This book gives a fascinating glimpse of how industry evolved in Doncaster

A new book offers a fascinating insight into the working lives of Doncaster people over time.

Tuesday, 16th July 2019, 12:47 pm
Updated Tuesday, 23rd July 2019, 6:14 pm
Working men of Doncaster, depicted within the book

Doncaster at Work - People and Industries Through the Years, is compiled and written by historian Paul Chrystal.

It is fully illustrated, depicting the varied occupations of people in and around the town through many decades.

Published by Amberley Books, the work looks at Doncaster's origins and how it has always benefited from its location.

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Women at work and deep in concentration

It stands on the Great North Road, superseded by the A1 trunk road, that remains the primary route for all traffic making journeys from London to Edinburgh or vice versa.

Due to its strategic geographical importance, the town emerged as a notable industrial centre in the mid-nineteenth century.

Beneath the town lies a huge coal seam and it was this that prompted Doncaster’s real surge of population, with the mining industry.

In the early part of the twentieth century Doncaster became one of the largest coal-mining areas in the country.

Factory work in Doncaster

Coal mining as an industry became one of the most significant local employers of men in and around the town, attracting many to Doncaster for the employment.

Doncaster At Work explores the life of the town and its people, from pre-industrial beginnings through to the present day.

With a fascinating series of contemporary photographs and illustrations, it takes us through the rise of the coal industry and the town's role as a major railway engineering centre.

Then follows the closure of several collieries in the mid-1980s and the sad but subsequent loss of many other tertiary industries.

Working life in Doncaster

It ventures into the twenty-first century as the town's fortunes began to change again, with the redevelopment and rejuvenation of its central areas.

To give a flavour of the book, its introduction runs as follows:

In 1837 William White described a town where ‘The streets are generally spacious and well built, and contain many handsome houses and elegant public edifices.’

The following year Dr. T. F. Dibdin wrote, ‘Of all the towns I have entered on the continent or in England, I am not sure that I was ever so impressed with the neatness, the breathing space, the residence-inviting aspect …

“It is cheerful, commodious, and the streets are of delightful breadth.

“You need not fear suffocation, either from natural or artificial causes for no smoke is vomited from trailing column from manufacturing chimneys.

“The sky is blue, the sun is bright, the air is pure.’

The Revd J. G. Fardell, rector of Sprotbrough, described it as ‘one of the most striking and beautiful of England’s towns’ in 1850.

Halcyon days indeed, and shades of Arcadia.

Are these sun-drenched lands familiar? No, not many people would recognise this as Doncaster, a town which then seems to have had more than its share of wealthy residents who were attracted by the absence of heavy industry, the plethora of fine houses and an inexpensive and abundant supply of provisions.

Indeed, in the late 1830s, one resident felt compelled to write: ‘there are but few towns in the Kingdom in which so great a portion of the inhabitants are possessed of independent fortunes’.

Obviously, Doncaster also had its share of slums and disgusting living conditions, inequality and poverty.

But it had affluence and a healthy standard of living could be enjoyed there by some.

It was however, indisputably, a typical English market town with a market-town economy and market-town people.

Author Paul Chrystal appears regularly on BBC local radio the World Service, as well as publishing features for national newspapers and history magazines.

He is the author of many books on a wide range of subjects, including histories of northern places focusing on Yorkshire, social histories of tea, chocolate and confectionery, and various aspects of classical literature and Roman history.

Married, with three grown-up children, he lives in Yorkshire, and has been a history adviser for a number of Yorkshire attractions over the years.

The book, Doncaster at Work; People and Industry through the Years is also available in Kindle, Kobo and iBook formats.

For further details about the book, visit the website or Facebook page of Amberley Publishing, who specialise in non-fiction transport and history books.