Braithwell, Micklebring and Clifton History and Heritage

The Spencer Family and the History of Ruddle/Raddle in Micklebring

 Trudy Pankhurst Green and Pattie Birch

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  The Ruddle Centre, Braithwell

People often wonder why the community building in Braithwell is called the Ruddle Centre. In fact, the documents associated with the extraction and processing of this red ochre in Micklebring and Braithwell always refer to it as ‘raddle’. This red oxide was used as a colouring by the Romans, as evidenced in local pottery finds, but its importance during the nineteenth century was as a fine abrasive paste, like jeweller’s rouge, used for polishing optical lenses and quality metalwork.  Farmers also used it as means of identifying which ewes had been covered by their rams.

Ruddle seems to occur in only two small areas in England but was so highly prized that it was exported to optical manufacturing companies in the United states and Russia. By the 20th Century, the small areas of production and the difficulty of digging out the ruddle increased pressure on the manufacturers to develop alternatives. Mining at Micklebring tailed off after the First World War, because it was no longer viable to mine it and send small orders to the United States.

As early as the fifteenth century there were references to Ruddle in the Conisbrough Court Rolls and evidence of the growth of the industry lies in 18th century documents to be found in the Doncaster and Sheffield Library Archives. An indenture of 1717 records the purchase of Ruddle mines and quarries from Richard Moor of Braithwell by Thomas Gleadall of Micklebring. Millar, in 1804 stated that there were large quantities of Raddle in Micklebring and that Messrs Gleadhill (Gleadall) and Shepherd had mills for grinding it. In 1750 the Duke of Leeds, who owned all minerals in Micklebring wastes, arranged that George Brooke should pay him £20 per 100 tons for all Ruddle extracted and in 1758 John Battie of Warmsworth conveyed26 tons of Raddle along the river to Fishlake in September and a further 25 tons to Hull in November, probably for export to Holland or London.

Mining the Ruddle

In ‘The Costumes of Yorkshire’ (1814) George Walker gives a description and an illustration of mining ruddle:

‘A shaft is sunk of about 25 feet in depth and five in diameter which passes through strata of limestone and gritstone and immediately under this last the raddle is imbedded universally in clay, which is three feet thick above and below the vein. It lies nearly horizontal and is generally about nine inches in thickness. The miner in working sits down and uses a short sharp axe, similar to that of the lead miner. He excavates to a distance of about four yards from the centre of the shaft; but as the clay cannot be easily supported, as soon as he has reached this distance, a new shaft is sunk near to the other.”

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A sketch of the picture in 'The Costumes of Yorkshire'. Standing man wears a military jacket.

The illustration shows a small hand winch used to haul up wooden buckets filled with lumps of ruddle. The legacy of the bell pit system could be seen in the 1960s in an area of hollows, old ‘caved in’ bell pits, near the Plough Inn at Micklebring. There was little change in production until the early 20th century when local coal mines were sunk and miners living locally worked for extra money in the ruddle pits. At times of greater demand in the 19th century itinerant Irish miners were housed in ‘barracks’, the Micklebring mine barracks being demolished in 1964. Ruddle miners were easy to spot as their skin seemed to absorb the fine red dust. This was well described by Thomas Hardy in ‘The Return of the Native.’




Processing and exporting the Ruddle

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Remains of the pits and shafts with track up to Well Farm (Brown and Cowdell 1967) The Ruddle Mill on Ruddle Dyke, Braithwell

The Ruddle was sorted and loaded in carts to be taken to the Ruddle Mill, the final version of which is situated down Austwood Lane, Braithwell, and would have been fed by water from a pond and the Ruddle Dyke. Walker describes how the resulting powder would be mixed with water and after a second grinding, would be left in settling ponds for the water to evaporate. The ponds used at Braithwell cannot be identified and may have become part of the nearby quarries. The dry ruddle would be cut into small squares suitable for packing into wooden casks for canal transport to Hull and onwards to Holland and the US. Sometimes small loads went via rail from Mexborough Station to Liverpool or Sheffield.

Further mechanisation was indicated by Gleadall and Shepherd’s proposal in 1792 to build a water-driven mill in Braithwell to replace several small mills.

