Down memory lane with Peter Tuffrey
Steadman’s founder John Graham Steadman was born in Mattersey in 1850 and, after a short spell as the landlord of Thorne’s Red Bear, he came to Doncaster in 1875.
He established himself as a horse-breaker in Silver Street, where he gradually built up a well-stocked livery stable, eventually moving to larger premises in Highfield Road.
At one time he had around 50 horses and these were hired out by the hour or by the day.
In 1887 he started the first horse-bus service in Doncaster, from Station road to Hyde Park and Avenue Road.
He was a familiar figure on the box of his four-in-hand, and made a speciality of drives to the Dukeries and other spots of interest.
An advertisement, placed in the Doncaster Gazette Directory of 1908, shows the different rigs that were available for hire – dog carts, landaus, hansoms, coaches and four-in-hands.
With the arrival of the petrol engine, the four-in-hand days rapidly became a memory, but John Steadman kept abreast of the times.
New premises were acquired in Cleveland Street in 1904, providing accommodation for both horses and equipage and motor vehicles.
The stables were built on the first floor, and horses were led up a ramp ‘to go to bed.’
Also during the Edwardian period a couple of motor charabancs were purchased. Allegedly, these were the first of their kind in Doncaster and they ran excursions to Woodlands, which was considered in those days to be one of the town’s best picnic areas.
John Graham died in 1922 and from this time his two sons, John and Arthur, took control.
The Undertaker’s Journal for that year reported: “The garage space at Cleveland Street is completely covered by glass. There is accommodation for 100 cars, a mighty consideration for race week. Motor-coach and funeral hearse building are also undertaken, as also funeral management to and from all parts of the country. No-one can do this better than the Doncaster firm.”
Gradually, the number of horses was reduced in favour of motor vehicles. In 1934, the last three hearses, eight coaches and four horses were sold by public auction.
The passing of this era was then marked by the beginning of a new one, as motorised funeral corteges and taxi cabs became a feature of the firm.
The Cleveland Street premises underwent many improvements over the years, providing additional offices and chapels-of-rest. Also, the fleet of hearses and taxis continually changed to provide the latest models and greatest comfort.
In 1962, the business transferred to Balby Road, having outgrown the town-centre property.
Steadman’s traditional role as a taxi firm ended in 1984, though the involvement with weddings and funeral continued.
John Graham’s grandson, Gordon, sold the company in 1987 to Hodgson Holdings. This latter company subsequently merged with the French Company Pompes Fenebres General and Kenyons of London.
n In John Butler’s obituary published in the Doncaster Evening Post of January 16, 1981 it was stated that the 89-year-old had taken a risk, when aged 21, starting a small ironmongery shop at 9 Silver Street.
His gamble paid off and soon the shop was too small and he moved a short distance down the street into a larger shop.
The shop was closed on January 15, 1981 while eight of the 12 members of staff attended his funeral in Bridlington.
He began as an apprentice ironmonger at an old shop called Charles Bros in Baxter Gate, and allegedly believed in good old-fashioned personal service.
His good friend, managing director Roy Smithson, who had worked at the shop for 35 years, said: “He believed in personal service and I will carry on in the same traditional ways.”
Mr Butler’s daughter Barbara, who lived in Florida took over ownership, but Mr Smithson carried on the running of the shop.
Mr Butler, whose wife Helen had died about 10 years before, had retired to Bridlington about 20 years earlier.
At first he came to Doncaster on the train twice a week to cast an eye over the running of the shop and later motored over to the shop each week.
Mr Butler lived in Town Moor Avenue before he moved to Bridlington.
Butlers were always respected for their vast and varied stock where customers could buy almost everything.
John Butler could not resist a bargain. What the Butler saw the Butler would buy, provided the price was right, and he would tour sales and Government auctions, particularly of ex-war department items.
Often he would buy huge quantities which would then remain in their original packaging, stacked from floor to ceiling in a bewildering catacomb of rooms, some still clothed in the stippled wallpaper of their original domestic days.