All photographs submitted by Janet Roberts.
Arthur Charlie Kitson was born in 1886 at Carcroft, Doncaster and was my Grandpa. He was the sixth child of Mary Ann Kitson (née Otley) and James Kitson, a Blacksmith who worked at the Doncaster Plant in later life. Grandpa had four older sisters, an elder brother and one younger sister: Mary Sophia b 1873, George Edward b 1875, Alice Jane b 1878, Lilian May b 1881 – d 1908, Grace b 1883 who died in infancy and Janet Eleanor b 1891.
Grandpa grew up with his family in Carcroft, a hamlet of the Township of Owston where he attended school. Many relatives were living in that area at the time. Some still do to this day; the Kitsons, Otleys and Middletons. He preferred to be called Charles and later in life would sign his name as such on various documents. When he was about 12 years old, his Mother, Mary became very ill and Grandpa remembered paying many visits to the local chemist to collect her pain relief medication. When she died in 1902 he was 16 and his sister Janet only 11. Mary Sophia and Alice Jane were already married and his only brother George away at sea having joined the Royal Navy in 1895. It was hard for the family after Mary, my Gt. Grandma had died. Janet Eleanor went to live with her sister Lilian May, who was in service locally, seeing her father as and when. Gt. Granddad, James Kitson and Grandpa used to walk along the side of the main railway track from Carcroft to Doncaster Plant Works daily to their work and back. They continued to do so for a long time after Gt. Grandma had died. It is no wonder that Gt. Granddad James and Grandpa eventually decided to move into lodgings in John Street, Doncaster to be nearer.
On the 1911 Census, James Kitson, is shown to be living with Edwin Hedges, his former son – in – law, who had married again after the death of his first wife Lilian May Hedges née Kitson, in 1908 aged 27 years. This had left Edwin with two daughters, Doris May Hedges and Ann Hedges to bring up. Their other children had predeceased Lilian; Dorothy in 1903 aged 4m and William Edward in 1907 aged 14m. Ann lived until the age of 15 in 1919. Lilian and the children died of Tuberculosis and are buried in Hyde Park Cemetery, Doncaster. Doris May Hedges being their only surviving child. On the Census, James is shown to be 67 years old and still in employment – ‘Blacksmith – Boiler angle iron – RLY Cab Loco WKS ‘.
Arthur Charlie Kitson married, Edith Alice Richardson on 11th October 1911 at St Mary’s Church, Wheatley, Doncaster. Grandma Edith was a talented Seamstress, but as usual in those days, there is no mention of this on their marriage certificate. Marriage had followed a long courtship with the couple sometimes meeting at dances and corresponding by postcards. Grandma made her own wedding gown with matching coat and continued sewing thereafter making all of her family’s clothes.
Towards the end of 1913, my Father Douglas Arthur Kitson was born. I remember Grandpa telling me that they had sent out an extremely young Doctor to deliver my Grandma of her first baby; my Dad. Grandpa had wondered how on earth was he able to have enough experience of such things and said ‘By, but did he know what he was doing though, and in no time after the doctor arrived your Dad was born!’
In 1914, when World War 1 broke out, the ship George E. Kitson, Grandpa’s brother was serving on was HMS Russell. The husbands of Grandpa’s three surviving sisters were attested to the Army; Tom Parkinson Darton – Mary Sophia’s husband, Alfred Atkinson – Alice Jane’s husband and Richard Birkby – Janet Eleanor’s husband.
In 1916, a daughter Audrey Alice Kitson was born to my Grandparents. Ruth who was one of Grandma’s sisters also had a baby girl called Sylvia Mason who was to become a great favourite with Douglas and Audrey and good friend of the family.
The year 1917 brought a lot of sadness. One of Grandma’s brothers, Reginald Richardson, a Gunner was killed on 26th July 1917 while serving in France.
Within a month of Reginald being killed, Grandpa’s only brother, George E. Kitson was lost at sea while serving on HMS Recruit on 9th August 1917 in his 42nd year.
