Those were the days - The Yards of Doncaster

How Doncaster looked about 300 years ago.
How Doncaster looked about 300 years ago.

The streets of bygone Doncaster were many and varied, some of which contained beautiful mansions and huge ornate houses, there were of course more humble dewellings and then there were The Yards!

These usually enclosed and claustrophobic spaces consisted of dwellings which stood at the rear of the main French Gate street and though often less than desirable, they nevertheless provided valuable (if small) living quarters for certain elements of the less well off in society. What follows are just a few examples of these fascinating thoroughfares.

Aldred’s Yard was situated on the east side of the street and was owned by a Richard Aldred an iron merchant. The yard had been in existence on this site since the early 1700′s and Mr. Aldred died in 1839 at Liverpool having reached the rare old age of 93.

Boothman’s Yard stood on the West side of French Gate and was the property of Mr Thomas Boothman and his wife, Anne. Thomas was a shoemaker in the town and died on Thursday 20 March, 1845, at the tender age of 57. He was buried in the Parish Church yard. His wife, Anne outlived him reaching the age of 80 died on June 1865 and she was buried in Doncaster (now Hyde Park) cemetery.

Crane’s Yard this was essentially a passage which linked French Gate and Factory Lane. It was named after the pub sign at the upper end of the alley, namely the Three Cranes which was built in 1784-85. In a deed of 1612, the Three Cranes is listed as an inn and, was at the time, occupied by a William Cowper. It was sold in 1698 to Thomas Squire a gent of Doncaster for £300 and was then described as an “inn heretofore called the Crane, since then called the Crowne,” and occupied by Mr Gibbins. Then in 1788 it was sold to Mr Dey, and is spoken of as being “divided and made into several tenements” (apartments) and was then occupied by a number of different persons. It is possible that the Three Cranes was a corruption of the Three Crowns – the Tiara or triple crown of Rome. There was a pub that went by the name of the Three Crowns listed on the High Street in 1684.

Oxley’s Yard Situated on the west side of French Gate and owned by the Oxley family since the year 1561. Mr Thomas Oxley was the secretary to the Doncaster Gas Light Company and a descendant of Robert Oxley who was for many years a ‘Fellmonger’ (a dealer in hides and skins, particularly sheep skins).

Another was Priest’s Yard, situated on the west side of French Gate it faced Church Lane and was owned and occupied by Mr Thomas Priest. He grew flowers for a living and boasted that his ‘tulips were better than those of the Dutch’. At that time tulips were flowers only for only the super rich. An example of it’s status was demonstrated in 1835 when a bulb of the variety called ‘Miss Fanny Kemble’ was sold by public auction in London for seventy five pounds! Mr Priest belonged to the Royal Jubilee Lodge of Ancient Druids, established at the nearby Green Dragon pub on 9 October 1809. His father was also called Thomas Priest who was a baker.

Lyon’s Yard was to be found on the west side of French Gate. The owners were Samuel Lyon, a tailor and his wife Sarah. They died within 6 weeks of each other in 1868 both of them in their 70′s.

Volunteer Yard This was situated on the east side of French Gate and was more of an open thoroughfare than an enclosed yard. It stretched from Friars’ Bridge all the way to the Parish Church-yard (the Minster). It was also an inn yard which was ‘bounded on one side by the back of houses and on the other side by a strong paling, behind which ran a river’ (the Cheswold).

Our image from that era shows the entrance to Doncaster from the north, with the Church on the left and Frenchgate stretching south into the distance, behind the fine houses seen here would be the Yards.