Conisborough & Denaby Urban Powers – Opposition’s Last Stand – “As Visionary as the Milky Way.”

December 1920

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 11 December 1920

Conisborough and Denaby Urban Powers
Opposition’s Last Stand
Ministry of Health Inquiry
The Mexborough Borough Scheme
“As Visionary as the Milky Way.”

Mr HR Hooper, O.B.E. of the Ministry of Health, on Wednesday, held an enquiry at the Church Hall, Conisborough, into the subject matter of petitions by the Denaby Parish Council, the Cadeby Parish Meeting, and the Doncaster Rural District Council, praying the Ministry of health not to confirm an order made by the West Riding County Council on June 7, 1930, constituting parts of Conisborough, Denaby and Cadeby a single administrative urban district.

The order refer to is the third of the kind made by the County Council, the two previous Orders being quashed on petition to the Local Government Board, whose functions are now exercised by the Ministry of Health.

The order made in June last was the result of the County Council enquiry, held on November 28 and November 29, 1919, in Conisborough, by Alderman PH Booth, Alderman a Hartley and Councillor W Ormroyd.

The application for Urban Powers, and the amalgamation of portions of Denaby Main and Cadeby with the parish of Conisborough was made by the Conisborough Parish Council, and was opposed by the Denaby Parish Council, the Doncaster Rural District Council, the Denaby and Cadeby Collieries Ltd, the Great Central Railway company, the South Yorkshire Junction Railway Company, the Denaby Main Industrial Co-operative Society, Colonel J.S.H. Fullerton, Captain S.J.O Montagu, and 95 property owners in Conisborough and Denaby.

The County Council decided to make the Order asked for, and is now awaiting confirmation, modification, or cancellation by the Ministry of Health.

The Order defines the area of the new urban district. The rural portions of Conisborough known as Conisborough Parks, and the rural portions of Denaby known as Old Denaby, and all the parish of Cadeby except the portions occupied by the Cadeby Collieries are excluded.

The number of urban District Councillors is fixed at 15, and Alderman JH Watson of Mexborough, is appointed the returning officer for the first election.

The district is divided into five wards, to be known as the North, South, East, West and Denaby Wards, each ward to have two or three members, the first portion to be held in April 1921.

The new district is to remain part of the Doncaster Union.

The excluded portion of Conisborough, and the excluded portion of Denaby, become separate townships, to be known as Conisborough Parks and Denaby, and will remain in the administrative rural district of Doncaster.

Three Guardians of the Pole will be assigned to the new urban district, to be elected within a month of the election of the Conisborough Urban District Council.

The Conisborough Urban District Council becomes a member of the Doncaster and Mexborough Joint Hospital Board, and a Joint Burial Board is set up for Conisborough and Conisborough Parks, consisting of seven representatives of Conisborough and two of Conisborough Parks.

School managers in the urban district of Conisborough the Kate office on the day of the first meeting of the new Council.

The Embattled Host

When the enquiry opened on Wednesday the following appearances were announced:

For the objection: Mr GJ Tolbert, K.C., Denaby Parish Council; Mr Willoughby Jardine, Denaby and Cadeby Collieries Ltd, Mr A Willey, Doncaster Main Industrial Co-operative Society; Mr W Carlile, Conisborough property owners; Mr H Barrs Jones, Great Central Railway Company; Mr H Meredith Hardy, South Yorkshire Junction Railway Company; and Mr H.M. Marshall, Doncaster Rural District Council.

For confirmation of the Order: Mr G.F.C. Mortimer, K.C. and Mr John Neale, for the Conisborough Parish Council; Mr W Vibart Dixon, for the West Riding County Council; and Mr Spencer Baker, for the Conisborough and Denaby Labour Party and local trade unions.

Advantage of Urban Powers Exaggerated

Mr Toler, only for the Denaby Parish Council, said that a similar Order to that now post had been made twice previously by the County Council, and on each occasion reverse by the Local Government Board. If the conditions and altered since, then altered unfavourably to the proposal he was resisting. Drainage arrangements, which were admittedly defective at that time had since been perfected. There was very little difference between the powers of a Rural Council and an Urban Council, and the advantage of an Urban Council “per se” were liable to be much exaggerated.

