Images of borough's historic past in Doncaster's William Sheardown collection

The Sheardown collection of drawings and watercolours is now on display in Doncaster.

Tuesday, 14th August 2018, 9:41 am
Beetham, William; William Sheardown (1797-1877); Doncaster Museum Service;
Beetham, William; William Sheardown (1797-1877); Doncaster Museum Service;

The art collection held by Heritage Doncaster contains around 2,000 artworks, representing everything from artists with national and international reputations, to works by artists local to the Doncaster area.

For anyone who has an interest in the history of Doncaster one of the most fascinating groups of works is the ‘Sheardown Collection’ – a fascinating collection.

Baxter Gate was the street of bakers in medieval times. In this picture the old house with an extended lower storey is a butchers shop. To the right of it is an elegant new town house built in the latest style

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The Collection, is entitled The Antiquities of Doncaster, Roman, Saxon and Medieval. It is illustrated by historical notices, together with original drawings, sketches and engravings, etc.

One of the principal objects of interest are the ancient plans of the town and of its neighbourhood, which brings together around 70 images.

Many of these fascinating images show the appearance of Doncaster between the late 1700s and the early 1800s.

William Sheardown JP (who lived from 1797 to 1877) was a local historian, and he was associated with his father in the production of the local newspaper, which was at the time the Doncaster Gazette.

The Town Hall stood on the site of what is now the covered market hall. It was used for Corporation business, public meetings and as a magistrates court. It was demolished in 1846 when the Guildhall was erected on Frenchgate

William Sheardown JP was also a collector, and following his death in 1877 his obituary records that he left a “large and interesting collection of coins, books, pictures, paintings and other things, many of them of a local character”.

It is likely that the pictures that are shown here in the collection were part of that bequest.

Alongside the collection of drawings on display there are surviving the notes that Sheardown made to go with them, so that the collection is not just a visual record of Doncaster during that time, but it is also a treasure trove of information about the streets and buildings that people can see in the pictures.

The period shown in Sheardown’s collection of drawings was one of great growth for Doncaster.

This image shows Nether Hall at the beginning of the 1800s. In the background to the left can be seen St. Georges Church, while behind the Hall to the right a Humber Keel makes its way along the River Don Navigation. The Hall was home to a branch of the Copley family of Sprotbrough Hall

In the year 1764 the population of the town of Doncaster was around 3,000, but by the time of the first census was brought out in 1801 the population of the area had risen to 5,697.

The town’s position on the Great North Road, the fact that the town had moderate winter rainfall and it also had a range of social attractions, saw a number of well-off people moving to the town.

New houses were needed to accommodate these in-comers and some were built on empty land, including the area that is now South Parade.

In other areas of the town older medieval buildings were knocked down to make way for fashionable new houses.

The Mansion House provided a focus for parties and for concerts, and for people with money to spend. There was a wide range of shops selling everything from silverware and wigs, to fine wines and musical instruments.

A pack of hounds was also maintained by the Corporation to ensure that gentlemen were not deprived of their sport when staying in the town.

Although Doncaster was only a small town it would have been bustling with travellers stopping off from their journeys along the Great North Road. All those travellers needed places to stay, and Doncaster with its 40 or more inns would have had no shortage of rooms for the night.

The most famous of the coaching inns were the Angel Inn, which stood on Frenchgate on a site now occupied by Marks & Spencer, and the Reindeer Hotel which was on the corner of Hallgate and Cleveland Street. Between them they used 250 horses a day for the transport of passengers and goods.

The inns were one of the major employers in the town, with the women serving the customers and cleaning the rooms, while the men and boys looked after the horses and stables. The other employment was domestic service – stately homes around Doncaster such as Cusworth and Sprotbrough Halls offered work to local people.

Doncaster was then, as it still is now, an important market town. Markets were held once a week and all kinds of produce from the surrounding countryside would have been brought to the town to be bought and sold. One of the images in the Sheardown Collection shows the Butcher’s Shambles, which was built in the Market Place in 1756 at the cost of £550 to the Corporation.

The pictures assembled by William Sheardown show the appearance of Doncaster during a prosperous and elegant period, before the great changes brought about by the coming of the railways and the beginnings of the coal industry, which altered the town for ever. We are fortunate to have them in the collection of Heritage Doncaster.