Built in 1810, It had a wheel 20 ft in diameter with a good supply of water and probably replaced the mills on the Ruddle Dyke, some way from the pits and the closest source of water that could be satisfactorily dammed and leated. Six shares in ‘The Union Colour Mill’ are mentioned and demand for the Ruddle was such that they keenly changed hands. In 1804 Edward Miller in ‘The history and Antiquities of Doncaster and Its vicinity’ stated that ‘Messrs Gleadhill (Gleadall) and Shepherd have mills for grinding it (ruddle)’, and, ‘by levitation and washing it is rendered fit for sale as coarse pigment.’ 

The tenancy of a ‘Colour Mill and Manufactory’ was advertised in a the ‘Doncaster, Nottingham and Lincoln Advertiser’ in 1812 and stated that the mill was in the ‘Possession and Occupation of Messrs Gleadall and Co.’ In 1814 the Mill was bought by Samuel Gleadall, who may have been a close relative of Mary Spencer ne Gleadall as he was a witness at the wedding of her daughter, Elizabeth Spencer, to Robert Firth in 1801. Samuel became the owner of ‘all that new erected color mill…all the buildings, dams, aqueducts, machines, engines, fixtures, work tools and all other appurtanences…fences, trees, wood, underwood, mines, minerals, quarries.’ Increased Interest in the Ruddle could have been stimulated by the need for red dye during the French and Napoleonic Wars.

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The Ruddle Mill 2019   The Wheel Pit The Ruddle/Corn Mill

Later, parts of the enterprise were sold and leased, indicating a slump in demand. The 1838 White’s Directory of the West Riding lists John Gleadall as Raddle Pit owner and John Pogmore as Reddle Dealer. John also owned shares in the Mill, and was perhaps glad to be rid of the two shares he sold to W. Toone in 1840. The 1841 Census shows John Gleadall (75yrs) and his wife as having independent means. They were, perhaps, glad to pass on the responsibility for mining the Ruddle as well. John died the following year and was buried at Braithwell Church. 

The 1839/40 Tithe Map records that John Gleadall owned Fordoles Farm, including the Raddle Leys (420 on the map) and Raddle Pit Shut (329). These enclosures contain the remains of the last working shafts, clay dumps and the Ruddle House Barracks and are close to old bell pits on the track up to Well Farm on Greave Sikes Lane. He also owned Well Farm, 3 Fordoles fields, Low Leas (421 next to the Ruddle Fields), 2 Closes that indicate the taking in of common land and strips remaining from the 3 field system. 

His son, also John Gleadall, was ordained in the Church of England and, after a time as curate at the Parish Church of Doncaster, now the Minster, became a well known preacher at the Foundling Hospital and St Mary at Hill in London. He was not likely to be interested in farming or in the production of Ruddle. Hence, close to 1840, Edward Spencer took on the leases of the farm and fields and began to supplement his farming income with mining Ruddle. By 1850 Charles William Hatfield commented that the ruddle pits owned by Mrs Gleadall and Co. were deserted, as its use, ‘…having latterly gone out of fashion, none has been required; consequently, that which once formed a source of profit, is now disregarded.’  The Union Mill was converted to produce flour in 1850 and with death of Elizabeth in 1854 the Gleadalls left the production of Ruddle entirely to the Spencers.

In 1840, John Gleadall Senior had leased the extraction of the Ruddle to Edward Spencer, grandson of Mary Gleadall and Edward Spencer and who had married in 1771. It seems that Mary Spencer (1747-1785) was part of the Gleadall family of Tickhill, but it was difficult to connect her with the Micklebring Spencers.  The records revealed that she had lost four of five children and then died of consumption in 1785. It appeared that there was no male heir. More careful examination of Braithwell Church records indicated that two children called George were born to the marriage: one was born and buried in 1774 and the other was born in 1775. This was a common feature of families when babies died and the baptismal name was passed to the next child.

Edward Spencer moves to Micklebring

The surviving George lived until 1833 and was the father of Edward Spencer of Micklebring. George married Sarah Silbury from Bramley and appears to have had eight surviving children. Interestingly, there were two Williams in this family, but neither died young. George was married in 1805 and the eldest son, William, was born that year! For some reason, the second William, born in 1818, was baptised William Silbury. Edward Spencer was the third son, born in 1811.

