Some notes on Old Thorne
Compiled by Malcolm Hobson © 1985)
Thorne became a permanent settlement in the Anglo-Saxon period about thirteen centuries ago, but we know from the finds of flint tools and weapons, that men of the Neolithic culture used this land; as also did the people of the Bronze Age and Iron Age from the finds still being made in the peat diggings of the Moors.
Our Anglo-Saxon forbears were originally pagans but during the seventh and eighth centuries Christianity became the accepted religion of the people and a wooden church was built at Hatfield. The Viking age of the ninth and tenth centuries brought a temporary return of paganism to parts of this area. Thorne, being in the area of the Danelaw, would see the merging of the Anglo-Saxon and Viking cultures in a melting pot lasting for over two centuries. At the end of this time Christianity had triumphed and such settlements as ours had made good progress in opening up the land for agriculture along the ridge on which Thorne stands. We can only guess at the population in these early times but the DOMESDAY SURVEY entry for Thorne in 1086, gives valuable clues to the historian, for it states the probable size of arable acreage to feed the settlement.
Thorne possessed five sokemen, eleven villeins, four caracutes of land and four oxen plough teams; which would sustain a population of about 100 souls. There were also 20 fish-garths yielding twenty thousand eels a year. Another valuable source of food, deer and wildfowl, were also plentiful.
With the Norman conquest came real organisation and the Lord of the manor of Thorne was William de Warenne who was the builder of Conisbrough castle, his local headquarters. It was at this time in the late 11th century that the Normans built the motte and bailey castle known now as Peel Hill. This was followed a few years later by a stone built church next to the castle. The stone for both these structures is magnesium limestone which was quarried and transported by the Don waters from near Sprotborough. The castle was demolished some time in the 17th century but look around you; the stone is still here in the boundary walls around the town.
It is important to keep in mind that the first cultivated land is now occupied by the town centre and that the houses of the people were clustered around what is now Church Street and the Market Place; and so it remained for the several centuries that we call the Mediaeval period. The whole area, especially to the east, was encompassed by a vast area of marshland right up to the Ouse and the Trent. The three field system of agriculture which prevailed at this time throughout the land seems to have been a two field system in Thorne; the North and the South fields; since the land to the West and East fell rapidly away into the undrained wet lands.
In 1263 the manor of Thorne was seized into the King's hands, and early in the 14th century William Gumbald held the land. During the first years of Edward III's reign, John de Mowbray was in temporary possession, but the manor reverted to the Warrennes. In 1335 John de Warren granted 30 acres of cornland at Thorne to Robert Browne at 10 shillings a year rent.
In the reign of Richard II the Poll Tax gives an idea of the population, for the number of people above the age of 16 was 172, of whom one mercer and one chapman paid each 12 pence, one taylor six pence and all the rest, man and wife at four pence. That figure would put the total population at about 200 which is not small considering the extreme isolation of the place.
This isolation was to serve Thorne well during the time of the Black Death and periods of famine which struck the kingdom, for no severe check to a steady growth of population is observable during the later period of the middle ages. The agricultural community was self-contained and also had access to the vast areas of water and moorland which provided fish, fowl and deer in abundance.
About a mile to the Southeast of the church was a large expanse of water called BRADMERE, and the same distance to the west was another stretch of water separating Thorne from Hatfield. It was while crossing this latter water in boats that a funeral party was lost in 1326. The corpse and several mourners were cast into the water, and the bodies of about a dozen people were recovered several days later. As a result of this tragedy the Abbot of St. Mary's York was petitioned and granted that Thorne church be rebuilt and made a parish church so that the dead could be buried at Thorne instead of Hatfield.
The fact that Thorne was part of the royal hunting Chace of Hatfield must have influenced the lives of the inhabitants quite a lot. There were three Keeper's stations in and around the village, one of which was occupied by a Chief Regarder of the Chace. Quite a number of local men would be employed by the officers of the royal hunting ground, and the families of these people were, in the later years of the seventeenth century, to emerge as the important and influential members of the community. Theirs are the names which appear on the market charters, the commissions and as trustees to various charities.
During the 16th century the castle at Thorne was used as a prison for offenders of the laws against poaching the royal game. Prisoners were then taken to York for trial. The area must have contained quite vast numbers of deer for as late as 1609 several hundred were rounded up near Tudworth for the pleasure of Prince Henry, eldest son of James I; who had been urged to see the game by Sir Robin Portington, Chief Regarder of Thorne who lived at Tudworth Hall.
The way of life of the people of this area was to suffer a drastic change during the 17th century. Agriculture had been of secondary importance and few could imagine it any different because of the thousands of acres of unchanging wet lands. However, Cornelius Vermuyden, a Dutch drainage engineer, `persuaded the king that he could drain the land and make valuable farm land out of it. Between 1626 and the Civil War period the engineer and his foreign workers performed prodigious feats of drainage using what we would call today the most primitive of tools. They also worked under constant harassment by the inhabitants who did not want the job doing in the first place. Vermuyden lived in Thorne in the Old Hall on Queen Street while constructing the Ashfield Bank. The Dutchman's financial backers from the Continent encouraged the settlement of the reclaimed lands, and hundreds came over from Holland, Belgium and some Huguenots from France. Some of their descendants are still here, their names slightly altered in spelling e.g. Tyssen became Teeson, Brugne became Brunyee, and Dumoulin became Dimoline.
