The life of Bombadier Bibbs – ‘Rotherham’s Golden Balls’

The life of Bombadier Bibbs – ‘Rotherham’s Golden Balls’

By Gareth Dennison | 22/11/2021

The life of Bombadier Bibbs – ‘Rotherham’s Golden Balls’


JEWELLER and pawnbroker Albert Bibbs — nicknamed Rotherham’s Golden Balls — began his business on Church Street in 1851.

Later, he added the roles of auctioneer and valuer to his work, and became a regularly mentioned name in the Advertiser as he promoted his sales.

He was also part of the early days of the council after Rotherham received its royal charter 150 years ago.

In 1857, Bibbs acquired the deeds to Heaven Chambers on Church Street, where he had set up his shop six years earlier.

George Gummer, in his Reminiscences of Rotherham, reveals another of Bibbs’ nicknames — he was called The Bombadier, although no explanation for this is given.

The premises of Heaven Chambers were not as sublime as the name might suggest. Yes, they were near the parish church — now Rotherham Minster — but they were also neighbour to the Ring O’ Bells, which brought many of the problems you would expect from being next to a 19th century ale house.

Heaven Chambers had been formerly known as Rotten Row, which probably gives a more accurate picture around this time.

So Bibbs shifted to somewhere new in 1863, although not too far away. He moved around the corner, onto High Street.

Around this time, he also became a partner in Slinn Searle and Co, who owned a small brewery in the old flax mill on Market Street. It seems having his professional base close to a pub for several years had not turned him away from a business opportunity in that sector.

Bibbs was also on the lookout for a suitable residence for himself and his family, choosing a property in the Moorgate area, which had become highly fashionable by the mid-19th century.

One would expect him to be aware of properties coming up on the auction scene, and in 1867 he bought Moorfield Villas on Boston Castle Lane and moved in.

It was near Moorgate Cemetery, which was new at the time, but there was a decent distance from the boundary wall to his home.

George Haywood, a partner in ironfounders Yates and Haywood, owned the Moorgate allotment next door, where vines and soft fruit were grown in abundance.

Bibbs, in addition to his business ventures, took public duty very seriously. He was a member of the Board of Guardians and the Rotherham and Kimberworth Local Board.

The first municipal elections came in 1871, after the borough received its charter of incorporation under Queen Victoria. Bibbs stood but his vote count fell short, meaning he would not be part of Rotherham’s first council.

The west ward election defeat to jeweller and watchmaker Abraham Taffinder became the subject of a lengthy poem — 25 verses in all.

It charted the rise and fall of Bombadier Bibbs (Ye lay of Ye Golden Balls) to Taffinder (Ye Master of Ye Pendulum).

The full version — plus an explanation of the cast of characters — can be found at www.moor

The poem featured in a little book published by Thomas ye Rhymer and dedicated to William Whitfield, the new town clerk. It was said to have been done in recognition of the “energy and perseverance” by which the incorporation of Rotherham had been brought about.

The author wrote in the preface: “I deem it certain that they are works which in future will prove mines of wealth to succeeding chroniclers of the history of our borough, more particularly when they come to treat of that glorious never to be forgotten event — the granting of our charter of incorporation.”

Three years later, after the death of one of the town’s aldermen, a vacancy on the council arose in the east ward.

Golden Balls was successful on this occasion defeating WH Gummer by a majority of ten.

This success was short lived — the November 1874 elections were nine months later and Bibbs lost by a majority of 20 to Gummer. This seems to have ended Bibbs’ political ambitions.

When neighbour Haywood. of Rotherstoke, died in 1883, the allotment nearby came up for auction.

Up until this point, the land had provided a buffer zone between Bibbs’ property and the cemetery.

He heard that the burial board was interested in buying the site as an extension to the burial ground and had engaged a solicitor to work out the price and condition of the land. The vines growing there were set to be auctioned off as well.

This left our Bombadier disillusioned and, three years later, he upped and left Rotherham for Sheffield, settling in Broomhill.

He continued his auction work until his death in 1890, when he came back to the borough, being interred in the cemetery by his old house.

The Advertiser’s obituary said Bibbs died suddenly. He had been ill for a fortnight but had been recovering.

The article said: “He retired to bed about ten o’ clock and was seized with a fit of apoplexy expiring in a few minutes.

“Mrs Bibbs on following soon afterwards found her husband in an insensible state. Death ensued shortly afterwards.

“The deceased, who was in his 65th year, leaves a widow, one son and two daughters.

“Mr Bibbs commenced business in Church Street, Rotherham, in 1851 as a pawnbroker and jeweller and subsequently removed his business to High Street.

“During the last 12 years he has been retired from the business mentioned but continued that of auctioneer and valuer.

“For the past four or five years he has been resident in Sheffield and has followed the same profession.

“At one time Mr Bibbs was a member of the Rotherham Board of Guardians. He was a member of the old Rotherham and Kimberworth Local Board and was connected with that body at the time the borough was incorporated.

“He was elected a member of the town council in February 1874 at an extraordinary election in the East Ward but was defeated by Mr W H Gummer at the following November elections.”

* Adapted from research featured on the Moorgate Cemetery website.
* VOLUNTEERS are welcome to help at the next Moorgate Cemetery clear-up day this Saturday from 10.30am to 12.30pm.

Ye Lay Of Ye Golden Balls

The Bombardier of Rotherham
By the nine gods he swore
That the ancient House of Bibbs
Should suffer wrong no more;
By the nine gods he swore it,
And named a trysting day;
And bade his messengers go forth.
East and West, and South and North,
To summon his array,

East and West. and South and North.
The messengers run fleet;
And fast explore each hidden court,
And quickly scour each street.
Shame on the coward voters.
That linger in their homes
When Bibbs the Bold of Moorgate.
To seek supporters comes.

Committee-men and canvassers
Come pouring, in hot haste,
From Westgate and from Market Place;
(There’s little time to waste)
Swift towing pens, and ready ink.
O’er milk white paper fly:
And soon on ev’ry lofty wall
Print, Print, and ‘Bibbs’ are high.

In vain, oh gallant Bibbs,
Thy friends try every art,
Yet once again in public,
To let thee play a part;
Thy comrades of the Board
Will miss thy blooming face;
Throw up the sponge, bold Bombardier,
Lost is the hard fought race.



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