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Doncaster News and Features: 1852: A History of Doncaster

This is an excerpt from the 1852 book by Henry Schroder called The Annals of Yorkshire from the Earliest Period to the Present Time

This place was by the Saxons called Dona Ceastre, from which its present name is obviously derived; the great Roman road, the Ermin-street, which crossed the river here, may still be traced in several parts of the vicinity, and numerous coins, fragments of urns,-and other remains of Roman antiquity, have been discovered on the south side of the town, among which was a votive altar, dug up in 1781.

In 750, according to Camden, the town was destroyed by lightning, and the castle, of which the founder and the period of its erection are equally unknown, is supposed to have shared the same fate. At the Conquest, the manor was granted by William, with numerous other lands, to his brother, the Earl of Morton, by whose son and successor they were forfeited in the reign of Henry I, and after passing through various owners, the manor and soke 1535 of Doncaster were sold to Henry Percy, second Earl of Northumberland, on the death of whose son, at the battle of Towton, they became forfeited to the crown ; but the estates were subsequently restored, with the exception of the lordship of Doncaster, which was bestowed by a charter of Henry VII upon the corporation of the borough, to be held in a fee-farm rent of £74 13s lljd.

During the insurrection in the reign of Henry VIII, called the "Pilgrimage of Grace," Aske, the leader, at the head of 30,000 men, marched to this place, but a party of the royal army, consisting of 5,000 men, defended the bridge, and successfully opposed their entrance into the town. The insurgents encamped on Scawsby Lees, where they held a parley with the Duke of Norfolk, which terminated in a petition to the king; and on the 6th of December 1536, a conference was held here, when the king granted a general pardon, and the insurgents dispersed and abandoned their enterprise.

In 1642, Charles I visited the town on his route to Nottingham, and attended divine service in the church;
and after the battle of Marston Moor, the Earl of Manchester established his head quarters here, while besieging the royal garrison of Pontefract.

Doncaster is pleasantly situated, chiefly on the south bank of the river Don, and consists of several streets, of which High-street, about a mile in length, is spacious and handsomely built. The town is well paved and lighted with gas, at the expense of the corporation, under whose direction also the inhabitants are amply supplied with water, of which the cost is defrayed by a rate.

Little either of trade or manufacture is carried on here; there are two or three foundries, a sacking and twist manufactory, and a flax spinning mill.

The traffic arises chiefly from the situation of the town, in the midst of a fine rural plain, on the line of the great thoroughfare from London to Edinburgh. The absence of manufactures, however, offers compensating advantages; for the position of Doncaster, in a district abounding with pleasing and richly diversified scenery, combine to render it the favourite residence of numerous opulent and highly respectable families, whose mansions are conspicuous in every direction.

Edmund Beckett Denison, Esquire MP, for the West-riding, and chairman of the Great Northern Railway company, has resided here for many years.

That which gives Doncaster its principal attraction are the races, the Great Northern Meeting, ranking second to the renowned Derby at Epsom. These races have long been celebrated, and are attended by families of rank from all parts of the kingdom.

The meeting takes place in September, and within the last few years, an important, and it is believed, a judicious alteration, has been made in the order of running. The races formerly commenced on Monday, the great event of the week, the St. Leger, being run on Tuesday, and the next, in point of interest, the Cup, on Thursday.

By the existing arrangements the sport does not commence till Tuesday, and the St. Leger stakes are fixed for Wednesday, and the Cup on Friday. The interest of the meeting, therefore, is kept up throughout the week, instead of flagging, as it sometimes did, under the previous regulations.

The course, one of the best in England, is about a mile from the town, and the grand stand, erected at the expense of the corporation, is not to be surpassed in point qf elegance and accommodation. That body, knowing how much the prosperity of the town depends upon the great gathering, have always evinced a warm interest in its success, and they now contribute upwards of £1,000 per annum, apportioned to various stakes, by the stewards, who have recently added to the list some valuable prizes for competition, which excite much interest in the betting circles. But all things have their decadence.

The course, at Doncaster, undoubtedly does not present that splendid appearance which it was wont to do in the more palmy days of racing, where the equipages of Earl Fitzwilliam, and other noblemen, dazzled the eye with their splendour. Yet, in point of numbers, whether on the stand, or on the ground, there has been no falling off.

The year 1850, will be memorable in the annals of the turf. On that occasion it is computed that not fewer
than 200,000 persons were present on the St. Leger day, attracted together from all parts, by the celebrity of the horses that were known to be engaged.

From Sheffield alone, the railway trains conveyed 13,000, numbers of whom, for want of better accommodation, sat or laid upon the roofs of the carriages, to the imminent peril of their lives; the attendance from other large towns was proportionately large.

The inns, eating houses, and every other place where refreshments were likely to be had, were literally besieged, and in hundreds of instances the applicants came away empty, being unable to obtain either meat or drink for love or money. The harvest to the innkeepers and others, must have been bountiful, indeed.

The race for the St. Leger terminated in a dead heat, between Voltigeur, the winner of the Derby, of the same year, the property of the Earl of Zetland, and a Irish horse, called Bussborough. The deciding heat did not take place till six o'clock, and the excitement which prevailed amongst the immense multitude, when the horses made their appearance a second time, was, perhaps, unparalleled. The backers of Voltigeur, especially those who had heavy bets depending, presenting the appearance of men standing on the brink of a precipice, and afraid of falling in, so completely were all their calculations set at nought by this unlooked for event. A few minutes, however, and their pursed-up visages became relaxed, the rider of Voltigeur landing him in a winner, after a well-contested race, amidst deafening shouts of applause,and a tossing up of hats which literally darkened the air. The moment the result became known, there was a simultaneous rush to the railway station, every person wishing to secure a seat and reach home.

