Picture credit: Roland Turner flickr wikipedia creative commons.
“A mile from Rotherham be very good pittes of Cole.”- John Leland
Rotherham is a large town in South Yorkshire, situated on the confluence of the River Don and the River Rother. In 2011 the borough of Rotherham had a population of 257,280 people, making it one of the largest urban areas in South Yorkshire.
Sunset over the river Don, Rotherham, Photo Credit Rachel Marsden (IFY Community)
One of the biggest attractions in the town is the Magna Science and Adventure Museum, built on the site of the old Templeborough steel works and Roman fort. It houses an array of interactive displays, aimed at children, to learn about science. There are four pavillions, representing the four elements, water, air earth and fire, which tells you everything you need to know about their importance and use on our planet. The fire pavillion allows visitors to watch crystals melting and a huge electromagnetic crane in action.
There are also the Air tek and aqua tek play zones, which encourage children to explore, play and learn about these elements in a fun environment. A programme of events at the museum, including sporting events, exhibitions, pop concerts, community events and conferencing facilities are also a feature of Magna.
Rotherham does have a castle after all- well, Boston Castle, as it was so named after the tea party of the same name. This was built in 1775 for the Earl of Effingham as a hunting lodge. The surrounding 23 acres of parkland was opened to the public in 1876, to mark its centenary. After the building fell into dereliction the small castle and grounds were restored and re-opened in 2012. It offers excellent views of the surrounding Don Valley.
The Chapel of Our Lady is one of only four remaining bridge chapels left in the country, dating back to 1483. It was built to welcome travellers to the town and give them a place to pray for their safe journey upon leaving. The chapel survived because it was deemed to be an integral part of the bridge. It was restored in the early 20th Century, after protests from locals when it became a newsagents in 1888. It is still operational as a chapel to this day.
Rotherham Minster, once described as “one of the finest examples of a medieval perpendicular architecture in the country,” was originally built in the 12th Century, although much of the building now dates from the 15th. It’s font is dated from around 1170. It was made of local sandstone, known as “Rotherham Red.” In 2004 it was upgraded to “Minster status.”
The Rother Valley Country Park is an attractive 750 acre site, which contains four lakes, Northern, Meadowgate, Rother and Nethermoor. These were once part of the river Rother, which was re-coursed during the 19th Century. On these lakes there are fishing and watersports available, apart from Meadowgate, which is a nature reserve. There is also a miniature railway, golf course and camping facilities at the park, with lakeside walks, sculpture trail and picnic area.
Ulley Country Park was opened in 1986 and is a former reservoir. It is used for both angling and water sports. This 19 hectare site is a haven for wildlife, with over 150 species of flowers recorded, along with many species of insects, animals and birds. The park closed for three years between 2007-10 because of heavy flooding in the area.
The town boasts one theatre, in the shape of the Rotherham Civic, which is a medium sized auditorium in a converted chapel. It shows a full range of plays, pop concerts and comedy acts throughout the year. The area also has numerous amateur groups as well.
Rotherham is very well linked to the rest of Yorkshire and is near the M1, A1 and M18 motorways. The town was one of the first to have a railway and station in the area. The original Rotherham Central was built in 1838 and it was soon realised that a connection could be made to Mexborough thus creating a route to Doncaster from Sheffield. The station closed down in 1966, leaving the town without a central rail link at all. The nearby Rotherham Masborough station was the closest, but this was half a mile out of the town centre. Finally in 1986, the first stone was laid by the then mayor for the creation of a new Rotherham Central Station, which started carrying passengers to Doncaster and Sheffield once again, the following year. Rotherham Masborough closed down in 1988, but the railway still passes through this disused station to this day, even though the buildings have long gone. Other services include ones to York, Wakefield and Leeds. The town’s 19 stand bus station also carries passengers to Barnsley, Doncaster, Worksop and Sheffield.
Sport in Rotherham is dominated by its football team, Rotherham United FC, who at the time of writing play in the Championship. The team is an amalgamation of Rotherham County and Rotherham town, which merged in 1926, a rare occurence in English football. They competed in the first ever League Cup Final in 1961, losing 3-2 to Aston Villa and won the Football League Trophy in 1996. As of 2012 they play at the New York Stadium, a purpose built community facility in the town, after spending 101 years at their traditional home, Millmoor.
Plans are in place to regenerate the town centre and it has already been noted by Mary Portas no less, for the quality of its independent local stores. Some of the town’s historic buildings are being restored as the town works towards building a positive future.
The first significant historical milestone in Rotherham came with the construction of Templeborough Roman fort which dates back to around 43AD. Excavations at the site discovered one of the oldest memorial tombstones of a British woman. The site of the fort, many centuries later, became part of Templeborough steel works during World War I.
