Rotherham’s Renaissance man

Rotherham’s Renaissance man

By Gareth Dennison | 07/10/2020

Rotherham’s Renaissance man


HIGH-flyer Charles Stoddart went from office boy at Parkgate Ironworks’ London office to taking charge of the whole works as general manager.

But that is far from the whole story.

He oversaw the move to steel production, steered the firm through rough strike action and became managing director in honour of his outstanding leadership.

And Charles was far from finished there.

He went from chairman of the Rawmarsh Local Board to a Rotherham councillor to becoming mayor — FOUR times, including the jubilee celebrations.

Yet industry and politics were not his only strong points.

Charles was famed for his generosity — once ordering 500 meals for hungry Rotherham children.

And his good deeds saw him save the Chapel on the Bridge and add a spire on St Stephen’s Church at Eastwood.

He was knighted in 1911 and thousands turned out for his funeral in 1913, when the Advertiser proclaimed: “There was never such sorrow for the death of any man.”

It all began in Clerkenwell, central London, where Charles was born in 1839.

He joined Samuel Beale and Co — then owners of the Parkgate Ironworks — as a junior clerk in 1864 before it all became known as the Parkgate Iron Company.

He served — and later led — the firm for more than half a century.

Tony Dodsworth, of Rawmarsh and Parkgate Local History Group, said: “No-one can be said to have had quite the impact he had on the shaping and development of the industrial village, and later town, of Parkgate.

“Despite having initially a very limited practical knowledge of iron-making he learned about it quickly.

“He played a crucial role in the growth and success of the local iron (and later steel) works as well as a host of other political and civic developments in Parkgate and later Rotherham.

“He was the first person ever to be granted the freedom of Rotherham, an accurate measure of the regard in which he was held in the local community.”

Charles, who married Wentworth girl Fanny Massey at Brampton, was crucial in ensuring the survival of the metalworks through the turbulent markets of the 1860s and 70s. One strike lasting from September 1875 to March the next year involved more than 600 employees.

By 1881, Charles and Fanny were living at Granby House, off Aldwarke Lane, which is now home to a children’s nursery.

Tony said: “From here, he would have been able to keep an eye on the ironworks close by. He would have been a central figure in the decision by the company to switch to steel production in 1888.

“His outstanding leadership of the company was recognised when he was appointed managing director.”

One amazing coincidence from his industrial career came when Charles was invited to India in 1905.

He was consulted about the possibility of a steel industry being developed there — and heavily involved were the Tata family who just over a century later acquired the plant now under the Liberty Steel banner.

Charles involvement in political life began in 1869 when he stood for the Rawmarsh Local Board. After becoming chairman he became a Rotherham councillor — and helped the town through a drought.

With water in short supply, he ascertained that it was available at Dalton and organised a new pipeline — a move called a “masterstroke” by the Sheffield Evening Telegraph.

Stoddart became the Mayor of Rotherham in 1896, which was Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee year. He was asked again in 1904, 1905 and 1906.

In 1907 he became the first person to be granted the freedom of the borough.

A generous benefactor, he gave the town its mace, the deputy mayor's badge and the Empire Cup.

In January 1888, Charles opened a recreation ground at Masbrough. Speaking at the Prince of Wales Hotel, he called for more public parks suitable for the working classes.

This at Masbrough was a good example because it was where “men could go without putting on their Sunday clothes,” he told the gathering.

At the same event, he spoke about his firm’s move to manufacture steel, which would begin in six months. By 1890, it was among the best steelworks in the country and employed 400 men.

In the 1870s, Stoddart and William Phipson Beale — a cousin of Samuel’s — set up evening classes in the Works New Room and the Temperance Hall on the corner of Hall Street.

Stoddart also rejoined the 8th West Yorkshire Rifle Volunteers in 1880, and was later promoted to lieutenant-colonel and then honorary colonel.

On the sporting scene, Charles was the first president of the early Rotherham football club, which later became Rotherham Town.

The Chapel on the Bridge became a tobacconist shop in 1888 — amid an outcry about the building’s use for commercial purposes.

A petition was signed by 1,000 residents in 1901 calling for its restoration and reconsecration.

Just before his death in 1913, Charles bought the tobacconist business and closed it down.

He died before he could see the repairs through — but included this instruction: “To the vicar and churchwardens of Rotherham the sum of £1,500 to be applied in like manner for the augmentation of the living of the said parish.

“To the last named vicar and church wardens the further sum of £500 to be invested and the income applied in or onwards maintaining the services in the Chapel on the Bridge.”

Other good deeds included adding a spire and peal of bells at St Stephen’s Church in Eastwood, as well as a stained glass window in memory of his wife after her death in 1910.

Charles was knighted in 1911 and passed away at his Blenheim House home (above) on Doncaster Road two years later.

His death came days after signing a document which was said to be the “most favourable report which the Parkgate Steel Company had issued in its entire history”.