The People’s Pleasures


We know how people before and during the First World War enjoyed themselves because the papers kept a thorough record. The People’s Pleasures section in the Doncaster Chronicle listed films, plays, sports and so forth while the Doncaster Gazette had a regular amusements section. Advertisements and reviews also help us glimpse how people let off steam in the past.

Just before the war broke out a motorcycle leger was held in Doncaster, there people could go to view row after row of bikes. Doncaster Corporation Art Gallery often exhibited contemporary art around this time. When the war started people didn’t stop enjoying themselves, if anything distractions became more important than ever. Around July 1914, a Conisboro man was charged with taking bets in the streets on postcards. What people were betting on wasn’t clear but there was no shortage of sports to choose from.

Angling and football were the most prominently displayed sports in many local papers. Angling went on all over the borough of Doncaster, and fishermen would often send the weight of their catches to the local papers as a way to compete with each other at a distance. The main football competition reported was the Midland league. Other popular sports included boxing, cricket, rugby, bowls, and golf. In 1914 Sheard Binnington, a shop at 44 High Street, had a Christmas toy fair. While girls got dolls they were still comfortable giving military themed toys to boys at this time.


The first moving pictures were shown in Doncaster inside canvas tents, in the early 1900s, by travelling showmen like G. T. Tuby. The town must have loved them because they later made him their mayor! The first Doncaster ‘cinemas’ (then often known as ‘kinemas’) opened in 1909, first Central Hall on Printing Office Street then the Bijiou in the Market. These first ‘cinemas’ were just converted meeting halls seating around 350 to 400 people. The Bijiou adapted to this limitation, later branding itself as ‘The Cosy Little Cinema’ which was ‘Always Merry and Bright With yells of laughter thro’ the night’. In 1911 the Electra became Doncaster’s first purpose built ‘Picture Palace’, seating 630 people in Frenchgate.

Britain declared war on Germany on the 4th of August 1914, and about a month later the New Picture House opened on Doncaster High Street next to Doncaster’s oldest building. The Picture House had a widely advertised café, and seated 1,000 people. It was decorated in a lavish Egyptian theme, with sphinxes and winged lions around the screen. The mayor formally opened The Picture House in September 1914. It was the first Doncaster cinema to have a regular orchestra to play over the silent films. Historical films were the Picture House’s staple at first.

Cinema tickets could be bought for between 3 and 6 pence, or between 4 and 8 for the Electra. Films rarely stayed in cinemas for more than a week, and the 3 cinemas rarely screened the same films, making each trip to the cinema a unique experience. Dramas predominated, and war films tended to look back to the American Civil War rather than any of the European or colonial wars which might have hit closer to home. Due to films still being silent French films were popular, including the exploits of the spy Protea and the criminal mastermind Fantomas.

Late in 1914 cinema listings in the Doncaster Chronicle were sometimes moved to another page to make room for important war news, and in early 1915 the Doncaster Gazette moved its film listings close to the end of the paper. This could reflect the changing priorities of people in the town. A similar shift happened in the Doncaster Gazette early in 1916.

In the meantime the other cinemas in town were just starting to adapt to the war. By the 18th of September 1914 the Bijou offered showings of ‘The Latest War Events Chronicled Nightly’. Early in October the Bijou began offering special concessions for military personnel, The Electra offered similar concessions from December. Meanwhile Central Hall screened ‘The Great European War, Actual Scenes’, and the Picture House started screening war news.

From then onwards the war became a familiar sight on Doncaster’s film screens. On the week of the 16th of October Central Hall showed ‘Sons of the Sea, or the Boys of the Bull Dog Breed’, which advertised itself on showing Britain’s finest battleships and scenes of the war in Belgium. Towards the end of October the Bijou started regularly screening ’45 minutes with the war’, which featured footage from the frontline including the Pathe Gazette newsreel section. The Electra screened the Gaumont Graphic featuring footage of the war, often accompanied by patriotic music. As October ended and November began, Central Hall entered a patriotic fervour, showing ‘The Veteran’, ‘The Sergeant’s Secret’, a topical film on French Navy manoeuvres, and the second film in ‘The Great European war’ series, this one featuring actual battle scenes from Belgium and France.

