Foot Pavements and Road Improvement

As we carry on our merry way with our twenty first century lifestyles it is all too easy for us to take certain aspects of our surroundings for granted. In the western world we have made rapid progression since Victorian times both in health and hygiene. Up until relatively recently in the grand scheme of things we suffered poor sanitation and would have found it incredibly hazardous to even walk through the streets. In Doncaster during the majority of the eighteenth century there were few or no common sewers with all the liquid refuse of the town flowing around our feet in open gutters. Added to this, there were no foot pavements for us to avoid the swill. What is even more remarkable though is that we appeared to have slipped backwards at some time in history for even in the Roman town of Pompeii side pavements were discovered. The streets of Doncaster were described as narrow and crooked, gloomy by day because of the projecting upper storeys and confined spaces, and “perfect pits of darkness by night, relieved only by the lights in the houses or by the passing cresset lights that attended the progress of passengers of consequence.” Picturesque effect in construction was constantly obtained by the sacrifice of health and safety. Thatched roofs, plaster and timber materials were favourable to fire, as the denseness of the buildings and the pent up rooms, into which the air could hardly penetrate, and where gloom and dirt prevailed, were favourable to disease.

In those days, the deep pits and ruts encountered were so formidable that it was not safe to travel on foot, and the carriageway had no other distinction than a row of posts driven into the ground at intervals; if the passenger managed to avoid hitting his head against the low protruding houses, then he would surely have come to an opening where “a grim-headed and grinning spout sent down its torrents of water from the old-fashioned gabled building, and drenched him to the very skin”, if he dodged out of the way of this and into the very edge of the carriageway then he risked his life there too. As one man of the time poetically described the road, “Laden carts with thundering wagons meet. Wheels clashed with wheels, and barred the narrow street.”

In the middle of the nineteenth century the Corporation of Doncaster felt pleased with its advancements in making our streets safer and more accessible, that feeling was short-lived however, as in 1864, Alderman H. Woodmansey (he would become our Mayor two years later), along with other members of the Corporation paid a visit to Glasgow to witness the ‘state’ of their footways. The group returned to Doncaster in silent shame when they found Glasgow “possessed pavements of surpassing width, smoothness, and size of flags.” Doncaster had many obstacles in the streets which made paving them almost impossible, for householders had erected “numerous sheds, signposts, and projections of various kinds.” It was until then the responsibility of each property owner to pave in front of his own building so far as his budget would allow so that a mixture of materials were used giving the whole street the appearance “as if a barricade had just been pulled down but not yet levelled.” In the main streets like Hall Gate and High Street the main part of the carriageway was separated by a line of posts and chains, or by wooden palings.

Pavements were known to have existed before this time too, although they were very few and far between. I say this, as a document dated 1432, which talks of a man who had earned his right to be buried in the parish churchyard states, “John Boythorp of Doncaster, to be buried in St. George’s Churchyard, near his wife, for mending the way from Spulcre Grene (St. Sepulchre Gate) to St. James’s Chapel, and for mending Hexthorp Lane”, and then later in 1611 an entry for the “Court Leete for the Borrow (Borough) and Soake of Doncaster” talks of a fine imposed on, “Robert Birks, of Bentley, for a great broken pavement – £3 3s, and Thomas Coulson, for making a channel into the Church Lane forth of his backsyde, annoying passengers.” In 1656, monies were awarded at a similar court in Doncaster to “Three workmen, for mending the fence at Theefe Lane end, for setting the stepping stones at the chapel, and for paving at the Sunny Bar &c.”

In 1714, it was agreed that it fell to the Corporation to repair the pavement, “lying betwixt the White House and the Marsh Rows, in Marshgate. The roads themselves and the responsibility of keeping them in good repair was given to locally assigned overseers, the three main ones being John Arthur who was a legal expert, Richard Fayram who knew our roads and ways very well, and Robert Moody a local, well-respected businessman. These men presided over the management of Doncaster’s highways for a good while, and they did a fine job of making improvements. Their account book from 1730, transcribed below, gives a fascinating insight into what was involved in keeping our roads functioning.

