Braithwell Wheelbarrows bring the South Yorkshire village together
PUBLISHED: 08:31 25 June 2010 | UPDATED: 13:09 10 June 2016
There's nothing like a wheelbarrow race to bring people together says Bill Hearld as he explores Braithwell in South Yorkshire
It’s the highlight of the year in lovely Braithwell – the annual wheelbarrow race. It attracts hundreds of visitors from far and wide and also helps plough back money into community projects.
On the first Thursday of every July (this year it’s July 1st), Braithwell, near Doncaster, comes alive as adults push a passenger in a wheelchair the two miles to neighbouring Micklebring.
The children’s race is a much shorter route round the village.
Arnold Pawson – along with long-time friend Dennis Dunstan – was the winner of the very first wheelbarrow race as part of the Coronation celebrations in 1953. He’s been involved in organising the annual event ever since and he’s just as passionate about it. This year, local businesses and organisations have sponsored 20 identical wheelbarrows to prevent cheating. ‘Some of the wheelbarrows were getting a bit streamlined, basically a chair on a wheel,’ said Arnold.
The day I visited, the village was all a-buzz over the surprise visit the day before by Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear team. Even BBC television’s Harry Gration was there and residents turned out in droves to greet them.
Braithwell is a charming village between Doncaster and Rotherham. And let’s clear up any confusion right away. ‘We are not in Rotherham, despite our postal address,’ said parish councillor Helen Parkinson.
‘We are in Doncaster Metropolitan Borough. We also have a Sheffield postcode which is all very confusing but when we say we are going into town, we mean Doncaster.’
Braithwell is home to about 1,000 people, as well as some beautiful stone-built properties and charming cottages. It has two surviving pubs, where each year Christmas and harvest festival events are alternated in the interest of fairness. There’s only one tiny shop – Mamma’s Deli and Store – originally a cruck cottage which has undergone various guises as a hairdresser’s, a beauty salon and a fish and chip shop. There is only one restaurant, the Garden Restaurant – voted Best Restaurant in Doncaster – which also has a garden centre attached.
There’s been a church in Braithwell for 1,000 years, but the present day St James’ Church dates back to 1106 and is well-cared for with an attractive churchyard and some impressive stained-glass windows.
In the heart of Braithwell is the ancient village cross – dedicated to ‘the freeing from bondage of King Richard I, circa 1191’. The cross attracts tourists and, as it is sited at a busy junction, an island refuge has been built around it by the parish council so people can view it in safety.
There may not be many shops but there is plenty going on in Braithwell. ‘It’s such a friendly, caring place,’ said church warden Joan Addenbrooke, a resident for 33 years. ‘Everyone is proud of the village and the people who live in it. Once they move here, they don’t want to leave.’
The Ruddle Centre is the local community centre while the original 17th century village school became the Master’s House, home to the Darby and Joan Club which is now known as the Evergreens. Between them, these two community buildings host all sorts of events such as yoga, modern, sequence and folk dancing, a Yorkshire Countrywomen’s group, Guides and Brownies, handicrafts group and activities for the very young and old.
But what Braithwell is most proud of is its Good Companions organisation. It is a charitable concern which helps out wherever it is needed in the village. Members drive villagers to hospital appointments and visits or on shopping trips. They help fund young people’s Operation Raleigh trips or sponsor a local Guide or Brownie on an annual camp; and will support a villager in real need. Any profits from the Wheelbarrow Race go to the Good Companions, as do proceeds from the Christmas Market and other events.
In 1289, the village obtained a Royal Charter entitling it to hold a weekly Tuesday market and an annual eight-day fair. These were long discontinued by a survey of 1652 and today only the small Christmas Market survives.
Braithwell is a rural retreat but not everything is perfect. There are problems with commuter traffic speeding through the village on the way to Doncaster or the nearby M18. Talks with police and Doncaster Council have so far failed to resolve the issue.
And the most recent school closed down in 1995 making it difficult to attract younger families.
Apart from that, they reckon life is pretty good in Braithwell.
Where it is: Braithwell is seven miles south-west of Doncaster on the B6376 and two miles from the M18. There is a half-hourly bus service to and from Doncaster, less frequent to Rotherham.
Where to park: There is no official car park but there is some on-street parking and ample pub and garden centre parking for customers.
What to do: There are two pubs and a restaurant and garden centre in the village. The annual Wheelbarrow Race is held on the first Thursday of July and a church and country fair is held in the village each June.