Those who thought that what was wrong defective would be put right by the simple operation of creating an Ever Council were labouring under a delusion. He proposed to call evidence that the general sanitation and administration of the district was well up to the standard for the country. There were two opinions among those who objected to the proposed Order. A considerable body were well satisfied with present conditions and decide no change.

A Larger Scheme

There was another opinion, strongly represented, that the district mapped out by the County Council was insufficient for local and independent government, and that a larger scheme, embracing Mexborough, Swinton, and other neighbouring districts, should be launched. If an urban district was to be formed, it should be on a larger scale than was proposed. The desire for the urban district proposed in the County Council Order was almost wholly concentrated in the Conisborough Parish, and was scarcely reflected at all in any other part of the proposed urban district.

Against Urban Powers

On the contrary, there was very strong objection to it, I would put in petition signed by 260 Denaby electors, 63 Denaby Property Owners, 1945 Conisborough electors, 39 Cadeby electors and 67 Conisborough property owners, as well as the petitions of the Denaby Parish Council and the Denaby and Cadeby Collieries Ltd.

The colliery company had a very strong interest in the matter for they paid 64% of the rates of Denaby Main and 28% of the rates of Conisborough. They had built 1,700 houses in the district and voluntary performed a number of public services which were altogether outside their legal obligations. Like everybody else, perhaps, they might have done more, but at any rate they had done far more than they were obliged to do. A topic which was very prominent in the previous enquiry was the existence in Denaby of a large number of privy middens. Denaby, for the most part, dated from the time when this was an accepted and approved sanitary method, which still prevailed all over the industrial north.

Attacks on the Colliery Company

It had now been rightly condemned, and by this Colliery Company, among others. It was the intention to abolish these middens from Denaby, and of 1,700 houses, 366 were already provided with water carriage. The company were now negotiating with the rural Council for the conversion of the remainder. The Colliery Company in this and other matters have been subject to frequent and unjust attacks, and since the last enquiry, a prominent lady had made in public statements which justified the Company is suing her for slander, a verdict being obtained with damages and costs.

Mr Talbot concluded by pointing out that the promoters had apparently not taken in to the slightest account the serious financial liabilities which the people of this district would incur to the proposed change.

Development of Denaby

Mr HL Smethurst, architect and property manager for the Colliery Company, gave evidence of the building houses in Denaby from 1864. He said the Company had built 1709, practically half of them since 1896. All the original houses were provided with middens, but all houses built in the last 10 years were fitted with water carriage and private yards, and, with combination, there were now 366 houses provided with water closets. This work was carried up to 1915, when it was stopped by the war. There was now a sufficient water supply to enable all the middens to be converted, but 20 years ago that was not the case.

Mr Smethurst proceeded to give a list of the company’s services and benefactions to Denaby Main.

Reply to Mr Mortimer, Mr Smethurst said he was a member of the Conisborough Parish Council for nine years, and chairman for four, and he admitted that at that time he declared himself in favour of urban powers, “Provided suitable boundaries were fixed, and the whole  amicably arranged.” He did not contemplate including Cadeby in the urban district. He thought the district was of such a character that it could be adequately governed either by a Rural District Council or an urban District Council.

Mr Smethurst denied that many backyards in Denaby Main were filthy from contamination with the privy middens, or were insanitary from defective scavenging.

Mr Mortimer: You will agree with Mr Talbot at Denaby is not a paradise? – It depends how you look at it. I am happy enough there.

Disease in Denaby Main

Doctor John MacArthur, practising at Denaby Main for the last 14 years, said he condemned middens, but thought the scavenging was well done. The general health of the district was good, except for the high infant mortality, which was due to a number of contributory causes, including of course, middens. With the exception of the old part of Denaby the place was well planned, with sufficient regard to ventilation.

Mr Mortimer put to him a number of returns of the infant mortality the Denaby Main for the last 10 years, and Doctor McArthur accepted them. He said he was aware of the investigations and report by Doctor Farrar into the prevalence of interic and enteritis in Denaby Main in 1905, but thought the present conditions were much better. He did not know what the Doncaster Rural Council had done with regard to the various reports made to them by their own medical officer on the subject of the sanitary conditions of Denaby Main. He denied that the backyards, were fouled by contamination with middens, but later said he had not seen them foul. He was not familiar with the whole of Denaby, and only practised in one half of it. He rarely went into the privy middens district.

