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Rotherham in 1841

ROTHERHAM, a parish and market-town in the south-western part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, 6 miles from Sheffield, 12 from Barnsley, 12 from Doncaster, 160 from London by the road, and 171 by railway. The Don, after receiving the Rother at the eastern extremity of the town, takes a westerly direction, and Rotherham occupies an elevated situation which rises from the northern bank of the river. On the western side of the town the river bends to the north-west. The parish comprises an area of 12,810 acres (nearly 10 square miles), and consists of the townships of Rotherham, Kimberworth, Brinsworth, Catcliffe, and Dalton, and the chapelries of Tinsley and Greasbrough. The populous suburb of Masbrough is on the left bank of the Don, but is comprised in the township of Rotherham, with which it is united by a handsome stone bridge of five arches.

About a mile south of the town, on the south bank of the Don, there are some Roman remains, which consist of a rectangular encampment called Temple Brough ; and, at a distance of 300 yards higher up the river, there is an earth-work, which it is conjectured formed part of a larger work. Roman coins, bricks, and pottery have been found on both these sites. The station 'Ad Fines,' on the great road from Little Chester to Castleford, is fixed at Temple Brough by the best authorities. There is however nothing to give Rotherham a claim to a Roman origin, but it probably originated very early in the Saxon period. The church at Rotherham was in that period the only ecclesiastical edifice in an extensive district, and tithe was paid to it from lands now forming the parishes of Ecclesfield, Sheffield, Handsworth, Treeton, and Whiston, in addition to those which are comprised within the parish at the present time. A weekly market and annual fair were held before the Conquest ; the Saxon lord of the manor had his corn-mill ; and these were sufficient, with its ecclesiastical superiority, to render Rotherham a vil of some importance. The Saxon possessor of the manor being displaced at the Conquest, Nigel Fossard, a Norman, was subinfeuded under the earl of Morton. In the reign of Henry III (13th century), the manor and church were granted to the monks of Rufford Abbey, in Nottinghamshire, with the rights which had been exercised by the former feudal possessors, such as regulating weights and measures, the assize of bread and beer, punishment of criminals, for which purpose they had a pillory, tumbrel, and gallows. In 1307, Edward I granted the town another market and a second fair. The parish church was built is the reign of Edward IV (15th century), and is one of the handsomest in the diocese. Thomas Rotherham, archbishop of York, a native of the place, born in 1423, lent his assistance towards rendering it a model of ecclesiastical architecture. There are several good engravings of the church. The living is a vicarage, and the average net income in 1829-30-31 was £170. An old font, supposed to have be longed to the Saxon church, at present stands in the churchyard. To Archbishop Rotherham also his native town was indebted for the foundation of a college, the remains of which still exist, and are used as an inn. This college was founded in 1482 for a provost, three fellows, and six scholars, who were lodged at the college, and accommodation was at the same time provided for the several priests officiating in the different charities in the church. Grammar, poetry, rhetoric, music, singing, writing, and arithmetic were taught in this college, which was suppressed in the reign of Edward VI. The bridge-chapel on the Don, which does not appear to have been endowed, is now used as the town gaol. The old road from London to Carlisle passed through Rotherham. Charles I during the civil war passed a night in the town : to one of the inhabitants, who held the stirrup while he mounted his horse, he gave as a memorial a coin of Richard I, which is still in possession of the family of Clarke residing in Rotherham.

There is no single constituted authority for the purposes of municipal government. The 'feoffees of the common lands of Rotherham' are the most important local body. They consist of twelve inhabitants elected for life by the freeholders and rate-payers of the township, and they have the management of certain lands bought by the inhabitants of Queen Elizabeth. The total income at their disposal is at present about £600 a year, a considerable proportion of which is expended in the improvement of the town and in other objects of public utility. Mr. Hunter states (South Yorkshire) that he has inquired in vain for the decree or patent under which the feoffees act. The town is lighted under a local act obtained in 1801. A gas-company was established in 1833, but is not incorporated, nor is the water-company, which was formed in 1827. The police is regulated by a general local act (3 and 4 Wm.IV., c. 90), and consists of a day and night watch, for which the township only is rated. The county magistrates sit in petty sessions every Monday, and offenders are committed temporarily to the town gaol. The Midsummer quarter-sessions for the West Riding are held at Rotherham. A court of requests was established in 1839, and its jurisdiction extends to places in the vicinity. Rotherham is the centre of a union under the Poor-Law Amendment Act. The expenditure for the relief of the poor averaged £2,808 for the parish, before the union, and in 1838 the expenditure was £1,790.

Great improvements have recently taken place in the general appearance of the town. Streets have been widened, old houses pulled down, and many good buildings erected. The materials for building are abundant, the town itself standing upon a mass of the old red sandstone. Besides the parish church, there is a chapel at Tinsley, a small ancient edifice ; a church at Greasbrough, built in 1826, with the aid afforded by the Church-Building Commissioners and voluntary contributions ; a new church at Thorpe ; and a new church at Kimberworth will be completed in 1842. The oldest chapel for Protestant dissenters was built by the Presbyterians in 1705, and is now used by the Unitarians ; it was repaired and enlarged in 1840. The Independent chapel, situated in Masbrough, was built towards the end of the last century, and has been once enlarged. The Wesleyan Methodist chapel, built in 1805, has been twice enlarged. A Primitive Methodist chapel has been opened since 1820. In 1836, a handsome Baptist chapel was erected ; and within the last three years the service of the Roman Catholic church has been performed in a building formerly occupied as a theatre. The court-house, in which the Midsummer quarter-sessions are held, was built by the county in 1827, and is the most convenient in the Riding. The library, news-room, and dispensary occupy a plain substantial building erected in 1828. The dispensary was established in 1806, and affords medical aid to between 500 and 600 patients yearly. Almshouses for four poor unmarried women were founded in 1780 by Mrs. Mary Bellamy.

