History and Legends of an Historic Village

February 1911

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 25 February 1911

Old Conisboro’.

The Story Of An Historic Village.

Saxon Found Its Tragic Death

A Suggested Pageant

Under the auspices of the Conisborough Church Literary and Debating Society, Mr C. A. Allport, on Monday evening, read a most interesting paper on “Old Conisboro” to a considerable audience, in the Lecture room of the Parish Hall.

The Vicar, the Bev. W. A. Strawbridge, briefly introduced the lecturer, who, at the outset, said he had often heard people say what a dull, dreary, desolate place Conisboro was. He had lived there for twelve years, and that was certainly not his experience. Indeed, he bad been struck with the rush of events, football matches, cricket matches, flying meetings, Hospital meetings, election meetings, concerts, dramatic entertainments, lectures, whist drives, social teas, etc.

Besides these who were lovers of nature could find plenty to admire in the neighbourhood; few places boasted of nicer walks, and there was much for the geologist and astronomist to learn, while there was endless scope for the antiquarian.

It was front the latter point of view that he was addressing them that night. They had very old church, with a history of 800 or 900 years, built on the site of a still older church, so that it was not impossible that church No. 1 might have dated back 1,700 years. Of what Conisboro’ was like in the Mosaic era there seemed to be no record. In the time of the ancient Britons the district was known as Brigantia and from its geographical position it was not impossible that Conisboro’ was a stronghold of the brigands. Certainly the King of East Anglia made it bus stronghold in B.C. 30 and it was probably the centre of many mystic Druidical rites and ceremonies, lndeed, he would not be surprised to learn that ‘ Boadicea had held her Court revels Edlington Wood.

Measured With a Bull’s Hide paid

It was on record that there was a Roman ramp at Danum, and place three or four miles from Doncaster, and now called Cusworth. It was scarcely likely that the lies and skilful Romans would leave the other bank of the river unprotected, when invasion from the Picts and Scots, and from foreign foes over the sea. was always an imminent peril. Coming down to the times of the Saxon alliance, he dealt at considerable length with Hengist Horsa, the founder of Conisboro’. He explained that Konen, the Earl of Kent, wanted to marry the daughter of the King, and so succeed to the throne. To his great disgust, Maximiam was chosen and Konen went off to France, marrying a lady more to his fancy.

Hengist then made Conisboro’ his stronghold, and it was recorded that he cut the hide of a bull into strips, and so measured out his estate. A “hide of land” then represented 100 acres. The castle which was then built, got the local nickname at Thong Castle. It must not be supposed that Doncaster was a corruption of that nicks Rama, for one writer described Thong as a “right strong plot of ground, and another as “a rocky place”; and neither description would apply to Doncaster. As a matter of fact, at a later period Doncaster was an outpost of the camp at Cusworth, and was valued at £18 per annum.

How Hengist Died.

Ere long it became apparent that the Saxon, who had come over to assist the Britons against the Picts and Scots, were greedy for the mastery of the land, and in 449 the Britons defeated the Saxons in a fierce encounter at Maes Belli (now Mexborough). The Saxons retired upon where another bloody tattle was fought. The Britons adopted the “British wedge” form of attack, and completely routed the Salons. During the battle, Eldol, Earl of Gloucester, ardently longing to engage Hengist, fought his way up to the latter, whom he sees by the helmet and captured him, exclaiming, “God has today yielded my desire; the victory is in my bands.”

The Saxon fled, pursued by Aurelius, and the Britons took the city of Konen. Eldad, Bishop of Gloucester (and brother of), who was described as a prelate of great wisdom and piety. as soon se he saw Hengist, demanded silence in the camp. Then he said. “Though all should be unanimous in setting him (Hengist), at liberty, yet would I cut him to pieces.” He cited the case of the prophet. Samuel, who showed no mercy on King Agag, and described Hengist another Agag. Whereupon. Eldol, who had taken Hengist in battle, drew him out of the city and cut off his heed. Aurelius, a wise and hemline man, insisted on a decent burial. “with a mound on his body.” And closed one of the most dramatic chapters of their history.

The lecturer (Mr Allport) then came forward to the Danish period, when there occurred in England “horrors that pen cannot portray, nor imagination paint.” Conisborough did not escape a general turmoil, and wet used as a headquarters of the Danish armies. In 1010, the Earl of Mercia bequeathed Conisborough Castle to his nephew, Malcolm , afterwards King of Scotland, the lady Godiva’s son and Siward, Earl of Leicester, stayed there, while in 1198 the noble Athelstane resided there.

