Braithwell, Micklebring and Clifton History and Heritage

The Copley Family

Rhodes Copley – reminiscences by Lisa Thompson's grandfather


About 1923 a Government subsidy of £100 was available to persons building a house (size restricted) for their own occupation so my parents applied along with two other parties and got the OK. Father obtained a mortgage from a solicitor in Rotherham (Marsh and Co) and bought the paddock (about two acres) at the side of the P/Office in Doncaster Road. The first two plots Father kept for himself, the two next plots he built bungalows for Mr. Ashley and Mr. Colbeck , then started on the Bungalow – ‘Bruncliffe’ in my mother’s name. About this time my Brother, David, having got a scholarship started going to Doncaster Grammar School. I went to the Junior Technical College also in the same town, but I had to cycle there as there was no bus service when I first started. “Bruncliffe” was more or less completed in 1925 and, much to mother’s delight, we left Pipridge and moved up in the world, etc. All this entailed another mortgage from March & Co (about 4% interest, I think it was).

In 1926 and 27 Father built more houses at the far end of the field, first a pair of semi-detached , then a bungalow, then another pair of semi-detached. I drew the plans which had to be submitted in duplicate for Planning Consent. When the bungalow was ready for the roof to be put on Father asked me if I could do it as he had no joiner working for him. I said ‘yes’ and set too to make out a list of timber which was needed. When this was delivered to the site Father kept me off school while I, with the help of a labourer, constructed the roof. It was a ‘hipped’ roof so all the rafters were different lengths, which made it far from simple. However I must have go it right as the roof still stands today as good as when I finished it. I was 15 at the time.

I left school just before I was 16 and started working for my father as a joiner but if work found a job as I worked for my keep and  slack the other men got ‘stood off’ but I was always found a job as I worked for my keep and pocket money. I’ve dug trenches for water pipes and drains, done labouring jobs and once opened up a vault (grave) and bricked it up for another coffin. I was pleased to have a job as as many of the Lads who went to school with me were unemployed and at that time got no ‘Dole’. However, I continued my education at night school taking Building classes, cycling to the Tech to save bus fares, which supplemented my pocket money. After five years I sat the Builders Institute Exam and got the Ordinary Certificate even after completing another two sessions of night classes I did not go in for the Higher Certificate. I did two sessions of Bookeeping and was still going to night classes when I got married (at 24). Meanwhile David had worked very hard and got scholarships to take him to Trinity College, Cambridge, so his future was assured.

Written by William Rhodes Copley, known as 'Rhodes'. Date unknown.

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The young Builder, William Rhodes Copley



Joseph William Copley, Builder in Braithwell, and his wife, Annie Helena Rhodes

by their daughter, Jeannette Wilson, known in the village as Jean or Janet Copley.

Joseph was a Donny lad, born on the last day of December 1882 at 14 Cunningham Street, Doncaster. His parents, William and Elizabeth S. Copley had moved to Doncaster soon after marrying in their hometown of Rothwell near Leeds. William was a builder and contractor who built many of the houses in Hyde Park, Balby and Hexthorpe. From an early age Joseph was expected to help his father and by the time he attended Doncaster Boys Grammar School he could lay bricks as good as most men. By 1900 the family had moved to live at 1 Cooper street, a house that had workshops attached where doors and window frames could be made, as well as stables for the horse and cart. The welfare of the horse fell to Joseph and he spent many happy evenings in the stable, feeding and brushing the horse, after he had cleaned the harness and loaded the cart ready for the following day.

Annie was the eldest surviving child of Matthew and Fanny Rhodes, born in Morley near Leeds on July 3rd, 1876. After her father died in 1906, she had resigned herself to the life of a spinster whose main purpose in life was to keep house for her mother and her siblings. However, unknown to Annie she had friends who thought differently. They organised a house party to which Annie was invited, they also invited a distant cousin, Joseph W Copley and the couple hit it off straight away. They started courting, but Joseph worked for his keep and not having the train fare to take him up to Leeds and back he had to saddle up the horse. One extremely hot Sunday while on his way to Morley, Joseph was so tired that he fell asleep and subsequently fell off the horse into a ditch. Lucky for him the road ahead had a long bend in it so, dragging himself out of the ditch, he scaled the wall and ran across the field to meet the horse as it plodded along the road towards him. Once remounted he began singing hymns to himself to keep awake.