Late in November The Electra screened ‘The Spy’, a contemporary film about German spies. Earlier that month the Picture House had shown films about the war effort including ‘The Making of Kitchener’s Army’ and ‘Life on a French Warships, as well as the patriotic ‘In the Days of Trafalgar’. However, a more jovial tone was adopted towards the war when the Germans were beaten by a boy scout in ‘Young Britain Foils the Enemy’, shown in December at The Picture House.

The clearest trend in Doncaster cinemas during the war was a move towards comedy. In November 1914 Arthur Whitworth replaced Clarence Hurst as the manager of The Picture House. The same week a comedy, ‘Caught in a Cabaret’ was screened there. The Picture House was the main cinema to shift to comedies, this was a dramatic change considering a few months before they had specialised in historical epics. A change in management doesn’t fully explain this change, especially as other cinemas were affected to a lesser extent. The most likely explanation is that comedy was a way of coping with war. Comedies were often shown at the end of the night, after footage from the front, as though to diffuse the tension. The rise of comedies in Doncaster from February 1915 was soon followed by the screening of early Charlie Chaplin films; they were seldom off the screen during the war.

1916 was a good year for serials at the cinema. Visitors came weekly from as far away as Brodsworth to watch a crime serial, the ‘Exploits of Elaine’, at the packed Electra. As with modern TV series people loved to speculate on the week’s mysteries the Doncaster Gazette wrote that ‘patrons again amused themselves by juggling with surmises and theories as to the identity of the sinister “Clutching Hand”’. The move to comedy continued, in May 1916 the Doncaster Chronicle noted at the Picture House a ‘change from heavy drama introduced into the programmes at this hall during the latter end of last week and the first three nights of this, has been much appreciated by local cinema goers.’ Once again drama was replaced with largely with comedy, and the town reacted well to this.

Despite the appetite for war films being less than it had been, the war wasn’t yet so sacred as to not be mocked. In June 1916 ‘Schmits, the Spy and his Messages to Berlin’ played at the Picture House, it was a satire mocking German spies in Britain. When exactly the public lost their taste for war films isn’t clear, but it seems to have happened around 1917, or late 1916. October 1916 saw the ‘Battle of the Somme’ film play at the Electra. Film audiences had long been familiar with the war, advertising emphasised the authenticity of films ‘Actually Taken in the Firing Line’, and a review of the week at the Picture House in 1915 pointed out how ‘The War offers an excellent field for the cinematograph entrepreneur. But the ‘Battle of the Somme’ might have gotten too close, a man was shown dying on film to the gasps of the audience. The papers were filling up with the deaths of young men, physically pushing the People’s Pleasures section out of the Doncaster Chronicle in 1917. From then on the war only really came up in propaganda films.


Doncaster also had two regular theatres The Grand and The New Palace, both were managed by J. W. North and C. H. Bell. The Grand showed full plays. The New Palace had an ever changing roster of variety acts including, but not limited to: comedians, acrobats, musicians, magicians, jugglers, impressionists, ventriloquists, trained animals, and vaudeville or burlesque acts. An inventor even once put on a show there, Captain De Villiers flew his wireless electric airship from the theatre stage in May 1916. Throughout the war foreign acts, often from France or China, still performed at The New Palace. Before the war plays at The Grand often had a female lead. ‘The Woman Conquers’, ‘The Coastguards Daughter’ and ‘Only an Artist’s Model’ are just a few of them. One such play, ‘Only a Mill Girl’, was advertised for featuring realistic working looms.

The line between cinemas and theatres was rigidly enforced; a Picture Hall in Dinnington was fined in 1916 for showing a play without a license. Real life objects and set pieces was one advantage plays held over the film industry. Perhaps this is why a pantomime version of ‘Little Bo Peep’ shown at The Grand in January 1916 featured real sheep! A review of the pantomime in the Doncaster Chronicle praised it for its ‘colourful background’ and ‘old jokes made to feel fresh’. It also commented that ‘Pantomime never changes’, and familiar characters included Little Boy Blue, Bo Peep, Baron Hardup, Fairy Moonbeam, a ‘Wicked Wolf’, and the dame, Granny Brown, played by a man. Less recognisable is the character of Rastus Brown, a cook. The character likely drew inspiration from a black cook called Rastus who appeared on cereal boxes at the time as well as Rufus Rastus Brown, a stereotyped black character from a 1906 picture book. The name Rastus was also associated with blackface in American minstrel shows, a practice that had in recent decades crossed into British pantomimes, it seems likely that Rastus was played in blackface.

