FRED Kitchen was a farm labourer whose autobiography about agricultural life in Maltby has been in print for the best part of a century.
The son of a cowman, he lived on the Earl of Scarbrough’s Sandringham estate before forming close ties with the Wesleyan chapel on Blyth Road.
Several editions of his memoir, Brother to the Ox, have been published — originally in 1940 and most recently in 2015.
This year, Maltby Local History Society decided it was time to honour the farm lad-turned-author, placing a blue plaque at the former chapel, now the Wesley Centre.
Society secretary Alice Rodgers said: “We thought it astonishing that Fred had never been commemorated in Maltby so we worked with Rotherham District Civic Society and Maltby Community Development Trust to put that right.
“I think it remarkable that a book, written by a largely self-educated farm labourer, should have been in print, on and off, for 80 years.
“The Dent edition was published in 1940 but, sadly, I don’t have a first edition. Of course, he wrote a number of other books as well but fancy, dear old Maltby featuring in a bestseller!”
Fred was born in Sherwood Forest in 1891 but spent most of his childhood living in a cottage at Sandbeck Lodge on the vast estate east of Maltby.
The Kitchens were Methodists but regularly worshipped in the private Anglican chapel on the land, just like the other employees on the site.
Alice said: “Lord Scarbrough’s chaplain is recorded as offering his customary pastoral care to the God-fearing non-conformists and he also ensured that Fred, a great reader, was supplied with books.
“Fred, however, tells how, as a treat on anniversaries and on special days, the Kitchens, in Saturday-polished boots with father wearing a well-brushed black coat and mother sporting a black bonnet with shiny beads, would walk the two miles to worship in their own tradition.
“The chapel they went to is not identified with Little Norwood, Kitchen’s name for Maltby, but his description could easily be of the walk to it from Sandbeck Lodge and over the botanically remarkable Far and Low Commons.”
Fred was only 11 when his father died and a new cowman moved to Sandbeck with his family.
The Kitchens were found accommodation in Maltby village itself at Rose Cottage, which stood on the corner of Meadow Lane and Blyth Road — a stone’s throw from the Wesleyan chapel.
His mum was given part-time work in the stillroom at Sandbeck — and handed substantial suppers to take home to her children.
The small congregation at the nearby chapel was also sympathetic to the family’s plight.
Alice said: “The 10th Earl’s chaplain, Henry Rhodes Prince, together with Lord Scarbrough’s agent, must have taken great pains to ensure that Fred’s highly respectable mother was provided with appropriate sources of support.”
Fred completed his final year of education in the only place possible, Maltby National School, but wanted to earn cash to support his mother.
But mum banned him from picking up a few pennies by holding horses outside pubs for the customers.
He said: “Mother was a Methodist and to her mind I should become defiled if I stood outside a pub.”
A farm worker known as Old Amos helped Fred get a summer job on a turnip patch, working 6am to 6pm for 9s a week — a much higher wage than paid to most boys.
Fred still attended the chapel on a Sunday, describing it as a quaint little place.
He said: “What I remember most about it was the choir. Though small in numbers it had the reputation of having the best tenor singer in the village. To hear ‘Thias Applewick was to hear a bit of singing to remember.
“He was a stout man, with a yellow moustache, the corners of which hung down like a pair of tusks. When the hymn began, he would stand with his chest thrust forward and his head thrown back so that I always expected to see him topple over.
“There were five people in the choir, including ‘Thias, and the congregation seldom numbered more than a dozen.”
Maltby was sharply divided between those who attended chapel and those who went to church, Fred recalled. He said the “churchers” looked down on the “chapellers,” while the latter thought the former a stuck-up lot.
Alice said: “Although the mid-20th century saw moves towards interdenominational worship and close working and mutual respect between church and chapel, before the First World War it was a measure to be resorted to in only the most extreme of circumstances.”
Fred’s Brother to the Ox was first published in 1940 and was well-received — the early chapters were made into a film for Yorkshire Television in 1981. He also wrote reminiscences for the Advertiser.