On 27th September of the same year, John Vernon Mason, Ruth’s husband and Sylvia’s Father died of acute gangrenous appendicitis and toxaemia in Doncaster Royal Infirmary UD. He was 28 years old and worked as a coal miner locally.
During 1918, Florence Richardson, one of Grandma’s sisters married Albert Brant from Tottenham at St Mary’s Church, Wheatley. He and his brother were in the RFC stationed at the Racecourse, Doncaster at that time.
The children Douglas and Audrey Kitson always got on very well, a real conspiratorial pair!! When Audrey began to speak my Dad, Douglas (Douggie) was thrilled by her mispronunciations and would often manipulate the conversation for her to include them. Unfortunately for him, as she grew older it
began to backfire when she immediately came out with ‘Duddie do it!!’ after they had been asked who had committed the latest misdemeanor. Later on Sylvia came to live with them for two years or so. Ruth, her Mother had by this time married a policeman, James Hubbard and had another child. It was while they were waiting for police accommodation to become available that Sylvia came to stay. My Dad, Douglas, made the most of this situation and tormented the girls by playing tricks on them. He often ’employed’ Sylvia to do a share of his jobs. One day this was taken too far; when, early one morning he forced her to help him with his daily newspaper round. Unfortunately, Sylvia couldn’t find her gymslip or coat and ended up going out on a frosty winter’s morning wearing only her woolen jumper over the top of her vest and knickers before the rest of the household had risen. Dad got a smack for that. Once Sylvia’s Mother and Step Father had moved into their new police house, Sylvia was reluctant to leave my Grandparent’s. Instead of returning home after school in Doncaster each day, she trekked off to Grandpa’s house at Hexthorpe. Therefore, after a long day at the Plant Works, Grandpa walked all the way back to Doncaster to return Sylvia. She got into a lot of trouble over this as it was repeated many times!
The Doncaster Plant Works
The establishment of Doncaster Plant Works had been prompted by the arrival of the Great Northern Railway (GNR) in the town in 1848 being the largest railway project at that time in the Country. This resulted in a railway line linking London with Grantham, Retford and Doncaster. It had been achieved by the affective lobbying of the Leeds-born MP Edmund Beckett Denison (1787 – 1874). He also persuaded the GNR Board to favour Doncaster, his adopted town rather than Retford, Peterborough, or Boston in Lincolnshire (where a small repair workshop was already operating) to establish a new locomotive repair shop. He pointed out the many assets of the area which would favour constructing the repair shop in Doncaster such as its proximity to coal access, iron works, forges, and good water transport routes. Building began on the grazing land of the Crimpsall in 1852 and completed in 1853. There was a rapid expansion of housing and suitable amenities in the Balby and Hexthorpe area to accommodate the large influx of workers into the area mainly from the Boston repair shop.
A station was built in Doncaster in 1849 to replace the temporary wooden structure of the previous year. It was not until 1938 that the much larger, Art Deco styled station, still used to this day was then constructed.
I discovered my Grandpa’s Doncaster Plant Works Record at Doncaster Archive & Local Studies, King Edward Road, Doncaster DN4 0NA where the Doncaster Plant Record Book is held:
DONCASTER PLANT RECORDS
Arthur Charlie Kitson
Register No. 925
Grade – Body Maker
DOB – 14/4/1886
Started – 11/8/1900 at 4/- pw.
To 2/3/1925 – 45/- pw.
(The month of his birth is recorded here as April but he was born in July of 1886).