Annie and Joseph married at Morley Wesleyan Church, June 24th, 1909. The newlyweds managed a few days ‘honeymoon’ at Scarborough before returning to Doncaster to live with Joseph’s parents. Unfortunately, Annie was rather headstrong and had her own ways of doing things, this did not go down well with her mother-in-law as she did not like sharing her kitchen with anyone. Joseph and his father would often return from a hard day’s work only to find both women at logger heads.    

On the 1911 census Joseph and Annie are shown as living at 1 Cooper St. but his parents, William and Elizabeth had moved further down the street to number 11, which was a much smaller house.

13 Oct. 1911. Joseph Rhodes Copley was born, son of Joseph and Annie.

The following year Joseph bought an old orchard on Doncaster road, Braithwell, it ran between the junctions of Cockhill Lane and Austwood Lane. With planning permission in place, he proceeded to build what became the Post Office, followed by the two attached cottages. The materials needed were delivered to site by the firm of Allen and Orr, builders' merchants of Doncaster. Each morning Joe, as he was now known, would set off for Braithwell with a tool bag swinging from the handlebars and anything else that was needed strapped to the bicycle. Annie became a little fed up with seeing so little of her husband, so it was arranged with a farmer that they could put a small caravan in the corner of one of his fields at Micklebring. The arrangement worked well, the baby thrived in the fresh air, Joe had less travelling to and from work and Annie was happy to cook the meals on a campfire. After building two properties in Micklebring the little family returned to live at 1 Cooper Street.

August 1914 England declared War against Germany. It was about this time that William Copley’s health began to fail. The house and business premises on Cooper Street were eventually sold to a coal merchant and Joe’s mother, Elizabeth and sister Emily moved to the Armley area of Leeds, his father remained in Doncaster, living at no. 3 Cooper St.

On the 24 May 1915 Joe and Annie’s second son, David Theodore Copley was born.

With the busines sold and thoughts of Joe being called up, the couple decided to move to Morley so that Annie and the two children could be near to her mother, Fanny Rhodes.

On the first of December 1915 Joe enlisted in the Army at Morley recruitment office, his home address was given as 51 Worrell Street, Morley.

Joe was called up on the 20 June 1916 and after the required training, he was sent out to Salonika as a transport driver in the R.A.S.C.

Annie did not stay long at Worrell St but moved with sons Rhodes, now nearly 5, and baby David to Springfield House, Drighlington near Leeds. Annie’s youngest sister, Alice was given the job of accompanying the waggoner to the new home while the children followed on with their mother.

It was while living in Drighlington that Rhodes started school. On his first day, he felt very indignant when he was sent to school in the care of a neighbours three little girls instead of being allowed to walk the short distance on his own.

While in the Dardanelles the troops suffered many hardships, the summers were blistering hot, and the winters were extremely cold with freezing snow and fog. Disease was rife and most men went down with trench fever, malaria and/or influenza. On 31 Dec 1918, Joe was among those invalided home and spent a month convalescing in the Queen Mary Military Hospital, Whaley, Lancashire before being discharged. On demob the doctor advised Joe to live in the clean air of the countryside, so as soon as they were able the family returned to Braithwell.

Needing somewhere to live they rented rooms at Ruddle Farm on Austwood Lane while Joe picked up building and repair jobs where hecould. When a sale of surplice Army goods was held at Clipstone Camp, Nottinghamshire, Joe went to see what was on offer and among other things he came home with two dismantled army huts. The huts were erected on what remained of the old orchard. Joe cut one of the huts in half and joined the two pieces to either end of the other hut, this way he had a good-sized home. However, Annie was so eager to move in that Rhodes could remember his mother doing the washing in what was to be the kitchen, before the walls had been put in place. The wooden bungalow was given the name of ‘Pipridge’ in memory of the mail collection point in Salonika and the many letters Annie and Joe had exchanged during the war. The boys remembered it as being a very happy time in their young lives. David was rather studious and did not stray far from home whereas Rhodes would join with the village lads and roam the lanes and fields looking for adventure, he was often in trouble for one misdemeanour or another.

