Doncaster (St. George)

DONCASTER (St. George), a parish, and the head of a union, in the N. division of the wapentake of Strafforth and Tickhill, W. riding of York; containing, with the townships of Langthwaite with Tilts, Balby with Hexthorpe, and Long Sandall with Wheatley, 11,245 inhabitants, of whom 10,455 are in the borough of Doncaster, 33 miles (S. by W.) from York, and 162 (N. N. W.) from London. This place was the Danum of Antoninus, a Roman station on the river Don, and was by the Saxons called Dona Ceastre, from which its present name is obviously derived. The great Roman road, the Erminstreet, which crossed the river here, may still be traced in several parts of the vicinity; and numerous coins, fragments of urns, and other relics of Roman antiquity, have been discovered on the south side of the town, among which was a votive altar, dug up in 1781. In the time of the Saxons, the place was a royal vill, and the occasional residence of the kings of Northumbria, of whom Edwin, on his conversion to Christianity by Paulinus, after founding a church at York, erected another at this town. In 633, Penda, the pagan king of Mercia, with Cadwaladr, King of Wales, having slain Edwin in a sanguinary battle at Hatfield, turned his victorious arms against Doncaster, which he so completely laid waste that the kings of Northumbria never attempted its restoration. 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. After passing through various owners, the manor and soke were sold to Henry Percy, second earl of Northumberland, on the death of whose son, at the battle of Towton, they again became forfeited to the crown; but the estates were subsequently restored, with the exception of the lordship of Doncaster, which was bestowed by charter of Henry VII. upon the corporation of the borough, to be held at a fee-farm rent of £74. 13. 11½. 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 5000 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 crown; and on the 6th of Dec. 1536, a conference was held here, when the king granted a general pardon, and the insurgents dispersed their forces and abandoned the enterprize. 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.

The town is pleasantly situated, chiefly on the south bank of the river Don, and consists of several streets, of which the High-street, about a mile in length, is spacious and handsomely built; it is generally considered to be one of the finest streets on the whole line of the road from London to Edinburgh. The streets are well paved, and lighted with gas, at the expense of the corporation, under whose direction also the inhabitants are amply supplied with water from works near Friar'sbridge, High-street, the expense being defrayed by a rate. On an eminence called Hall-Cross Hill, is an elegant cross, which superseded a more ancient structure of the kind, removed in order to widen and improve the carriage-road into the town. A public library and a newsroom, for which an appropriate building was erected in 1821, are supported by subscription; in the former is an excellent portrait of the late Henry Bower, Esq., F.S.A., president of the institution. The theatre is a handsome building, erected at the expense of the corporation, in 1774, and is generally opened for six weeks, the season commencing at the time of the races. The races, which have long been celebrated for their superior attraction, and are attended by a large portion of the families of rank in the north of England, are held in September, and continue for five days. The course, which has been adapted to the purpose at a great outlay, is about a mile from the town; and a very elegant and commodious stand has been erected at the expense of the corporation, who for many years gave an annual plate of £50, and a subscription of £42 towards the stakes, subsequently increased to about £400, and in 1841 to £1000, per annum, apportioned to various stakes by the stewards: there is also Her Majesty's plate of £105. A bettingroom was erected in 1826; it is 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.

But little either of trade or manufacture is carried on here: there are two or three iron-foundries, a sacking and twist factory, but not on a very extensive scale, and a flax-spinning factory. 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; and though the Midland railway, which passes within five miles of the place, has much impaired the latter source of gain, Doncaster has compensating advantages, namely, the almost total absence of manufactures, and its position in a district abounding with pleasing and richly diversified scenery, which combine to render it the favourite residence of numerous opulent and highly respectable families. Over the Don are, Friar's-bridge, erected by the corporation in 1614, and since widened, and ornamented with handsome iron balustrades; and the Mill-bridge, which was rebuilt in 1782. From both of these a long causeway has been constructed, to obviate the inconvenience arising from the occasional overflow of the waters. The river is navigable to Sheffield, and affords facilities of conveyance for articles of commerce in vessels of from 50 to 60 tons' burthen, to Hull, London, and other towns, from which timber, grocery, and other supplies are received in return. A canal from Isabel-Wath to Docken-Hill, with an iron bridge in French-gate, was formed in 1843. The great railway from London to York will pass by the town. The market is on Saturday, and is abundantly supplied with corn and with provisions of all kinds; there is also a market for wool, which commences on the second Saturday in June, and is continued every succeeding Saturday till the 6th of August. Fairs are held on Feb. 2nd, April 5th, Aug. 5th, and Nov. 16th, for cattle, horses, sheep, and woollen-cloths. The market-place occupies a spacious area, nearly in the centre of the town; and the market for poultry, eggs, butter, and also for vegetables and fruit, is held in an octagonal building, erected also by the corporation: new market-buildings were commenced in 1846. A covered corn-market was built in 1843.

