History of Thorne
A Taste of It's Past
by Malcolm Hobson ©
The retreating ice sheet of the last ice-age, about 15,000 years
ago, left behind a ridge of sand nearly two miles long and lying roughly
north and south. On this ridge the town of Thorne has developed during
the last thirteen or fourteen centuries. This ridge is a low one nowhere
exceeding the ten metres contour line. Indeed much of the land surrounding,
particularly to the east, is only a few feet above mean sea level which
meant that in the years before man took a hand in the drainage, two tides
a day in this land of rivers kept a vast area soaking wet.
Thorne derives from the Saxon tongue meaning 'the place where the thorns
grow'. There are many examples of this place name throughout northern
Europe. In ancient documents it is variously spelt as 'Torn', 'Thurne',
and 'Tourne'. In the old local dialect it is still 'Thourne'.
and tools of flint have been found here and indicate that people of the
Neolithic culture attempted settlements, between five and ten thousand
years ago. The nearest place for obtaining flint naturally is Risby Warren
to the east of Scunthorpe. Evidence of the Bronze Age culture has come
to light in the finding of a bronze palstave near Moorends in the 1960's
and in 1973 on the peat moors just to the east of Thorne Colliery, a jointed
timber bridge or landing stage was discovered during drainage operations.
Closer scientific investigation revealed that the builders were Bronze
Age cattle farmers. I have myself found, during the course of my late
job as a peat cutter, many pieces of wood which have been chopped or sharpened
or burned several thousands of years ago, as was testified when some of
them were subjected to carbon 14 dating. Complete trees are quite regularly
found beneath the peat, along with leaves, pine cones and even acorns.
The tell-tale bark of the silver birch shines still, when brought to the
daylight after thirty centuries below the peat.
Thirty years or so after the Roman Invasion of A.D. 43, the Romans built a fort
at Doncaster which they called Fort Don of Danumcastra. The garrison there
tried to control the native tribes who lived in the surrounding forest.
These Brigantes, as the Romans called them, have even been credited with
the massacre of several hundred soldiers by luring them into the forest.
This, we are told, prompted the Roman governor to order the clearing of
the woodland by burning.
Few finds from the Roman period have come to light in the immediate area of Thorne,
but the latest has proved to be the most interesting. In January 1989,
a small boy playing on a pile of soil by a building site off Wike Gate
Road discovered a pot of clay only two or three inches high. The pot is
roughly in the shape of a modern coffee jug, but the spout is a whistle
which still blows perfectly. The museum authorities believe it to be of
the Roman era, but made earlier in Greece.
the departure of the Romans in the fifth century, the east coast and the
Humber estuary saw the arrival of an ever-increasing number of invaders
from the lands across the North Sea. These Germanic peoples had a strong
culture of their own and were farmers, hunters and warriors. They wanted
to settle in their family or clan groups in pleasant places, so they shunned
the silent ruins of the Roman towns and founded their own communities.
If we read the first volume on Yorkshire produced by the Place Name Society,
we see many familiar places which have Saxon names, e.g., Thorne, Hatfield,
Goole, Snaith, Hook and Crowle. It is possible that the Saxons settled
in all these places before 600 A.D.
Christianity in Britain was confronted by the heathen Saxon culture, eventually
triumphing but not without bloodshed. In 632 a battle was fought at Hatfield
between Edwin of Northumbria, a Christian King, and two heathen kings
from the south-west of Britain. The Christians were defeated, and we are
told that Edwin's house and church at Hatfield were burned, and the remnants
of the defeated army fled eastwards into the marshes. Eventually the Christian
way was accepted by the Saxons and real progress in civilisation was made.
in the 8th century Viking raiders or Northmen as they were called, began
to attack coastal and riverside settlements, having sailed from Scandinavia
in their long boats. Wherever these shallow-draught boats could reach,
they harried and pillaged. In 887 a great fleet of them landed in the
Humber and soon reached York. By the end of the 9th century they had overrun
the north-eastern part of Britain and called it the Danelaw. Thousands
of them came over the sea to settle here. Local places of Viking origin
include: Swinefleet, Ousefleet, Staddlethorpe, Scunthorpe and Garthorpe.