The theatres did not shy away from giving plays and acts a wartime touch. By February 1915 war plays were already the norm, the Doncaster Chronicle wearily titled one of its reviews as ‘Another War Play’. The play in question was a detective drama where the criminal was a German spy; the second act was set in the trenches. When the Germans appeared to have won English soldiers made a surprise entrance, saving the day to the cheers of the audience. In January 1916 The New Palace showed a naval comedy romance on a stage made to look like a modern battleship. The lively New Palace touch wasn’t lost, the show ended with the woman of the couple being fired from the ship’s guns!

Early in 1916 a movement towards comedy plays mirrored that of Doncaster cinemas, but there was less of a move away from showing the war on stage. In January the Doncaster Chronicle wrote ‘There is a demand for revues… the light sparkling, inconsequential, aimless kind of things which at the moment dominates the stage.’ This was the start of the review for a play at The Grand called ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’. The review ends by saying ‘Towards the end of the revue there is a war touch, and men in khaki and girls in Red Cross garb flit across a stage whose background is a trench. The whole thing is a couple of hours amusing entertainment.’ The sudden change of tone from the trenches to entertainment is really striking to a modern reader; it suggests the reviewer and audience could still take a relaxed, even humorous, view of the war. ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’ would return to The Grand in March of 1916.

Acts at The New Palace occasionally found material in the war. In January 1915 a ‘Posing Act’ worked mockery of the war pictures shown at the cinemas into their routine. The stage reflected the screen in other ways, in June 1917 a Charlie Chaplin impersonator performed at The New Palace. The theatre, like the cinema, could be a noisy affair. When a farce called ‘Oh! I say’ played at The Grand in February 1916 the Doncaster Chronicle reported that ‘the house literally rocks with laughter’

The theatres approached the war seriously too. April 1916 saw a war drama, ‘His Mother’s Son, V.C.’, written by its lead actress Mrs Cassidy, play at The Grand. It dealt with an Irish soldier in the fictional country of Ugaria, which has sided with the Kaiser. It ended with the allies beating Ugaria, and a scene of the soldier in the trenches at Salonica. One much celebrated play was ‘The Turning Point’ shown in January of 1915, a translation of a patriotic play written by the Belgium playwright Henri Kistmaecker. Interest in this play was intensified due to the presence of Belgium refugees in Doncaster.

1917 saw a young Miss Gracie Field appear at The Grand in a short musical comedy titled ‘It’s a Bargain’. Gracie Field would go on to become a film star, singer, and a dame. She performed alongside her manager and future husband, Archie Pitt. By this time the theatres seemed less willing to confront the war. In November of 1917 a play called ‘The Maid of the Mill’ was shown at The Grand. It seemed to mark a return to plays such as ‘Only a Mill Girl’ which dominated at The Grand before the war.

Sources Used:

  1. Curry, Let’s go to the Pictures: An illustrated history of the picture houses of Doncaster (Hull: The Northway Printing Company, 1987), pp. 1-3, 8, 10 & 14

