There will still be many people in Doncaster who remember buildings and shops that are no more in our town centre.
From The Guildhall, Greyfriars’ Baths and the public Library which disappeared decades ago, to the Gaumont and Civic Theatre which we have lost most recently.
Doncaster is not unique in having lost landmarks, shops and what would now be considered precious buildings. I lived in Chelmsford, Essex in the late 1980s and their legacy from the days of ring road and bypass planning in the ’60s was a dual carriageway that brilliantly dissected the heart of the town from the old Roman Moulsham street and Park. Access from park to town used to be by a dubious subway – I do hope progress has changed that. As I’ve said many times progress is about gaining and losing, but it does no harm to look back and share what once was, while also acknowledging what is still worth celebrating in our town.
As a child I remember the Guildhall building, which stood where Marks & Spencer’ stands today. It was on the great North Road, now the pedestrianised Frenchgate.Just along was the Reindeer Inn where Charles Dickens stayed while visiting the races.
I was told once Frenchgate was so named because of the traders who in Medieval times used to sell their goods and trinkets here, having travelled from territories around Calais which were then owned by us. It would be lovely if this were true. There used to be a rather elegant department store in the Frenchgate Centre called Brown Muffs, which opened in 1975. I remember the posh in-store café called The Three Cranes, which was described in the menu as being on the site of an early hostelry where King Charles I had once stayed. The building I miss the most is the old Public library across from St George’s, on Trafford way before the dual carriageway – aren’t they a recurring theme in the heart of our town centres! When it was built in 1889 – a Victorian hymn of praise to the neo-gothic style of architecture – it was really a red brick expression of the importance of free access to books and the arts. It embodied a post- industrial revolution ideal, in a time of growth with the days of Edwardian elegance just over the horizon.
While the truth of the matter is there will always be change history shows us that there are many new things that are to be celebrated. After all if the caveman had felt nostalgic about his cave, he might not have upgraded to the semi-detached mud hut.
There are still many glorious buildings and institutions to celebrate in Doncaster. Some will be on show in a couple of weeks as thousands pour into our town for Leger week. There will also be a warm Doncaster welcome for our visitors and that is something to be really proud of.