After all that has been said and written about foreign countries, yet, there is no place like old England; nay, more; there is no country in the whole world where green fields and quiet out of the way places are more eagerly sought for than in old England. How very many may be met with on a fine summer’s eve returning home to their country dwellings, where the blackbird, with its delightful melody, sings them to repose, and where the lark, warbling heavenwards its early song over the field on which their windows open, awakes them in the morn. Many a father leans with aching head and wrinkled brow over the time-warned desk, in order that his family may enjoy the pure air of the countryside. Many a merchant too, plods through the dull and feverish calculations of traffic for years and years, in order that he may at last retire to some quiet cottage which he can call his own and spend the short remainder of his days in peace and quietness.
Yes! Watch him seated in his little summer house; view him eyeing his little garden, and you will at once discover that he feels amply rewarded for all the anxiety and toil he has undergone. These things, however, are beyond the reach of the poor man’s possessions; but the heaths, and commons, and green fields are not. There is, indeed, a pleasure in contemplating the happiness of others; and though we may never be so fortunate as to possess one of these earthly paradises, as we may call them, still there is nothing to hinder us from occasionally enjoying ourselves in similar scenes. We have yet left a few lovely places where the flowers spring forth, and the shady trees offer a shelter, and the free birds carol as loudly as they did of yore. There is nothing more delightful than for a poor man to have the pleasure granted him of man’s estate. He enjoys the wealth of his neighbour without envying him; he feels it to be as his own for a time; and lays the same claim to the cheering effect of the fragrant breeze, and the cool shade of the venerable trees, as the Lord of the soil. He sees the stately deer troop before him with as much pleasure as the owner of them; he enjoys a wealth which leaves the proprietor thereof no poorer; and partakes of that happiness which renders others happy without diminishing the store.
Such will be the feelings after a walk through the rural and pretty village of Sprotbrough. Here he may be said to find “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” And it will be well for him to remember the feelings of old Isaac Walton – “when I would beget content, and increase confidence in the power and wisdom and providence of Almighty God, I will walk the meadows by some gliding stream, and there contemplate the lilies that take no care, and those very many other various creatures that are not only created, but fed, man knows not how, by the goodness of the God of nature, and therefore trust in him. This is my purpose, and so let everything that hath breath, praise the Lord.”
The Rev. Joseph Hunter, in his valuable work on the deanery of Doncaster, gives the information that Sprotbrough occurs in Domesday as a Saxon patronymic at Harewood. When Coningsborough was the King’s borough, and Edlington the Atheling’s town, Sprotbrough must have been home to some Saxon to whom that name belonged. Here, however, as is too commonly the case, we know nothing with certainty before the reign of the Confessor. In that reign Swein had eight Carucates in Sproteburgh, Scuscenurde (Cusworth), and Ballebi. There is nothing remarkable in the Domesday description of this manor, except the increased quantity of arable land between the reign of the Confessor and the year 1080. Sprotbrough occurs again among the Terra Regis, but in no particular manner. Looking at the village from the Warmsworth side of the river, and seeing the old grey tower of the church rising up on high amid the foliage, green from the top of the hill down to the water’s edge, the poetic though thus beautifully expresses rises spontaneous, yet at the same time welcomed, to the mind –
“Surrounded by trees on the Sabbath’s calm smile, the church of our fathers, how meekly it stands, Oh! Villagers gaze on the old hallowed pile; it was dear to their hearts, it was raised by their hands. Who loves not the place, where they worshipped their God? Who loves not the spot where their ashes repose? Dear is even the daisy that grows on the sod, for dear is the dust from which it arose. Then say, shall the church which our forefathers built, which the storm of long ages has battered in vain, be abandoned by us from supineness or guilt, oh say, shall it fall by the rash and profane”.
Ascend this tower of which we are now speaking, and though it is a work of very great difficulty, and attended with some degree of danger, save to the experienced climber, yet the adventurous spirit is so well repaid by the glorious view from which there presents itself. On the north lays the mansion of William Battie-Wrightson Esq. M.P., standing on a considerable elevation in a park beautiful with timber and with water, the gardens retiring away so as to leave the noble deer to feed up to the very windows. Here, formerly, was the favoured residence of Sir William Gascoign, that upright judge who feared not, in the discharge of his duty, to order a King’s son to jail.
The present mansion has been rebuilt at a much later period by an ancestor of its present possessor, and is replete with every comfort. In one of the wings is an elegant chapel, where, during the chilly blasts of winter, Mr. Wrightson very kindly provides a chaplain to give one duty on a Sunday to his family and immediate dependants. Over the altar table is a painting, by Hayman, of the Good Samaritan; and the ceiling is in compartments a la Fresco. The drawing room has its walls graced with some fine old tapestry, and a view from the window extremely grand and striking. On the west lies the residence of Andrew Montagu Esq. where the park is similar and where also the deer graze immediately around the mansion. Towards the south of this ancient church the castle of Conisbrough may be seen; and just indeed is the remark of the author of Ivanhoe, who has thrown his enchantment over this place when he says that “there are few more beautiful or striking scenes in England than are presented in the vicinity of this ancient fortress.”
