Rock icon in tribute to legends of Doncaster town

It may not be the sort of place where you would expect to find a 1980s rock icon.

Thursday, 17th October 2019, 2:07 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th November 2019, 9:36 am

But if you step into a meeting of Mexborough and District Heritage Society, the chances are you’ll bump into the guitarist and songwriter from the 70s and 80s band Saxon.

Away from the world of music, Graham Oliver has become an expert in local pottery – and he takes his interest into the society, based in the local history section of Mexboorugh Library.

He is now a committee member and as comfortable lecturing about Mexborough pottery at society functions as he is on stage with a guitar.

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L-r Julia Ashby, research manager, Bill Lawrence, Vice Chairman, Graham Oliver and Derek Hibbert, both committee members, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-01-10-19-HeritageSociety-1
L-r Julia Ashby, research manager, Bill Lawrence, Vice Chairman, Graham Oliver and Derek Hibbert, both committee members, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-01-10-19-HeritageSociety-1

But there is more to the society than lectures.

Among its recent actions has been a campaign to bring blue plaques into Mexborough town centre to mark local buildings relating to notable former residents.

When the latest plaque was unveiled, Mr Oliver was among those beaming with pride at the latest achievement.

The latest plaque marks the contribution to Doncaster of Fred and Anne Green. The couple, who ran a local grocery business, left a fortune to the Montugu Hospital for the benefit of the local community.

Julia Ashby, research manager and Derek Hibbert, committee member, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-01-10-19-HeritageSociety-3

The fund they created still pays for items needed by the Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals Trust.

They plaque in their memory is sited on their former shop on High Street, on the corner with Hope Street.

It was the latest of a number of plaques in the town. For some years, there have been plaques to the English heavyweight boxing champion William ‘Iron’ Hague at the Montagu Arms pub, and the first British Formula One world champion, Mike Hawthorn, at High Street.

More recently one was put up at the former home of the poet laureate of the 80s and 90s, Ted Hughes, on Main Street.

Plaque erected by the Heritage Society, this year in May. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-01-10-19-HeritageSociety-5

Last year, one was revealed in memory of the England and Manchester City footballing hero of the 1930s, Eric Brook, who until recently was the club’s all time record scorer. His plaque is now at Mexborough Athletic Sport Ground at Hampden Road.

There are more to come. Another poet, Harold Massingham is due to be honoured, as next month is Donald Watson, the founder of the Vegan Society who coined the term vegan.

More names have been suggested for the future including the actor Keith Barron, who died in 2017, and the jockey Johnny Seagrave, who died in 2009.

Secretary of the society, Bill Lawrence, said the society had wanted to create a heritage trail and put the plaques in place, and had received funding some from the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership to help them do that.

He said: “The Mike Hawthorne, Iron Hague and Ted Hughes plaques already existed. We wanted to add to that, so now we have put one in place for Fred and Anne Green. Eric Brook was the first one we did, and Manchester City financed that. The rail union ASLEF have funded one to Albert Fox, who was their general secretary in the early 20th century.”

Bill, aged 73, was born in Doncaster to a Mexborough family, but moved away from the area as a small child. His mum later returned to Mexborough, and he later moved back to keep an eye on her in her old age.

“I may not have a local accent, but I’ve always had an affinity for Mexborough,” he said.

“I came up here regularly to visit grandparents and aunts and uncles until I moved back 25 years ago, and it was a natural thing for me to develop an interest in its history. My grandfather came to Mexborough in 1911 and got work as a bricklayer sinking Barnburgh pit.”

Society archivist Julia Ashby was a founder member of the group in 1987 and still remains involved. Julia

It originally held meetings at what is now New Pastures Primary School and Julia was at the second talk it held, by local history expert Norman Watson.

She started to develop an interest in local history in the 1960s, when her parents bought an old farm house on Market Street and she found a bottle in the chimney that dated the house back to 1795 – sparking a life-long interest.

Chairman Margaret Roper, also 73, is Mexborough born and bred, and joined the society out of an interested in family history. She has traced her dad’s side of the family back to the 1700s, when they were working on the canals in Mexborough.

Now she helps others trace their own families. A recent discovery for a visitor to the library helped him discover how his ancestor was killed unloading a barge when a jib from a derrick landed on him while he worked.

The group has also campaigned to save historic buildings, such as the Royal Electric Theatre and the Glassby Arch.

For years, the society has had dreams of opening its own museum in Mexborough. It has more than 3,000 photos of the town, and a number artefacts, which members would love to be able to put on public display..

But the issue it has always faced has been funding.

Margaret admitted it was a long-standing ambition and said if an arrangement could be reached that would allow the museum to be an attraction alongside a business, such as a cafe, it would be appealing.

“We’d love it if someone would provide a building were we could have the museum as the focus for something like a cafe. Schools could visit. Pupils are fascinated by things like that, and it would be an excellent education experience.”