Grandpa began his apprenticeship as a Body Maker (Coach Builder) at Doncaster Plant Works when he was just 14 years old. When he first started work, he was earning the princely sum of 0.89d per hour for a 54 hour week. It was the norm for the Plant workers to work a fifty-eight hour week until January 1872. They started at 7am and finished at 6pm with one hour’s break between 1pm and 2pm from Monday to Friday inclusive. Saturday work was finished at 2pm. By varying the lengths of mid-day breaks during the week, this made up the total hours of 58 and a half. The reduction in weekly hours came following a deputation from the Plant workers, who saw Patrick Sterling, the Works’ Chief Mechanical Engineer, who chose to present the men’s case to the Board, which they accepted. This was probably due to it coinciding with a time of low unemployment in the town, skilled labour being in short supply and the fear of the drain of their best, most efficient workers to other towns for better pay and less hours. This was to bring the hours down to a fifty-four hour week, with a noon finish on Saturdays. From Monday to Friday the works would close at 5.30pm. Apparently there was no further significant reduction in working hours until just after the end of the First World War even though the coal mines in the area surrounding Doncaster did benefit from a reduction in hours under the Eight Hour Act of 1908.
Before the War only 20% of Plant employees were in a Trade Union. On 9th July 1915 the NUR (National Union of Railwaymen) issued a leaflet which was headed – To Railway Shop workers – to encourage them to join their union rather than any other. As no agreement was reached during the War years with the various unions therefore they had little influence in determining the conditions of employment of the workers at the Plant. Grandpa never spoke of such things as Trade Unions to us but my Dad knew that he joined one after the War ended. It was reported that on 27th February 1919, The Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, had accepted a resolution from the Labour Party setting up an Employer/Union Committee to help solve the Nation’s industrial crisis. The Leader of the NUR said that organized labour was determined to get a higher share of the post-war national cake.
By the time the First World War had started on 4th August 1914, Grandpa was an experienced and valued member of the Plant’s workforce with 14 years’ service under his belt. His work as a Carriage Builder was a ‘Reserved Occupation’ and therefore, he was able to continue his work and not attest to one of the forces, favoured by two-thirds of the men, such as the Volunteers, Army, Navy Reservists, or Territorials. Approximately 200 men from the Plant and Doncaster Station did join up adding to the 2,000 men which helped to deplete the workforce from GNR generally. At the beginning of the War the Plant worked a four day week with the works being closed on Saturday and Monday but this didn’t last for long. Initially trains were needed to mobilize Troops and horses, a massive operation. Some trains, carriages and wagons were sent to the front. It was also essential to provide railway support for the movement of coal, troops, horses, and munitions throughout the War.
120 separate railway companies in the UK were taken over by the Government under the Regulation of the Forces Act, 1871 at the outbreak of WW1. Under the Railway Executive Committee (REC) they were managed as a single system. Under the REC, the organization of the railway workshop activity was undertaken by the Railway War Production Sub-Committee, the members of which were the Chief Mechanical Engineers of the larger Railway Companies. At the Doncaster Plant this was Chief Mechanical Engineer Sir Nigel Gresley (from 1911 to 1941). Early on in the War, The Plant Works was given the order for the construction of 750 ambulance stretchers. In 1915 at least 480 general purpose, horse-drawn road wagons for the Army were made in the Main Carriage Shop with the wheels being made in The Dray Shop. They manufactured parts of 150 X 18 – Pounder field gun carriages even though the capability of both the Plant machinery and capability of the workforce was initially in question. New jigs and gauges were installed in the works for the new work expected and for the first time women joined the work force and did various jobs of work involving 12 hour shifts including week-ends. Some women joined the Railway Police Force, repaired or built carriages and wagons, others cleaned carriages or worked in the munitions section of The Plant turning out new shell-cases and restoring ‘old’ ones or producing shell noses.
Initially about 5,000 cartridge repairs per week were done at The Plant by apprentice lads in the Old Tender Shop. Women took over and output was raised to 50,000 per week. By the end of the War 4267093 cartridge cases had been repaired at Doncaster at the average cost of three and a halfpence each.
Other new work carried out at The Plant included:
162 outer frames and 62 inner frames for 13 – Pounder AA guns mounted on motor lorries.
50 complete gun mountings for 18 – Pounder pedestal guns for the merchant marine.
