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Local Businesses

Watson’s Shipyard

Beckingham Shipyard was founded in 1889 by Mr Joseph Spencer Compton Watson. He was the son of a Congregational Minister who after some engineering experience started building barges in 1869 on the Thames at Blackwall. For reasons unknown he decided to bring his business to the Trent and being unsuccessful in buying land on the Gainsborough side of the river he bought a small area in Beckingham Parish consisting of 2 acres of Poor Dole land and 1 acre 32 Perches from Scrooby Court, or their successors, awarded at the time of the enclosures in 1779.

He moved his yard here in 1889 bringing both equipment and some of his workforce from Blackwall and possibly from Fulham. His sister lived in Willingham, Lincolnshire, which may have influenced his move to the area. The business prospered and as well as the shipyard and offices a number of workmen’s houses were built in the village.

Some have since been demolished but six in Trent Road past the railway crossing and four on High Street are still standing. Beckingham benefited from Mr Watson’s philanthropy, when he built the Institute and adjoining houses in High Street, which provided a Library, Reading Room and Café. The village still benefits from this today, though the facilities have changed. Joseph Watson died in 1917 aged 72 years, having retired some years earlier, when the running of the yard was taken over by his nephew Spencer Watson.

Spencer maintained the reputation of the yard, which at one time employed as many as 400 people, continuing to build high quality vessels sent to many parts of the world. They were contractors to the Admiralty, Crown Agents for the Colonies, Dominion Governments, Foreign Governments, Railway Companies of the World, Principal Shipping and Lighterage Companies.

Steel craft of all types were built at the yard, from 20 and 1,000 tons and up to 150 feet in length for launching and 250 feet in length for shipment abroad in pieces of riveted and welded construction. These included Coasting Vessels, Steam and Motor Tugs and Lighters, Petrol and Oil carrying Barges, Hopper Barges, Fishing Vessels, Pontoons and Tanks and Dredgers. The completed boats were either launched into the Trent or they were packed in pieces to be sent by rail to Hull from where they were shipped to the port of reassembly.

Shipment was a speciality. When dimensions allowed they were sent out complete as deck cargo on the export steamers to various parts of the world. Sometimes the larger craft were sent out in sections in order to give less work in reconstruction.

In most cases the craft were fully erected in the yard, bolted up, painted different colours port and starboard, marked up to assist reconstruction in accordance with the key plan, then photographed before being packed and bundled in wooden crates and delivered to export steamer, with all bolts and rivets for completion. When shipped in pieces, the craft was packaged, where possible, to weigh no more that 2 tons or be no more than 35 foot in length. There is an album of photographs of completed boats in the Retford library.

In the early days most of the trade went abroad. At around the turn of the century, Watson’s had begun building inland waterway craft for the Humber area. By the end of the First World War the company were building three of their longest ever vessels to the order of the Admiralty, one described as a 180 foot by 31 foot sea-going barge.

The yard managed to survive the depression of the 1930’s and until the 1940’s many craft were built for work on the Trent, though they were restricted in size to a length of 82 feet 6inches. During the 1940’s work in the yard concentrated on the war effort. After the end of hostilities in 1947, work stopped for a number of weeks due to serious flooding of the entire site when the Trent burst its banks. In the 1950’s the emphasis was on Hopper Barges for UK and overseas ports as orders for more conventional craft diminished.

In the end most products made were items such as catamaran fenders, lock gates, pile driving flats and various platoons. A trip to the yard by schoolchildren in 1956 describes them seeing a fresh water carrying barge being built for service for Royal Navy in the Far and Middle East. The barge had a displacement of 50 tons and could carry 60 tons of fresh water in 4 compartments.

The decks being specially cambered and the hatch covers designed to prevent any sea water breaking over the vessel from entering into the fresh water and contaminating it. They also saw a food carrying barge being built, again for service in the Far and Middle East. It had a four inch layer of granulated cork enclosed between 2 layers of duraliminium as insulation, to keep the food cool.