After the Roman’s withdrawal from Britain in around 410AD, the area around Rotherham became rather lawless with several tribes and foreign invaders occupying, looting and raiding. Some of the German invaders, including Anglo Saxons settled in the Rother valley and set up farmsteads near a ford across the river Don. This became the birth of the hamlet of Rotherham. When the Vikings took hold of the North in the 8th-10th Centuries, Rotherham lay at the southern edge of Northumbria and the kingdom of Deira. While most suburbs within Rotherham were of Saxon origin, the places around it to the north were Viking, such as Maltby and Hellaby. A battle at nearby Brunanburgh between the Vikings and King Athelstan’s forces broke out in the year 936, which the English won, pushing the Scandinavians further north.
The Norman invasion saw the hamlet of “Rodreham” recorded as having a manor, church with a priest, three ploughs and eight villains in the Domesday Book. In the years after the Norman Conquest the lands had been given to Nigel Fossard, William the Conquerer’s half brother, Robert de Mortain and eventually the De Vesci family. None of these Norman landowners visited the parish much and did not even build a castle to keep order, like many other places in Yorkshire. Rotherham was a district with a series of absentee landlords for much of the Middle Ages. Despite this, the hamlet began to grow, especially with the granting of a fair in 1207 and market, which encouraged traders to the town. Much of Rotherham’s early civic life was aided by the monks at nearby Rufford Abbey. They collected tithes and extended the town’s market days to Monday.
Under the tragic reign of Edward VI the college of Jesus closed down and stripped of its assets as part of the 1547 “Supression of Chantries and Guilds Act. It still carried on in the form of a grammar school, which was saved by the Feoffees and then consolidated under the more enlightened reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The gateway to the original College of Jesus can still be seen, tucked away in the town centre.
Apart from the odd skirmish with the Vikings, Rotherham largely kept out of Yorkshire battles, during both the War of The Roses and the Civil war, largely because no castle was ever built there. The main battles were fought between the schoolboys of the Grammar school, between those in support of the king and others who weren’t, rather than soldiers on horseback! However, after the Civil War, Rotherham began to decline and became a notorious area for gambling and vice.
This was until the 18th Century when the production of iron, steel and coal began in earnest at the start of the Industrial Revolution. These new industries were aided by the creation of the Sheffield and South Yorkshire navigation system, which provided opportunities for export to the Humber Estuary, via the River Don. One of the principle industrialists at the time were the Walker family, whose steel empire provided material for warships and cast iron bridges.
With the expansion of iron and steel production in the town, so came an explosion in population. In 1801, 8,418 lived in Rotherham and Kimberworth, while by 1901 this had increased to 54,349. To support the growing numbers of workers moving into the town, several infrastructure projects were completed, such as the building of a new courthouse, corn exchange and market place. House building multiplied too, to incorporate the nearby villages of Parkgate and Masbrough.
During this time, political life in the town was also somewhat turbulent! Riots had to be suppressed on several occasions throughout the 19th Century, such as during the 1865 General Election and in 1880, the Riot Act had to be read out with the army called in to control its rebellious population.
This political activism continued into the 20th Century with the Communist and Socialist movements becoming prominent in the town during the General Strike of 1926 and throughout the great depression of the 1930s. While nearby Sheffield was heavily blitzed during the war, Rotherham got off a bit lighter, despite its munitions making factories.
As the 20th Century wore on, the industries which once covered Rotherham and District one by one closed down and South Yorkshire became the epicentre of trade union strikes and demonstrations. Rotherham came to national attention on 18th June 1984, when a strike at the Orgreave coking plant, just to the south of the town, descended into a battle between the police and protesters. Much controversy has surrounded this incident, known as “The Battle of Orgreave,” which resulted in 93 arrests, including the leader of the Miner’s Union, Arthur Scargill. The repercussions of the battle of Orgreave still rumbles on to this day, with protesters seeking a public inquiry into the behavior of the police on that notorious day.
In 2007 areas around Rotherham were severely flooded and parts of the town were brought to a standstill for three days while the excessive rain water wa cleared. The nearby M1, Parkgate shopping centre, private and commercial property were all affected.
Rotherham is a popular, hardworking town, which helped to make South Yorkshire the workshop of the world.
The Feoffees of the Common Lands was an ancient town council, made up of twelve townsfolk. They were formed in the early 16th Century and were responsible for helping the poor, administering justice on criminals and maintained roads and infrastructure throughout the town. Nowadays they are a charity working for good causes in the borough including helfp for the elderly.
The Jesus College was the first ever brick built structure in South Yorkshire.
Rotherham is the home town of Jive Bunny, the chart-topping rabbit from the late 80s.
It is also home of the Chuckle brothers, Barry and Paul Elliott
The cannons used in Lord Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar were made in Rotherham.
The Chapel of Our Lady bridge chapel was once a tobacconists and newsagent from 1888 to 1901, before a petition from locals forced it to be converted back to a religious building again.