“It was rural, really,” said 91-yearold Mildred Cragg when describing Hatfield Woodhouse, east of Doncaster town centre. “It wasn’t a very well-to-do village, there was a lot of village folk, and they lived on the bare necessities of life.”
Magilton (1977) was quite dismissive of the area: “[Hatfield] Woodhouse lies about a a mile S.E. of Hatfield church and contains no buildings of exceptional interest. None of the buildings is earlier that the late C18 and timber framing elements cannot be seen from the outside. Modern development lies W. of the Robin Hood Inn. There is no indication from the street plan or surviving property boundaries that Woodhouse was ever more than a late collection of brick farmhouses with no real nucleus.”
Whilst Magilton finds little of interest in the village’s physical appearance Mildred’s tales about the inhabitants were quite fascinating.
Mildred’s father was a general farmer on rented land, keeping cattle, pigs and poultry and growing a few crops.
Additionally, he was prominent member of the community, being a Hatfield parish councillor, overseer of the poor, school governor, and secretary and treasurer for a number of societies and trusts. On Saturdays he operated a horse-bus service to Doncaster. This was frequented by old ladies taking to market baskets full of butter, eggs, flowers, and anything else they could sell. Originally, the fare was around 8d(4p) return, and 2d(1p) for carrying a basket.
Mildred said: “They vied with each other to see who had the whitest linen covers over their baskets.”
On Friday nights some villagers gave lists to Mildred’s father, detailing items which they required from Doncaster. These were then collected the following evening.
As a school governor, Mildred’s father regularly made visits to sign a register and see that everything was running satisfactorily.
She told me that it was strange for her to say “good morning sir” and, with the other girls, to curtsey. I was intrigued to learn that there was no proper water supply piped to the school. There was a pump in the school yard but the water was yellow! The caretaker carried two large buckets of water to the school each day in case any pupils need to quench their thirsts.
Mildred said: “Of course nobody in the village had fresh water. Some people had wells on their own land and there was also a village well. At school there were two bowls of water in the girls’ cloackroom and only one in the boys’.”
Another of Mildred’s stories concerned the Oldfield couple who, whilst toiling all their lives on Grange Farm, were initially too proud to collect their pension from the local post office.
“When the postmistress questioned Mrs Oldfield about this, she replied: “Oh we haven’t asked about it, besides we don’t want charity.” Eventually, she was persuaded to collect the money, but would only do so when the Post Office was deserted. Her pension book was usually wrapped in brown paper and tucked inside a small white cloth in her basket.
Mildred said that most of the villagers could read and write, but not with any great fluency.
She also recalls one rather moving incident: “There was an old man in the village who lived in a rather tumbledown cottage. One night some people came to say that he was ill, but that they could not get into his house. Eventually, they forced the door and took him in a cab which was held at one of the pubs, to the workhouse.”
Most males in the village were farmers, farm labourers or worked as peat cutters on the adjacent moors. Mildred recalls seeing these latter cycling past her house at 6am on their way to work.
The Spotted Bull, one of three public houses in the village, closed when Mildred was only nine, yet she has some distinct memories about this and other establishments.
“Some people called Bottom were the Spotted Bull’s last tenants. The pub contained a little front room, bar, tiny kitchen at the rear, and a “club room” upstairs, which was frequented by the local Pig Club. Members of the Club paid a weekly 6d (2 ½ p) subscription to my father who was the treasurer.
A family called Chesters had the Robin Hood and Little John for many years. The Green Tree was the main one for having dinners and that sort of thing. The Pig Club dinner was held there. Sometimes, when there was too much to cook, they’d ask my mother if she would help out.
Did the village ever produce any scandal I asked: “Well there was a very attractively lady in the village and she was married to a very ordinary hardworking man. Sometimes on returning from chapel we saw a bicycle lamp in her window and this shone a red light. It was years before I learned that she was having an affair with her husband’s boss, and that the red light signalled that the former was at the Working Men’s Club.’
I learned that everybody was at peace with their neighbours, except for one man who was an old poacher.
Mildred said: “He had a gun and was quick-tempered. If he thought any of the farmers had seen him poaching and were out looking for him, he would get his gun out and stand in his garden.
“I don’t think he would have shot anybody, but he poached all over and on everybody’s land.”