Answering Mr Marshall, he agreed that the infant mortality and enteritis might arise without bad sanitation, from the habits of the people.

A Remark Resented

Doctor Thomas Ford, also Denaby Main, gave similar evidence. Under examination by Mr Mortimer, witness, after returning negative answers, was met with remark from Council, “You evidently do not care.”

Doctor Ford protested against this remark appealed to the Inspector, who apparently did not immediately see the cause of witness’s resentment.

Mr Mortimer said he did not intend to hurt Doctor thoughts feelings, and the cross examination continued

Doctor Ford added that he had come across one or two cases of closets in bad condition, and he had reported them to the authorities. He also received complaints from patients of such cases. He had not read Doctor Farrar’s report, but he had heard of it. He agreed that middens were a bad thing sanitary, and tended to promote enteric enteritis and infant mortality, but he did not think the evil have been greater aggravated by the scavenging in Denaby.

Improved Scavenging

Mr HW Buckley said he had been scavenging contractor for Denaby Main for the last five years, and for New Conisborough for the last four months. New Conisborough was in a bad state when he took over, but he thought he had effected considerable improvement. He had been round the district 3 times in four months, and had employed six men there. He had had similar work in other rural and urban district, and found conditions pretty much the same.

Mr Chambers’s Borough Scheme

Mr WH Chambers, managing director of the Denaby and Cadeby Colliery Company, and holder of a number of public offices in the district gave evidence in support of the objection. He had lived in the district 40 years and was resident in Conisborough. He thought there was no community of interest between Denaby and Conisborough, and was in favour of urban powers applied to a larger area than that proposed in the Order.

That district should include Mexborough, Swinton, Conisborough, Denaby Main, Adwick and Barnburgh. He maintained that Denaby and Conisborough, with a population of 17,000, could not maintain an efficient administration, and would not be able to command the materials for better class government. It was for that reason that he preferred the larger and more comprehensive scheme in which the series of high-grade officials could be obtained at no greater cost than the ratepayers were bearing under the present piecemeal parochial division of authority. One strong argument for amalgamation with neighbouring district was the advantage to be obtained from a common drainage system and water supply.

“The Milky Way”

Mr Mortimer: “With regard to your proposal for a borough which would include Mexborough and Swinton, have you taken any steps to see whether these places would combine? – Yes, we have had two or three meetings.

With whom? – With representing of Wath, Swinton, Mexborough, Denaby and Conisborough.

As it been impossible to get even Mexborough and Swinton to combine? – They are negotiating now, I understand.

How many years have they been negotiating? – About a couple of years.

If there is no community of interest between Conisborough and Denaby, what community of interest is there between Denaby and Barnburgh? – Mexborough is the commercial and industrial centre of all these places.

Are the rates in Mexborough 21s in the £ ? – I know they are high. That will want adjusting.

Mr Chambers, in a further reply to Mr Mortimer, said he did not agree with the proposal by the Denaby Parish Council in 1898 that Denaby and Cadeby should combine. He agreed that Denaby was urban in character, and densely populated. He agreed that seven parishes in the Doncaster rural District, with a population of less than 1,000, might have better representation than Denaby and Conisborough with a population of 17,000, but he did not think that was the right way to look at it. He did not agree that the Denaby Parish Council had done nothing to remedy the conditions in Denaby Main. They had been held up by the war, but had since been active. He heartily agreed that middens should be abolished, and held that opinion 12 or 14 years ago. It was only in recent years that the district had a water supply which made wholesale conversions of middens possible.

Further cross examine, he agreed that six of the nine members of the Denaby Parish Council were more or less connected with the Colliery Company.

Mr Mortimer: The ideal government is government by the Colliery Company? – No; by everyone who has got a vested interest in the place.

Who has got vested interests? – Any interest.

Mr Chambers said he did not know who took round the petition which had been signed and sent to the Ministry of Health.

