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Investment in Doncaster promises a bright future for the South Yorkshire town

PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 October 2017 | UPDATED: 10:30 03 October 2017

Artist's impression of Doncaster's new multi-million pound library, musuem, art gallery and archive

Artist's impression of Doncaster's new multi-million pound library, musuem, art gallery and archive

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It is all too easy to forget the rich past that belongs to this South Yorkshire town, as Richard Darn reports

A brief history of  Doncaster in a timeline A brief history of Doncaster in a timeline

When it comes to history, Doncaster has lots to shout about and it’s good to see that moves are afoot to give its past a bright future. The council has approved a project to build a £15million complex housing the museum and art gallery, archives and library. Blueprints for the complex look impressive, with attractive modern architecture incorporating the historic frontage of an old Edwardian girls’ school, which has been redundant for years.

An eye-catching part of the plan is that local treasures will be seen in public again for the first time in years. I must confess I’d never heard of the Danum Shield but this amazing object, once carried by a Roman auxiliary trooper, is the only example of its kind ever found in Britain and a curious hybrid of Celtic design (the people the Romans had just conquered) and a legionary shield, found in the cool cinders of a bonfire near St George’s Minster. Other relics going on show will include royal charters and collections celebrating railways, horseracing and mining.

Residents will also be able to learn creative digital skills including computer programming, app design and coding, digital engineering skills, 3D printing and tap into innovation areas and virtual reality learning. Expect to see the building open its doors in 2020.

And it’s not the only revamp on the way. Doncaster market with 400 shops and stalls has garnered a legion of devotees, with people flocking there from other parts of the county (I’m told the fish and bric-a-brac markets are especially good). Such markets are back in fashion and £3million is being invested in the halls to transform the area into an all-week destination, open well into the evenings.

It is good to see this ancient market, which probably began during the Roman occupation, being enhanced, rather than millions being spent on luring shoppers into mega malls as big as they are bland.

There's an awful lot history in gardens such as those at  Brodsworth Hall, near Doncaster There's an awful lot history in gardens such as those at Brodsworth Hall, near Doncaster

Brodsworth Hall – a magnificent Victorian time-capsule of a country home – has undergone a massive project to rescue its 15-acre grounds from neglect over the past 20 years.

On a recent visit I was bowled over by the riot of colour and stunning beauty of the old quarry garden, now a wonderland of ferns, roses and water features. It made me recall a previous day here in the 1990s when I had to wield a stick to make my way through the jungle of overgrown foliage. What a difference two decades has made and its restoration is a credit to English Heritage!

All of which is a reminder that this part of South Yorkshire was once home to millionaires. Brodsworth Hall was built by one of England’s wealthiest families, the Thellussons, who made their fortune in banking, and they did not need to go far to meet similarly well off neighbours.

Other stately homes nearby include Cantley Hall, Cusworth Hall (also open to the public), Nether Hall, Hickleton Hall and, until it was demolished in 1934, the regal Wheatley Hall.

The prosperity that built these impressive estates didn’t happen overnight, but is rooted in the town’s history. We sometimes forget that Doncaster is a very old place indeed and thriving long before Leeds and Sheffield hit the big time.

St George's Minster St George's Minster

A neolithic trackway unearthed on Hatfield Moor a few years ago reveals that this was a busy crossroads 5,000 years ago, whilst not far away at Sutton Common a unique timber marsh fort made from 10,000 oaks once provided a des res to Yorkshire’s Iron Age folk before being mysteriously abandoned.

Why did they quit? Perhaps the inhabitants knew trouble was on the way in the shape of the Roman legions who invaded and established a fort to control the route between York and Lincoln, thereby bestowing the place with its first name known to history, Danum. The remains of this outpost are buried under Grade I listed St George’s Minster Church, itself a magnificent Gothic style monument, built in the mid-19th century and regarded as the masterpiece of architect George Gilbert Scott.

Back in the 1970s a famous television architect slammed one nearby market town for not having more pride – ‘they just no longer seem to care,’ he lamented. Well they do – at least in Doncaster – and it’s good to see.

Playtime

Doncaster's flagship theatre Cast is involved in a new arts programme for young people Doncaster's flagship theatre Cast is involved in a new arts programme for young people

Cast, Doncaster’s flagship theatre, together with darts (Doncaster Community Arts) are to deliver new and exciting artistic opportunities for children and young people as part of a £100,000 two-year programme funded by the Arts Council and Expect Youth.

This new youth arts programme will link with Doncaster Music Education Hub, the South Yorkshire Dance Partnership, Doncaster Cultural Education Partnership (DCEP) and will be influenced by local young people to create new opportunities that have a wide-ranging impact.

‘This ambitious project has the potential to help develop the personal skills and aspirations of a large number of young people who may not ordinarily consider becoming involved in an arts project,’ said Peter Norman, strategic development officer for Doncaster Youth Alliance. ‘We know the positive impact such projects can have on the future of individuals, communities and that can only be a good thing for everyone in Doncaster,’

Helen Jones, assistant director for darts, added: ‘Young people have already been getting creative in our summer sessions. They’ve created an Imaginary Instrument Factory using circuit boards and computer software to design and build fantastical electronic instruments, they’ve got hands-on in outdoor sculpture workshops and even created giant glow-in-the dark drawings. I’m so looking forward to giving more children and young people the opportunity to share their ideas and take part in a range of amazing experiences,’

Stuart Grindle from Doncaster wins an award for the best lawn in the country Stuart Grindle from Doncaster wins an award for the best lawn in the country

A cut above

Did you know that Doncaster is home to the finest lawn in England? Neither did I until the results of a nationwide competition sponsored by EGO Power+ were announced, revealing that proud home owner Stuart Grindle, who lives in Tickhill, trims, nurtures and mows like no other to produce a lawn fit for a king. The 74-year-old retired joiner spends 30 hours each week tending his pride and joy and cuts the grass twice daily every other day to the precise height of 5mm!

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