The confusion, as may easily be imagined, was immense, and the efforts of the officials to maintain anything like order were utterly frustrated. Parties precipitated themselves into carriages, without inquiring the place of their destination, and the result was, that in some instances, they found themselves scores of miles away from the place of their residence. Fortunately, however, no accident occurred, a gratifying circumstance, and which, considering the occasion, may be regarded as miraculous.

The interest of the week did not terminate here. On Friday, Voltigeur started for the cup, when he encountered a formidable opponent in the Flying Dutchman, belonging to the Earl of Eglinton, also a winner of the Derby and St. Leger. The attendance was again large, and the interest excited very great.

At one period of the race, the Dutchman was so far in advance, that it was thought he could not be overtaken. But Voltigeur ultimately collared him, passed him, and won cleverly, to the infinite delight of his admirers, and the mortification of the supporters of the Dutchman, against which horse they said it would be madness to start anything. The enthusiasm was immense, and was even shared in by ladies of rank on the grand stand. When the animal was brought within the enclosure, the Countess of Zetland descended from the stand, and decorated the favourite with ribands, amidst tumultuous applause.

Voltigeur presented the first instance of the same horse having won the three events, and hence, he was proclaimed the first racer of his day. Others contended that the Dutchman was not in a fit condition to start for the cup, and that the result was a mistake. In order, however, to put the merits of the two to the test, a match for one thousand guineas was made between the Earl of Zetland and the Earl of Eglinton, which were to come off at York in the following year. On the day appointed, the race course at Knavesmire, presented such an assemblage as had not been witnessed before.

The day was beautifully fine, and the scene altogether of the most exhilarating kind. In addition to a host of the nobility and gentry, staunch supporters of the turf, who thronged the grand stand, there were present his Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge, their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Prussia, his Royal Highness Prince Henry of the Netherlands, and many other foreigners of distinction.

Previous to the race the betting was even, the Flying Dutchman however having the call. Voltigeur led off at a rattling pace, and maintained a position of several lengths in advance, till he arrived at the straight running, when the Dutchman, whose terrific strike began to tell, came alongside, challenged him, and one of the most splendid and exciting contests on record ensued, which ended in the defeat of Voltigeur by about half a length, as some persons contended, whilst others as stoutly insisted that he was not beaten by more than half-a-neck. When a short distance from nome Flatman, the rider of Voltigeur, lost his whip, whether by accident or design is not known, and this circumstance was eagerly laid hold of to account for the Dutchman's victory. There will always be a difference of opinion as to the merits of these two splendid animals, but it seems to be universally agreed that nothing equal to them has appeared since the days of Eclipse and Flying Childers.

A handsome structure, as a betting room, was erected at Doncaster in 1826, of the Ionic order, 90 feet in length, and 22 feet broad, lighted in the day time by spacious domes, and at night with gas introduced into three brilliant chandeliers of richly cut glass. A new club-room connected with the races, an elegant building in the Italian style, was erected in 1841.

The Mansion House, erected in 1748, at an expense of £8,000, and enlarged in 1800, at an additional cost of £4,000, is an elegant structure of the composite order. The front is embellished with duplicated columns rising from a rustic basement, supporting an entablature and cornice, above which is an attic, surmounted by the municipal arms in the centre, and ornamented with urns on
each side. The principal room is decorated with a full length portrait of George III. in his coronation robes, and with portraits of the third Earl Fitzwilliam and the mayor of»Hockingham, in their parliamentary robes, presented by the earl to the corporation.

The Town Hall contains a commodious suite of rooms for the civil and criminal courts, and for the transaction of the business of the corporation.

The Theatre is a handsome building, erected in 1774, and is generally opened at the time of the races.

In addition to a Free Grammar School, a national school, and a British school, there is a public library and news-room, for which an appropriate building was erected in 1821, supported by subscription.

The town is also provided with a savings' bank, a hospital, almshouses, and other institutions for promoting the welfare of the inhabitants.

The Parish Church is a spacious and elegant cruciform structure, with a lofty square embattled tower, rising to the height of 151 feet, crowned with pinnacles; the whole of the interior is highly enriched. The west window, of large dimensions, is filled with beautiful tracery, and the south porch is of peculiar elegance and richly sculptured. The window of the chancel is ornamented with figures of the prophets and apostles in stained glass, inserted at a cost of £1000, by TJL Baker.

In the area under the tower are the monuments of Robin of Doncaster, and Thomas Ellis, five times mayor of the borough, and founder of the hospital of St. Thomas.

Christ Church was erected in 1829, at the expense of J. Jarratt, Esq., who gave £10,000 for its erection, and £3000 towards its endowment. It is a handsome structure in the later English style, and contains 1000 sittings, of which 300 are free.

There are other places of worship for dissenters.

The government of the borough was formerly vested in a mayor, 1851 twelve aldermen, twenty-four capital hurgesses, assisted by a recorder, and other officers ; but by the Municipal Act, it is now divided into three wards, the governing body consisting of a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors.

The present poor law union comprises fifty-four parishes or places, and the population, by the census of 1851, was 34,669, of population which number, 16,953 were males, and 17,716 females.

This shows an increase of 267 from the previous decenial period of 1841. The number of houses at the last census, was 7,800, exhibiting an increase of 610 during the ten years.

Doncaster is not a parliamentary borough, but the inhabitants are about to take the necessary steps to secure for themselves that privilege.


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