'Fleet' means inlet or stream, and 'thorpe' means village or settlement.
was a divided nation all during the 10th and through most of the 11th
centuries. A powerful force was needed to forge a union out of such divisions
of Viking and Saxon kingdoms. Such a force was the Norman Conquest, King
Harold shattered a Danish army at Stamford Bridge near York in 1066, but
then had to march his tired army over two hundred miles south to meet
the invading Normans at Hastings. Everyone knows the result of this famous
battle. William, Duke of Normandy had himself crowned as William I of
England and immediately set about the complete subjugation of the people.
Forts and castles were built at prominent places and garrisoned with soldiers.
Officials and clerks were sent to every town, village or hamlet in the
realm to conduct a survey and valuation. This was later to be known as
the Domesday Book. The survey records that Thorne and Tudworth were separate
communities and that Thorne had five sokemen, eleven villeins, four carucates
of land and four ploughs. Tudworth had seven sokemen, seven villeins and
three ploughs, also "twenty fishgarths are there yielding 20,000
eels a year".
of Thorne, together with twenty-five others came under the socage of Conisborough.
William de Warren was the great baron who built Conisborough castle and
Lewes castle in Sussex, most probably also Thorne's motte and bailey castle.
The motte or mound is still to be seen but only a small chunk of masonry
survives at the top. For years it has been known locally as Peel Hill.
The vanished masonry can still be seen built into the churchyard wall
and other walls in the old town. It is known that the castle was standing
in 1538, for Leland, that remarkable traveller, came through and recorded
at 'Thurne' a 'castlet well-diked and now used for offenders in the forests'.
The Church of St. Nicholas contains work of several medieval
styles. Basically, the building consists of an aisled nave of five bays
with engaged west tower, chancel with transeptal chapels, south porch,
and a 19th century vicar's vestry. Parts of the nave are thought to be
so old as to pre-date the Norman Conquest.
the early middle ages the church was just a Chapel of Ease, which meant
that funerals, marriages and baptisms had to be performed at Hatfield.
Since the two villages were more often than not separated by two miles
of lake or flood water, mourners or wedding parties, etc., had to go by
early 14th century a funeral party in boats was wrecked in a storm and
several people drowned. A petition was put to the Abbot of St. Mary's
York, for the church to be re-built and made a parish church - this was
of the surrounding lakes and marshes, farming land in Thorne was limited
to two fields on the ridge, the North Field and the South Field, Church
Baulk being the dividing line between them. This good land was vital for
grain growing and root crops but there were other sources of food on the
doorstep, namely fish and fowl with the odd bit of venison. Peat was used
for building houses and for fuel. From reeds people thatched roofs, made
mats, window shutters and eel traps.
was certainly isolated in medieval times but this also had advantages.
The plague and the notorious Black Death of the 14th century did not seem
to affect Thorne. The Poll Tax returns of Richard II indicate that we
suffered no great loss of population, whereas Hatfield appears to have
The manor of Thorne was an integral part of the Royal Chace of
Hatfield, being one of the Keepers' stations, and using the castle as
a temporary lock-up for offenders. The Chace became 'royal' in 1347 when
it passed from the Earls of Surrey (de Warrens) to the House of York and
so to the Crown. It was seventy thousand acres in extent but with deer
driving rights to a further 110,000 acres. In 1609 it is recorded that
Prince Henry, eldest son of James I, was hunting in the Chace when Sir
R. Portington of Tudworth Hall got his men to drive several hundred deer
into Thorne Meer. Boats were used by the hunting party to select the beasts
they wanted for killing.