The hatch covers were insulated and when closed the hold was completely airtight, keeping the desired temperature maintained for 48 hours. This test was applied by the Admiralty before the vessel was taken over. A vessel was launched into the water at high tide, by two gangs of men, one on either side.

When the order was given each gang began to simultaneously knock out first the middle set of wedges, followed by the front set and finally the set at the stern of the boat. The boat settled onto its runners in the well lubricated grooves and slid slowly into the river to the cheers of the children. In midstream three men on board dropped anchor, steadying the vessel and a tug towed her in to berth.

The death of Spencer Watson circa 1956/57, probably precipitated the inevitable closure of the yard. After his death the yard was then run by his widow Amy and two daughters Kathleen and Nora, along with a manager, Mr Colin Norman. However, post war lack of orders caused the yard to be closed for further work in May 1962.  The yard was put up for sale but no bidders came forward. A skeleton staff was kept employed until 1964 to deal with the sale of movable equipment and tools, along with the completion and dispatching of the last two boats.

In 1965 the derelict site and buildings were bought by the Stockdale Brothers, Clarence and Bernard of Tuxford, who formed the Trent Wharfage Co. Ltd. with the site to be used for warehousing. It was later acquired by Kenneth Wilson and Bungay & Co. and in 1996 it was bought by Mr Michael Parkes.

The wharf was unpopular with Hull dock workers and in 1974 it was blockaded by Hull lightermen, who aimed to keep the wharves occupied with conventional barges and coasters, thus preventing Bacat barges from berthing or being unloaded. Bacat barges came ready loaded direct from the continent, but lashed to a mother ship for the sea crossing.

The coming of Trent Wharfage necessitated the strengthening of the Trent Road from near Beckingham railway signal box to the River Trent by Nottinghamshire County Council. Some lengths of roadside ditch were piped and passing places constructed.  At about the same time that Trent Wharfage came to Beckingham, John Brash bought the area to the west and north of the old shipyard site and established a timber yard which specialises in tile laths, their move being to avoid difficulties at Hull docks. The area bought by Brash’s was some land allotted in 1779 to Mary Royston of 2 acres 11 perches and to Wharton’s Charity of 6 acres.

The two above mentioned were badly affected by the floods of 1977 and they eventually constructed a flood bank surrounding both sites. This was not put to the test until November 2000, when it was found to be partly, but not completely successful. Pumps have been installed which will improve the situation in future floods.

T.B. Heathorn/Britannia

T.B. Heathorn was a steam tug built by Watson’s Shipyard in 1893 and believed to be one of the oldest tugs in Britain. She was built for the South Metropolitan Gas Company as a coal fired steam powered lighterage tug, 68ft x 15ft 6in and 60HP. She was used by the Gas Company and its successors to tow coal and coke barges and to attend craft around the premises. In 1956 it was sold to Greenhithe Lighterage Co. who rebuilt and converted her to diesel over a period of 18 months, the new 7 cylinder diesel engine giving her 325HP.

She was renamed Britannia and was in regular use until the serious decline of the lighterage industry which drastically reduced work for tugs. She was sold in 1982, one year before Greenhithe Lighterage ceased trading in the industry.

She was then sold to a Medway company for less than a year, before being sold again in 1983 to another Thames company.  For four years she was owned by Greenhithe Salvage Services Ltd of Gravesend, (no connection to the earlier owner), and was used only infrequently though remaining in good order, always available when required. The Company Director Richard Henderson was anxious for this historic vessel to be kept in working order and not to be scrapped and eventually a buyer was found to ensure that this would be the case.
Douglas Stevens & Partners bought Britannia making her part of a collection of historic vessels moored adjacent to the Butlers Wharf complex in London’s Lower Pool. She was surveyed prior to the sale and found to be in extremely good condition considering her age. It was her new owner’s intention to keep her that way and to use her on special occasions.

