Our villages lie between six and eight miles from Doncaster and Rotherham, to the south of the River Don, but most people in those significant towns have never heard of them! Micklebring and Clifton, sitting above the magnesian limestone escarpment, face northwards across the valleys of the Don and the Dearne, with panoramic views as far as Emley Moor, Hoober Stand at Wentworth, Rotherham and the power stations to the north of Doncaster. From the Clifton Beacon agricultural land slopes down to the ancient town of Conisbrough, with its Norman Castle guarding a loop in the Don where the River Dearne joins it. The fields were once part of the hunting park belonging to the castle.
|Looking up to the Plough, now the Grazing Harts
Micklebring straggles along the escarpment, the view somewhat diminished by the M18, an increasingly busy motorway cutting between the village and the Beacon Hill at Clifton. There is a useful table map that identifies features in the landscape. Old properties have been infilled with modern houses and there is no real focus of the village except the Grazing Harts (previously the Plough Public House). This was probably because Micklebring has no church and was administratively part of the parish of Braithwell. Micklebring is about 1 mile from Braithwell and a mile and a half from Clifton.
|Clifton looking north
There is no direct route from Clifton to Braithwell, indicating a closer connection with Conisbrough, a town with shops, castle and schools. Clifton is a very small hamlet of about 60 houses, which also lacks a centre. It was a farming community, with at least 5 farms on the main street until the 1960s. The layout of properties on the flat land at the top of the village shows a pattern of medieval burgage plots with a front street and a back lane. Common Lane drops towards Conisbrough with a number of older properties, and the site of a large farm once belonging to Crookhill Hall. There is a small mission Church, now also used as a community centre. Nearly all the plots within the village curtilage have been filled with modern houses.
Of our three villages, Braithwell is the closest to the size of a town. It lies 3 miles south east of Conisbrough and one mile north of Maltby. Its church and priest are recorded in the Domesday Book. In 1289, the village obtained a Royal Charter entitling it to hold a weekly market on Tuesdays and an annual eight-day fair, neither of which is still held. Thus the purpose of the village was to serve the agriculture of the surrounding countryside. There is little evidence of manufacture except that which serviced the population and the farms. There were established shops along the High Street in the nineteenth and 20th centuries, but in 2019 there are none. Sadly, the school has also closed and children travel to Edlington, Warmsworth or Maltby. Braithwell’s social facilities include the Church of St James, a part-time doctors’ surgery, a pub, a wine bar, a café/restaurant and the Ruddle Community Centre and playing fields.
As with Clifton, the pattern of roads and plots in Braithwell is still basically medieval in character, with long plots distinguishable to the west of the High Street and to the north of the triangular market place. While there are still many attractive older properties, dating from the 17th and the 18th centuries, some plots and farmyards have recently been developed to suit the modern market.
The lack of industry and reduced opportunity for employment internally has left the three villages with no real reason to exist except as attractive dormitory villages for Doncaster, Rotherham and other nearby towns. Absence of train and regular bus services has led to over-reliance on the car. The residents of Braithwell and Micklebring complain of racing commuters and heavy lorries spoiling their quality of life and making the high streets dangerous rat-runs. At the top of Common Lane in Clifton, where the medieval line of the road takes a sharp turn northwards, the corner of the glorious limestone wall surrounding the plot that once contained the Manor House was recently demolished by a huge lorry following SatNav directions down to Conisbrough.
The reasons for the decline of our villages are rooted in the distant past, in fact, in the geology of the South Yorkshire landscape. The three villages lie on the outcrop of Permian limestones that runs north - south through South Yorkshire, bounded on the west by the previously mentioned escarpment overlooking the Don Valley and flattening on the east over mixed coal-bearing strata. Rich soil and flat land above the escarpment, plus the protection of the escarpment from raiders accessing the interior via the Don Valley, were probably the original reasons for the settlements. Buildings dating from the 18th Century indicate a few prosperous farms, but there were no raw materials or power sources of interest to the growing number of manufacturers and industrialists developing Doncaster and Rotherham until the deep Barnsley Coal seam was exploited this far east, at the turn of the 19th Century.
Tithe maps of the 1840s and the Census records reveal that the land was owned and tenanted by a number of people who might not live in the villages and that fields and farms changed hands frequently. There were no owners of enough land to interest them in diversifying, except perhaps the owners of the sources of 'ruddle' and the Ruddle Mill in Braithwell Parish. Larger landowners, such as the Woodyeares of Crookhill Hall, Conisbrough Parks, tended to acquire land in small blocks across the limestone band rather than consolidating it into estates. In the 20th century, after two world wars and the development of agri-business, much land was consolidated into more economic holdings run by commercial companies. Traditional farm buildings and country houses have been sold for housing development. Some smaller family farms have been able to compete, but several in the three villages have recently disappeared.
By the mid 19thCentury the increasing demand for coal had brought the industry to the western edge of our section of the limestone band with the opening of the Denaby shafts on the far side of the Don from Conisbrough in 1866. Developments in mining techniques enabled deep pits to go in at ‘Yorkshire Main’, Edlington, in 1909 and 1910 and, closest to Braithwell, the Maltby Colliery. With the advent of relatively well-paid work, these three villages, Denaby, Edlington and Maltby grew rapidly and, despite the demise of the coal industry, are still seen as typical Yorkshire Coalfield towns. The three villages of Braithwell, Micklebring and Clifton were not greatly affected, structually, by the collieries. Census records for 1911 show a few miners living in the villages and presumably walking to work, while recollections of long term residents suggest that in the 1950s colliery buses would pick up miners in Braithwell. The miners’ money enabled the shops and pubs to flourish, for example, in the 1930s the original Red Lion Pub and brewhouse were demolished and rebuilt as a mock Tudor 'roadhouse'. The Butcher's Arms and Micklebring's Plough were rebuilt at the same time and the Club in Braithwell also attracted miners and agricultural workers. The original Plough in Micklebring welcomed Ruddle miners, but that industry was a small adjunct to the agricultural economy.
Braithwell expanded more than the other two villages, but the social and economic effects of the pits and the Quarry at Stainton on these basically agricultural villages, remains to be explored .It will be interesting to map the changes in the three villages as further surveys, maps and censuses are published.