Former miner shares history of Barnburgh

IF anyone knows the Doncaster village of Barnburgh, it is former miner Dennis Stevens.

Born in 1926, the son of a miner, he has lived in several locations around the village.

He said the first place he lived was in a house on Melton Hill which is now Melton Hill Lane, and then in one of the Ludwell cottages at the Ludwell Hill/Marr Lane corner.

He said: "These were for the 'hossman' and the cow-keeper at Barnburgh Grange. My elder brother was the 'hossman'.

"Barnburgh Grange was situated near Melton Hill Lane and in my day it was a busy farm. As kids we used to open the gate for the farmer at the Grange, and he used to throw us a few coppers.

"The Grange itself had many rooms, and there was a dungeon attached, with a large iron ring in a stone wall. Allegedly, there was a underground tunnel from there to Conisbrough Castle, but nothing was ever discovered. Nearby was a derelict water mill and we used to play there. After a short period in Mexborough, we moved to Howgate Lane, Barnburgh."

Dennis attended Barnburgh school where Arthur Croft was the headmaster. There were three other teachers, Miss Stables, Miss Smith and Miss Ibbotson.

Said Dennis: "Arthur Croft was a really good teacher. He taught you how to make a fire, and at one time that was important.

"Miss Stables was an old battle-axe. If you misbehaved, she rapped your head with the edge of the ruler. I liked it though at Barnburgh school. We learned about the local 'Cat and Man legend'. At one point, you believed it, then you began to think it was a bit far-fetched.

"There used to be an annual sports day held in the village. All the prizes were really good, and were displayed in Swift's shop windows. This meant you could see what you were going to get if you won a race. They were invariably useful and not rubbish prizes. To buy them must have been a village effort, as the school would not have been able to afford them."

At 10, Dennis won a scholarship to attend Mexborough Grammar School. His name was put into an honours book which headmaster Croft proudly displayed in a glass case.

But, Dennis explains that his glory was short-lived:

He said: "Me and two others in my class were there with the aid of scholarships, whereas most of the other kids' parents were paying for them. My parents could not even afford to kit me out properly. I didn't have a proper blazer and the cap was handed down from my brother, who'd attended the school before me. I left when I was 15 and got a job at Barnburgh pit."

At this period, there were about six farms in and around Barnburgh, which housed miners, agricultural workers and their families.

Barnburgh Hall was occupied by a Mr Hodges, a director of the Denaby and Cadeby Colliery Co. Barnburgh Colliery was owned by the Manvers Main Collieries, Ltd. The latter also owned land and farms in the village.

Said Dennis: "Bolton-on-Dearne largely housed Barnburgh miners, and a number were bussed to the colliery from there, and also from Mexborough and Goldthorpe. On starting at the colliery, I went with others to an underground training school at Manvers where we were taught the basics of mining."

There were pit-head baths at Barnburgh and to use them, men paid a shilling (5p) a week and boys sixpence (2p).

During the Second World War, Barnburgh miners worked six days a week, and if they were absent for more than two days in a month without a doctor's certificate, men were fined 10 and boys 5.

They also had to undertake duties in the home guard, fire service or ARP. According to Dennis, nobody in the home guard, except the captains took their tasks seriously. On 24 April 1942, whilst Dennis was resting at home, he felt the house tremble. When he went outside he saw black smoke rising from the pit.

Dennis revealed: "A shock bump and related earth tremor caused the floor to meet the roof 800 yards below ground in the Park Gate coal seam and seal in 18 miners. Four of them were killed. A lot of men who weren't even miners turned up to help, and many were turned away. Those who were in the rescue party were heroes because they worked in a hell hole to get the men out.'

Dennis told me of several customs which he thought were unique to


He said: "Plough Monday occurred on January 6, and was a money making effort for the older kids. They used to borrow a farmer's plough, put ropes on it, drag it round the village, knock on doors and ask for money. If someone didn't contribute, it was traditional for the lads to shout "hunger, hunger" and pull the plough across their garden or land. Once, those at Barnburgh Hall refused and the plough was pulled through a piece of ground with bulbs in it. However, the Hall gardener was following closely behind and quickly replanted them.

"Another tradition was the 'Derby Tup', which was another money-making event, taking place at Christmas. There were usually four people involved. One lad had a white sheet round him and held a broom handle with a carved ram's or tup's head on it. Another wore a butcher's apron. They all sang this song with many verses about the tup going to Derbyshire. The tup's head belonged to a Mrs Wray, but what it had to do with her, Derbyshire, Barnburgh or even Christmas, was beyond me."

About the demolition of Barnburgh Hall in the late 1960s, Dennis said: "Well, it seems dreadful today that such a thing was done, yet nobody said much at the time, they knew their place and kept quiet."

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