy reminded him that Morpus’ would put on 2 buses in the mornings for workers and he agreed that at 6 am there were buses for factory workers heading for Wheatley Hall Road. (Bemberg’s had a large factory there, which because British Nylon Spinners, and closed as ICI Fibres).
Dorothy remembered that when she went to town for her school, the fare was 2.5 pence (old pennies) and John, who went to Don Valley from Rossington after passing the 11 plus, recalled paying 4d and then 2d from Doncaster to Woodlands. His journey included a walk from the Glasgow Paddocks bus station on Waterdale through Young Street and then down Printing Office Street. He was heading to the rear of the Beehive Hotel on Factory Lane to catch the Woodlands bus. Gerald recalled that the Labour Exchange (now more commonly called the Job Centre) used to be down that area, along with White and Carter’s seed merchants and with Priestnall’s café further up. John
recalled it was a good area to see ‘many a scrap’ with Teddy boys. This reminded Gerald that there used to be another café which was opposite and up some stairs. There was a fight there and someone had been flung down the stairs. It was where the Grand Theatre (at the rear of the Frenchgate Centre) was. He remarked that the Grand Theatre still stands and this is in the face of many old buildings in Doncaster being pulled down.
John moved on to talking about the station gates being closed at night in the 30s and 40s so that no one could get in or out of the village. He had heard this from Dr Kane talking about it. Gerald recalled the signal box with the gatekeeper in it who turned a wheel to close and open the gates. John said that one of the reasons given for a population growth in Rossington was the lack of many activities to entertain people. There were dances at the Welfare and there was the cinema (Hippodrome) but that summed up the entertainment. People did used to travel by train into town for entertainment too. Gerald recalled the train called at Rossington station at 9 am and the last train from town was 9 pm, and the station was also used for holiday trips in the summer. John remembered going to Cleethorpes by train and Gerald remarked that it used to be a really busy station at one time.
The recollection of John’s holidays reminded him that during pit week in July, the whole street (King George’s) transplanted itself to Blackpool. He remembered walking from home to catch a bus with lots of others at King Avenue outside Doxey’s shop where bookings were taken. John remembered Vic, the driver for Morpus’, who would take the full bus all the way to Blackpool and it took 8 hours! Gerald laughed at his memory from his father who worked at a bombing range at Ranskill and Vic drove the workers there, belting along at 35 mph with his foot to the floor, and frightening the life out of his fellow bricklayers as he tore along the road – probably the Great North Road which was the main route to Ranskill from Rossington.
Dorothy mentioned that alongside the dances and cinema, it was that everything revolved around the church – the Youth Club, Young Wives’ Club, Scouts, Mothers’ Union, Guides – everything. St Michaels and St Luke’s had whist drives: no bingo – one week alternating at each church. There were beetle drives at school – throwing a dice to get a piece of the beetle to put on a card and these drives helped to raise funds for St Michaels.
John mentioned that until about the 50s, St Michaels was seen as the main church in Rossington. (It was about this time when the Council and Coal Board estates were built to the east side of the railway line, thus creating a new ‘catchment area’ for the churches). Gerald thought it was about 1947 when the first wedding took place at St Luke’s, but John advised that his mother had been married at St Michaels in that year. He remembered his mother telling a story of the bride always being late as she would be held up by the station gates as the route from West End Lane was the only one to St Michaels. Dorothy confirmed that she was caught at the station gates when she got married. Gerald said that if anything happened in the village, the policemen would have the gates closed and everyone had to wait – one way in, one way out.
John asked Gerald about his life before Rossington and he confirmed that he had always lived in the village since 1939. His parents had lived in Wheatley before moving to Rossington. His father was a bricklayer, worked for Walter Firth’s, and that company built the Yorkshire School for the Deaf near to the Racecourse. He had worked for other companies before the war, including one he thought was called King’s who were building blast walls in front of windows and doors in the village and he worked on that contract. When he moved to Rossington, he would use his bike to get to the Deaf School.
