91 years ago in 1921 Ernest Phillips, the editor of the Doncaster Chronicle newspaper speculated on the future of the town. The following article is some of his predictions. Did he get it right? Lets see:
“Doncaster is ever changing. Unlike some old towns – Chester, Lancaster, York – it retains none of its mediaeval characteristics. It is essentially modern. It has been built and rebuilt times without number. It is now undergoing its greatest change.
For centuries it was a quiet market town. There was no bustle and clang of commerce, no feverish race for wealth in industry. The smoke of Sheffield and the activity of Leeds seemed a long way off. At the beginning of the last century (early 1800), Doncaster was described as one of the handsomest residential towns in the whole of England. The massive houses of Hall Gate, Priory Place, and a few other thoroughfares testified that it was a town where well-to-do families loved to take life easily and placidly.
A change has now come over the scene. Doncaster is destined to be the centre of a great and rich industry. The base of this country’s industrial greatness is coal. Wherever you find coal, there you find trade and industry active – iron and steel works, cotton and woollen mills, engineering shops, and the hundred and one manifestations of our national genius for making things.
There is coal all around Doncaster and, in fact, under Doncaster as well. There is coal under the racecourse, there is coal under the corporation reservoir at Thrybergh. It stretches right to the East Coast, dipping deeper and deeper, til it reaches a depth where it is unworkable. But it is workable all around Doncaster, and this has led to a remarkable development during the last 15 years (since 1906). Over half a dozen new coal-pits have been sunk and are now working daily. The nearest to Doncaster is at Bentley, scarce 3 miles away. Others are at Carcroft, Askern, Woodlands, Edlington, Rossington, Hatfield, Thorne, etc., and others are in contemplation at Armthorpe, Finningly, and elsewhere.
The result of this is that a network of villages are springing up around the town. A modern colliery gives employment to 2 or 3 thousand hands. It raises 2 or 3 thousand tons of coal each day. Some of them, like the one at Hickleton, only about 7 miles out of Doncaster, raise even 4,000 tons per day. A village springs up. It houses 5 or 6 thousand folk. A new church is erected, chapels and schools are reared, shops and picture-houses and clubs appear almost by magic; and lo, where a year ago you had a sleepy hamlet, now you have a throbbing industrial town, with a rattle of railway wagons, the clang of pit head gear, and all the usual features of town life.
These new centres look to Doncaster. They are linked up by means of the electric tram car. They come into town and do a great deal of their shopping. Thus the town benefits, and one result already is seen in the newly built shops which adorn our streets. Our theatres, our music halls, our public institutions, all benefit by these new populations which now cover what was once the sparsely populated countryside.
But this is not all. Where there is coal there is other trade, and so we find that other industries are coming to Doncaster. Before the coal boom of the last few years, Doncaster could not be called a manufacturing town. True, there was the large establishment of the Great Northern Railway, where anything can be made from a handcart to an express locomotive; and, in addition, there were brass and wire works, etc.
But the working of the new coalfield will change, and is changing, all this. Just outside Doncaster, at Sandall, a mere hamlet on the river bank, a Lancashire glass-making firm are making a factory to find work for 5,000 employees; they will construct a model village, with a church and club and library. Another Lancashire firm of woollen manufacturers are coming to Bentley, even nearer than Sandall, and they will build a large works for the manufacture of their own specialities. Further away, at Finningley, a Sheffield firm is building a vast place wherein to make motor cars.
In short, Doncaster is on the eve of a great development. At least half a dozen firms have come or are coming into the town. Others are making enquiries for land. The selection of Doncaster is due to several facts that give the town an advantage. It is not only on the main line of the Great Northern Railway, but 6 other railways have running power into Doncaster. Moreover, the canal which runs through Doncaster on its way from Sheffield to Goole and Hull, not only links us up with Sheffield, but gives us direct access to the sea. If this canal is widened and deepened, and made a real ship canal, as it almost certainly will be in the not too distant future, its value to the trade of the town will be greatly increased.
To make a modern manufacturing town, there are several essentials. The first and greatest is coal. Doncaster is not only the centre of the newest but the richest coalfield in Great Britain. It is true that it is a great depth. Some of the new pits are over 900 yards deep, more than half a mile; but modern engineering skill has overcome the difficulties of getting coal at that enormous depth. Powerful fans drive fresh air from above down one shaft, and after it has circulated through all the galleries it is sucked up another shaft. Engines nowadays can be made strong enough to draw coal to the bank from almost any depth.
Thus the manufacturer has plenty of coal at Doncaster. The coal merchant has seven railways and a canal at his service if he wants to sell it or ship it to a country across the sea. Doncaster, therefore, is in a good position to make headway; and while some enthusiasts think the town may some day be a second leeds or Sheffield, there are others who think its greatest developments will be its coal trade, and that it may be in a few years time a second Cardiff as a coal distributing centre.
These things, however, are in the future. How soon they may be upon us, none may say; but that the town is changing every day is a certainty. Within the last 12 years nearly ten new pits have been opened; half a dozen new branch railway lines have been constructed; at least three or more model villages have been planned; four or five new churches have been erected and consecrated. Tramway lines have been extended from the town to three colliery villages, and the Corporation has projects for others.
The probability is that Doncaster in a generation will have completely changed its character. Its rural aspect will have gone. It will be a busy manufacturing town. A ring of coal mines will encircle it. Iron works, glass works, woollen mills, engineering shops will stand where now the farm lad drives his team and the ploughshare furrows the loam. The canal will bear on its bosom the products of mine and mill on their way to coastal ports for shipment over the seas.
The town itself will change. The last remnants of old Doncaster – in such narrow thoroughfares as Scot Lane – will disappear. Broad streets will be the rule. The tramcars will link up with every outside centre of life and trade. There will be little left to remind the visitor that he stands within one of the oldest boroughs of England – a town of Roman foundation, a borough that has lived its life in all the succeeding ages of Saxon and Dane and Norman lordship; that has echoed to the tramp of Roman Legions; that has seen Saxon and Norman at deadly grips; that has emerged out of feudal darkness into the fierce white light of 20th century civilization.
It is in order that the story of the coloured pageant of our past may be imprinted on the mind of young Doncaster that this [piece] is written – that in regarding the present and speculating about the future, we may not be unmindful of a past which comes down to us as a very precious heritage.