Social Welfare in Victorian Doncaster

Doncaster’s 19th century social reformation remained largely church, chapel, charity, and GNR driven, be it health care, education, or poor-law relief. The more affluent made private arrangements with the medical profession and sent their children to Victorian boarding schools, or private schools which sprang up in houses where the original owners had upgraded to country residences. Thus private education establishments at one time or another occupied Highfield House, Beechfield House (1829-41), and Nether Hall (1861-79). Children of Freeemen also had access to Doncaster Grammar School.

The grammar school lost its old premises with the make-over of the Market Place in the 1840’s to achieve a new market hall. For the next 20 years it either closed or it occupied a temporary home, until the Corporation helped fund a building for 100 students on a Thorne Road site in 1869 – one large, first-floor, school room with an open (now closed) arcade underneath, in the best tradition of Victorian Gothic school room architecture. It was built of local brick and Ancaster Limestone on a site donated by W.H.Foreman to the design of George Gilbert Scott. He had recently been the architect of the rebuilding of St. George’s Parish Church in 1858 following the disastrous fire which had largely gutted the mediaeval building. A key figure in driving through the church and grammar school rebuilds and a new infirmary was the Rev. C.J.Vaughan, vicar of Doncaster from 1860 to 1869. He pushed through the plans while he was acting head of a Harrow school. Another Cleric, the Rev. W.Carr Fenton was equally determined so that in 1829 he established the Yorkshire Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in part of Eastfield House, near the race course – a building which previously had functioned as a private race-stand and private school. The school remains on the same site today.

Apart from Mr. Stephen Gibbon’s school for 120 working-class children in Spring Gardens, a ragged school, and the workhouse school, the bulk of the towns’ children were to be provided with ‘elementary’ education of a basic function and practical vocational nature from age 6 to 13 in a growing number of voluntary aided school. Initially all of these were C of E aided including that built by the GNR in 1855 at St. James.

The first voluntary school in 1816 was St George’s National School. ‘National’ implied an affiliation to the national society for the instruction of children in the principles of the Church of England. It occupied a site in East Laithe Gate with 250 pupils. As the century progressed further ‘National’ schools were built including Christ Church on St. James Street (1850’s), and The Holmes (1888). The non-conformists and Roman Catholics and Quakers were less than happy that these Church of England schools provided education for their children and were at times fund assisted from compulsory church rates and by Corporation grants. They sought to establish rival ‘elementary’ schools and the first to open was the Quaker inspired non-denominational ‘British’ school in Wood Street in 1837 – despite an ultimate roll of 1000 it was over-subscribed.

Forster’s Education Act of the 1870’s encouraged the building of ‘Board’ schools governed by local school boards but the Corporation was reluctant to do so although it continued to grant aid to existing schools for building extensions and some running costs. In the 1890’s it accepted national pressure and established its first 1000 pupil, non-denominational, free school in Hyde Park thus providing one sixth of the 6000 elementary school places available in 1900.

One down side to the new system was the 1902 Education Act which deprived the borough of any control over post-elementary (beyond 14) academic education. This passed to the West Riding County Council only reverting back in 1927 when Doncaster achieved County Borough status. The West Riding took over financial control of the grammar schools and in conjunction with the Borough, built a new academic Municipal High School for girls in 1910.

The borough had a more than laid-back record in Victorian education and hence its school stock (including 7 schools inherited from the Balby and Wheatley School Boards in 1914) was of indifferent quality and were overcrowded. Many of the Victorian and early 20th century school building remain, if not always functioning as primary schools. Of course, given the nature of the British educational compromise many are still Church of England or Roman Catholic in the town and in the villages. A fine example is Carr House Teacher’s Centre in the buildings of a towns elementary school.

The borough was equally low key in its involvement in medi-care, but given that in 1850, the 1792 charity dispensary occupied a hemmed-in, noisy site next to the new railway developments, something had to be done. A public appeal for funds was launched in the 1860’s to raise £3,500 through bequests and donations, with a Corporation input of £500. In 1865, a new ‘infirmary’ was built near Waterdale, in a mock-Tudor style, whilst the Corporation used Carr House as an isolation hospital in the event of typhoid, cholera, or TB.

The infirmary now had basic in-patient facilities and, after a further refurbishment in 1903-04 when electricity was installed, it continued in use until 1930 when a new DRI was constructed on its present Thorne Road site. It’s out-patients services remained at the old infirmary until 1935. The 1860’s building continued in use as Corporation offices and in the last years of the old borough in the 1970’s housed it’s Education Department, wherein the CEO, Michael Pass, sought to uphold civilised values in an enlarged borough post 1974, involving ex West Riding schools and a fractious social environment with ‘Plant’ and, in due course, ‘Mine’ closures. The Royal in D’R’I came about in 1906 when Princess Christian of Denmark, the sister of the then Prince of Wales, became a Royal patron.

Balby Workhouse

In 1834 the Government, alarmed by the cost of Poor Relief, enacted a new Poor Law legislation, amalgamating parishes into Poor Law Unions. Doncaster and Thorne became the central hubs of two such Unions. The Doncaster Union of 1837 covered both the Borough and surrounding parishes with a total population of 32,000. The first Union Workhouse was built in Hexthorpe in 1840 with subsequent enlargement. Only a minority of ‘paupers’ actually lived in but, by 1870, 250 of all ages did with another 1000 receiving outdoor ‘relief’. One third of the residents were children, one third the elderly, and one third able bodied. In 1900, the workhouse (to be renamed the Poor Law Institution in 1913) was moved to a new 30 acre site in what was then largely open country at Springfield, in Springwell Lane at Balby. The new building had a wider range of facilities including: segregated accommodation for males and females, aged, and able bodied classes; cottages in the grounds for elderly married couples; an infirmary; an isolation hospital unit; and a ‘lunacy building’. If you wish to experience a time warp to an 18th-19th century workhouse  then visit Southall Workhouse (National Trust) in Nottinghamshire. The old ‘Springfield House’ remains in use in Doncaster for social services purposes.

It was only with the building of the North Bridge over the railway that the Corporation became involved in house provision. The displaced families had to be re-housed by 1913 in 200 new premises on Corporation land in Warmsworth Road, Carr House Road, and Wheatley Lane. The major surge in municipal house building came after the 1925 Housing Act and by the onset of World War II in 1939 some 3,000 houses had been built by extending existing estates and building new ones at Woodfield Road in Balby, and in Intake. By 1974, ‘pre-Thatcher’, the Council owned a third of all Borough housing: 11,000 houses and flats with new estates in Cantley and Wheatley after 1950.

Click here to read in more detail about the workhouses of Doncaster.

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