has it that among the Prince's hunting party that day, was a certain Dutchman,
Cornelius Vermuyden, who was not impressed by the wildlife of the Chace
and being an engineer, was astounded that such a vast morass had not been
drained and made productive. It is now generally well known how Vermuyden
and James I, then his son Charles I, came to an agreement for the Dutchman
and his shareholders (Participants) to drain Hatfield Chace and the Isle
of Axholme. The drained land was then to be shared between the King, the
Participants and the Commoners. There was great opposition to the project
from the locals. There were riots, murders, fires and deliberate floodings
and court cases.
was a tremendous undertaking with the primitive tools of the 17th century,
but the work was nearly completed by 1650. People still argue today about
whether it was a good thing or a bad thing to do. Personally I come down
on the side. of being for it, but I wish a few more little corners on
the Levels had been left wild. Whatever your opinion, you cannot help
but admire the industry of those drainage men especially when you see
the long straight drains, flood banks and roads. Many foreign workers
remained behind after Vermuyden left and they farmed the land. Not only
Dutch but Flemish and French names are still to be found in the telephone
directories, e.g. Brunyee (Brugne) and Dimoline (Dumoulin).
the Civil War, the people of the Isle of Axholme opposed the king, he
being to them the remote instigator of the drainage, who turned a deaf
ear to their earlier pleas through the courts. Conversely, the towns of
Hatfield and Thorne with Tudworth were supporters of the King for the
most part, perhaps because they were the centre of a traditional loyalty
through the Royal Chace at Hatfield. When Sir Thomas Fairfax in 1643,
after his defeat by the Royalists at Adwalton Moor, had to pass in retreat
through the area, he was harassed by the Royalist supporters led by Portington
Flooding did not become a stranger after the drainage operations,
because the system still had to be incorporated with other drainage schemes
of neighbouring areas, and unfortunately those were either poor or non-existent.
We read many entries like the following in Thorne parish registers:
"1681 Mem. A great flood with high winds, did break
our banks in several places, and drowned our town round, upon Sunday
at night, being Jan. 15".
Again "1682 Mem. Our banks did break in ye same places, and drowned
our town round, upon Thursday April 27th".
MARKETS AND FAIRS
first market charter was granted in 1658 by Richard Cromwell (reluctant
son of the Protector). The Charter was granted to fourteen men of Thorne,
to hold a market each Thursday. However, in 1672 Charles II granted a
new charter, rescinding the old one, making market day Wednesday and fixing
two annual fairs for the first Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday after 11th
June and October respectively. This charter was granted to nine gentlemen
of Thorne whose shares or interest in the revenues were negotiable. (Contemporary
copies of these two charters hang in the Council Chamber on Fieldside).
Thorne prospered in trade and by 1818 had gained the right to hold a Corn
Market each week.
TRADE AND COMMUNICATION
its first settlement in Saxon times, Thorne people had to use boats to
visit the nearest neighbouring village. Indeed it was by boat that our
first inhabitants had arrived here. Throughout the whole history of Thorne,
boat building must have been a trade, as even today we repair and service
pleasure craft. The Humber Kell, it was said, was in direct line of descent
from the Viking long ships. Sloops, Billy Boys and Keels were all built
at Thorne for several centuries, up to the early 1930's, first on the
banks of the Don and later on the canal side in the town itself. In addition
to the river and canal system, there had been a boating dike network,
at least since the 16th century, one arm of which came up to the market
place. These boats were used for the transport of peat from the moors.
