Doncaster’s superb Mansion House has lost its council chamber to the new civic building, but retains the civic mayor’s parlour.
It’s more than 260 years since it was opened in April 1749, with a grand banquet and lots of ale and wine for its original core subscription users - gentry, tradesmen, freemen. They arrived by carriage, or on horseback, to a resplendent exterior at a time when the gravel high street had hitching rails and horse troughs.
The great and the good could assemble for events - balls, dinners, cards, concerts and race related suppers.
James Paine’s design, with its palladian-style frontage, cost £4,523 4s 6d plus furnishings. The interior was that of an imposing country house: servants’ hall, wine cellar, kitchen in the basement, ground floor rooms for gentlemen’s pleasures, an imperial staircase to first floor banquet and bell room facilities with adjacent card room and tea room salons. A banquet room (council chamber, post 1920s) was added in 1806 when gas lights replaced candles. From 1751 a ground floor room hosted the borough court on a Monday presided over by the mayor. The town’s hand pulled fire engine was kept in the rear courtyard with the housekeeper’s chickens.
The mayor had a prestigious role requiring personal wealth to help fund his annual feasts for the gentry and freemen, and on the King or Queen’s birthdays, he had an annual salary of 200 guineas in 1750 - 600 by 1802. In the late 18th and early 19th century, the corporation had its own pack of hounds, a waits’ music group, and a duck decoy on Potteric Carr. They mayoral chain cost £69 in 1792 to go with the silver mace of 1683, and a collection of silverware to decorate tables at formal dinners. It is sometimes on display. By 1835, entertainments grew less lavish, morphing into social cocktail parties, musical concerts and the mayoral ball. The original assembly subscribers could now fraternise at the town’s market square, limelit Georgian theatre (1776-1901), the Corn Exchange (post 1840), racecourse grandstands, local inns and country houses.
Currently ‘our’ Mansion House is seeking new patronage via open days, afternoon teas, weddings, tea dances, concerts, business meetings, presentation events. A Friends of the Mansion House group exists and welcomes ideas for future uses via the civic mayor’s office. Hopefully, funding streams can be found to maintain the building and fabric - any wealthy potential benefactor please note!
If visiting this Doncaster ‘icon’, pick up a Mansion House guide pamphlet in the foyer. You’ll be following in the footsteps of medieval Carmelite monks and pilgrims, numerous royalty and racing Dukes. The Mansion House occupies the site of the Carmelite priory disestablished by Henry VIII in the 1530s - hence Priory Lane.
Take pride in this architectural gem at the heart of the town. It’s our mansion and a source of civic status.