Braithwell, Micklebring and Clifton History and Heritage

'I Remember Braithwell'

by Allen Smith


1_Allen Smith.jpg

I was born in Mexborough Montague Hospital in the middle of March 1933. Two weeks later I arrived in Braithwell and spent the next nineteen years there, before National Service, College and marriage saw me leave.

We lived in a stone built cottage down Holywell Lane, the house being divided into two.  We had the front half facing West, which we called West View. The rear half in which Mr and Mrs Johnson lived was named Club Cottage.  Our accommodation was small, but proved to be just sufficient for Mum, Dad and me. It was a typical farm labourers’ cottage.  We had a long narrow garden and at the end was a pig stye. I remember us keeping a pig there during the War. Dad who had been up in the roof because water was coming through, said there was a date carved on one of the beams, but I cannot remember the exact numbers. It didn’t matter to me in those days. It was definitely built in the latter half of the eighteenth century.  I later found out that it was built by a Mr Greenwood, and it continued to be called Greenwood Cottage well into the late eighteen hundreds.

Behind, as I mentioned earlier was the Braithwell Working Men’s Club. This was a large building the walls being made of corrugated sheets.  Mr. Arthur Brewster was the steward and he regularly passed our house at 9.0’clock sharp ready to light the two stoves in readiness for opening time. Why ever it was called Braithwell Club is a mystery, as the majority of members were miners from Maltby, who enjoyed a mile and a half walk in the open air.                                        

39a_Club Cottage_Holywell Lane_Club cottage with orginal gate posts of old club in front_1985_Resized.jpg
Club Cottage, in front of patch of nettles are two stone gate posts which are the original posts of the old Braithwell Working Men’s Club 

Walking past the club, in a short time one found a field entry gate

which led to Moat Hall and across the fields to Duck Cottage and the Dam. As I found out later, Moat Hall was a building of particular historical significance, but to a child it was a place to play and enjoy.  In those early days the walls to the west were higher, up to the window level, but now there seems to be only the foundations and the arch left for all to see, the rest of the masonry having been robbed and used for other purposes on the site. I remember happy days spent in the actual moat digging for bottles and whatever had been thrown in. The Tythe Barn was there but it was in a bad and dangerous state of affairs, and I later found that it had been made into a couple of garages.

Moat Hall was not the main aim of going through the field gate.  The real playground was across the fields over the bumps, and to the dam, on your bicycle.  The ‘bumps’ were the boundary  edges of the old system of strip farming.  How wonderful it was that we could play there on our own with out parents consent.  We were free and how we enjoyed ourselves! The Dam was a shallow expanse of water which up to 1820 supplied the Ruddle Mill. Spring time it was bird nesting time, then followed catching butterflies, all pursuits that are off limits today. The other rewarding pastime was getting up early in the morning and walking the fields looking for mushrooms. The farmers didn’t seem to mind as long as you closed the gates and left the cattle alone.

1993 trip to UK_1993 trip to UK_Walk down Austwood lane, Braithwell, RuddleMill farm June 1993_06g.jpg
Ruddle Mill on Austwood lane - fed by a stream from Ruddle Dam - a busy home up to the 1970s

My nearest neighbours lived at the bungalow just past our stye and the entry to the allotments. Here lived Mr & Mrs Wild and their children, June and Shirley. They were my age and we spent many hours together.  Mr Wild in partnership with Mr Pickin, the farmer, had a milk round.  My cousin, Shelia Brookes, each day took a pony and trap loaded with two milk churns to Maltby and delivered the milk. Not in bottles, but ladled into the covered vases and containers left out on the doorstep.  Each afternoon I went to the farm to fetch the milk in a can. This milk came virtually straight from the cow.  From the cowshed, the milk came to the small whitewashed dairy, and it was then poured over a series of water cooled rollers, and that was it. During the War, my Dad and Mr Pickin were Special Constables. Even in Wartime we still managed to have a goose from the farm.  This was great for Christmas, and the fat from the goose went into the pan and we could still have chips in January.

The other side of the bungalow was an orchard and then the village pond.  This was filled in shortly after the War.  This pond was great for frog spawn.  There was a pond in the village just over the road from our house in Mr Pickin’s field. Again he didn’t seem to mind us playing there, and in winter it would freeze over and we could use it without fear as it was only shallow.

18_Braithwell Hall Farm folder_Date unknown_Resized.jpg
Braithwell Cross and Hall Farm - 1930s

Hall Farm was on the south side of the Cross.  It was the largest house in the village and belonged to my Auntie Poppy & Uncle Ned (Dunstan). This was one of the largest farms in the village, over 300 acres, and I spent lots of my spare time there. I learned to milk and to tie up the sheaves at harvest time. There was also stooking. I loved harvest time when I could be in the fields and help with the stooking, and, also get a chance to lead the horse along the rows of sheaves. Sometimes I was lucky enough to get a chance to drive the tractor in the field, and ride the horse home at the end of the day. There was also the lovely picnic teas that my Auntie sent-up to the workers in the field. But then came progress - the introduction of the combined harvester in the late forties put an end to all that.