Rotherham possesses many important advantages calculated to encourage manufactures. Extensive beds of coal, of a quality suitable to manufacturing processes, exist in nearly every part of the parish, and iron-ore is also abundant. Leland notices, in the sixteenth century, that a mile from Rotherham 'be veri good pittes of coal;' and also that in the town 'be veri good smithes for all cutting-tools;' but it was not until about a century ago that any extensive manufacturing operations began to be carried on. In 1746, the Walkers established a work for the manufacture of cast-iron goods of all kinds ; and at the large establishments which originated in their enterprise, great part of the cannon used in the navy during the American and French wars was cast, and for a considerable period nearly the whole country was supplied by them with cast-iron goods. The iron bridges at Sunderland, Yarm, Staines, and the Southwark-bridge over the Thames were cast at their works. After a period of inactivity which followed the close of the war, the various branches of the iron-manufacture are again carried on with great vigour, many new establishments have been commenced, and a greater variety of articles is produced. Stoves, fenders, engineering and millwork, and many kinds of hardware goods are now made. Glass, earthenware, starch, soap, naphtha, pyroligneous acid, are manufactured at Rotherham. There are two extensive ale and porter breweries, and vessels of 50 tons burthen are occasionally built in yards adjoining the Don. A flax-mill has been carried on for several years. The markets for corn and cattle are held on Monday : both are of great importance ; but every alternate Monday the cattle-market is one of the largest in the county, and is attended by buyers from Manchester and other towns at a great distance. There is a covered stone building in the market-place for the accommodation of the dealers in butter, poultry, and eggs ; and the feoffees are intending to render it more convenient by enclosing one of the sides. The shambles occupy the northern sides of the market, and were built by the feoffees. The fairs are for horses and cattle chiefly, and in November there is a statute fair for hiring servants.

Besides the various natural advantages which the manufacturers of Rotherham enjoy, there are few places possessing such extensive facilities for traffic. The Don was made navigable from Doncaster to Tinsley (the latter place situated between Rotherham and Sheffield) in 1720 ; and in 1820 the navigation was extended from Tinsley to Sheffield by a canal. The Don gives to the town the means of exporting and importing commodities by water to and from all the great manufacturing towns of Yorkshire and Lancashire, and it communicates with the Trent by the Stainforth and Keadby canal. The Sheffield and Rotherham railway was opened in 1838. It commences in West-gate, Rotherham, where a handsome station is building, is carried across the Don by a wooden bridge, receives a branch from the Greasbrough collieries, and another from the North Midland Railway, and terminates in the Wicker, Sheffield. Trains depart from each terminus every hour during the day ; and the distance between the two towns, which is 5 miles, is performed in about fifteen minutes : the lowest fare is sixpence. Upwards of a million of passengers had been conveyed along the line in the two years ending October 1840. The Rotherham station on the North Midland Railway is one of the most important on the line, being used by Sheffield on the one hand, and by Rotherham and an extensive district east ward : it is a handsome stone edifice with a spacious waiting-room and offices. This railway, which connects Leeds, York, and Hull, and the counties of Durham and Northumberland, with the midland and western counties and the metropolis, passes through a considerable portion of the parish, and has greatly increased the value of property adjacent to it. At the Ickles, a hamlet in the parish, it is carried over the Don and the Sheffield road by a fine viaduct of twenty-five arches. The communication between London and Rotherham is effected in about 8 hours.

The population of the parish and township at the four periods when the census was taken, was as follows :-

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Total of parish





The population of the parish is at present estimated at 12,000, and that of the township, at 5,000 : in the latter the rent of houses is rising, though many new houses have been lately built. The population of the different divisions of the parish, in 1831, was as follows : Rotherham (as before stated) 4,083 ; Kimberworth 4,031 ; Greasbrough 1,290 ; Tinsley 368 ; Brinsworth 229 ; Catcliffe 196 ; Dalton 187 ; Orgreave, 35.

The establishments for education at Rotherham are:-

1. The Independent academy, situated in Masbrough, at which 25 young men are educated for the Independent ministry, under a tutor in theology and a tutor in classics : the institution is supported by voluntary contributions.

2. The grammar-school, founded in 1584 : the classics are taught gratuitously to the boys of the town. The master has a house rent-free, and the total endowment is about £30 per annum, to which the feoffees, who are the trustees, add a gratuity. The scholars have a claim to a fellowship and two scholarships in Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in case the same are not occupied from the free-school at Normanton ; and there is a fellowship at Lincoln College, Oxford.

3. Hollis's School, founded in 1663, by Thomas Hollis, a Nonconformist, for the education of thirty children.

4. The Feoffees' school : 28 boys and 20 girls are educated and instructed in reading, writing, and arithmetic.

5. A school on the Lancasterian system, for 200 boys and 200 girls.

6. Boarding, common day, and dame schools.

7. Sunday-schools.

We have no accurate information respecting the two latter classes of schools.

Lending libraries are attached to the Sunday-schools of nearly each denomination. The public library was established in 1775, and contains about 3,000 volumes, including the publications of the 'Record Commission.' There are nearly 90 annual subscribers. Rotherham was one of the earliest towns in establishing a subscription library, but there is neither a mechanics’ institute, mechanics' library, nor savings'-bank in the town. There is a small library of theology in the church, for purchase of which the sum of £100 was left a century ago.