For ye repares of ye higeways:

  • Pade Richard Hargreave for a booke – 2s 6d
  • Mr Burdein for a warrend – 2s
  • Nicolle Hobson for stoopes and seting – 10s
  • Thomas Green for bruching heges and scowring diches – 1s 6d
  • For removeing earth in March-gate – 6s
  • For takeing offal out rode and make good where wee got gravill – 10s
  • For spreading rubbish in Crimsell – 6d
  • For hewing downe ye rode and carring away ye earth, and levelling ye rode back of ye buildings – 14s 6d
  • For cleaning ye rode against ye house of mentenence – 3s
  • For removeing a hill and making a fut pad – 2s
  • For ale for ye drowghts and labuourers – 12s
  • For geting grafill and fill up ye places – £2
  • Paid labowerers six days for filling ye cartes – £1
  • For hacking ruts and leting out water – 9s
  • Paid Robert Porter for gethring sum areares – 3s

In 1737, the causeway leading to St James’ was taken up and re-laid and a new causeway was created at Dockin Hill. Marshgate, from time immemorial formed a portion of the ancient limits of the town. “The pack-horse, the wagon, and van, made its name known along the Roman track-way, or what is now called the Great North Road”. Here the driver rested and stabled his horses at The Falcon, or the St. George and Dragon Inn. He “unfolded his budget of metropolitan and wayside news to eager listeners, and drank to the very depths of his tankard of home brewed ale, local records speak of this outlet (the George and Dragon Inn) even from the time of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men, down to that of the Princess Victoria, our beloved Queen, who stopped there on her route to Bishopsthorpe (York), in 1835.” There had also been the Friar’s Lodge, an ancient house, built in 1305 and demolished in 1843. Marshgate was always a treacherous place owing to its low-lying position in relation to the river Don. Prior to the eighteenth century, Marshgate was extremely liable to flooding brought on by even the slightest rise in water levels. In 1646, Robert Ince, the Mayor of Doncaster, agreed to pay 1s 10d to a “cripple yt came from London with a passe and stayed two days and two nights in the towne because of the water.”

As Doncaster flourished and began evolving into a forward thinking town, the Corporation felt that the Marshgate side of the town was “not creditable to the borough” and so decided, in 1754, to “raise the road and protect it by [constructing] a substantial stone wall.” John Thompson, Master Builder, undertook the contract, who in turn employed Rowland Crowder in planting a fine avenue of elm trees to mark the way. The Corporations payments of Mr Thompson’s account also give a fine insight into what was involved in the job:

  • To an agreement entered into concerning raising Marshgate – £290
  • To the second agreement, filling up ditch – £18
  • To the third agreement for widening the road – £136 10s
  • To widow Laycock’s Yard and Bewley’s sow – £2 19s 10d
  • The arch foundation and backing – £66 9s 9d
  • To the centre’s and wood &c. – £4 5s
  • To the east end of the new arch 4r. 6yds & 4ft, at 8s per rood – £2
  • To lime and sand for the arch – £1 10s
  • To the coping next Abbey’s Croft and leading – £3 11s 6d
  • To the Marsh Lane wall repairing &c. – 11s 2d
  • To the pavement pulled up, 233 flags at 2d per flag – £1 18s 10d
  • To the west end of the arch – £2
  • To the quarry at Hexthorpe clearing – £1
  • To two wheelbarrows – 15s

In all, the Corporation paid to Mr. Thompson £554 19s 4d.

The pavements were constructed and gravelled 6 inches thick, and the street was paved from Friar’s Bridge to Church Lane. Also, a street cleaner was employed by the name of Edward Raynor, whose job it was to keep the Marshgate area clean together with the St. Mary Magdalene Churchyard, the Market Place, and the Shambles. It seems that the law that keeps modern cars from driving down our footpaths was created long ago too as on 18th October 1790, “Notice is hereby given, by Order of the Mayor, and Justices of the borough, that all persons who shall draw or run, any wheel, sledge, wheelbarrow, dray, or other carriage, upon any of the foot-causeways, made in the streets for the accommodation of foot passengers, will be prosecuted….” In 1812, the Corporation employed 8 men, and purchased two carts for street sweeping. Others were employed as watchmen whose job it was to monitor the roads for accidents, fires, or other incidents which might threaten our existence. Special ‘Watchboxes’ were constructed at strategic points across the town (I assume this is how Watch House Lane in Scawthorpe gets its name) and the men were provided with “great coats and lanterns.” In 1830, East Laith Gate and Prince’s Street were flagged but by 1826, the ‘boulder-system’ that was used in the construction of the Marshgate entrance to Doncaster was deemed unfit to for the ever-increasing volumes of traffic entering from that side. A plea was entered to the Corporation from a number of country gentlemen for the boulders to be taken up and replaced with a new invention called ‘Tar-Macadam’ from “the bridge by the mill to the bottom of French Gate”, the gentry that entered the plea were, Fras. L. Wood, Josh. Scott, J. Cooke-Yarborough, R. K. Dawson, Richd. Wilson, Henry Willm. Champneys, Geo. B. Greaves, Saml. C. Hilton, G. Chandler, J. Trebeck, H. J. Firth, H. S. Milner, J. W. Armytage, R. J. Coulman, William Walker, Samuel Walker Jnr., Geo. Greaves, W. Wright, St. Andrew Ward, H. Bower, Godfrey Higgins, Saml. Walker, W. B. Cooke, George Ramsden, F. J. Woodyeare, Edward Denison, George Cooke, Geo. Cooke of Carr-House, John Fullerton, G. Wentworth, H. B. Cooke, H. M. Greaves, J. Edward G. Elmsall, and Jonathan W. Sturges. Within three months it was resolved by the Corporation to carry out the work as requested. With such a comprehensive list from such a concentrated posse of influential Doncastrians, the plea could not be ignored!

