Celebrating the giants of Rotherham High Street — solicitors and jewellers among the town’s best

Celebrating the giants of Rotherham High Street — solicitors and jewellers among the town’s best

By Gareth Dennison | 26/07/2021

Celebrating the giants of Rotherham High Street — solicitors and jewellers among the town’s best

Solicitor Badger was born in Rotherham in 1793, although his family can trace their roots here back to the reign of Henry VIII.

He was one of three brothers, all of whom were in the same trade, and by the age of about 28 he had become resident of 29 High Street, where he also set up his solicitor’s practice.

This is where a blue plaque was unveiled in his honour last Tuesday thanks to the efforts of Rotherham District Civic Society.

Society deputy chairman David Sykes said: “Thomas Badger looked after the legal affairs of the cannon-making Walker family, who lived in Clifton House, which is now the museum.

“He was widely involved in Rotherham town life. He presided over the parish vestry meetings and he was a coroner.

“He presided over many inquests, including a coal mining disaster in 1838 in which 26 children drowned, and the Masbrough Boatyard Disaster in 1841 when 50 children and 14 adults died.

“In industry, he promoted the railway between Rotherham and Sheffield, and he took a leading role in the formation of the Rotherham Gaslight and Coke Company.”

On the property expansion front, Badger was involved in purchasing the St Ann’s Hill and Eastwood estates.

The Badger family were a key participant of the large scale residential and commercial expansion of 19th century Rotherham.

In 1838, to mark the opening of the railway link with Sheffield, Thomas Badger had the main mast of a “seventy-four” gunship erected in his garden and flew the Union Jack from it.
 
The following year, he was elected president of the Yorkshire Law Society.

John Cockburn, in his book Rotherham Lawyers During 350 Years, said: “Thomas Badger was highly successful, not only because he was the leading practitioner in the era which followed the advent of the railways, but also because of his amazing activity and consummate business judgement, and probably by reason of his remarkable industry.”

He had three sons — Thomas Smith, Henry Parkin and Walter Samuel — who all continued the Badger family’s link with the legal profession. He died in July 1862, a couple of years after wife Mary, and is buried at Moorgate Cemetery.

The blue plaque was sponsored and unveiled by Thomas Badger’s great-great-great-nephew Chris, who said: “I was trying to imagine what it must have been like to live here.

“He moved in 200 years ago this year. He would have been 27 or 28. He qualified as a solicitor in the same year as the Battle of Waterloo.

“He worked for Ebenezer Elliott, the Corn Law Rhymer, and dealt with his legal affairs when he went bankrupt.”

Brinsworth and Catcliffe History Group member Susan Kahler began researching the Badger family history while looking into Howarth Hall.
 
She is now in contact with another descendant of Thomas Badger — his great-great-great-granddaughter Mary MacDonald Stroh Henderson, who was born in New Zealand and now lives in America.

Susan said: “Mary has two daughters and given one of them the middle name Eastwood because of the Badger connection.

“She tells me that the Badgers of Rotherham were always part of family stories.

“Her last message to me was to wish us all the best for the unveiling ceremony and to convey her regards to the Badger relatives here.”

The Badger cottage is being refurbished into extra accommodation for the George Wright Hotel on Snail Hill.

 

JOHN Mason was a jeweller and clockmaker whose shop at the top of Rotherham’s High Street was described as one of the best in the north.

His premises have become a landmark themselves in the town centre — the clock on the corner has been there for more than a century.

Mason also built the mechanism for the Hastings clock, which was placed in Effingham Square in 1912 to celebrate the coronation of King George V.

He commissioned the Feoffees mace and other regalia including the mayor’s chain and mace.

And he became mayor himself in 1888/89, having become a councillor earlier that decade.

He had been born in Worksop in 1831. His wife Mary was the daughter of John Flintham, a nurseryman at Moorgate.

By 1871, Mason was employing four men. Later, he opened another shop in Mexborough.

By the turn of the 20th century, his focus shifted back on business and away from politics. He added another shop at Barnsley.

Mason died on June 29, 1914. In his obituary it was noted that he was one of the oldest inhabitants and best known public workers in Rotherham.

Grandson Jeremy Mason sponsored the blue plaque. He said: “I never, ever thought I would be able to unveil such a plaque at the home my family lived in from the 1880s.
 
“I think there were six children, my grandparents, a couple of staff… it was a very busy place. The youngest of the six brothers had to bring his bed into the shop here to get a decent night’s sleep because it was so busy.”


The family had been based on College Street before moving onto the former ironmonger’s spot at the top of High Street.

This had been a long-held ambition, Jeremy said, as it was considered at the time the very best spot in town.

Jeremy thanked the civic society for organising the plaque — and praised Chris Hamby for his efforts in breathing new life into several properties on High Street. “As far as I’m concerned, he deserves a medal,” he added.


Chris said: “I’m delighted that High Street still has thriving businesses in it. All the tenants have become friends, really. I keep in touch with people all the time.”

Chris took over the High Street shop in 2003, after which architectural treasures were discovered underneath during renovation. In the cellars — believed to date back as far as 1774 — there was old furniture and a cooking range. It is thought these features could reveal medieval origins of the site.

Fireplaces and other items discovered dated nearer to the Mason era.

Chris said at the time: “The building is Georgian to the rear, with a Victorian frontage and it is a lovely, attractive old building which boasts some fine architecture. We’ll be keeping it in the same style.”

Archivist Tony Mumford added: “There was almost certainly a property on the site in the Middle Ages. The oldest town map goes back to 1774.

“We know that John Mason bought it and rebuilt it in 1880. What was before then, we are not sure. But it could go back a lot further.”

The blue plaques are organised by Rotherham District Civic Society, which welcomes suggestions and is always looking for new members. Email secretary@rotherhamcivicsociety.org for more information.

 


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