Below the castle flows the river Don – “Slow winding through a level plain, of spacious meads with cattle sprinkled o’er.” It was formerly called Dan, or Dun, from its being carried in a low deep channel, and rises in the upper part of Pennystone, near Lady’s Crosse, flowing through the whole length of the parish of Sprotbrough, and is lost in the Humber. On the east is seen Doncaster, one of the most striking and beautiful of England’s towns, and when the eye turns nearer home, the Hall of the Copley’s, with its gardens, and shrubberies, and plantations; the Rectory, with its lesser yet pleasing attractions; the School House, the farms, and all the flower covered cottages, form, with the views towards the places before named, so pleasing a picture that Sprotbrough has often been called “The Happy Village.”
In this tower hangs a peal of six bells, and from a report current in the neighbourhood, we are led to suppose that they are cast from the metal of the original bells of Doncaster Parish Church, which in a measure may account for their exceeding musical and sweet tone. It is said that in the present day, bell metal does not contain near the quantity of silver as was formerly used. This may or not be the case, still these bells are most pleasing, and are generally rung on all public occasions.
On a Sunday morning little groups assemble here; some engaged in discussing the weather, hazarding opinions of a change, or of a continuance of the same bright sun-beams which make glad this day of rest. Others read the epitaphs on the headstones, which, by a pleasing and pious uniformity, all face the east; and if children ask us why they do so, it is sufficient for us to tell them, and for them to know, that it has been the custom so to place the dead in allusion to him who is the resurrection and the life; and as the body of the departed reposes, awaiting the sound of the last trumpet, it is meet that even in his grave thither still he directs his eye, in quiet expectation of awakening to behold in the same direction the second coming of his Lord.
The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and is now in the Tudor style of architecture. It consists of a tower, nave with clerestory windows, north and south aisle, a noble chancel, and a vestry. Over the north porch is:
“A little Gothic niche, of nicest workmanship, that once did hold the sculptured image of some Patron Saint. Perhaps the Virgin Mary looking down on all who entered these religious doors.”
Within the church are two tattered flags, said to have belonged to the Royal army of Charles I. with a helmet and spurs etc. Also on display are the coat of arms of the Gascoign family, with the initials of the judge who lived at Cusworth. Very near to this is another panel having the head of a King upon it, which is very similar in representation, though of course much rougher in design, to that of Henry IV. Within the memory of man, the whole edifice was in as bad a condition, if not worse than any sacred building in the neighbourhood; water stood in its aisles, and dampness all around. An open drain has lately been made round the whole of the exterior of the building, making the chancel both dry and comfortable.
The arms of the Fitzwilliam’s are also to be found, along with an altar tomb to Philip Copley and his wife who departed this life in the year 1577. Upon the floor of the chancel is a fine brass memento to another ancestor of the family, together with his wife who died in the year 1474. He is in full armour, the feet resting on a lion, and his hands closed as in the act of prayer, there are the places where the coats of arms have been in the corners.
The east window has been much admired; it was designed and executed by Millar of London, who put up the large east window in Doncaster Parish Church. The commandments, which are placed on the reredos immediately under the window, were painted by Armstead, of Doncaster. The parish registers, which are written on vellum, go back as far as the year 1539, and are very perfect. In them is entered a license granted to Thomas Wormley, of Cusworth, by Richard Winter, the rector of Sprotbrough, allowing him to eat flesh during Lent on account of his sickness; it is dated March 9th, 1614. A stone seat with grotesque sculpture on it was dug up some years ago in the church yard, but to what purpose it was devoted has been the subject of many a discussion, though the general opinion is that it formed part of a stone pulpit (we now know this object to be the ‘Frith Stool’). On the windows are the arms of some extinct families, namely, Nevil, Gascoign, Bulmer, Ferrars Vaire, Boteler, Newmarch, Thirkill, Barden, and Wyman. Along with the Fitzwilliam arms there are also those of Montague, and Mouthermer.
Passing from the church, a visit to the Hall and its beautiful gardens will afford no little pleasure. For from the gardens is a clear view up the river towards Conisbrough so truly striking, that coming, as it does, unexpectedly on the sight, not only arrests the attention for a time, but really startles it by its peculiar richness and variety. The river is seen winding its course through the valley; on the one side are green fields and hills, advancing here and retiring there; and on the other side high cliffs and rocks, crowned everywhere with the richest foliage, cottages of the peasantry and an old mill occupy the foreground, and a delightful murmur from the water flowing over the breakwater or wash. These all so please the mind as to raise the heart from nature to nature’s God. A bridge too, is now added to the scene, and contributes no little to the very pleasing variety of the view. The gardens are extensive and full of variety and interest, and the walk in the wood immediately under them may be put in rivalship with those of note in the country. In the midst of the grounds stands a Wych Elm Tree, whose gigantic height and vast circumference ranks it among the largest in England and affords a home for the feathered tribe who here warble their sweet notes without molestation. The trunk of this tree is about twenty feet around, and the boughs five hundred, and it is in a perfectly healthy state, (I believe this to be the tree now standing within the grounds of the Methodist church on the corner of Brompton road).