Bustardthorpe/Miranda Mayne

Bustardthorpe was built by Joseph Spencer Watson in 1914 for T.F. Woods & Co of York. Her hull was constructed of riveted Swedish rolled steel, the dimensions being 28m x 5.18m (90ft x 17ft 6in) and she weighed approximately 98 tons. Named after an area of York, close to the Race Course she was originally built as a lighter (dumb barge) fitted with a tiller and open wheelhouse for weather protection.

She was drawn behind Wood’s Steam towing barge “Ouse” between Hull and York, with regular trips from Goole to York. In 1931 she was registered as a motor vessel after conversion fitted with a 75kw diesel engine occasionally towing other lighters as well as carrying her own cargo. Her wheelhouse had been enclosed to a more traditional powered keel style by the mid 1950’s.

At some point she was refitted with a new engine with 170hp at 1850rpm which was down rated to 120hp at 1500rpm. When owned by TF Woods of York Ltd., her cargo consisted of up to 120 tons of pulped paper rolls imported from Sweden for the Yorkshire Herald newspaper group. She also transported cargo for Rowntrees Confectionary Company of bagged cocoa beans, sugar, hazelnuts and gum, delivering to their warehouse in Wormald Cut, off the River Foss in York, occasionally returning to Hull with a backload of cocoa residue.

In 1949, Bustardthorpe was involved in an incident at Castle Mill Lock on the River Foss. She crashed into the lower gates of the lock wholst coming down the Foss, due to a failure of reverse gear. The gates sustained some damage the details of which can be found in notes of the Foss Navigation Committee in York Archives. She was sold in 1957 when for a short period The Dry Pool Engineering and Dry Dock Company became owners.

In 1958, William Gilyott & Co Ltd of Hull took ownership and one year later another incident occurred at the same location. Whilst passing through Castle Mill Lock she collided with the Pump House suction pipe causing £60 worth of damage, the reason thought to be due to the engine overheating causing a loss of control of the vessel. T. F. Wood & Co Ltd repurchased her in 1960 and as well as deliveries to Rowntrees she could be seen unloading at the Queens Staith, TF Woo”s Albion Wharf at Skeldergate York.

She was one of the first Barges to be unloaded by a “Myraf” grain elevator which consists of an Archimedes screw in a long tube driven by a motor. This was used to extract wheat, corn or maize imported from Canada out of the hold and up into the warehouse.  In 1964 Furley & Co Ltd of Hull purchased her and continued with much the same shipments along the Humber and Ouse. Although not recorded in the ships register, late in 1964 Gillyott and Scott became established as major tug and lighter owners by amalgamation of the companies of William Gilyott, John A. Scott, T.F. Wood, Furleys and John Deheer.

In 1972 she was purchased by David Hornshaw (Hornshaw Water Transport) of Goole and transported aggregate from the River Trent. In 1979 she was involved in the dramatic recovery of “Ennerdale H” which had been left grounded on the banks of the River Trent after floods. A cargo of steel wire destined for tyre factories in the Midlands was transferred by crane working from a floating platform into Bustardthorpe.

She was purchased in 1991 by Messrs Colt Industrial Services Ltd., and was converted by Mobile Marine Services to a waste/oily water collection vessel at a cost of £30,000 for the servicing of larger ships on the river Humber and the port of Hull.

The tanks were professionally fitted at a shipyard to carry the cargo with a forward hold for clean diesel dispensing to ships, the middle larger tank which was divided into four compartments was for waste water collection and the aft area was used as a processing/pump room for the main waste tank which was fitted with heating coils. These coils heated the thick oily mixture to ease the flow of oil through the pumping/processing procedure.

Whilst under the ownership of Colt’s, Bustardthorpe was placed on the National Register of Historical Vessels compiled by the National Maritime Museum (London).The then owner of Colt’s had served as skipper of the Bustardthorpe many years previously when he was in his 20’s and had worked her for approximately 7 years whilst she was owned by TF Woods.