The Spencer family came from Bramley, where their main farm was Bramley Grange. Edward’s young family lived in a cottage on the

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  Well Farm
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   The Old Plough Inn

estate. He had four brothers and was unlikely to be more than an agricultural worker. At some time between 1841 and 1851 he moved the family to Micklebring, probably attracted by the Gleadall tenancy, and settled at Well Farm. In the 1851 Census they are recorded with sons George (b 1839), Edward (b1843), Frederick (b 1844), Richard (b 1848) and William (b 1850) in a property (Well Farm), next to the Plough Inn. The Ruddle fields were at the back of the farm. It is likely that Edward bought the Ruddle fields after the death of Mrs Gleadall and by 1851 he was farming 80 acres. By 1861 the farm had grown to 160 acres and by 1871, 200 acres, though some of these might be rented.

Richard Spencer Inherits

Edward Spencer died in 1876 and the Farm passed to Richard. By this time, the demand for Ruddle was growing in the optical lens industries and fine metal working industries around Sheffield. Demand was also growing from the United States and it was increasingly exported via Hull to Holland and the continent. An account book survives detailing Spencers’ involvement from 1883 until 1901 when R.E Horrox of Carr House, Sheffield became a partner with the Spencers.

Entries from 1883 to 1897 show that the mines were still operating on the bell pit system.  Workers were paid to sink a pit, extract the ruddle and back fill that working before moving on along the seam and sinking the next pit. They worked in pairs and earned 8 shillings per yard for sinking the pit. Extracting the ruddle was paid for by the load – 12 shillings per load in 1895. J Wigley and Jabes Ward got 46 loads out of this pit and then filled it in.

Miners were probably itinerant, returning when needed and not always annually. Baley (Bailey?) and his partner were paid for sinking pits in 1883, 1886, 1889 and 1890. Wigley and Ward were paid for 1895, and earned £33 10s in 1896 for 41 loads and filling in that pit. They were paid 8s per yard to sink the new pit in 1897 and then 13s per load for the ruddle. Other men were employed between these dates, but none of the ruddle men appeared in the 1881,1891 or 1901 local census records. Jabes Ward may have been a coal miner from Cusworth. Their hue may have excluded them from the community, although Albert Dunstan remembered the ‘raddle’ men waiting for The Plough Inn to open. Thomas Hardy's description of Diggory Venn, a central character in 'The Return of the Native' (1878), reveals the prejudice against the Ruddle miners:

 'The one point that was forbidding about this reddleman was his colour. Freed from that he would have been as agreeable a specimen of rustic manhood as one would often see.'

According to the official mining returns for 1905 Horrox owned ‘the Raddle mine at Micklebring’. The Spencer family also possess a small account book written by Reasby, Richard’s son and assistant, that documents the production, sale and transportation of Ruddle for the period 1903 to 1917. It includes references to Horrox, as if Reasby was managing the extraction of Ruddle from Spencer’s and Horrox’s mines and its transportation to Horrox’s clients. Regular clients included Bausch and Lomb Optical Co of New York and The  American Optical Co. They ordered annually between 20 and 48 casks of Ruddle at £7 per ton. Each wooden cask- full  weighed about half a ton. Reasby had to deal with shipping agents from Hull or Liverpool, the canal or railway firms shipping to the ports, the cost of casks and the transport to canal wharfs or railway stations. There were also small shipments in bags that were going to Horrox’s clients in Sheffield. Even at this prosperous time before the First World War, there was not much profit in Ruddle once the actual miners and millers had been paid.

Production of ruddle virtually stopped in 1914 because of the fall in demand and the difficulty of export. Small orders in England were fulfilled, but American orders went astray in the post and, as may be seen in a confused correspondence between Banch and Lamb Optical Co., Horrox and Richard Spencer. There was an unwillingness to open up the mines, especially as the American company had previously tried to beat down the price to £6 a ton before the War and had abruptly cancelled an order. Horrox claimed to have retired, leaving the whole affair to Richard and Reasby. In the 1920s the Americans tried to persuade the Spencers to reopen the mines and a paint manufacturer experimented with ruddle, but to no avail. Farmers continued to use small amounts  to mark their sheep.  By the 20th Century, the small areas of production and the difficulty of digging out the ruddle increased pressure on the manufacturers to develop alternatives. Mining of Ruddle/Raddle at Micklebring tailed off after the First World War, because it was no longer viable to mine it and send small orders to the United States.