Doncaster Chronicle: 17th October 1913, p. 8

Doncaster Chronicle: 24th October 1913, p. 8

Doncaster Chronicle: 31st October 1913, p. 8

Doncaster Chronicle: 7th November 1913, p. 8

Doncaster Chronicle: 12th December 1913, p. 8

Doncaster Chronicle: 26th June 1913, p. 8

Doncaster Chronicle: 17th October 1913, p. 8

Doncaster Chronicle: 4th September 1914, p. 9

Doncaster Chronicle: 4th December 1914, p. 6-7

Doncaster Chronicle: 25th December 1914, p. 4

Doncaster Chronicle: 5th February 1915, p. 3

Doncaster Chronicle: 23rd April 1915, p. 3

Doncaster Chronicle: 14th January 1916, p. 7

Doncaster Chronicle: 21st January 1916, p. 7

Doncaster Chronicle: 11th February 1916, p. 7

Doncaster Chronicle: 7th April 1916, p. 7

Doncaster Chronicle: 26th May 1916, p. 7

Doncaster Chronicle: 9th June 1916, p. 3

Doncaster Chronicle: 20th October 1916, p. 5

Doncaster Chronicle: 18th May 1917, p. 2

Doncaster Chronicle: 8th June 1917, p. 2

Doncaster Chronicle: 8th March 1918, p. 1

Doncaster Gazette: 18th September 1914, p. 3-4

Doncaster Gazette: 25th September 1914, p. 3

Doncaster Gazette: 20th November 1914, p. 5

Doncaster Gazette: 1st January 1915, p. 4

Doncaster Gazette: 8th January 1915, p. 4

Doncaster Gazette: 22nd January 1915, p. 4

Doncaster Gazette: 7th January 1916, p. 6

Doncaster Gazette: 14th January 1916, pp. 6, 10 & 11

Doncaster Gazette: 9th March 1916, p. 7

Doncaster Gazette: 26th May 1916, p. 4

Doncaster Gazette: 20th October 1916, p. 5

Doncaster Gazette: 8th June 1917, p. 5

Doncaster Gazette: 24th August 1917, p. 4

Doncaster Gazette: 30th November 1917, p. 4

Did Flying Ace Kill Pit Lad?

Leonard Savage

Leonard Savage was born early in 1903 at Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. His parents were Henry and Mary Savage, Henry was a coal miner. Leonard was the second oldest son, after George. He had at least 3 younger siblings: Charles, Henry, and Dorothy. The family lived in Mansfield until at least 1911. As the Yorkshire Main Colliery opened around this time, the family probably moved into the worker’s housing being built at New Edlington. Leonard Savage joined his father as a pit lad.

In November 1916 a pilot flying from London to the North of England got lost. He landed at the New Edlington Recreation Ground to check his map. A small crowd of locals gathered around the plane. As the plane took off again Leonard Savage, now 13 years old, was struck by the plane and killed instantly. A newspaper article from the time titled ‘Boy Killed By Aeroplane’ records the plane’s pilot as a Lieutenant Kiddie of the R.F.C. (Royal Flying Corps) This tallies with the life of future flying ace Andrew Cameron Kiddie.

Andrew Cameron Kiddie

Later described by the London Gazette as ‘A gallant officer, who has proved himself resolute and courageous in aerial combats’, Kiddie was born in South Africa on the 7th of November 1889. He first served in the 18th South African Mounted Rifles before travelling to England to join the Royal Flying Corps. Kiddie received a Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate to fly a Maurice Farman biplane on the 17th of October 1916. On the 1st of August 1916 Kiddie had been appointed a 2nd Lieutenant, and he was confirmed in this position on the 31st of October 1916. Only a few days later Leonard Savage was accidentally killed by an R.F.C. Lieutenant, not long before Kiddie’s 27th birthday.

Kiddie would go on to serve in the No. 32 Squadron R.F.C. in France early in 1917. Later that year, he was transferred home to instruct other pilots, including Ira Thomas Jones who he would soon serve alongside. In 1918 he returned to France in the 74 ‘Tiger’ Squadron where he racked up victories against 15 enemy planes. Kiddie had the 5th highest aerial victory count in his squadron, behind more famous aces such as Ira Jones and Edward ‘Mick’ Mannock. Mannock was among the best pilots drawn from the British Empire, and Jones was infamous among his squadron for shooting down German parachutes. While others considered it unsporting Jones said that he’d never been to public school and learned sportsmanship, all he knew was that there was a bloody war on. Kiddie was the only pilot to survive an attack by 10 Fokker Triplanes despite his plane being ‘riddled like a sieve’.

Given his future as a flying ace it is strange that no mention of Leonard Savage appears in records related to Kiddie, or the accounts of his life. At the time of Savage’s death, Kiddie wasn’t as well known as later in his life. Still it wouldn’t be too hard to have the R.F.C. find a Lieutenant Kiddie who may have been in the area at the time. Whether any inquiry was ever made remains unclear. Whether Leonard Savage got in the way of the plane, or Andrew Kiddie didn’t leave enough time for the crowd to get clear, may never be known.

Lawyer and Teacher Arrested

On the 28th of June 1916 William Strafford Levinson, a barrister-at-law and an assistant school master at Doncaster Grammar School, was charged at Doncaster for falsely representing himself to be employed by the Minister of Munitions.

