Mexborough St John The Baptist

A  History of Mexborough



Mexborough is a dormitory, market town, situated on the banks of Rivers Dearne and Don.  In the past it was a thriving, bustling, industrial town.

 The first sizeable influx of people was the navvies and watermen, who came to Mexborough when the company of cutlers in Sheffield petitioned Parliament in 1722 to make the River Don navigable.  The river at this point needed to be deepened and a canal dug between Kilnhurst and a point near to Mexborough church.  By 1751 craft could get from Tinsley to Hull and therefore trade could take place with the outside world.  Then in 1804 the Dearne and Dove canal was opened, giving access to vast coal deposits of the Barnsley area.  The canal remained until recently a main industry and many families who descend from canal workers can still be found in the town.

Mexbrough St John The Baptist internal view The first industry to take advantage of the abundance of coal and the new mode of transport, was the pottery trade, and several potteries grew up in and around Mexborough.  All of these potteries imported their skilled workers from old pottery areas, mainly Staffordshire.

 The existing rout of the River Don was abandoned in 1834 and a canal dug.  Then in 1839 the railway arrived, with the first station being in Swinton.  The following year, this was followed by the Conisbrough – Swinton branch of the Doncaster – Tinsley Turnpike.  Then in 1849 came the railway, which passes through Mexborough to Doncaster.  All these improvements in communications needed people brought in from other areas, firstly, to assist in their construct, and later to run them.

 During the 19th century the glass workers followed the industrial potters from Lancashire. In c1850 the Barron family arrived from Lancashire accompanied by four friends and began the Don Glassworks.  Later the friends broke away to create their own glassworks at Swinton.  Then Caleb Kilner arrived and by the turn of the 20th century there were at least four glassworks in and around Mexborough.  These brought many people to Mexborough, but this was nothing compared to the ten – fold increase brought about by the sinking of the Denaby Colliery (1863) and Manvers Main colliery (1868).  So many workers came to Mexborough that the housing, overcrowded as it was, couldn’t cope, and many initially lived in tents.  These pits were the start, and Mexborough, and its people, became dependent on the pits for its economy.

Merxbrough St John The Baptist internal view Many drownings took place in Mexborough.  Children would swim, during the hot summer months; at a weir close to the ferry, and at Devil’s Elbow on the River Don.  Devil’s Elbow, which is situated behind Mexborough Station, is a particularly dangerous place to swim, it looks so still and inviting on a hot day, but underneath there is a treacherous current, which has dragged under the strongest of swimmers.  Another place favoured by the children and adults alike was the ‘Lido’ on the river Dearne.  This has a sandy, beach like area, with shallows for the smaller children to paddle in, but part of the river close by was extremely deep and young men diving in would get entangled in the roots of trees etc. and drowned.

 Whereas there seems to be many deaths, which have been the result of drownings, deaths by cholera are conspicuous by their absence.  The industrial cities and towns in close proximity to Mexborough were badly hit, notably Sheffield where in July 1832 an outbreak of plague proportions hit the city.  Hundreds of barges travelled daily through Mexborough to and from all the industrial towns and cities affected by cholera, so by 1849, why did Mexborough stand alone by having only one gravestone standing in its churchyard to a victim of this terrible disease?  The answer was that Mexborough had a fastidious vicar who set down many rules to safeguard his congregation. He ordered that no person who had come from, or travelled through an affected area should be allowed to alight from the barge; that no person from an affected area should be allowed to enter Mexborough. Visiting people in affected areas was discouraged; lastly the banks of the canal passing through the town were covered by quick lime.  All the rules set down had to be strictly adhered to.


     In 1633 a Terrier was taken of Mexborough and the parish clerk made some interesting notes:

 “Wholers and Halfers.  The inhabitants of Swinton are partly wholers and partly halfers to the Churches or Parsonages of Wath and Mexborough.  Wholers are that they pay their tythes wholey both procedial and personal to one of the fore saide churches only, viz., to Wath or Mexborough only.

 Halfers are they that pay their procedial tythes half to one of the fore saide churches and half to the other every year, but resort one yeare to Wath Church and the next yeare following to Mexborough Church, personally, and pay personal tythes and doe personal duties one yeare at one church and the next yeare following to the other church..”

 In short this means that the people of Swinton would attend Mexborough Church where they were baptised, married, or buried and pay the tythe taxes. Then the following year they would attend Wath Church, where they would be baptised, married, or buried.

 The parish clerk then goes on to name some of the residents of Swinton who had been allocated a seat in Mexborough Church and what seat they had been given.


 NOTE: The registers for Swinton church begin in 1817, so if your ancestors lived in Swinton prior to that date, don’t forget to look in both Mexborough and Wath registers, not forgetting the contents of both parish chests.


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