In the year1836, our Mayor, William Brian Cooke abolished street-sweeping on Sunday’s and also made an arrangement whereby the fish-market would be cleansed on a Saturday evening, so saving the Corporation a great deal of money over the course of a full year. In 1840, it was decided to lay flags “from the Cross Keys Inn (not far from the east entrance to the Market Hall), round Mr. Bullas’s house, [an ancient structure with high gables at the north-east angle of the Market Hall] and on the footpath leading from the Market Place to the Magdalens, past Mr. Ingham’s premises (the site of the contemplated new Corn Exchange), also to be flagged was Goose Hill. Between 1841 and 1867 the following thoroughfares were also improved:

  • Horse Fair to Hall Gate
  • Hall Gate to Silver Street
  • The White Bear to The Black Boy in French Gate
  • Baxter Gate and St. George’s Gate
  • Thomas Street
  • Spring Gardens to Union Street
  • High Street, east side of Duke Street, Pell’s Close to Cleveland Street
  • St. James Street to Carr Lane
  • From the Corner Pin to St. Thomas’ Street
  • Young Street
  • Front of Ragged School
  • Sunny Bar
  • Balby Road
  • From South Parade to Prince’s Street
  • Bowers Fold to the Britannia Inn
  • Wood Street to Hall Gate
  • Union Street to St. James’ Hospital
  • Thorne Road
  • Cemetery Road
  • Printing Office Street to the Ram Inn
  • Round St. George’s Church
  • H. Fox’s corner to Factory Lane
  • Hall Cross House to Hall Cross
  • Green Dyke Lane

I am sure this scheme to pave our streets has left a legacy for us to feast our eyes upon today. You may be able to think of many places in Doncaster where the flags laid down in Victorian times are still present today, however, at this time of writing I can bring only one place to mind and that is the area of walkways immediately surrounding St. George’s Church (or Doncaster Minster as it is now named).

Sometime later, and as a direct result of the excellent engineering skills displayed by John Thompson, a School-Church was built from stone hewed at the nearby Levitt Hag quarry, the description of which goes, “…. random courses with Ancaster dressings to the windows, doors, and angles. The east end, facing the street, contains a richly moulded triplet window with detached shafts, carved capitals, and moulded bands and bases. The apex in surmounted with a cross. Longitudinally, it is divided into five bays by buttresses; between each are couplet trefoil windows. The west end is also couplet, with a trefoil gable light above. The roof is open-timbered, plastered on the underside of the rafters, leaving exposed the principals, collars, and purling. The interior is 63 feet by 20 feet, with a porch.” It was built from designs by a Mr. Teale of Hall Gate and the first religious meeting was held on January 13th, 1867, and the school began its work on May 15th of the same year with Mrs. Shaw as the Head-mistress.

Marshgate today is still prone to the odd flood or two as we saw all too well in 2007, however, there is a lot less to spoil now than there used to be, the area being taken up by businesses with the benefit of insurance policies, there are still a number of residents in the Marshgate area today at Her Majesty’s pleasure but they are so high up that they would enjoy the excitement of seeing the flood waters arrive and subside from the safety of their cell windows.

*All the quoted items in this text are taken from the book – ‘Historical Notices of Doncaster, Second Series, by Charles William Hatfield published by Brooke, White, and Hatfield. Gazette Office, 1868.

5 responses to “Foot Pavements and Road Improvement

  1. I was an apprentice street mason on Donny Corp in the 1950s,& did works all around Donny, your history is great reading. Thank you.

  2. Fascinating Symeon! Thank you

  3. Excellent Sym. A very interesting read. I had never thought about a town without footpaths

  4. Christine Didcott

    that was brilliant Symeon, a lot of this was new to me I could visualise the old Doncaster as I was reading it , and I know how Watch House Lane got its name now. Thank you .

  5. col hardisty

    very good sym

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