With financial help from Annie’s mother, Joe was able to begin building again. His first thought was to build a dorma bungalow on the corner of Cockhill Lane and Doncaster Road. It would have three bedrooms, kitchen, living room, sitting room and an office. There would be a bathroom but no inside toilet as Braithwell was not connected to a sewer system back then. Waste water from the kitchen and bathroom was piped to a cess pit at the bottom of the garden, this was emptied by the night soil men. The pan from the outside toilet also had to be taken to the cess pit to be emptied. Rain water was to be collected in a concrete tank sunk into the ground by the back door, while above the sink in the kitchen there was a large pot water filter that provided clean drinking water. Annie asked for the bungalow to be called Bruncliffe, after an area of Morley that she was very fond of.  The plot of land had to be big enough to provide Annie with a flower garden, orchard and vegetable plot as well as space to store building materials and a garage for the car. Joe made it known in the village that he would be building other bungalows and houses along Doncaster Road.

The orders began coming in. Joe employed men from the village and had apprentices as well as his son Rhodes to help him. With the work coming in his own bungalow took much longer to build than anticipated. Rhodes and David had childhood memories of bedding down in the cellar and gazing up at the stars through the unfinished roof. The house next door to 'Pipridge', built by Rhodes, was called 'Long Leys', which I think was the name of the Doncaster road before the bungalows were built.

Although Joe was always busy Annie insisted that the family had a seaside holiday at least once a year. This would be on the east coast, at Bridlington, Scarborough or Whitby. Annie would be teased by the boys for remarking that she could ‘smell the sea’ when having past Doncaster and heading east. They also visited Joe’s relations in Rothwell a couple of times a year.

Annie loved her flower garden and with the help of Joe in the vegetable plot they would enter exhibits in the village fruit and vegetable show. Her flowers were often taken to Church on a Sunday or used to decorate the tables at a Church Fayre. The orchard was mostly cooking apples, it also had one plum tree and one conference pear tree, rhubarb and raspberries grew in a corner and gooseberry bushes lined the path to the garage. Bottling your own fruit was popular back then but first, dozens and dozens of empty Kilner jars had to be brought up from the cellar to be washed. Joe, Rhodes and David shared the seemingly never ending task of topping and tailing the gooseberries.

 Annie was an accumplished pianist and needlewoman, she helped to organise dances, concerts and plays in the church school room, and was never short of anyone to help her make the costumes. No doubt Joe’s top hat and his bowler came in useful at times, as would his concertina and banjo.

Joe was a Church Warden for several years. He would sit on the back pew of St. James Church with an alarm clock in his coat pocket. He was well known for falling asleep during the service and the alarm clock would wake him in time to do his duties.

In May 1935 Joe was asked to erect a flagpole beside the village cross, this was to commemorate the jubilee of His Majesty King George V. At the same time, he repainted the railings that surround the cross and made safe the village pump. In the same year, Joe and Annie’s son Rhodes married Mary E Smedley at Doncaster registry office. Mary was a Sheffield girl who had been working at a house in Clifton and lived in Micklebring. At first the newly weds rented rooms from the then occupiers of the wooden bungalow while Rhodes, in his spare time, built a house next door. This house was attached to the cottages next to the post office and called Long Leys. Joe and Annie’s youngest son, David, had progressed through Doncaster Grammar School to Trinity College Cambridge. After teacher training he joined the Mathematics Department at Manchester Grammar School where he spent most of his working life. In 1943 David married Ella Compson, the couple lived, first in Manchester and then in Disley.  

Due to ill health Joe had retired from the building trade by the time WW2 was announced. He was happy to spend his time carrying out repairs to the Church and its graveyard or taking on small jobs in the village. He was a member of the British Legion and helped to form a Local Defence Volunteers (Dad’s Army) . Between 1937 and 1947 Joe served on the Parish Council and was chairman a couple of times.

Annie passed away on the 12th of January 1943 and was laid to rest in Braithwell Church yard. With Rhodes away serving in India, his wife Mary and the 3 children left Long Leys and moved into the bungalow to care for Joe.

Joe passed away on the 29th of April 1947 and was laid to rest in the same grave as Annie. Close by is the grave of Rhodes and Mary’s second son Paul and Mary’s mother, Lily. Rhodes, Mary and their third son Joe, died in the Isle of Man, 2001 and 2004. A memorial service was held at St. James’s and their ashes interred in Pauls grave, may they all rest in peace in the village they loved.