Mountings for high angle AA guns.
Gun cradles and other parts for 8 – inch howitzers and the construction of 511 X 60 – Pounder BL guns.
Two armoured engines were ordered in November 1914 for the military service. Two Metropolitan Suburban passenger link engines were chosen and armoured with 9/16 inch plates.
December 1916 and early 1917, twenty three six-wheeled coupled goods tender locomotives were sent to France. In order for some of these to be able to be worked in advanced military areas, 20 of these locomotives were fitted with special condensing apparatus.
Later in 1917, three more engines and tenders, of the same type as above, were ordered for the Military services.
In addition to the extra War work, the heavy repairs to Locomotives had increased at The Plant from 505 in 1913 to a 534 average in 1914 – 1918 – this with a reduction in the work force from 277 to 255 as an average during the War years.
Empty shell cases, the result of discharged shells from allied guns at the front, became stock-piled at Doncaster GNR Works and other Railway Works. Many had to be scrapped as they were split or distorted. Following a way of re-forming splits of up to one and a half inches was found in 1916, the splits were brazed. The straightening of distorted shell-cases was done by hand until a machine was devised in 1915. In this year, after reorganization part of the original Boiler Shop was used for the reconditioning of 18lb cartridge cases. Later in 1916, part of the Lower Turnery was put into use to manufacture 6inch high explosive shell cases which were then taken to the west end of the original Tender Shop to be varnished. Women were being employed to work 12 hour shifts including week-ends. Women had joined the railway work force, doing whatever was asked of them including joining the Railway Police Force, repair/building of carriages and wagons, clean carriages or work in the munitions section of Doncaster Plant turning out new shell-cases and restoring ‘old’ ones and producing shell noses. Initially the cartridge repairs were done at Doncaster Plant by Apprentice lads who turned out about 5,000 per week in the Old Tender Shop. Women soon took over and output was raised to 50,000 per week. By the end of the War 4267093 cartridge cases had been repaired at Doncaster at the average cost of 3 and a halfpenny each.
It was agreed by the Board to pay the Women working at The Plant the same War Bonus as the men. The GNR responding on 03.11.1916 awarding its women clerks a War Bonus of 5 shillings per week from September 1916.
During 1916 and with great foresight, a series of formal B/W or sepia photographs were taken in and about the various Workshops of Doncaster Plant Works to record the type of work, conditions and work places of the time. There were also pictures taken of engines, carriages, and a great big pile of ‘spent’ cartridges awaiting attention. Also photos of men and women at work or sitting together in tiered rows. One such iconic photo, of which Grandpa had a copy, was taken in what he always referred to as ‘the West Carriage Shop’ or simply ‘the West Shop’ of 1897-98 – built next to the River Don. It shows the Coach Builders at work at their benches or on the coaches. The Foreman is in attendance close by. Grandpa is in the photo – on the left 5th man back. He is standing working, wearing a white shirt and collar, apron and a flat cap. This particular photo was shown on BBC 1 Look North on Monday 21st July 2003 as part of a week of nightly pre-view programmes about the Doncaster Plant Works 150 Years Celebrations to be held on 26th & 27th July 2003, when The Plant held Open Days. I notice the old-type gas lights in the workshop photo and wonder how much they had to do with the fire, I was told about by Grandpa, which took place on 21st December 1940 causing the shop to burn down. Apparently, it wasn’t rebuilt until well after the Second World War had ended in 1947 – 49.
There is a photograph of the Coach Builders including Grandpa and Herbert Brackenbury, taken in front of a 1st Class coach No. 3074 on page 49 of the book titled ‘150 Years of Doncaster Plant Works’ – A Pictorial history of Britain’s famous railway works by Peter Tuffrey and Michael Roe- Produced in association with Bond Publications and Wabtec Rail Limited – Doncaster – 2003.