The Inspector: You say you are in favour of the larger scheme of urban government, and you have give me a list of places, including Mexborough and some others. May I consider that as a serious proposal? – Yes.

How far have you got with it? – Mexborough and Swinton have a general meeting. It has been going on for two years.

As it reached a practical stage or is it only an idea of yours? – It has been considered by Conisborough and Mexborough and Swinton.

With what result? – They are going on with negotiations now.

Well, things may go on like that for 20 or 30 years and then die. This witness is putting forward a scheme for a large urban area. I suggest that that large urban area is just as visionary as the Milky Way.

Mr Chambers: I don’t think so.

The Inspector: Well, you can’t give me anything definite, and I can’t Consider it. That is what I want you to understand.

The Importance of Cadeby

Answering Mr Vibart Dixon, Mr Chambers said he would not propose to included Cadeby in his suggested borough, or to interfere with Cadeby at all until it became urban in character.

Mr Dixon asked Mr Chambers is the annual rateable value of Conisborough and Denaby, without Cadeby Colliery, would be £3 10s per head of the population, and he said he did not know.

Mr Dixon said it was a matter of simple arithmetic and the addition of Kate make the wish of nearly £3 per head.

Mr Talbot: Do you find people employed at the colliery do just what the Colliery Company tell them? – No, not at all. Most of the people who are promoting this Order are employed by the Colliery.

Evidence in support of the objections given by W.P. Simpkins, late inspector to the Company; George W Edwards, a Denaby Main tracing; and Joseph Middleton, porter at the Fullerton Hospital.

Case for Confirmation of the Order

Sheffield Medical Officer’s Evidence

After lunch, the case for confirmation of the Order was presented by Mr G.F.C. Mortimer, who called

Doctor Harold Scurfield, medical officer for the city of Sheffield. Doctor Scurfield said he made an extensive inspection of the Denaby district last October, and found a great many unsatisfactory sanitary conditions. He found a good many people means in that order, dilapidated, leaking, near the houses, and in some cases roofless.

In many cases the asphalt surface of the backyard out of repair, and even from the mittens was aggravated by that. He had satisfied himself from experience and investigation that privy middens had a direct effect on diarrhoea, enteritis and enteric. He found that Conisborough and Denaby compared badly with similar industrial areas in the county of Durham in a matter of infant mortality. Doctor Schofield further put in reports that conditions in Balby Street.

No Middle Course with Middens

Replying to Mr Talbot, Doctor Schofield said that no middens have been built in Sheffield for the last 20 years, and the existing middens were being abolished at the rate from 1000 to 2000 a year. He agreed that middens were still very prevalent in the whole of the north of England.

Reply to the Inspector, he said he thought there would be little advantage in repairing the backyard merely to mitigate the evil effects of the middens. The middens themselves were centres of pollution, especially when built round by houses. Also the frequent cleansing of the middens at the drawback that it created fresh nuisance. Nothing short of abolition of the middens would be satisfactory.

What a School Nurse Saw

Miss Elizabeth Swallow, county council health Inspector and school nurse at Denaby Main, and formerly nuisance inspector in the city of Sheffield’s, said she had been working in Denaby Main since last January, and was familiar with every part of it. She thought the scavenging was done fairly well, but many of the middens were in bad condition, and she had occasionally seen backyard littered with films from them. Some of the worst cases of leaking ashpits were in Blyth Street, Balby Street, and Loversall Street, which were in the neighbourhood of a Council School.

Echo of the Slander Action

Further replying to Mr Mortimer, Miss Swallow said she was subpoenaed to give evidence for Lady Mabel Smith in the recent slander action, and the Monday following the action she had to leave premises belonging to the Company, which she had used for a clinic, with the permission of Mr Chambers.

Mr Talbot intervened, and Mr Chambers said that the premises in question belong to the Ambulance Brigade.

Miss Swallow agreed that she received her notice from the Ambulance Brigade.

Successful “Urban Powers” Candidates

Mr S.C. Urch, glass bottle hand, chairman of the Conisborough Parish Council, and a member of the Doncaster Rural District Council, said he was one of the promoters of the urban powers movement, and was elected on that cry.