In 1317 it was the property of the Earl of Warren, who abducted the wife of the Earl of Lancaster. The outraged husband besieged the castle and only withdrew on the imperative command of the King. Two years later he attacked it again and took it, but it remained is the Warren family for long after.

Subsequently King John visited it and later it became the property of Edward IV., from which period it seemed to date its decay.

In 1707 it was purchased for £17,520 by the Duke of Leeds, is whose family it remains, Lady Yarborough being a descendant of the Duke of Leeds.

The Good Friday Fair

The lecturer proceeded to deal with some of the existing relics, and mentioned the Good Friday fair, which he said, was not originally kind of thing it was at present.

Within the memory of many who are living at the present time, it was a religious service held in the Castle grounds, and attended by large concourses of people. These people naturally required refreshment of their devotion, and refreshment booths followed in their train. Then came the roundabouts and Swinton, to entertain the people after the serious part of the proceeding; and so, gradually, the present pandemonium developed.

A former Vicar, Mr Wood, objected very strongly to the fair, and appealed to the railway company to refrain from running trains to Conisbrough on that day. The railway company laughed at the Vicar, but a subsequent appeal to lady Yarborough resulted in the show people being turned out of the Castle grounds. At the time Mr Blyth, who lived near the station, used to keep open house on Good Friday, and always had a barrel of beer on tap. (Laughter).

The lecturer also narrated a legend conversing the Serpent’s Well, a familiar feature of historic- Conisboro’. The story, he said, was that a traveller stopped at the well to refresh himself with water, when he was suddenly attacked by a serpent, and in his troubles he shed blood into the water, so’ that the stone-work ever after bore a reddish hue. He concluded an able paper with the paraphrase:

‘“Old Conisboro’ was old Conisboro’
When England was a pup
Old Conisbroro’ll be old Conisbrough
When England is done up

He also mentioned that the old village stocks were now doing duty as gate-posts on the Edlington Road, and that the old Moot Hall, which was at time the municipal chamber for transaction of the business of parishes including Doncaster, had disappeared. All things he said, there was enough history in Conisboro’ to form the groundwork of an excellent and interesting pageant, and though he did not undertake to get one up himself, he would be pleated to help anyone who would do so. (Applause).

Two Legends

The Vicar in the course of subsequent discussion, said that the church possessed a valuable register which dated back as far as 1553. Proceeding, he complained that their ancestors must have been a most careless set of men to have allowed valuable relics such as Conisborough to fall into decay. Conisbrough might have been much better preserved with regard to antiquities. It was strange that the Moot Hall should have completely disappeared. There was now nothing to look at save the Castle and the church. He mentioned that the Westenay family, which included a Sir Richard Burgoyne, used to occupy an old mansion opposite the Alma Tavern. Still, they had no really ancient houses in the place like those at York and Chester.

Mr G Harrison, who proposed a vote of thanks to the lecturer, related two interesting legends, one of which was a further version of the Serpent’s Well legend. According to him, a labourer at the old quarry at Levitt hag, was sent to the ancient hostelry of the Red Lion for a flagon of beer. He carried what he thought was empty flagon as far as the road above the Serpent’s well. At that point a serpent flew out of the flagon, and attacked the man, rolling him head over heels down to the fountain, where the combatants killed each other, and their blood stained the stonework an everlasting red.

The other legend had reference to the town’s well, and went back to the time when there was a great drought in the village. At that time there was a holy man named St. Francis, living at Conisbrough, and he, being appealed to, conducted the people to Willow Vale, where Mr. Robert Wilson’s now stands. There he plucked a willow one, and led the people, singing psalms and hymns, through the Priory grounds across the churchyard, and down Wellgate. There was no sign of a well in Wellgate at that time, but he struck a rock, from which gushed forth an abundant supply of water. and the willow wand penetrated so deeply that it took root in the soil below.

Mr Laughton, made reference to the old coaching days, when the Star Inn was the courthouse. On the site of Mr Farrell’s house, he said, a coach house was used to be kept to help the coaches up either hill.

A most pleasing and instructive gathering broke up with a hearty vote of thanks to the lecturer, who responded suitably.