There have been 100s of railway books and magazines published, many include photographs and most give Doncaster Plant Works a mention at the very least. Another good book which tells of the WW1 era is: Britain’s Railways at War by Alan Earnshaw, published in 1995 by Atlantic Transport Publishers.
It is impossible to write a full and comprehensive story about my dear Grandpa. He had a long career as a Coach Builder at the Doncaster Plant Works, working there until his retirement. He made lifelong friends with men such as Herbert Brackenbury, another Coach Builder and Charles Robert Broughton, a Brass Finisher who also worked there. When his son, Douglas, followed in his footsteps and began work at The Plant as a Brass Finisher he was very pleased. Later on Dennis, Douglas’s son, took an Apprenticeship at the Plant as an Electrician with day release to attend Doncaster Technology College, Waterdale to study for his City and Guilds. During this time, he would go to Grandma and Grandpa’s in Beechfield Road, for his lunch and kept them informed about changes at The Plant during the late 1950s and 1960s.
Grandpa was very proud of the locomotives turned out by The Plants Works as well as the splendid coaches. Occasionally he would mention the Coronation coaches he had worked on and how luxurious they were inside especially. When I first asked what he thought about double glazing in the 1970s, he said ‘Not a lot’ This was due to the fact that when they put it in the Coronation Coaches at the Plant he said that it all had to be taken out again at a later date, having misted up in between the panes of glass. I often travelled on trains with the now famously named engines such as the Flying Scotsman pulling the carriages along in the 1950s and almost taking it for granted but I do remember enjoying it. During the journey we would look out of the coach windows when going round corners to view the giant engine puffing out great white clouds ahead. Nowadays, it has become a luxury to have a journey involving this magnificent engine and people pay extra money to have a fine meal served onboard.
Grandpa was unassuming, quiet, patient, caring and yes, proud of his family; dry as a bone as far as his sense of humour was concerned. He had a love of good music as he would refer to it especially opera. In his own words he would often say that he couldn’t understand a word of it and why didn’t they write it in English? Nevertheless, he sat through the whole thing ceremoniously humming and joining in (he had learned some of the Italian words!)
There was a man called ‘Rob Roy’ on the Doncaster Club scene and he would go to see him with my Dad whenever he was ‘on’ in the area, probably at The Trades Club in Doncaster. He was fond of Alma Cogan and Kenneth McKellar, the Scottish singer and buying his first Black and White TV in the late 1950s gave him the opportunity to watch many of his favourite artists. As I was growing up it was Grandpa who listened to me read, play the piano and recite that week’s poetry ready for school the following day. When I was older he was the first person I turned to for advice which I duly followed because he was never far wrong. His other hobbies included making and repairing his own furniture (He made most of the furniture in his own house), supporting Doncaster Rovers Football Team, gardening, growing tomato and cucumber plants in his greenhouse, coarse fishing and smoking his pipe. If I close my eyes I am able to imagine the smell of his Erinmore tobacco, even now. Grandpa used his cellar as his workshop at home and it was always spick and span, cool with whitewashed walls. Going down the cellar steps involved passing the array of Jams, Marmalades and pickles preserved by Grandma. These were being kept cool on the shelves put up by Grandpa to act as a pantry for the household. The pickles themselves were intriguing; each jar had a circular checked patterned cotton top tied on with narrow ribbon. They had little muslin bags in them containing peppercorns, Bay leaves, cloves, whole allspice and other mystery spices known only to Grandma. I would lift these out and inspect them at tea time especially at Christmas when all of the family got together; my Dad, Douglas, my Mother, Trudy, brother, Dennis, me, Auntie Audrey, Uncle Haydn, cousins Peter and Roy, their sons. We all played cards games such as Newmarket and whist but we had to watch Grandma because she was so competitive! The cellar was another world. It wasn’t often we were allowed down there and never alone. Grandpa’s woodwork tools were kept there. They would have been cleaned after each use, hung back up on the wall in strict order of type; going up in size forming patterns as they did so. Some were put away altogether into his tool box. His woodwork tools were fascinating, made with hardwood handles often with the makers name stamped in and artistic designs incorporated – very different from the plastic handled versions of today. In the centre of the room there was a workbench with a vice attached. It was here helping Grandpa that I learned the names of most woodwork and DIY tools.
