On 25th April, 1599, a baby boy was born to middle gentry parents in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. The child was christened Oliver Cromwell. His family had once been one of the wealthiest in the county although, by now they ranked closer to the bottom when compared with their peers. That said, Oliver had inherited money and lands from his now deceased Father and Uncle and was able to gain a top education at grammar school followed by Cambridge University.
After his schooling he made money through farming and by charging rents on his land. His money had to stretch quite far though, as he had a wife and eight children to support along with his widowed Mother. He dabbled with politics but was never very influential, until, that is, the English Civil War ‘kicked off’. In 1640 he became an MP for Cambridge and raised troops for the cause in 1642. He fought on the side of the Roundheads, or parliamentarians, against the Crown. His success in battle saw him climbing the career ladder as fast as lightning until he became commander of the entire army. He overthrew the Stuart Monarchy by having Charles I tried and executed in January, 1649. By July, 1650, he was leading his army north to crush Scotland, then over the sea to subdue Ireland and up and down the British Isles taking on every Royalist army that tried to stand in his way.
Understandably, people were afraid of Cromwell’s presence in their town, so that in August 1651 when he passed through Doncaster, extreme caution was required.
At Sprotbrough Hall, lived Sir Godfrey Copley, who had control over who crossed the Don River in the gorge as he owned and ran the ferry. The Ferryboat Inn, now the Boat Inn, stood on the banks and at the boarding point for it.
Although Cromwell marched into Doncaster closer to town, where the river was bridged, he could have quite possibly opted to cross the river in Sprotbrough. Because of this possibility, Sir Godfrey received a letter from his brother-in-law Darcy Wentworth along with other friends, urging him to undertake certain measures to ensure his and his family’s safety at this volatile time.
The letter went as follows (spelling errors and all):
‘Such is the condition of our cuntrie at present as requires care to be taken as passingers; And there beeinge a by way over your ferry wee thought fitt to desire you would be pleased to command that your ferry boate to be locked up that there be noe passidge for frind or strangers feet untill you have further notice that there may be passidge with safetie.’
Septemer 7th 1651
Your frinds & ser[vants]
Good cousin be carefull whome you entertaine for the danger is greate.
The letter is of a serious nature and carries a strong message. ‘Lock up your Ferryboat to both friends and strangers’ and be careful who you have round for tea!
It would be 250 years before the Copley’s provided a bridge at this point. It came in the form of a toll bridge. By now, the Civil War was ancient history and on the adjacent bank of the Don stood the thriving quarrying community of Levitt Hagg. Today lower Sprotbrough is one of the most picturesque corners of Doncaster with its quaint pub by the canal and its nature reserve providing a haven for wildlife and a gateway to the Pennines beyond. Sprotbrough can rest easy again as the marauding armies have long since vanished. The ‘danger’ is no longer ‘greate’ for us.
A big thank you to ‘Read Old Docs’ for help with the transcription of the letter.