Gerald went on to confirm to John that his parents had bought their property in the 1938 sale of Rossington Hall estate, and now Gerald and Dorothy lived there. His parents had bought Lots 141 and 142 which was made up of about 1.5 acres with a small cottage as part of it as the smaller of the 2 lots when the larger one was an acre. (In 1938, the small cottage was known as Glebe Cottage with a garden and over a hedge was a large parcel of land). John indicated that the sale was so close to the war that it had been reported that nothing reached its proper price as people were not keen to spend money when they did not know what the future held. He read from the sale brochure that the larger piece was a bungalow and large garden, with accommodation and grasslands. It included a pig sty and a ‘pail closet’ and that water was obtainable from a well in the garden. There was no running water. Dorothy asked Gerald if the pig sty indicated was the same one as they had now and Gerald confirmed that it was, and that it used to house a pig they named Susie, which was like a pet to his mother. He said that they also had 2 geese, which his mother had also named. The property had been rented to a Mr Fenney, whom Gerald thought was a verger at St Michaels, but his trade seemed to be wood cutting and fence-post making.
John went on to speak of the cost of buying property in 1938 and thought that they may have paid reasonable rents at that time, but Gerald thought his parents had paid a lot of money for the property and had to borrow some money which they paid back at 12.5p per week, as he had seen the repayments in a bank book. Dorothy said it hadn’t been a long-term mortgage: just a few years for the loan, and Gerald noted that the repayment would have been high from a wage that amounted to no more than £2.50 per week in those days. He himself had only been paid £1.25 a week when he started work in 1947 as an apprentice. John added that his wage had been £14 a month, £3.50 per week, when he started work in 1966 as a trainee quantity surveyor. He said he used to give his mother £10 of the salary and had £4 for himself to last a month. Dorothy said she had been on £3 a week when they married and John remarked that he thought that wages had not risen much from the 50s to the late 60s and Gerald agreed that they were stable at the figures they had discussed. John went on to note that school friends who had gone to work at the pit earned twice as much as he did, and Gerald said that when they went to Blackpool on the annual trip, they were seen spending a lot. John, on the other hand, said his nights out included 10 cigarettes and a bag of chips!
Keith Scott joined the conversation asking if Vic Lindsay would have any information relating to fathers and grandfathers working at the pit as sinkers. (Vic was the Secretary of the NUM at the time of the discussion). Dorothy noted that her father was not in the NUM when he worked at the pit. He was in the Transport and General Workers Union, and collected the ‘subs’ for that from other members. Keith felt that Vic could provide valuable information and John said he had been to see him about his own father, about whom he knew very little. He had gone on Keith’s advice because his father had been killed at the pit when John was 3 and a half. Vic was able to provide his check number and other information, including someone who used to work with his father. John answered Dorothy’s question about the cause of Mr Adam’s death, and confirmed it was a roof fall on 1 May 1952.
John had never worked at the pit and remembered his mother and grandmother being quite firm that John would not go to the pit for a job. He recalled that when he passed the 11 plus, 2 men had come to the house with forms, offering his mother money toward school uniform for Don Valley High School as long as John signed to say that he would go to the NCB when he passed his exams at 16 years old. His relatives were about 5 feet tall, and one of the 2 men was about 6 feet, but his mother physically threw him out of the door! Keith said he had heard from other people that the NCB men would almost blackmail a family by offering a little cash.
When John’s father had died, they had been living in York Street for just a few weeks, but a few weeks after his death, they had notice to leave the house and had moved to his grandmother’s on King Georges Road. Dorothy agreed that times were like that in those days, and that she was content that her father worked on the pit top and only went underground on pit holiday weeks, when his team did maintenance. He did not get a holiday to match others who worked at the pit. She said that all of her family had been pit-workers with one of them, Jack, having a heart attack, as he walked from the clean end to the dirty end at the baths. Keith said he had heard that there was a greater payment to the family when someone died as a result of an accident down the pit than if they had come to the surface and died there. The doctor had to pronounce them dead on a visit down the pit. He felt that the general rule was to try and get them out of the pit to the surface before the doctor came to get less paid out. John said his mother got a small sum from the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme – probably no more than £40 per month. Dorothy reminded him that there would be no benefits scheme to pay into in those days, and John recalled that his mother got what was called an Industrial Death pension.