Alice said: “As well as tracing Fred’s life, the book chronicles Maltby as an agricultural community at the turn of the 20th century and, subsequently, during its period of rapid growth and development which followed the building of the South Yorkshire Joint Railway in 1908 and the opening of Maltby Main Colliery in 1911.
“As the Kitchens were Methodists, the book also provides a remarkable insight into their turn of the century attitudes and practice.”
Methodism and Maltby:
METHODISM spread to Maltby from Bramley, where a chapel was built in 1785 and where John Wesley had preached in 1786.
The first reference to Wesleyan Methodism in Maltby was an 1802 Rotherham circuit register, which recorded nine members.
Maltby’s Wesleyan Chapel was built in 1832 at a cost of £460. It was constructed by stonemason Francis Clayton on his own land at Blyth Road and later extended in both directions.
A photograph of the original front (left) reveals it to have been faced with the finest Roche stone.
The original chapel windows are still visible in the Wesley Centre atrium. This is the building which would have been known to Fred Kitchen when he first moved to Maltby because it had continued, largely unaltered apart from changes to the roof, until the sinking of the colliery in the first decade of the 20th century.
When Maltby pit went into production, the Wesleyans quickly recognised the value of doing their bit to meet the needs of the incoming mining population.
Enquiries were made for a new site for a Wesleyan Chapel but, in 1912, the Trustees decided to purchase the land adjacent to the Blyth Road Chapel so that they could extend that building.
A deposit had already been paid and a committee appointed to look at the matter of extension of premises to meet urgent requirements. By the middle of that summer the land had been purchased for £350.
A little later it was decided to extend the original chapel, at the front, to accommodate entrance lobbies and to make a Stewards' Room whose folding doors made it capable of being opened up into the chapel for large services.
The Sunday school was plain enough although its windows were made to match the side windows of the front extension.
The main part of it was built of stone but the outhouses (coalhouse, lavatories, etc) and retaining wall were built of coalfield brick. Both the Sunday school and the southern chapel extension were officially opened in April 1914.
The chapel and hall remained open until 2000 when it was finally decided that the congregation should move to Wickersley Chapel and that the buildings should be sold.
Initially, the former chapel was purchased by a company called Response, who used it as labs.
By 2005 it had been bought again, using external funding. Maltby Community Development Trust was then set up and further external funding was identified which enabled the two former chapel buildings to be joined together by the construction of the atrium.
Renovations created offices for rent and attractive rooms for community use.
The life and time of Fred Kitchen:
1891— Born at Edwinstowe but quickly moves with family to Sandbeck Park, where his father was employed as a cowman.
c1900 — Fred’s father dies and the family moves to Rose Cottage in Maltby. After leaving school, Fred works on local farms as a labourer and also spends time working on the building of the South Yorkshire Joint Railway as it reached the area, to serve the new Maltby Colliery.
1912 — Fred is set on at the colliery.
1914 — Becomes sulphate house attendant as the coking plant opens at the pit.
1914 — Outbreak of the First World War. Fred attempts to volunteer but is called back to work at the coking plant
1915 — Marries Helen on February 3
1916 — Daughter born in October
1918 — Son born in August
1919 — Local peace celebrations, which are alluded to in Brother to the Ox
1920 — Fred takes local smallholding but continues to work at colliery coking plant. Helen is stricken with influenza and dies in March, leaving Fred heartbroken.
1921 — The coal strike for three months uses up all Fred’s savings. Around this period, he marries Lizzie, and moves from Maltby with the family, living in Sheffield, North Nottinghamshire and North East Derbyshire.
1933 — Fred joins Workers’ Educational Association in Worksop and is encouraged to write.
1940 onwards — Dent publishes Brother to the Ox, which has since been republished three times and partly made into a TV movie. Other books follow, leading to work as a broadcaster and journalist — but Fred also continues to work as a school groundsman. He contributes articles to the Rotherham Advertiser.
1969 — Fred dies.