The Cross, which stands in the middle of the road surrounded by iron railings, was always an attraction. When and why was it erected?  As a boy, I was given the usual answer that it was connected with the village inhabitants having generously donated money towards the ransom fund, in order to secure the release of Richard I from captivity in Europe.  In 1953 the local Council put up a plaque giving the same details. But they even got that wrong, they said it was Richard III.  We now find out that there may be a more local reason for its existence.  To me at that age, the mention of Richard I meant Robin Hood.

Across Dale Hill Lane (Everyone called it Maltby Lane), was the two story house where Mrs Marshall (Amy) lived.  This house in the 18th and 19th centuries was a brewhouse,  named The Hare and Hounds. Mrs Marshall was a talented musician and she gave piano lessons to a number of my friends.  She also told fortunes to the women of the village if they crossed her palm with silver!  Next door was Ashton House occupied by Mr & Mrs Lawrence.  He was a master carpenter, his main claim was that he and his father built the Church Altar, and the Choir railings. His work was mainly constructing carts and drays for the local farmers, A real craftsman. He was also the local undertaker and it was fascinating to see him constructing the bent sides of wood for the numerous coffins. One thing which I will always remember was when a child was killed in a road accident at Micklebring. The coffin was to be carried by children, and at the last moment one of them backed out.  Mr Lawrence asked my mother if I could help. We carried the coffin low down with white towels between the brass handles. I spent a lot of time there. It was great fun pumping the bellows while Ernest was making the metal parts he needed.

Going up the street, after Bill Marshalls’ yard, and Johnny Swifts cottage we came to Lucy Bailey’s shop.  Hers was a small general store selling almost everything. This shop was the end room of Orchard Farm.

On the other side of the road facing the Cross was the Red Lion Hotel. Mother took me to school in the early days, but later I waited here for Mr Fox, the Headmaster who lived up Maltby Lane. Some days there was quite a line of us.  I also remember spending quite. a bit of time outside the pub with a bottle of pop, a packet of crisps and my dog Rosie, while my dad went inside to meet his friends for a game of Solo. Mr Crowcroft was the Landlord, and he was very strict about under age drinking.

The biggest meeting place for the children of the village was the ‘chip shop’ housed in a small stone built cottage.  There was a convenient wall outside and there was always a crowd.  Mr Baker provided a little piece of greaseproof paper, but we were asked to provide the newspaper for wrapping. We were always asking for the fried bits of batter, fish-bits. Fish and chips were not rationed during the war, but the shop was only open when Mr Baker could get fish! Mr Baker was also the village cobbler.

Next to Mr Baker’s house lived Mr & Mrs Tomney. Mrs Tomney was the most generous person I knew. The house was only small, but she lodged Miss Sheard, one of the teachers at the School, looked after her son Richard and also took in a refugee from Guernsey - Bobby Bishard. She also found time to hold Whist Drives in her crowded room.

The Butcher’s Arms, as well as selling ale, also owned the two petrol pumps on the piece of land across the way. The only problem was it was difficult to get Mrs Vasey at opening time.  The fuel had to be hand pumped into two glass containers at the top. This same piece of land was also the site of the village Telephone Kiosk.

The Old School, now known as the Masters House, is a well built stone house, situated just North of the Butcher’s Arms. It was lived in by Mr & Mrs Wayman.  Mr Wayman, as well as being the Church Sexton, was also a Tailor by trade. I remember going there with Bill Fox to be measured for new surplices. This building had been built in 1688, but was superseded as a school by the building behind. This building was our Village Hall.  During the War weekly events were held here. I particularly remember the yearly pantomimes produced by the Sunday School,  under the direction of Mrs Jenkins. I wonder if Ivan Holmes remembers when we were the Ugly Sisters?

Maltkin Farm, owned by Mr Allison, has now been demolished. He fancied himself as a cricketer, and was nicknamed Spoff, after the Aussie star player of the 1920s - S. Spofforth. I cannot understand how permission was granted to destroy this typical large Georgian farm house. Unfortunately, Rook Cottage, also situated on High Street, suffered the same fate.

Down High Street Braithwell_Resized.jpg Braithwell_High_Street - 1940's_Resized.jpg
 Braithwell High street from top to bottom  - 1930s - 1940s

My Uncle, George Brookes, had the shop across from Maltkin Farm, which was also Braithwell Post Office. Each morning he took newspapers to Micklebring and Clifton. He sold tobacco and sweets, my wartime sweet-ration seemed to go a long way.

After the Post Office was a row of three stone cottages.  My grandma lived in the middle one. Reggie Barrett lived in the first one.  The end part of this row was a communal washhouse with a large copper boiler. We were playing around there one day and we didn’t notice Mrs Robinson approaching.  The next thing we knew was that we were in Church helping to clean the brass candlesticks - Nobody questioned Mrs Dick! 