Although many serious floodings happened after the drainage and a series of writs against the Participants were fought out in court, the value of the land had increased and brought new hope for agriculture, so that today the value of the farmland of this area far outstrips any other industry or natural asset locally.
During the Civil War, Sir Robin Portington fought for the Royalist cause and had a troop of horses quartered at Tudworth. It is recorded that he repeatedly attacked Sir Thomas Fairfax in 1643 as he passed through the Chace.
The town was first granted its Market charter in 1658 during the time of Richard Cromwell, but this was rescinded in 1672 when Charles II granted a new one with the right to hold two fairs a year in June and October.
During the latter part of the 17th century several disastrous floods occurred causing breaches in the protecting banks around the town. The waters poured through the breach and scoured out a huge gyme. Several of these gymes can still be located.
Farming really came into its own during the succeeding two centuries, with constant attention to drainage dikes and the construction of more and more waterways and sluices. More farm houses were built and also town houses as
The river Don shipping trade was expanding and Thorne Quay or Waterside had its own ship building yards and the population grew. Ships sailed to York, Hull, London and even the continent. There were warehouses and inns, rope and sailmaking businesses, also a custom house. With the construction of the canal in the 1790's trade increased even more and shipyards were built on the canal side. By 1822 the population had risen to almost 3,500.
As late as 1800 most traffic between the towns and villages east of Hatfield was waterborne, but new turnpike roads were being built between Bawtry and Selby and Doncaster. During the enclosure of the common lands at this time, the appearance of the town and surrounding country changed. The several huge gates which kept the animals on the common from straying into the town precincts were taken down, and the commons were split up for more farming; also more dwellings and businesses were built in the town.
In the middle of the 19th century the railways came to Thorne, making travel and the transport of goods quicker than ever before. The mail coaches became obselete and stage coaches no longer carried people from Doncaster to the steam packets at Waterside. The river trade was beginning to die with the competition of the railways.
Schools were built and town councils began running the affairs of the town instead of the churchwardens and the Overseers of the Poor. There was still an active Poor House or Workhouse well into the present century, standing on the site of the first one built in 1763.
The opening of Thorne colliery brought an influx of people from several parts of Britain and Moorends village was built to house them. Between the wars parts of the old town fields and commons were taken up by the building of council houses. These were greatly enlarged by estates in the years after the second war.
So much of old Thorne has gone but much can still be seen.
This page is intended to help people to see what is left and to build up for themselves,
a reasonably accurate picture of how things once were.
1. Field House
This lovely old house with its elegant setting, was once the home of a Waterside shipbuilder in the early 1800's. It stands in the old North Field and the boundary wall of limestone was the Field boundary wall originally. The monkey puzzle tree in the grounds is an asset to the people of Thorne.
2. Oates' Mill
This tower mill was built in 1815 and ground corn by wind power for a century; but when the sails blew down in a gale, the power source was changed to steam. Thorne had six windmills in operation according to the O.S. map of 1853. They were strung out along the ridge of high ground from the top of Oldfield Road to Thorne North station.
3. 18th Century Farm on King Street
This building has been a shoe shop since 1925 but it was built in 1749 as a farm. There are still
the remains down the yard of labourers' cottages, a barn, stables, cow byre and pig styes. The fact
that the house is built end-on to the road suggests that it was built on one of the strips of the
North Field. It's farm lands would extend eastwards to High Trod (St. Nicholas Road) and perhaps
4. The White Hart Inn
This was a post coach inn on the Bawtry to Selby turnpike, with the coach entrance to the left of
the building. In 1822 the landlord was Thomas Vaust and he received the Rodney post coach each
morning at ten thirty from Doncaster which proceeded to Hull, with one returning each day at 12
noon to go to Doncaster and Sheffield.
5. The Parish Church of St. Nicholas
The original building was sited next to the motte and bailey castle of Peel Hill, and was a
squat-towered Norman Church. The roundarched Norman building can still be seen but much was added
in the 14th Century and later the tower was raised. The first incumbent for which we have a record
was RANULF 1202-1248. The number of burials in the church-yard since 1326 has raised the earth
level within the yard wall well above the outside road level.
6. Peel Castle Hill and Moat
This is the remains of a Norman motte and bailey castle,
one of hundreds built before 1100, to be a stronghold for the
soldiers whose task it was to be the army of occupation
during the sometimes turbulent transition from Saxon to Norman overlordship. Leland, the 16th century traveller, passed through the district in 1538 and wrote, by the Church Garth of Thurne is a praty pile or castlet well
diked and now used for offenders in the forests,
but sometime longging to the Mulbrays (Mowbrays) as Thurne did".