The old Hall was built nearer to the church than the present one, and was taken down about the year 1671. The one which now is was then erected, raised as it is on a commanding terrace. It consists of a main body, nearly square, three stories in height, with two wings, and is said to have been built after a model of a wing in the palace of Versailles. The position too as regards the country around it is very striking; far from the new terrace at the bottom of the garden the ground drops almost perpendicularly to the river, so that the hall stands high above the beautiful foliage which covers this declivity and the effect from the Warmsworth side of the river is similar. For more information on the interior of the hall click here.
Now to the bridge over the river. The following is taken from the Doncaster Gazette on the occasion of laying the first stone:
“Leaving the road from Warmsworth to Levitt Hagg, at the point from where the hill descends from the west corner of Warmsworth field, a new carriage way will be made through the plantation, belonging to W.B. Wrightson Esq. M.P. of Cusworth, and across the field adjoining the Flint Mill, where the bridge commences, being about fifty yards below the old weir. The bridge will be placed twelve feet above the level of the meadow, and consists of altogether, seven arches; three land arches at each side of twenty feet span; and a centre one of one hundred feet span. The road is then continued over a meadow adjoining the Corn Mill. Passing over the Dun navigation cut by a stone bridge, having a head-way above the stream of upwards of thirty feet, into the lock field, it is carried along the high way from the Boat to the village of Sprotbro’ at the point near to the private entrance into the grounds of Engine Wood. The bridge above the river Dun will be a little more than three hundred feet long; having, on each side, a stone parapet, with the exception of the centre arch, whose sides will be protected by cast-iron palisades, upon which will be placed the coat of arms of the liberal donor; built of stone, with the exception of the middle arch which is of wood. The style of architecture of the bridge is Grecian, and the stone work will be pitch-faced ashlar, with quoins, and stringing of dressed ashlar; – altogether forming quite a rustic appearance. The view from the bridge will be quite imposing; both up and down the stream, and will be remarkably picturesque. In the distance we have the bold outline of the cliff at Levitt hagg, and the line of the South Yorkshire Railway, flanked on each side with luxuriant woods, – first Sprotbrough plantings, then Pot Riddings, and opposite Butterbusk wood, and Conisbrough cliff, with the stream in the centre and the cascade at the old wash.”
This new approach to the Hall is most justly looked upon as one of the greatest improvements made upon the property. Nothing can be better executed than the work at the entrance, consisting of a lodge in the style of the Hall, with bronze gates for carriages and foot passengers, these latter retiring from the road in the segment of a circle.
The Rectory, in the village, contains every comfort a person need desire. The following is a list of rectors from the year 1251:
- 1251 – John de Abel
- 1305 – John de Ousethorpe
- 1318 – Richard de Crowle
- 1328 – Thomas de Grey
- 1342 – Thomas de Radcliffe
- 1357 – John de Keyworth
- 1370 – William de Auston
- 1371 – Hugh Kene de Rotherham
- 1381 – William de Crygelston
- 1416 – William de Hykilton
- 1421 – William Bramley
- 1424 – John de Bolton
- 1425 – Thomas Banwell
- 1440 – Thomas Fitzwilliam (buried by the altar in the church)
- 1482 – Cuthbert Lightfoot
- 1498 – John Everingham
- ???? – Thomas Huaghton
- 1550 – Thomas Portington
- 1552 – Anthony Frobisher
- 1596 – Philip Copley
- 1596 – Richard Winter
- 1632 – Samuel Bower
- 1668 – Francis Washington
- 1693 – Thomas Mauleverer
- 1704 – William Lamplough
- 1720 – Edward Woolley
- 1742 – Francis Hall
- ???? – Lionel Willatts
- 1757 – Thomas Loxley
- 1790 – George Cooke
- 1837 – John George Fardell (the author of this artcle).
The village contains a very superior inn; it was generally known as the Sprotbrough Boat, but since then it has been rebuilt as the Copley Arms. During the summer season it is frequented by those who enjoy a ramble in the country. The view from the window is singularly pretty. Here parties meet and walk through the varied scenery, plucking bouquets from the innumerable wild flowers which are thrown around in such profusion.
I particularly like this final paragraph as it illustrates perfectly the ‘circle of life’ for often, my family and I go to this very same beauty spot, park the car, and walk around the nature reserve enjoying the wild flowers. Afterwards, we might retire to the Boat Inn (the Copley Arms) for a relaxing drink just the same as visitors were doing 162 years ago.
Sprotbrough Picture Gallery.