The borough was first incorporated by charter of Richard I., which was confirmed and enlarged by several subsequent monarchs, of whom Charles II., in the 16th of his reign, granted a charter vesting the government in a mayor, twelve aldermen, and twenty-four capital burgesses, assisted by a recorder, town-clerk, and other officers. By the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., the governing body now consists of a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors: the borough is divided into three wards; the number of magistrates is eight. The freedom is inherited by birth, with restriction to the eldest son; or obtained by seven years' apprenticeship within the borough. The total value of the corporate property was estimated, in 1730, at £26,823, and in 1830 at £312,428. The recorder, who is appointed by the crown, holds quarterly courts of session for the trial of all offences not capital, and a court of record for the recovery of debts to any amount. The sessions for the wapentake of Strafforth and Tickhill are held here at Christmas; and there is a court of petty-sessions for the borough every Monday by the borough magistrates, and every Saturday by the county magistrates for the lower division of the wapentake. The powers of the county debtcourt of Doncaster, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Doncaster. The mansion-house, erected in 1748 at an expense of £8000, enlarged in 1800 at an additional cost of £4000, and further improved afterwards, is an elegant structure of the composite order; the front is embellished with duplicated columns rising from a rustic basement, and supporting an entablature and cornice, above which is an attic surmounted by the municipal arms in the centre, and 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 Marquess of Rockingham, in their parliamentary robes, presented by the earl to the corporation; in the dining-room is a well-painted portrait of Edward Chorley, M.D., in his robes of office as mayor. The old town-hall, lately pulled down, occupied the site of the ancient church of St. Mary Magdalene, of which the nave and chancel were in 1575 converted into rooms for holding the courts. The first stone of a new town-hall was laid in February 1847; the edifice is of the Corinthian order, is built of stone, and is 63 feet wide in front, with a depth of 152 feet. The borough gaol built in 1778 has been also removed, and a new one erected on the radiating principle.

The parish comprises 8351 acres, whereof 328 are common or waste. The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £32. 19. 9.; net income, £150, with a good glebe-house; patron, the Archbishop of York, whose tithes, as appropriator, have been commuted for £1805. 2., and who has a glebe of 40 acres. The church is a spacious cruciform structure, and, with the exception of the chancel, which is of great antiquity, is in the later English style, with a lofty embattled tower rising from the intersection of the nave and transepts to the height of 151 feet, crowned with pinnacles, and strengthened by buttresses enriched with canopies of elegant design. The whole of the exterior 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 interior is less elaborately embellished: the nave is lighted by a range of nine clerestory windows, and the roof supported on octangular columns; the window of the chancel is ornamented with figures of the prophets and apostles in stained glass, inserted at a cost of £1000, by T. J. L. Baker, Esq. In the transepts were several chantries, and there are numerous altar-tombs and monuments in various parts of the church, several of which were mutilated during the time of Cromwell, when the ancient stained glass was broken, and many of the sculptures destroyed: 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 the late 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, with a square embattled tower, surmounted by a slender and graceful spire, which, being injured by lightning in 1836, was partially taken down and rebuilt by subscription. The edifice contains 1000 sittings, of which 300 are free; and is situated in an area of about two acres. The living is a district perpetual curacy; net income, £198; patrons, the Trustees of Mr. Jarratt. At Balby is a third incumbency. There are places of worship for the Society of Friends, Independents, Primitive Methodists, Wesleyans, and Unitarians, and a Roman Catholic chapel.

The free grammar school was founded soon after the dissolution of monasteries, and the endowment considerably augmented by Aldermen Ellis and Symkinson with property vested in the corporation, who pay the master a salary of £120: there is a scholarship of £10 per annum in Jesus College, Cambridge, belonging to the school, the master of which is appointed by trustees. St. Thomas's Hospital was erected in 1588, for the support of six poor housekeepers, by Thomas Ellis, who endowed it with an estate then yielding £10, but now £400, per annum. The savings' bank, built in 1843, is a chaste structure of rotunda form. The poor law union comprises 54 parishes or places, with a population of 32,400: a commodious workhouse, a plain brick building with pointed gables, was erected in 1840, near the site of the ancient hospital of St. James. Mr. Quintin Kay, of Ludgate-hill, London, in 1804 bequeathed £2000 three per cent., and £6000 four per cent., Bank annuities, producing £300 per annum, which are chiefly applied to the relief of reduced housekeepers above 50 years of age, and in apprenticing children. Among the religious establishments of this place were the hospitals of St. James and St. Nicholas, founded in the reign of Henry III. for lepers; a house of Grey friars, established in 1315, the foundations of which have been recently discovered in excavating for a canal; and a house of Black friars, of which the founder is unknown.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.