The Family becomes local Gentry

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  The Gables built 1914
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  Braithwell Manor, Ethel's home

It was not surprising that Richard and Rearsby were unwilling to go back into Ruddle production. They had made a success of their farming and joined the upper social circle in the area. Reasby built The Gables before his marriage in 1914 and left Well Farm for flatter land on Micklebring Lane. His wife, Ethel Waterhouse, had been brought up in the Manor House, Braithwell, an impressive house built in 1836 to replace one perhaps as old as St James’s Church.

l) wedding2.jpg Richard holding Geoffrey with Reasby behind2.jpg Ethel Waterhouse of Braithwell Manor2.jpg
A quiet wedding for Ethel because of a bereavement Reasby, Richard and Geoffrey  Ethel in her teens

Richard and Reasby were well known in farming circles as enthusiastic riders to hounds and breeders of beautiful hackney horses and hunters. They organised the Micklebring Point to Point race across their land for the Fitzwilliam Hunt and they often won prizes at local shows for the horses they bred

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The Fitzwilliam Point to Point    Richard on Horseback Geoffrey on his hunter
Horses bred for the police Maltby Show2.jpg Police horse training Rearsby and Geoffrey2.jpg Reasby, Ethel and..2.jpg
Police horses bred by Spencers (Maltby)  Reasby and Geoffrey train horses Reasby, Ethel and Friend on tractor 1930s
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Reasby driving Geoffrey and Gertrude

 Richard's hackneys at Maltby show         

  Geoffrey with hunter



Geoffrey built Green Meadows for his bride, Sheila Hough, on the same farm complex. After living with Geoffrey’s parents, they moved across the road in 1955. In 1966, after Reasby and Ethel had died, Geoffrey and Sheila took their place in the Gables, the main farmhouse, and Reasby’s sister, Gertrude moved into Green Meadows.

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Soon replaced by tractors   Greenfields Hay passing Rose Cottage


Effects of the Modern Age

This family business has been a mixed farm, with pigs at Well Farm, cattle and sheep, but changes came with Foot and Mouth and compensation for the M18 (1967) taking a chunk of good and bad Spencer land as it followed the line of the old railway. In the 1960s modern concrete buildings were added to the growing farm yard and there were government grants for cattle sheds and a straw barn. The Well Farm House was sold, but the outbuildings were kept until the 1980s.

The First and Last Wagonette on the M18

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The next generation of Spencers, Richard, David, and Elizabeth grew up and worked on the farm and granddaughter, Lizzie, has now joined the team.   Richard, Lesley, and Lizzie, live in the Gables and Sheila has moved to the stone house she always wanted, Rose Cottage. The Spencers have been part of the village community since the nineteenth century. Sheila, Lesley, Richard, David and Lizzie have hosted events such as the biannual nativity play and Christmas get together held in the giant barn and attended by friends from Micklebring, Braithwell and further afield. 

Guests of the Spencers at the Gables Farm, Micklebring

On 9th July2017 they willingly volunteered to host an afternoon tea to raise funds for the BMC History and Heritage Group (Village Memories). This involved cleaning out the stables, hiring and erecting a marquee and finding family heirlooms to help our member, Pattie Birch, create an exhibition of Micklebring and the Spencer’s farms. It was a beautiful day to sit outside and take tea!

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Cleaning up the Stables Museum                        The Barns and Yard are ready   Entrance to the Gables is ready
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Prizes Won for Horses                    Exhibition in Stable   Geoffrey's Jodhpurs


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David having Tea and Cake   Sheila Explains the Family Photos

 Service in full Swing


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Tea and Cakes made and served by

the Heritage Group

Christine Goldsack, Chair of the History

and Heritage Group, thanking Richard,

Pattie Birch, Lesley, David, Lizzie and

Sheila for all their hard work and hospitality

The end of a sunny afternoon at the Gables Farm, Micklebring.


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Lizzie's Friends come home for Tea


B.M.C History and Heritage Group would like to thank the Spencer Family for their support in writing this contribution to the Website and also The Peak District Mines Historical Society for giving permission to use  'The Mining of Raddle in the Rotherham Area' by Ivor J. Brown and F.W. Cowdell (1967, Bulletin Vol 3) for maps and research information.