In 2004 Richard Moore became her next owner, with the intention of sailing her to Cornwall and converting her to a live aboard home for his family. On setting sail from Humber they encountered problems with weather and an oil leak near Lowestoft, where they took shelter. Due to a change of fortunes Bustardthorpe was again put on the market.

After many viewings she was purchased by Paul and Lindsey Wincote in August 2005 with the idea of converting her to a leisure vessel on the river Thames.

She was sailed down to Gravesend and Greenwich with some work and repairs being carried out, before going on to Abingdon reaching there on 6th November 2005, having travelled 102 miles and negotiated 31 locks in 5 days.  The conversion to a leisure vessel began and after much thought the new owners decided to rename the ship Miranda Mayne after a very dear friend.

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Village Shop & Post Office

A Reading Room and Storehouse

The older part of the building which houses today’s village shop is believed to date from before 1835 and may have originally been two almshouses. This is indicated by the two bricked up doorways, one at each end, along with two blocked up windows near the eaves and two more centrally placed, giving the impression that it was once a two storey dwelling. It is also believed to have been used at one time as a church paying schoolroom.

In 1889 it was used as the village Reading Room and Library where members could play dominoes and bagatelle as well as reading books and papers. It is recorded in the Parish Terrier of 1913 as the Reading Room on the Green, let to the Reading Room Committee for a yearly rent of 1/- (5p) and described as an Old Poor House erected previous to 1835. A transcript of part of the first Reading Room Annual Report in 1890 reads:-

“Beckingham Reading Room & Library Report of Committee Presented to the Annual Meeting Jany 6th 1890”

“In presenting the first Annual Report, your Committee feel it a pleasure to state that the Room is in a very flourishing condition and far exceeds their most sanguine expectations.

The Number of Members for the last half year being 45 and the committee would thank those members to try to induce their Lady Friends to join the Library of which the contribution is placed very low to meet all classes.
The financial condition of the Room is very satisfactory, the income from all sources being £23.5.4. and the expenditure £16.18.5 ½. leaving a nett balance of £6.6.10 ½.

The committee wish to inform the members that they have decided to purchase a larger Bagatelle Table as they find the one now in use is not enough for the requirements of the members.

They also wish to take this opportunity of returning their best thanks to their President and Mrs Hooke for their most liberal gift of books and periodicals to the library, also to Mr and Mrs Watson, W. Beckett Esq. M.P., L.H. Wraithe Esq., Mrs Tong, Miss Swift and other ladies and gentlemen for the interest kindly shown for the prosperity of the Room.
In conclusion the committee trust that the ensuing year will be a prosperous one and that every member will strive to promote the welfare of the Room.”

The Reading Room and Library facilities were relocated in 1908 to the new Village Institute building in the High Street, built by the Watson family for recreational purposes for the village community. The old Reading Room was then used for storage and as a warehouse. According to the Parish Council Terrier it was hired in 1913 by Mr Abraham Holmes the Blacksmith for 25/- (£1.25p) It was rented in 1935 by a Mrs Taylor for £2, in 1936 by Mrs Hawksford for 15/- for a quarter and in 1937 Mr H. Gale also for 15/- (75p) for a quarter year.

Village Shop on the Green to 1988

Exactly when it became a village shop is unclear, but is believed to have been used as a grocery store for many years, apparently selling anything from coal to ladies underwear! It once had to compete with Boyd’s shop situated on the Institute corner, since demolished to make way for bungalows, along with John Taylor’s shop (later the Cooperative Stores) at the south end of Gill Lane, since closed now a private residence.

Owned by the Parish Council the shop on the Green has been run by several different people, all making changes and improvements to the service in their own way. The first known tenants were Mr Groom and Mr Tate who ran the shop together. Mr Groom had moved from across the road where he had a little wooden hut selling sweets.

They were followed by Mrs Edna Robinson. Facilities must have been almost non existent in the building for in 1959 she made a request to the Parish Council for running water to be installed in order to improve things. This was agreed and the work was carried out in 1960. Mrs Robinson was followed by Douglas and Mabel Adams.