John remarked that it was only in the late 50s that people looked to employers other than the pit if they had been born in Rossington. Gerald recalled that after this, the Coalite plant opened and some moved there, for its short lifetime. He remembered those who came into Rossington in the 60s from Scotland and the north east, particularly because his mother had had a lodger from there, until the incomers were housed on what was called the Wimpey Estate – Radburn Road being at its heart. He also remembered that at least one bus used to travel in from Thorne, and he recalled it was a good pit but it suffered from water-logging. Gerald had played football for Thorne Colliery, and had got changed in the pit baths to play on their Welfare field. Dorothy remembered she had memorial plates from those days.
John referred to the silver spade used to cut the first sod for Rossington Colliery. There is a photo of the lady doing it but it seems the spade got bent and had to be straightened. No one seems to know where it went, but they all agreed it probably went back to Rossington Hall where it had probably come from. They agreed that Rossington Hall people ruled the village in those days, and Gerald referred to the owner there as the squire.
Going on to some of the history of Rossington Hall and the people of Rossington, John said that those who had lived in Littleworth in 1838 would have woken up one morning to find that they had been sold lock, stock and barrel to James Brown who bought the manor. It had been owned by the Doncaster Corporation to that point and in 1836 the Government had passed the Local Government Act which meant that local authorities all over England had to be self-financing. Doncaster Corporation at the time was a group of businessmen who ran the estate which had been given to Doncaster by King Henry II in the 1200s. When the Act was passed, Doncaster Corporation was about £120,000 in debt, largely due to the failure of the members to pay the rent to the Corporation. They had to clear their debts and the only way they could do this was to sell off Rossington and its lands, so that they began their time as a Council with a clean sheet.
James Brown was a woollen merchant, living in Leeds, and he bought the whole estate. Although that sale was 1838, the sale for which Gerald’s father paid for his house was identical to that when it was sold again in 1938. James Brown paid about £9group8,000 which would translate into many millions nowadays. The people living on the estate in 1838 would have been worried about their futures but were probably offered the chance to stay in their property and work for Mr Brown, doing what they had done previously. John said he had found that there had been a blacksmith’s in Littleworth in the 1700s and going back that far, it had been the case that the smith was a woman. Dorothy said that she thought that the smithy had been at the back of a row of cottages in Littleworth. She and Gerald thought that Charlie Doxey had bought up the land and at one time owned all of the cottages at Sergeant’s Corner. He had been the businessman of the day, and had married Alice Morpus who had the local bus company. Percy Doxey had taken over the property in the 1950s and had built a house called Coxley Mount. Gerald recalled that Morpus’ buses had been garaged down Balcarres Road and Billy Bonser had taken over that property for his vehicle servicing business. He used to have a garage and servicing business on Station Road.
Henderson’s also had a garage business, and there is an old picture of what was their bicycle shop next to the Station Hotel. Dorothy recalled that the Henderson’s business also sold furniture and she had a sideboard in her hall from the shop which her mother had bought for £5 when she and her father were married.
Finally, the group discussed what had happened to what they considered was a Corfield property lane. The Council had asked for the lane’s gate to be closed off because it had become a public footpath, and thus tractors and combine harvesters could not use it any more. It had been kept tidy whilst it was being used as an entrance to the fields, but was now not tidy. The Council were now saying it was their property when it had been part of Pithill Farm. Craig Corfield had had to cut hedges and nettles down to get his vehicles to the field, and Dorothy and Gerald had had to do it to get their caravan to the house. The Lot information had indicated that the land was sold with a right of way and also enjoyed by Pithill Farm. This would be shown in the deeds. The farmer who owned the fields referred to it as Corfield’s Lane and had no use for it now. The lack of upkeep meant that dustbin lorries would not use the lane and it was being fouled by the dogs being walked by the public.