Grandpa was a member of the GNR Carriage Builders’ Angling Club which had ‘laid low’ during the War years but enjoyed their fishing activities once again after the War ended.
A group of men, including Grandpa who belonged to the Angling Club would travel to various places to compete with each other. He would also compete in other fishing matches held by the Local Men’s Working Clubs such as Hexthorpe, Hyde Park and The West End Club at Bentley; something he kept up in retirement. There were days he went fishing with his friend, Charles Broughton, his son, Douglas and son-in law, Haydn, Audrey’s husband. Later on I would go too. We would all travel very early by train from Doncaster station, having stayed the night at ‘Uncle Charles’ for the night ready for a 5am start. Charles coincidentally lived in Roberts Road. We would often travel to Stoney or Boston to fish. My favourite place to visit was Ely in Cambridgeshire because it presented the opportunity to see the Cathedral with its fine stained glass windows and architecture and the river there was wide. The fishing was good.
The Plant employees and their families were entitled to a certain number of privileges such as free train travel passes annually enabling us to go on days out each year. Opened in 1914, on an area of over 12 acres, the Doncaster Plant Works opened its recreational ground at Eden Grove, Hexthorpe. This developed, over time to become The Plant Works Athletics Club (DPWAC). Here there was a Club House built to relax in, have a drink, play darts, cards and snooker. Also outdoor facilities for team sports such as cricket, tennis, bowls, and to compete in athletics were provided. There was also a Boxing Club and Annual Sports Days were held for the children of Plant workers. My Mother, Trudy Kitson represented the Eastern Region of British Rail in various Tennis Tournaments and we both played for the Plant Tennis Team in different eras. It was always a novelty for away Tennis Teams to discover that The Plant’s Tennis Team changing rooms and kitchen were situated in a disused railway coach!! It was the same for the Bowling Club there. Later new brick-built facilities for tennis were provided but not until the 1970 s.
Grandpa loved football and being an ardent follower of Doncaster Rovers, was on the Doncaster Rover’s Committee from the 1950 s when they were mainly in the second division. I remember seeing his picture in the newspaper regarding this when he was 70 years old. He often came out with ‘Little Gems’ during their Committee meetings. In the Board Room one day they had been discussing the introduction of a local Brass Band to play at the home venue matches during half-time. Grandpa said immediately, ‘they (The Band) would be far more use marched into the Rover’s goal mouth’. That’s one way of stopping the goals getting through! He was delighted when I joined him in supporting the Rovers during the early 1960s; throughout this decade they were mainly in the fourth division. He didn’t much care for the overzealous use of my wooden football rattle. ‘Enough to make a body deaf’ he would state. (Whatever happened to those and why do we now have to put up with drums instead at the football matches of today?). In later life Grandpa and Grandma moved to Beachfield Road in Doncaster.
Here, they were ideally placed to be nearer to Grandma’s sister, Ruth in Apley Road, the shops and market. During the afternoons they were able to walk into Elm Park close by and enjoy the well-kept gardens. Here they would sit and chat to the people they knew or watch the tennis matches taking place in summer. Occasionally they would visit the library or ‘new’ Museum on Chequer Road spending many hours enjoying the exhibits there. After Grandma had died in 1970, Grandpa took to walking down to The Arndale Centre, opposite St George’s Church to sit with some of his pals and enjoy friendly chats during the afternoons to fend off his loneliness. He died in 1974 at the age of 87 and is a great loss to us all. We still miss his company, wisdom and friendly advice.
Footnote:- The Great Northern Railway (GNR) era ended when the London and North Eastern Railway came into existence on 1st January 1922.