The Icons of Doncaster
In January 2023 we started we start a conversation about the standout historical events, folk-lore, inventions, people and things, associated with Doncaster. Many local people contributed to this conversation, highlighting some well-known facts, and some less known things about the city of Doncaster. This kickstarted the project, the Icons of Doncaster.
As the name of the suggests, the project highlights iconic things which Doncaster is known for, or have been achieved by people from the city. However, it’s also a play on words as we also aim to do this in the most efficient way, representing each of these things, simply using an icon.
By presenting this information in the most efficient way, we aim to reach a broad range of people. We think it’s a good thing for a lot of people to know, even a little bit, about their local heritage.
Some of the icons may be obvious but some might need a bit more thought or research, and this is the point. We want to involve local people in informing other people about these, fun, famous, fascinating and in some cases, frankly awesome things which Doncaster is known for.
We’ve created the first public exhibition of the Icons of Doncaster. These 2.5m x 2.5 icon-maps are on the side of our building on Nether Hall Road and at our radio station site at XP school, Middlebank. Each has a small selection of the Icons of Doncaster and these are just the start… There’s also a small version of at the top of this webpage.
Can you guess what the icons are? (the answers and short stories are below)
Who or what else should be an Icon of Doncaster?
Use the form at the bottom of this page to let us know and get involved in this exciting borough wide project!
If you can’t guess what the icons represent, see below and find out more…
Although Robin Hood is associated with Nottingham Forest, that forest extended far to the north of Doncaster back in the day. The legendary socially-minded outlaw is strongly rumoured to have operated around North Doncaster, particularly Barnsdale bar. It’s around here where he is reputed to have robbed rich people travelling on what we now call the A1 route. The understated monument, Robin Hood’s Well, is located directly adjacent to the A1 around at Barnsdale.
Thomas Crapper, inventor of the ball-cock which revolutionised the toilet was from Thorne. There are many claims on the inventor and evolution of the toilet but it’s undeniable that the ball-cock was one of the most important innovations of plumbing. This invention revolutionised the toilet, and is still used today in hundreds of millions of toilets around the world.
The Pilgrim Fathers were the colonisers who sailed to and started to establish what we now call the United States of America. William Bradford, one of the Pilgrim Fathers, was born in the Bawtry area, Austerfield to be precise, but that’s not all… William Brewster, another pilgrim father, was from Scrooby, just a short stone’s-throw away. The arrival of the pilgrims on the Mayflower (their ship) preceeded the writing of the US constitution, with the first amendment, the right to religious freedom, being signed by both of these Donny boys.
Ever seen one of those glass jars with a metal wire hinged lid and orange seal around the top? If you have, you’ve seen a Kilner jar, or at least a copy of this innovative food preserving storage device. The Kilner family and the Kilner jar are from Conisborough. This invention was such a game changer and its day that the family were one of the richest industrialised families in the country.
Gordon’s alive… One of Doncaster’s favourite sons, the larger-than-life Brian Blessed, hails from Mexborough. Famed for his enormous lung capacity which supports his bellowing voice, Brian is a star of TV and cinema. Brian is probably most well-known for his role in the 1980s movie, Flash Gordon but has also appeared in blockbusters such as Robin Hood Prince of thieves as well as classic comedies ranging from Blackadder to Toast of London. He’s also a lovely bloke, down to earth and very generous with his time for fans. What a legend.
George Boole, who taught and lived in Doncaster made a contribution to science as big as Einstein’s. George was a maths teacher at Hallcross girls school, but had studied philosophy, so made a link between thinking and mathematical logic. He reportedly experienced his eureka moment on Townfields, of all places… He invented Boolean algebra. Sounds boring doesn’t it, until you know that this system is how microprocessors make decisions… and if that’s not enough, it’s also used every time you search for something on the Internet. Basically, without George Boole, there would be no computers, no smart phones, no Google, no Facebook, no Netflix, no Amazon, (you get the idea)… This man’s genius has literally shaped the modern world.
Widely viewed as a literary genius and one of the best writers of the 20th century, Ted Hughes was from Mexborough. He held the title of poet laureate from 1984 until his death. Ted married the acclaimed American poet, Sylvia Plath, who famously and tragically, took her own life. Amongst his large body of work, Ted is probably most widely known for his book, the Iron Man. Ted originally wrote just as a bedtime story for his own children, but the book has become a children’s literary classic and has been adapted for screen around the world.
George Porter is someone you don’t hear many people talking about often but really deserves to be. George, how was from Stainforth, was not only awarded a PhD chemistry by Cambridge University, he won the Nobel Prize in 1967 for his work in chemistry. This places this son of Doncaster amongst some of the greatest achievers of all time.
Doncaster is a town with a strong railway heritage. Building trains is part of the city’s DNA. The railway works at Hexthorpe belt probably two of the most famous trains in history. The Flying Scotsman, and the Mallard. Both of these trains were engineering firsts in terms of performance and Doncaster was nationally viewed as an industrial powerhouse because of this. Not just a pretty face are we…
Ivanhoe, the world famous fictional historical novel was written by Sir Walter Scott in the early 1800’s. But did you know that he wrote Ivanhoe whilst staying at the boat in in Sprotbrough? The other local claim to fame is that he visited Conisbrough Castle and this made it into the novel, renamed as Conisburgh.
This is a piece of local folklore that many people around Doncaster will be familiar with. Askern in North Doncaster has one of Doncaster’s public boating lakes. It’s also a location for local fisherman. Rumour had it that there was an old monster pike living in the lake that was so big nobody had ever managed to land it. A couple of skilled fisherman had allegedly managed to hook it on a couple of occasions but it was so big it snapped the line. Is this true? Who knows, but it’s possible. Let’s agree that it’s a local legend if nothing else and therefore deserving of its place amongst the Icons of Doncaster.
How could we embark on a project like this without mentioning one of Doncaster’s most successful music artists. John Parr, the most famous resident of Sykehouse carved out a huge career as a rock Star and guitarist in the 1980s. Most famously, John wrote the music for Saint Elmo’s fire, a blockbuster movie featuring a cast including Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez and Demi Moore. If that’s not a claim enough, John also wrote the music and audio motif of Gillette razors, the best a man can get. Imagine the royalties on that one! Well played, John.