Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

In & Around Rotherham From Old Photographs by Melvyn Jones and Michael Bentley

Views of Rotherham - Clockwise from left to right: Clifton House, High Street, Clifton Park, Doncaster Gate; centre: the war memorial in Clifton Park. (In & Around Rotherham From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

Daniel Defoe writing about Rotherham in the 1720s rather dismissively wrote that there was ‘nothing of note except a fine stone bridge over the Don’. How wrong he was. Even then there was much to record in the town itself and in the surrounding settlements. In the intervening centuries it has only got more and more interesting.

The Rotherham area has undergone profound change over the last century or so. There has been much demolition and re-building in the town centre. The town has grown outwards in all directions and the surrounding settlements, rural and industrial, have been transformed in many cases. Many working patterns and workplaces have disappeared, means of transport have changed out of all recognition and even how people used their leisure time in the early twentieth century shows some striking differences from today.

Fortunately, in the latter years of the nineteenth century and during the first half of the twentieth century the town and its surrounding settlements were recorded on camera for posterity. This was done for a variety of reasons. Businesses wanted to record their activities, families wanted to record family events and the family photographic album came into existence. Local newspapers used photographs to record civic and other events taking place in their readership areas and of course, most importantly, the picture postcard came into existence.

The picture postcard as we know it today came into existence in January 1902. From that date, what was to become until recent times, the standard-sized card – 5 ½ inches by 3 ½ inches - was allowed by the Post Office to have one side entirely devoted to an illustration in the form of a photograph, painting or engraving and the other side divided into two with room for a message on the left and the address on the right. With as many as five deliveries a day from Monday to Saturday and one on Sunday morning, postage costing only a halfpenny, cards posted locally were often being delivered on the same day as they were posted. Picture postcards became the standard way of communicating between places in the days before most people had a telephone. As a result photographic firms rushed to fill the booming market for postcards featuring photographs of local places and people. Everybody sent and received postcards. The Post Office dealt with 866 million postcards through the post in the year 1909 alone.

Edwardian cyclists outside Wentworth Park. (In & Around Rotherham From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

The early postcards, studio photographs, other family photographs and the commercial photographs tell us so much about our local history. Looking into how the landscape, fashions and local industry changed to name but three obvious areas of interest. But there is so much more. No Street, group, event or subject was too small or obscure not to be recorded on camera. Just two contrasting examples illustrate the point.

Going on local excursions received a big boost by the production of reasonably priced bicycles in the 1890s following the introduction of the safety cycle in the 1880s and the development of the air-filled tyre in 1888 by John Dunlop to replace the solid tyre. For the first time many ordinary people could get away from the towns and the mining and industrial settlements to the countryside. Cycling clubs grew up everywhere and cycling became a craze. Women for the first time could move from place to place for work and leisure. In 1896 the American writer Susan B. Anthony wrote that ‘the bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world’. The photograph of cyclists reproduced here shows a local cycling club posing outside the gates to the park at Wentworth Woodhouse. Notice that all but one of the men and boys is wearing a tie. In Edwardian England you did not dress down to go out cycling, you dressed up!

Christening of Viscount Milton, 1911. (In & Around Rotherham From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

In complete contrast is a most fascinating group of postcards produced by E. L. Scrivens, the Doncaster-based photographer connected with the christening of Peter, Viscount Milton at Wentworth Woodhouse in 1911. The christening was more like a coronation than a christening. This was because the 7th Earl and Countess Fitzwilliam had four daughters and it was feared that the earldom would go to another branch of the family. The relative who would inherit if there was no son was an uncle who was 70 years old.

The christening ceremony took place in the private chapel in the mansion at one o’clock on 12 February. The Rotherham Advertiser reported that the scarf presented to the Earl’s ancestor at the Battle of Hastings for his ‘valour and service’ would be wrapped around the baby Peter. 7,000 invitations were sent out to official guests and in addition it was reported that between 50,000 and 100,000 of the general public would also attend. One hundred men from London were sent to erect marquees for thousands of the official guests and 300 waiters came to Wentworth from London by special train. Local tenants, the employees of the hunts that the Earl hunted with, the parishioners of Wentworth and local miners all presented engraved bowls.

In the afternoon and evening there was a full round of festivities including bands, roundabouts, daylight fireworks and the roasting of an ox to provide beef sandwiches for the public. The event ended with a magnificent fireworks display. It was reputed to be the biggest private firework display for five years. It included portraits of the Earl and Countess, Niagara Falls and a British battleship attacking and sinking the ‘dreadnought’ of a continental power.

Melvyn Jones and Michael Bentley's new book In & Around Rotherham From Old Photographs is available for purchase now.