They were hauled by horses or men, and the peat for fuel could be taken
to the Don at Waterside and loaded on ships to Hull or York.
than a mile north of Thorne market place on the Don lies Thorne Quay,
now called Waterside. This place was the river port of Thorne from the
early eighteenth century almost to the twentieth. It had grown up after
storms and fierce tides had destroyed the sluice at Goole on the Ouse
and made the old Don navigable on the old Dutch River. Trade increased
and houses were built along with two shipyards. Several inns found custom
here including the John Bull (still there), the Steam Packet, the Rodney
and the Ship. There were rope makers, sail makers, ships' provisioners
and even a Custom House.
a daily steam packet service to Hull had been started on the 'John Bull',
built at Gainsborough but owned by a Thorne man named Darley. In 1818
the first steamer was built at Waterside by Richard Pearson and Company,
to be followed at short intervals by five or six others. These inaugurated
the first Hull to Hamburg Hull to Rotterdam and Hull to London steam packet
services. The finance for the venture came from Thorne farmers and businessmen.
What pioneers! It now seems beyond belief that ships built of wood and
steam-driven were built at Waterside so early. The largest of these ships
was almost 400 tons and as many as four thousand people crowded the banks
of the Don to witness their launchings.
the coming of railways in the mid-19th century, the river trade declined.
Goole was becoming an important river and sea-going port, taking more
and more trade away from Waterside. Partly to compensate for this, Messrs.
Durham, Moore, Foster and Shaw built a large oil and cake mill at Low
Hill in 1861, hoping to employ the idle hands, but this failed partly
because the Waterman went to the new port of Goole to follow their own
trade. In 1881 only five workers were to be found at the mill and half
the houses were untenanted.
the eighteenth century parts of the upper Don had been canalised to give
the Sheffield Industrial area a route to the sea. By the late eighteenth
century this had been extended as far as Stainforth and a link made to
the Don by means of a basin and a lock. An Act was passed in 1793 to extend
the canal from Stainforth through Thorne to Keadby, thus reaching the
Trent. The completion of this work by 1800 was a shot in the arm for Thorne's
commerce. All branches of the shipping trade developed and this meant
an increase in other business, promoting by necessity, the construction
of the Bawtry to Selby turnpike road through the town. Later on this was
followed by an improved highway between Thorne, Hatfield and Doncaster
in the 1830's.
returns and entries in the various trade directories, e.g. William White's,
show a steady growth of population in the town with a new diversity in
trades and occupations. Coach links with Doncaster and Selby increased,
with sometimes as many as twelve vehicles a day taking passengers to Waterside
to board the steam packets to Hull or even London or Europe. At one time
the London to Edinburgh mail came through Thorne on the turnpike rather
than through Doncaster.
first railway to reach Thorne was on the canal bank from Doncaster. It
was constructed in the 1850's for the South Yorkshire Railway Co., originally
to facilitate the transport of coal from the Barnsley coalfield. When
the first 25 wagons of coal steamed up to the coal staithe at Thorne lock
in 1858, crowds had gathered to cheer, a band to play and the church bells
pealed out as a welcome. The line was soon carrying passengers and was
extended in two years, to reach Keadby. By this time also, a turn table
was fitted near the bottom of White Lane by the canal, and a branch line
added to take the line to the warehouse at Waterside.
first railway had a short life and was soon superseded by the Manchester,
Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway's line constructed from Doncaster through
Thorne to Grimsby - what we in Thorne call Thorne South. This line was
operating by the 1860's, and within that decade another line from Stainforth
Junction through Thorne North to Goole and Hull was completed. Thus, for
a short period, Thorne was served by three railway lines, as proved by
the extra tunnels in the two other railway canal bridges. Not many towns
in the world have been so well served by several different systems of
Since the last publication of Thorne Guide, we have lost two
of our oldest businesses. Sadly, Darley's brewery has closed; maybe there
was a good reason but I can't think of one (not being a Temperance man).