William had been born in Russia around 1887, the oldest son of Lewis and Bessie Levinson. Lewis was a draper. Sometime after 1891 the family left Russia, perhaps fleeing the famine. By 1893 they lived in Mountain Ash, Glamorgan, Wales. They stayed there as late as 1899, and then moved to Penrhiwceiber by 1901. The family was fairly well off, as they had a servant. They could also afford to send William to law school.

In 1910 William had often spoken on Liberal political platforms claiming that the war was coming. At this time he wrote to Lord Roberts, president of the National Service League and a firm believer that conscription should be introduced for an inevitable European war, William offered assistance in organising. It’s not clear if he received a reply. When William spoke at Donnington, Lincolnshire he was attacked and received a scar on his face. Perhaps it was because of this injury that he was turned down twice when he volunteered to serve in the war he’d long anticipated.

Seeking other work of a national importance, in January of 1916 William came to Doncaster. He started working as an assistant master at Doncaster Grammar School around February or March. Through his new job he made a lot of new friends in Doncaster, but he lied to them, telling them that he was employed by the Minister of Munitions attached to the Sheffield centre. He visited several places in Doncaster, obtaining information he would not have been given if he hadn’t lied.

The morning of his trial, William pleaded guilty. Doncaster Town Clerk, R. A. H. Tovey, served as prosecutor. William explained to Superintendent Cromwell in Court that he firmly believed that every resource in the country should be mobilised to the war effort, and that his legal training was being wasted by the government. On February 14th he had written to the Ministry of Munitions seeking an unpaid position, they do not seem to have granted him one but he continued to represent himself as their employee.

William pleaded for the court to deal with him quickly. The Chairman decided that he should be remanded for a week, while the Chief Constable objected to bail being set for the moment. William was much distressed by this. He claimed that he could not endure another night in a police cell, and that a week in the cells would leave him wrecked.

‘Death rather than Service’

Harold Oldfield Dowson was born on the 20th of January 1886 in Doncaster, to Mark and Sarah Jane Dowson. Sarah died when he was only 4 years old. Mark was a tailor, draper, and outfitter. Growing up at 96 & 97 Catherine Street in Doncaster was crowded. His father, two brothers, three sisters, two cousins, grandmother and a distant aunt lived with him in 1891. All the older boys were working or apprenticed as tailors. It’s not clear if this was in Mark’s shop, but by 1895 he had definitely opened a Tailoring & Outfitting Shop at 65 Hall Gate, Doncaster. For the year of 1897 Mark served as Doncaster’s Mayor. In 1901 the family lived on Main Street in Blyth, Nottinghamshire, but they kept the house and shop in Doncaster.

On the 14th of August 1909 Mark Dowson died, leaving £6,000 between two of his sons, Harold Oldfield Dowson and Ernest John Dowson. He also left them his tailoring shop on Hallgate Corner, Messrs Dowson & Son Tailors. In 1911 Harold lived at 18 Highfield Road, Wheatley. His older brother, Arthur Edward Dowson, was now an invalid and lived with him for support. Two of his sisters also lived with him, Kate Needham Dowson and Maude Mary Shepherd, the latter of whom was married to a hotel proprietor. In 1912 Harold moved into the family home at 96 & 97 Catherine Street, Ernest stayed living in Wheatley at 26 King’s Road. Early in 1913 Harold married Mary Anne Harrison

Ernest John Dowson became a councillor for Doncaster around this time. When Belgium refugees needed to be housed in the town in 1914, the brothers offered the house on Catherine Street. Harold was still listed as living at the house until 1915, but in 1916 his address was updated to 18 Ravensworth Road, Doncaster. The brothers still jointly owned the shop, but Ernest was away serving as a Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. Meanwhile Harold, faced with the prospect of conscription, was desperately applying for exemption. He failed in his application and became deeply depressed.

On the 17th of March 1916, at the age of 30, Harold was found hanging behind a door at his tailor shop, a small revolver loaded with 2 bullets was found by his feet. This wasn’t uncommon, on the same day the papers reported a Peterborough farmer had been found hanging in his stable after similar events. Ernest was informed, and confirmed that his brother had been depressed. The headline in the papers ran ‘Death rather than Service’. Harold was buried in the unconsecrated part of Hyde Park Cemetery in plot Q292.

