POTATO crisps, toffee, bricks and beer have all played their part in keeping two neighbouring villages’ coffers healthy, a local historian discovered as she mapped out their industrial past. MICHAEL UPTON reports on the new book lifting the lid on their previously unwritten story.
WHEN historian-turned-author Penny Lloyd-Rees set out to research the working life of her home village, she had no idea she would find such a broad range of industries.
Penny, who has penned the story of Conisbrough and neighbouring Denaby Main as part of the It’s Our Heritage! project, said her studies had uncovered many aspects of the villages’ history that had not been fully explored before.
They include the renowned Appleyard furniture makers, Denaby Powder Works, steel makers Baker and Bessemer and a broad cast of tanners, millers and woodworkers.
She also built up a picture of a thriving snack industry, as the likes of XL Crisps, Nicholson’s brewery and even a toffee-maker sprung up to feed and quench the daytrippers who travelled from Sheffield and further afield to visit Conisbrough Castle and ride pleasure boats on the River Don.
The two villages are towered over by the castle — the Norman stronghold which inspired Sir Walter Scott’s classic novel Ivanhoe — and both have a rich mining history.
But Conisbrough Forward director Penny said she had gathered details of 30 different industries, from brick making to cannon boring, coal mining to Kilner Jar production and beer brewing to furniture manufacture.
Compiled with help from Conisbrough and Denaby Main Heritage Group, the 84-page Conisbrough and Denaby: Industries Through the Ages has proved so popular a second print run has been ordered.
Explaining how the book came about, Penny said: “A lot of people in heritage groups and other groups I’ve run said it would be nice to have something like this and I have done some walk leaflets with some historical facts in.
“I am a walk leader and like to point out historical bits and pieces on these walks.
“It is just so idyllic now but 150 years ago it would have been so different, so noisy, smelly and smoggy. That is what inspired me.
“Going back to before the Industrial Revolution it would just have been fields all the way down to the river.
“But it was just perfect for industry to get their wares to the coast first by water and then by railway.
“As for Denaby, up until the powder works came there was nothing in the industrial sector in Denaby. It was all gardens and allotments.”
Penny was funded to produce the book by the Heritage Lottery Fund and tapped into a wide range of sources.
“The Doncaster Archives are condemned and all in storage in Cheshire so I could not see and get anything from them, but there is a lot online,” she said.
“The heritage group have a really good website covering local studies, and Doncaster has some lovely maps which have so much information. I do love a map!
“Business directories online are also useful, and the Conisbrough and Denaby history group have gone through all the newspapers and put anything about the area on their website.
“I also got to know another author, Dave Fordham. He has done a fantastic book already about the mines so I did not want to do too much on that.
“I kept it to three newspaper articles. They were really descriptive. One of them was a reporter who went underground in 1896 and walked almost to Sprotbrough in the underground tunnels.
“Another reporter went down the Cadeby Main pit with WH Chambers, the manager at the time, and there was another article from 1888 about the dangers of mining. The reporter waxes lyrical about it.”
She added: “There were inspirational industry leaders and factory owners.
“One thing I found out about was the Appleyard family.
“It was quite a well-known name for property in Doncaster but I did an online search and found they were cabinet makers who ended up in Sheffield.
“Some of these guys were incredible, like Kilner the glassmaker, an amazing man who did a lot for people of Denaby.”
Penny’s research found other people’s play also made for plenty of work as the villages had hordes of holidaymakers to keep well fed and watered.
“Conisbrough was really popular,” said Penny. “Most of Sheffield used to descend on Conisbrough for high days and holidays.
“Pleasure boats would go up and down the river with three to four thousand people.
“There were a lot of confectioners popping up all over for the snacking needs of the day trippers.
“And then there was the Nicholsons’ brewery. It was founded by Joseph Nicholson, whose sons took over the business and made it really famous.”
According to the Conisbrough Heritage site, the premises on Holywell Lane were later taken over by the XL Crisp Company which used them until the late 1950s, while the maltings across Sheffield Road became a “fat works”.
Penny admitted actually writing the book after her research was “a bit all consuming” as she was swamped with information — but added: “Dave, who wrote the mining book, has been really encouraging and supportive.
“And some of the comments since it came out have been fantastic.”
Coronavirus looked to have hindered the book’s release, but local shops stepped in to help shift the first run of 300 copies.
“The book was printed just as lockdown was initiated and, with many of the usual outlets closed, the group looked to the businesses which remained open to sell their books,” said Penny.
“The shops took up the challenge and as word got around, sales rocketed and a second print run has been ordered to keep up with demand.”
As for the working present and future of Conisbrough and Denaby, Penny reflected that their commercial make-up had changed over time, with renewed hopes of prosperity.
“A lot of people go to the call centres at Manvers,” she said, “but we have gone to an era where it is mainly housing.
“The encouraging thing is we have a lot of independent shops.
“It is really welcoming for anyone coming up from the castle and we will be looking to get more of them into the village.”
Conisbrough and Denaby: Industries Through the Ages is priced at £7.49 through www.fedjbooks.co.uk but also available for £3.50 from Sainsbury’s and Waites Discount Store in Conisbrough and Conisbrough and Denaby Main post offices.
All proceeds go towards the not-for-profit It’s Our Heritage! group, which organises and promotes heritage and local history initiatives in Conisbrough and Denaby.