There had been a brewery on the same site for at least 190 years and barley's
had owned it since the late 1850's. At about the same time Dunston's were
starting their ropery and eventually, ship-building yard on the canal
side on Union Road. That business also has now closed. From building fine
keels of timber, Dunston's progressed to building all-welded vessels of
steel which were exported all over the world.
will not only regret the loss of jobs with these two closures but also
the loss of the influence of the two business families, who for so many
years played a full part in the life and development of the town. For
instance, it was the Darleys who helped to finance the building of those
first paddle-steamers at Waterside in the 1820's; the Dunston family were
pioneers in local government affairs being prominent members of the early
town councils, and both were generous patrons of Thorne Church.
the centre of a good corn-growing area and running its own corn market
(up to the 1860's), Thorne used its seven windmills to the full. By 1860
a purpose-built steam threshing and steam flour mill was put up on the
corner of Field Road and Fieldside. This has been known for all this century
as Hind's Chambers.
things manufactured here last century were: sacking, tarpaulin and iron
foundry products. In the 1840's there was Ellison's timber yard at Low
Hill (Mr. Ellison lived in the Hall then) and Staniland's manufactured
ropes, rigging and sails at Waterside. Later they bought Pearson's shipyard
and built the last two ships to be launched there in the 1860's; they
were the 'Black Cat' and the 'Elizabeth Kilner'. In 1871 the shipyard
was closed and sold to a Mr. Kesteven, who ploughed it up and filled in
the dry dock to accommodate a smallholding and nursery.
THE PEAT INDUSTRY
Quite a few references have already been made to the harvesting of peat in this
area. At this time the industry is still with us and flourishing. I remember
reading a history of Thorne dated 1829 when worries were expressed about
the increasing rate of taking the peat. One hundred and sixty years later,
the industry is bigger than ever imagined; but now it no longer reproduces
itself, because drainage has to be so efficient as to allow the weight
and passage of heavy machinery. The two moors we have are Thorne and Hatfield,
both in the hands of Fisons, an international group of companies, using
the most modern methods for winning the peat to produce, in situ, composts
and other media for the nursery industries of Britain and Europe. The
big question is: what is going to happen to the 10,000 acres or so when
the peat is gone?
way in which poor land can and has been made fertile is by warping. This
system uses the water of tidal rivers to deposit rich sediment soil on
top of low and unproductive land. The monks of Selby Abbey seem to have
been the initiators of this system in our area on land they owned near
Thorne. They physically carted the soil and deposited it, but a way was
found to use special warping drains and sluice gates in the last century.
Makin Durham was an engineer and land surveyor who lived in Thorne Hall.
He constructed the warping drain and warped areas of land around Moorends
and improved land drainage generally in our parish.
land around us should be appreciated and not taken for granted. We owe
a lot to these pioneers.
have seen how our forbears endeavoured to improve conditions of the land.
At the same time there were people like Mr. George Dunston who dreamed
of the wealth of minerals below ground. He studied the geology of the
land and was convinced that rich coal seams lay beneath it. It was due
to the efforts of such men that Pease and Partners began the sinking of
a colliery at Moorends.
difficulties in the form of Thorne's old enemy, water, assailed their
efforts. Sixteen years were to pass from 1910 to 1926 before coal could
be produced. The colliery succeeded in producing excellent quality fuel
for thirty years, and a new village, Moorends, grew up before, in 1956,
water problems once again closed the production down. Work has never completely
ceased at the pit to make it viable, over the last thirty-odd years, and
we all wonder - will it ever open again? In the past, local people handled
these things well, but now it seems that all has been taken out of our
This is the hardest part of the venture when you have always
sought the facts of the past; but without the knowledge of what has gone
before, how can you hope to see where you might go? To dream of a new
industry to be as long-lasting as, for example, the peat, is a pipe dream.
Much of the resources of the country now come from tourism. Have we a
part to play there?
a small boy, aged 11, travelled to London to seek his fortune. He had
been born at Waterside. That boy became apprenticed to a plumber and eventually,
through diligence and skill, became owner of the business. His claim to
fame is that he perfected the flush toilet and helped to organise the
sewage system of the metropolis. Although long dead, he is still revered
in some circles. People seek out his work and marvel at his manhole covers.
When his biography was written a few years ago, the apt title chosen was "Flushed with Pride" - and why not? His name was Thomas Crapper.
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