Harold’s widow, Mary, and his brother Ernest inherited £200 between them. At the end of the war Ernest resumed managing the tailor’s shop by himself. In 1919 Ernest joined the freemasons in Doncaster, and in 1926 he followed his father in becoming Mayor of Doncaster. By 1957 Messrs Dowson & Son Tailors had become Doncaster Clothing Co, a Boys & Gents Outfitters.

Read More About Doncaster’s Belgium Refugees

Major Agg

Frederick John Gardener Agg was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire on the 19th March 1879, he was the son of William and Beatrice Agg. On the 14th April 1879, he was baptised. At the time of the 1881 census, Fredrick had five sisters:  Constance Louisa, Beatrice Edith, Edith Mildred, Kathleen Maud and Florence and the family were living in Hewlett House in Cheltenham.


During WW1, Fredrick served in the 28th division of the KOYLI regiment as a Major.  Some of his letters tell us what happened to him when he was on active service in France. In one letter, Fredrick who was billeted at a convent in France. He describes how he shot a film at a chateau and the near death experience he faced when a German bomb fell 400 yards away from him. For his bravery while serving during the Great War, Fredrick was awarded the British medal, the Victory medal and the Star medal.

In 1919, Fredrick married Mabel Beatrice Cumming of Singapore in  St Johns Church, Eastbourne, Sussex.

Sadly, in 1960, Fredrick passed away aged 81 in Hailsham, Sussex.

Minister became Postman in the War

Percy William Jones was born in 1871 in Upton on Severn, Worcestershire to Benjamin and Maria Annie Jones. Benjamin was a boot manufacturer and farmer. Percy grew up at 1 Belle Vue Terrace in Great Malvern, Worcestershire with 4 sisters. Eva and Gertrude were older than him, Carry and Ethel were younger. The family was rich, with 3 servants in 1881, however by 1891 they only had 2. Before 1901 Benjamin died, and despite Maria living on her own means the family could only afford 1 servant by that year. They also had to move out of their house to Netherwood on Landseer Road, Bournemouth.

At the age of 19 Percy was studying Theology, at the same time his sister Gertrude was a photographer’s assistant. Percy became a Wesleyan Minister by the age of 29. A few years later, on the 18th of October 1904 he married Florence Maud Hellfax in Bournemouth. In 1905 the couple were probably living on the Isle of White when their first son, Percy Hellyar Jones, was born on the 7th of August . They tried for another child, but it died soon after birth. In 1911 the family moved to 20 Morley Road in Doncaster, they would live their until at least 1920. They had one live in servant, 17 year-old Annie Jones. Percy senior was still a minister.

When war broke out Percy senior was attested at Bournemouth. He was short and slight at 5 foot 5 with a 34 inch chest. Otherwise he was healthy, his complexion was noted as fresh. He had blue eyes, and in his mid forties his hair was already grey. He enlisted into the Army Medical Corps, and was sent to Central Africa. Here he fell ill and was discharged on the 2nd of September 1915. After he was discharged he went to Salisbury Plain where he put boot making skills he picked up from his father to work in a shoemaker’s shop. He may also have spent awhile as a Minister to troops in Dublin, Ireland. When he was back in Doncaster, in May 1916, he applied to be the town’s postman for the duration of the war. He was successful, and managed to fit in his ministerial duties too.

Brothers Reunited By War

Robert Edward Leighton was born on the 25th of March 1888 in Holywell, Flintshire, Wales, he was the first child of Robert and Mary Elizabeth Leighton. His father was a coal miner, working as a hewer on the coalface. They lived at 10 Menry’s Road in Bagillt, Flintshire. Many of their closest neighbours were also Leightons. Robert’s sister, Elizabeth Eleanor Leighton, born around 1889 was the last of his siblings born in Flintshire.

By the time Isaac Leighton was born on the 28th of January 1892, the family had moved to Byron Street, South Shields, Durham. He was baptised on the 1st of June 1892 at St. Hildas in South Shields. Susanna Leighton followed around 1895, then John Leighton around 1897. John was probably named after his uncle, a coal miner who lived with them in 1901. This meant a family of 8 sleeping in 3 rooms, depending on the shifts the men took this may have been made easier by them sleeping in the day. By then Robert was 13 and had found a job as a grocer’s shop boy.