7. Old Vicarage
This beautiful 18th century house was some years ago, in danger of perishing, but thanks to the
last two owners it has been brought into its present excellent state and is fulfilling the useful
task of a home for the elderly. Some of the interior, including the hall and stairway, are said to
be the work of Robert Adam.
8. Three Bay Barn
This old barn, it is thought, could be early 17th century judging by its timber frame work, yet few
people in the town even notice its existence, behind Hirst's hardware shop.
9. Old Police Station
The town's first lock-up was, of course, the Peel Castle but that was demolished in the 17th
century. Later a prison was made out of some cottages in the north east corner of the church yard,
but when this grand police station and cells was built on Silver Street in 1866, it was decided to
clear the church yard of the old building.
10. Dr. Taylor's House, 1 Silver Street
This striking and imposing Georgian house is now in use as business chambers and flats but in its
elegant past, it must have been home to wealthy merchants and professional men. If we look round
the corner up Bridge Street, we may see the stables, hay lofts and coach houses which such
important men required. To run such an establishment a small army of servants was needed, for
cooking, cleaning, general maintenance and service.
11. Thorne Hall
This imposing mansion was built in 1818 for a farmer called Wormley, and has had / quite a number of subsequent owners and uses, the latest of which was to be the headquarters of Thorne Council. When the drainage engineer Makin Durham lived there 120 years ago, its grounds extended to Southfield Road and also included what is now the Memorial Park.
12. Union Workhouse
Only a few of the Workhouse buildings are left now but up to a few years ago there was an extensive range. Thorne's first Poor House was built in 1763 near this place and also housed in the Napoleonic War, a dozen French prisoners of war. Thorne Union was formed in 1837 and the buildings were completed in 1839 at a cost of £3,173. In that year there were 150 inmates and the Union Master was Mr. Sam Speedy.
13. Lockermarsh 17th Century Yeoman Farmer's House
The name of this house was the name of its site originally. It's name means `marshy sheep enclosure'. Once again this lovely house is built end-on to the road. Like most of Thorne's old houses, its gable ends are a foot or so higher than its present roof; showing that it was once thatched probably with reeds. The house contains an impresside ingle-nook fireplace and heavily beamed and raftered ceilings.
14. Thorne's First Railway Station
The first railway line was single track and ran along the northern bank of the canal from Doncaster reaching Thorne in 1856. It was continued on to Keadby reaching the Trent in 1859. At the bottom of White Lane near the canal, was a turn table and a short branch line off to the warehouse at Waterside. The station house stands in the British Waterway's yard.
15. 17th Century Building in Market Square
This building now houses a stationers and a delicatessen shop, but most people remember it as Wrigley's with a very long tradition of being Thorne printing works. In 1969 structural alterations revealed several things of interest here, including a sealed wall cupboard containing a handbill for Thorne Show 1867 with a note confirming the sealing-in written by former printer Joseph Mason in 1867. Also found was a mummified black rat in a brick chimney, which species of rat it is believed, died out nearly three centuries ago.
16. 18th Century Farmhouse, Queen Street
Yet another example of a farm house built end-on to the road. The date of 1729 can be seen high up on the gable end with the owner's initials. This farm's land would extend westwards to where the canal now is and it had its land protected by the Ashfield bank, which in 1729, had been erected about a century.
17. Thorne Lock
This is the last lock on the Sheffield Keadby canal before the lock to enter the Trent at Keadby. This canal was built in the 1790's and opened in 1797. The lock was built just south of Vermuyden's Ashfield Flood Bank, cutting though at the point where the swing bridge is. The tow path is to the left.
18. John Bull Inn, Waterside
This fine old inn is the last one left at Waterside and has been altered inside out of all recognition over the past few years, but one may still see the original shell. John Bull was also the name of a coach which connected to Doncaster, and the name of a passenger packet which sailed between Thorne and Hull. Hexagonal brass discs stamped John Bull, Hull, Thorne 2/6, were the traveller's passage tickets.
19. Hanson's Gyme
This used to be called Dicky Fish's Bank by the lads who sledged down it in winter. It is the site of a breech in the flood bank where the waters poured through and scoured out a deep pond or gyme. Thorne had several gymes, one near the northern end of the town and one near the canal at Southend. These severe breeches caused great suffering and hardship towards the end of the 17th century.
20. Waterside Wharf and Remains of Warehouse
In its heyday in the 1820's, Waterside had a fluid population of about 600. There were six inns apart from alehouses, two ship yards and a ropery. Some of the first steam ships were built here and regularly ran passengers to Hull, London and the Continent. In 1804 a ship builder named Steemson built a 24 gun warship for the Admiralty.
Text © Malcolm Hobson 1985, Drawings by Pamela Whelan © 1985
from photographs by Margaret Rutherford
This leaflet is available at the Thorne-Moorends Town Council office.
© Thorne Moorends Regeneration Partnership. All Rights Reserved.