Behind the cottages was a large lawn.  Mr &Mrs Wood lived here.  Mrs Barrett and Mrs Wood became dinner ladies when meals started to be brought-in during the War. Then followed an area which was uncared for, the poorer houses of the street had been demolished in the mid thirties, but nobody seems to have bothered to clean the site. Most were re-housed in the Council houses up Ashton Lane. This area was called - The Alley.

The stocking factory had long since ceased production, but the corner of the building which butted onto the road was used by Mr Travis and his corner shop.  Across the road, now long since gone, stood Rook House. Ivan Holmes lived here with his grandma. In their front room I remember spending a lot of time learning to play chess.

To all, the next road was called Chapel Lane. The solid stone built chapel was erected in the late eighteen hundreds. There was quite a large Methodist population in the village at that time. I loved going to visit on Aniversary Sunday. Their more light hearted approach appealed to me. This was in strict contrast to the more formal approach when the Sunday School had their Flower Sunday.

68_Chapel on Austwood Lane.jpg
 Methodist Chapel on Austwood lane that became known as Chapel Lane by villagers - 1940s

The Butcher’s shop was also here. Mr Parkes lived at Fox House, and to the rear was the slaughter house. He also had a shop in Maltby.

 Mr Fidler (Bud), lived at Pear Tree Cottage, one of the oldest houses in the village. He also used a small workshop at the top of the village.  This was the village forge, and Mr Fidler was kept in steady employment meeting the needs of the farmers in the area. On a number of occasions I remember sitting on the ‘Lump’ watching him shoe a horse.

The ‘Lump’ referred to, was an island of rubble and soil which was left when the Doncaster Road, was re-routed.  It still had a large bend, but it was much better than before.  The Lump was where many differences were settled after school.  It was out of bounds but it didn’t seem to make any difference.  I vividly remember the day when School was closed because of the coming of the refugees from Leeds.  Along with my friends we saw the three bus loads of children and staff arrive. To greet them was a large contingent of villagers, along with the village Policeman, W.V.S. ladies and local Councillors. I tried in vain to persuade Mother to have one, but we had little room. They caused problems in the village because they all came from Catholic Schools. Most only stayed 3months before returning home.

The school, built in 1929 stood at the top of the village. I remember it well. Mr Fox sent a message home that there was room for me, and at the age of 3 and a half, I started in the nursery. Miss Athron was in charge. In those days there were small beds and we were supposed to sleep for an hour in the afternoons. Miss Athron was well liked in the village and all were disappointed when she resigned. Miss Athron was an unqualified teacher, and after the War they said that she needed to be qualified. After many years devoted to teaching young children she was not prepared to get the qualifications. 

At that time it was still an ‘all through’ school, we had seniors as well.  The system changed by the time I was nine. They then continued their education at Maltby. The choice of secondary education now being determined by examination, with places at either Maltby Hall or Maltby Grammar School.

In my second year at Junior School, Mrs Cartright was my teacher, third  year, Miss Sheard, and then Mr Fox. The Seniors, before they left, had dug a quarter of the field and when they left it was up to us to look after the school allotment. During those two years I learned all I needed to know about horticulture. The produce was sold in the village to help the war effort.

There were two things that I disliked whilst at school. The dentist called twice year to school and used the Head Teacher’s room as his surgery. A lot of the children escaped, but I seemed to be chosen each time. The second being school milk. This was delivered each morning in one third of a pint bottles. Extra unopened bottles were left and these stood on the windowsill of the classroom, and on a sunny day the smell of sour milk put me off milk for good! 

We had an air raid shelter built at school, and we used to practice drill. My job was to collect the gramophone. I can only recall having to go into the shelter once because the sirens had sounded. We took our gas masks to school, and twice extra filters were fitted. The best part was when the Gas tunnel came to school and we all had to go through it.  

The church played a big part in my early life. It was best suit on a Sunday, Church in the morning, Sunday School in the afternoon and then Evensong. I was a member of the choir.

Not many people had cars and so there was always enough to fill a bus when a trip to the seaside was arranged. These were village occasions. There was always one arranged by the Sunday School, and the choir. They always hired three busses from Whiteleys of Maltby. The largest trip was always from the club.

The war years were exciting times for us children. We soon got used to blacking out the window, and playing out late in the evenings because of the double summer time. On a number of occasions I can remember going to bed as normal but waking up under the stairs. After a raid it was the norm to go around looking for shrapnel.  Two of my cousins were in the Home Guard and we used to go along in the evenings to watch them practice their drill on the School playground.

When looking back, the village of Braithwell in the thirties comes out well. We had a village policeman who sorted out local problems his own way, three general stores, a butcher’s, a telephone box, a petrol pump, three pubs, a club and a post office and an excellent school.

Nowadays we have no shops, no school, no policeman, no garage, but we have got cars, and we don’t wake up in the morning with ice on the inside of the bedroom window. 

Happy Days