Sometime between 1901 and 1911, Mary Elizabeth Leighton passed away. While most of the family stayed together afterwards, Robert senior struggled to support all of them. Isaac was sent to live with his mother’s brother Isaac Hughes, and his wife, at the Volunteer Arms, in Holywell, Flintshire. Isaac spent the rest of his childhood separate from his family.

On the 27th of February 1915 Isaac enlisted in the Royal Navy, where he would go on to become a Petty Officer. Robert Edward Leighton joined the navy too on the 30th of August 1915. On the 31st of October that year, Isaac married Kate Millard at St Dunstan’s Surrey. Her parents, William and Mabel, witnessed the union. The couple would live for a time in Surrey. His brother Robert had moved to Northumberland.

While he had been training for the navy at the Crystal Palace in 1915, Isaac started chatting to a comrade who was pouring tea. He found out that he was from South Shields too, and knowing how common they were around those parts asked if he was a Leighton as well. As he soon discovered, he was talking to Robert Edward Leighton, the brother he hadn’t seen for nearly 15 years.

Despite both having worked as miners the brothers were very different people when they met. Where Robert had fair skin, Isaac’s had a dark complexion. Isaac’s brown hair was darker too. Robert stood a full 4 inches taller, and had hazel rather than brown eyes. Robert’s skin was unblemished while Isaac had a heart tattoo on his left arm. Isaac was the only one of the brothers who could swim. Isaac would also remarry before Robert even found his first wife.

In 1920, Isaac remarried to Sarah Jane Pierce in his birth town. It’s not clear whether he was widowed or divorced from his first wife. After 1921 he was discharged from the Royal Navy, having earned the Victory Medal and British War Medal . In 1924 they moved to Doncaster, first at 76 Laurel Terrace, then in 1928 at 57 Paxton Avenue. He still lived here in 1939 with his wife and two sons, Trevor and Eric, who worked in the mines with him.

Robert had married Florence M Hopper late in 1933, in Tynemouth, Northumberland. They lived in Longbenton near Northumberland by 1939. By 1946 Isaac and family had moved a little way from Doncaster to North Elmsalll. Isaac passed away here on the 21st of December 1950.

‘Footballer, boxer, fighter.’

Corporal E Ford first came to Doncaster from Penrhiwceiber, Wales. He was a keen sportsman, with a combative nature, who both played and trained others at football and boxing. Before living in Yorkshire, Ford played for the Mountain Ash and Aberdare Football Teams in Wales. He had played football against teams from as far away as New Zealand ans Australia. He helped train the Doncaster Rugby Football Club, making friends with its captain Reverend E P Gower Rees, as they were both Welshmen. He had also trained many Doncaster lads in boxing. Even in the army he kept up his boxing, giving a sparring exhibition in France.

He was an old soldier who had fought in the Boer War before, and still wore the ribbon on his tunic. In the First World War he served in the newly formed Welsh Guards. A few days after a British division had stormed the German trenches, Ford heard cries from shell holes between his position and the new German one. Crawling out alone, he found 7 hungry and wounded soldiers hiding out in a shell hole. He recruited a Corporal Parry, and together they took water and supplies out to their hiding place. They started rescuing the men one at a time, eventually helping all 7 of them back to the trench. In March 1917, Corporal Ford returned to Doncaster on leave from the army for wounds.


101 Year-Old Died at Start of War

A few months after the outbreak of the First World War one Miss Maria Foster passed away in Leeds. She was 101 years old and had lived through the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian eras. She had seen the reigns of 6 British monarchs and nearly 20 Prime Ministers.

Born in Tickhill in 1813, to Richard and Anne Foster, she was baptised on the 25th of April that year. Her father was a miller, and she grew up in their mill in Tickhill with her siblings, Mary, Richard and Charlotte.  When Maria was in her early 20s her cousins fought a duel for her hand in marriage, one of the last times this happened in England. The man she loved, a young soldier, was shot dead. She seems to have refused to marry the winner, and most likely never married.

Maria’s mother died a few years later in 1837, followed by her father in 1844. The remaining family had moved to Upperthorpe near Sheffield by the 1850s. Mary worked as a schoolmistress, the rest of the family was unemployed but they could still afford a servant. In the 1860s Richard boarded in London for a while.