He thought urban powers were required in order to give more immediate and efficient supervision of the district, and to prevent delay in carrying out schemes. The Parochial Committee, which was a present substitute for urban powers was only an advisory body, and its recommendations were not always accepted by the Doncaster Rural Council. The sanitary conditions were bad and remedying them the Parochial had press Committee and press for a scheme of wholesale conversions, which recommendation and been referred back to them from Doncaster.

Replying to Mr Talbot, he agreed that there were some decent parts of Denaby Main – Tickhill Square, for instance – and some bad parts of Conisborough.

Mr T Hill, a member of the Conisborough Parish Council and Doncaster Rural District Council, gave similar evidence. Cross-examined, he said he was elected on the urban powers cry, and got over 400 votes.

Mr Willey: How many voted against you?

Mr Hill: I cannot say, but three urban powers men got in for three seats.

The Inspector: Do you think the application for Urban Powers will be made if Conisborough and Denaby had got no middens?

Yes sir, because we can manage Conisborough and Denaby better with the people who live there.

Philip Bonsor, miner, and a member of the Urban Powers Committee, a candidate at the last election, also gave evidence.

Mr Talbot: Do you agree with the last witness? – Not altogether. On some things I don’t. (Laughter)

Mr Talbot: But I mean on the questions now before us? – Oh yes. (Laughter)

Joseph Edward Platts, a member of the Conisborough branch of the National Federation of Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers stated that that branch and the Denaby branch of the Comrades of the Great War last year passed a resolution in favour urban powers, and the Conisborough branch confirmed this is a similar resolution passed last Sunday.

“Not a Classical Scholar.”

Alfred Davies, a member of the Conisborough Parish Council, spoke of an inspection he made in Blyth Street and in the neighbourhood last 1918, and said that he was “no classical scholar” and could not properly describe the conditions of the middens there. Some of them were overflowing. It had been a good deal of improvement in the scavenging since then.

A Parallel from Bolton

Mr J.L Hawksworth, clerk to the Bolton on Dearne Urban District Council, spoke of conditions in Bolton and Thurnscoe, where, he said, rapid progress in the conversion of privy middens had been made, and no new middens had been sanctioned since the Council had power to prevent them. Previous to that, the erection of middens was discouraged by the Bolton Council. The infant mortality of Bolton on Dearne was 228 when urban powers were obtained 22 years ago. For the last five years it had not written above 110. He considered Conisborough and Denaby distinctly urban in character.

William Jones, a Conisborough miner, came forward to deny his signature to one of the petitions against the Order.

“Last Effort of a Cornered Man.”

Mr Mortimer, addressing the inspector, said that Mr Chambers, was the head and front of the opposition, and admitted this was a district requiring large urban powers. It was governed by Rural District Council as part of the rural District and 168 square miles in extent. He did not say that the Rural Councils in competent to manage the rural district, but this was no rural district. It was an urban district, with a population of 17,000, some part of which was crowded two density of 40 houses to the acre. It could be outvoted on the Rural Council by any seven parishes, though their aggregate population might not be a thousand. That was not self-determination.

They had here an urban district requiring urban government. Mr Chambers recognised this, and talked about joining these places with Mexborough, Swinton, Barnburgh and some other places. That was the last effort of a cornered man, and he ventured to say that if the Ministry decided not to confirm the Order they would hear no more talk of a junction with Mexborough. On the other hand, Denaby and Conisborough had a common life, almost a common supply of public services. There was community in every sense of the word.

As to the Cadeby Colliery, to exempt it from its due contribution to the amenities of the population it had created might be delightful principle for the colliery company, but it will be a ruinous one for the urban communities roundabout. There was a time when even the Denaby Parish Council proposed to join Cadeby with Denaby – the only recorded occasion which did something which Mr Chambers did not approve.

Feeling in the District

if to the feeling in the district, he had been able to produce two men who fought an election on the issue, and were returned. He was not out to attack the Colliery Company, who had no doubt done a good deal more for the place and they were legally obliged to. But surely the Colliery Company could not be allowed to stand in the way when the other two factors of self-government – large and sufficient urban community, and a strong desire among that community for local and representative government.

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