Down Memory Lane with Peter Tuffrey - Motorbikes and music

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DEPRESSED Bennett Dodd turned to drink, then committed suicide by throwing himself in the river after being left out of a will.

This is just one fascinating tale unearthed by John Dodds while researching the history of his family which once ran several successful businesses in the town.

Bennett Dodd left Knightsbridge in his early 40s and made his way to Doncaster around 1875 and found employment with Dr Smith, a surgeon at the old Whitaker Street Infirmary.

The doctor lived at 13 Hall Gate and Bennett, his wife and their five children, were found accommodation at number 11.

It has not been discovered why Bennett came to Doncaster.

John said: “In fact, it is a bit of a mystery.”

In subsequent years Bennett became depressed and took to drink, and as his condition worsened he committed suicide, aged 51, in August 1883.

According to a report on the inquest, the final straw was learning that he was not included in a will settlement.

An old employer, a Lady Welby, left a number of her servants £300 each but he got nothing.

Bennett was last seen alive in French Gate’s Barrel Inn, and shortly before throwing himself in the nearby river, is reported to have said to the landlord: “People who do the most in service are least thought of.”

Bennett’s wife and children were turned out of the Hall Gate House and lived for a short period at the rear of Green’s Yard.

She eventually moved back to number 11, prior to remarrying and then living in Cemetery Road.

From the time of Bennett’s suicide, his family added ‘s’ to their surname to disassociate themselves from him.

Arthur Bennett Dodds was about 13 at the time of his father’s death and served an apprenticeship as a coach builder/signwriter in the Doncaster Plant Works carriage department.

After a short time he left and in 1894 started a business as a signwriter and repairer of horse-drawn coaches in the Mail Coach Yard area off French Gate.

A year later Arthur branched out and started a dancing school at 15 Union Street and then at 84 St Sepulchre Gate, next to the Good Woman Hotel.

His wife Sarah Jane also opened the Harp Music Stores on the same site. Sarah Jane played the harp, and a full-sized instrument was attached to the shop’s exterior.

Arthur was also friends with Henry Senior of the Sandhouse and arrangeddances there in the ballroom.

A little later Arthur opened a shop at 76 St Sepulchre Gate, selling cycles.

Then at number 1 Printing Office Street, he set up as a musical instrument retailer. About 1915, Arthur saw the opportunity of trading on the opposite side of Printing Offiice Street and opened a double-fronted shop at number 23 selling motorbikes.

Arthur’s son – also called Arthur – was a despatch rider with his regiment during the First World War.

During the 1920s, notices in the local newspapers gave details of spectacular motorbike speed trials on the Racecourse, in which Arthur Jnr and his brother, Horace, were involved.

In fact Arthur Jnr won a number of trophies.

Horace became involved with music programmes for schools, Doncaster Concert Society and the Elmfield House Orchestra.

He also played double-bass with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, even though he had lost part of a finger in a motorbike accident.

In 1936, Arthur Bennett Dodds eloped to Scarborough with his mistress, some 40 years his junior. His wife continued to live at 84 St Sepulchre Gate.

While living in Scarborough, Arthur Bennett bought two rows of properties and lived off the rents.

John remembers him as a ‘big man, immaculate in his three-piece suits.

“Thankfully as far as I could see, he did not betray any of his father’s characteristics.

“He wasn’t a depressive and didn’t smoke or drink.”

While Arthur Bennett was in Scarborough, his two sons ran the various family businesses and shops in Doncaster.

“But they didn’t have their father’s ambition, drive or business acumen,” said John.

“They didn’t expand the businesses or add any new ones.”