By 1871 the family was reunited in Scarborough where they ran a lodging house. Charlotte worked as a governess, a career that Maria had also dabbled in. In 1891 Charlotte and Maria lived in Headingly with Burley, near Leeds, together. Both worked as assistants. They lived in the same house 10 years later when were both retired.

Charlotte passed away on the 2nd of March 1907. Maria moved into central Leeds where she boarded with Emma Hudson and her nieces and nephews at 7 Portland Crescent. Maria died late in September of 1914. She was buried next Charlotte in Lawnswood Cemetery, close to where they once lived in Headingly.

‘To Burn It.’

In June 1913, Harry Johnson, an 18-year-old apprentice reporter for the Doncaster Chronicle, went to interview Doncaster’s chief police constable about the town’s new fire engine. While there he was recognised by an elderly housekeeper, May Temple Beechcroft, as the man who had broken into the Balby house she supervised in the early hours of that morning. Along with a female companion, he had put fire-lighters on the stairs and had intended to use paraffin and cotton wool to burn the house down.

It was discovered that Harry had connections to a suffragette safe house on Osborne Road. Miss Beechcroft identified Augusta Winship, a fellow suffragette, as his partner in crime. At their trial in Doncaster Borough Court, one ‘May Dennis’ stood up, announcing in front of the mayor, magistrates and national press, that she was the real culprit. Gasps and applause followed her revelation. When asked why she had been in the house she simply replied, ‘To burn it.’ While Harry pleaded guilty, ‘May’ refused to enter a plea either way, she refused to recognise the authority of the court altogether.

‘May Dennis’ was really Lilian Ida Lenton, one of England’s most militant suffragettes. Born to a Leicester joiner in 1891, Lilian first trained as a dancer. When she was dancing she used her first pseudonym, ‘Ida Inkley’. After hearing Emmeline Pankhurst speak, Lilian decided she would volunteer with the Women’s Social and Political Union as soon as she turned 21. She had celebrated her 21st birthday with a WSPU window breaking and was arrested. After she was let out she joined Christabel Pankhurst’s arson campaign, the largest in nearly 80 years. She swore to burn down 2 empty buildings a week until women could vote.

Lilian had spent her early 20s in and out of prison. Earlier in 1913 she had been arrested for burning down the tea houses at Kew Gardens. After going on hunger strike they tried to force feed her. Her head was pulled back by her hair, and a tube inserted into her nose twice, on the second try it accidentally went into her windpipe and food was poured directly into her left lung, she started choking violently and later contracted septic pneumonia. The Home Secretary denied this widely reviled incident, but the Temporary Discharge bill, or Cat and Mouse act, was rushed through to temporarily release hunger strikers. Lilian was released over the scandal, she fled to Doncaster where the strong railway network allowed her to move quickly if necessary. It was here she hatched a plot to burn down a house in Balby that she thought was empty.

Male suffragettes were often given tougher punishments than the women; Harry Johnson was given 12 months hard labour. Lilian served time in Armley Gaol, when she went on hunger strike she was temporarily released in July under the Cat and Mouse act. Lilian had an uncanny ability to escape the police; she left Leeds by dressing as an errand boy. She stayed in a Harrogate boarding house with friends, when the police caught up she left the house during a masquerade party with a number of veiled women. Arriving in Scarborough the WSPU sent her to France on a private yacht. Harry similarly escaped by hunger striking, then visiting WSPU organisers in York. The police repeatedly underestimated the organisation and resourcefulness of the suffragettes.

By December 1913 Lilian was back in England. She was rearrested at Birkenhead on the 4th of May in 1914, for the arson attempt at Doncaster. She was tried on the 15th of May at Leeds Assizes for breaking into a house with the intention to burn it down. Lilian told the court she didn’t intend to be tried and kept up a constant tirade against the government and laws, so much so that Justice Atkin could barely be heard when he found her guilty. She was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment, though she later escaped again

Lilian hid out briefly in the Lake District, where she was introduced to D. H. Lawrence. When the First World War broke out the WSPU suspended its militant activities to prove women could work as hard as men. During the war Lilian served in a Serbian women’s hospital. She would later go on to speak on behalf of the Save the Children Fund. Even when women were granted the vote Lilian couldn’t vote for some years as she was unmarried. She died in 1972.

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