When they left Miss Audrey Rogers took over, running the shop for 14 years. She recalls that often people would come in to buy small quantities of food, such as two rashers of bacon and one egg, just enough for one meal.

Audrey decided to retire in 1985 to look after her parents who were in poor health. On her last day at the shop she left to have some lunch and on her return was greeted by many well wishers who had put up decorations and streamers and arranged a farewell buffet in her honour. Audrey must have been a very popular shopkeeper receiving many presents and cards that day along with a big thank you.

Mrs Barbara Morfin who had worked in the shop for 10 years then took over as tenant for 3 years until October 1988. During this time she successfully applied to run the Post Office from the shop and the Parish Council agreed to add an annex to the building in order to accommodate the service.

Brief History of Beckingham Post Office 1832 to 1987

Post Office Services have been provided over the years from several different places in Beckingham but there is little information available of the early years. References in Trade Directories and Censuses show that in 1832 a Mr Stovin provided the service and in 1853 the Post Office was at the Hare and Hounds Pub in Bar Road North, now a private residence. Edmund Stovin was Sub Post Master in 1869, located in High Street. In 1879 a George Smith was the receiver of mail at his grocery store, next to the Old Wesleyan Chapel in High Street, (since demolished). John Taylor became Sub Post Master in 1900, running the service from his grocery store, in the High Street at the end of Gill Lane. This later became the Co-operative Stores and is now a private residence.

George Herbert Bee was listed as providing the service in 1912 from the Old Post Office in Low Street. According to his memoirs he was Post Master in Beckingham for 42 years, from 1905 to 1947 and for 32 of those delivered letters. When he was first appointed, Beckingham Post came under Gainsborough but was changed to Doncaster during WW1.

This created a unique situation for such a small village, with the main part being served by Doncaster (Yorkshire), part of Ramper Road was served from Retford (Nottinghamshire) and the part extending from cottages in Old Trent Road along the Trent bank to the bridge was served from Gainsborough (Lincolnshire). Thus it was important to ensure that letters had the correct address to avoid delays and the word Beckingham was not meant to appear in the address of those who were served from Retford or Gainsborough.

George retired in 1959 at the age of 76 and wrote his memoirs, giving an intriguing insight to village life at that time. The Post Office was taken over by his daughter Mrs Laura Elsham and her husband, with Mr Elsham delivering the post together with newspapers followed by their daughter Jean. Mrs Elsham was Sub Post Mistress until her retirement in 1974.

Mrs Marlene Baker continued there in one room as Sub Post Mistress for a further 10 years until the house was sold in 1983. The service was then moved to Mrs Baker’s council house in Walkeringham Road where she continued to provide the service, during which time she remarried becoming Mrs Michael Proudley. When Mrs Proudley finished a temporary service was provided for several months by Morton Post Office Lincolnshire, coming to the village Recreation Room for 2 days a week. In 1987 the Post Office services were then transferred to the purpose built annex which had been added to the Village Shop on the Green, run by Sub Post Mistress Mrs Barbara Morfin.

The Village Shop and Post Office 1988 to today

Mrs Morfin sold the Shop and Post Office business in 1988 to Mrs Kath Newbert. During Mrs Newbert’s tenancy the business experienced a robbery in 1993 carried out by several teenage youths, one armed with an air pistol. She and a Mrs Bailey, who worked in the shop, were threatened by the youths who demanded money. Mrs Bailey, although shaken, bravely gave chase causing the youths to drop some of the money before they escaped in a waiting car. The Police made arrests within two hours of the robbery and the youths were prosecuted and sentenced to eight years in total.

After Mrs Newbert the Post Office was run for several months by a Post Office employee, believed from Doncaster. The next Sub Post Master was Mr Peter Roberts who ran the Post Office and the Shop in 1999 until November 2001, followed by Bryony Cain, who took over the business until 2005.

Trish and David Lewis became the next tenants, who made many improvements of their own. After several years of campaigning by previous postmasters, Trish and David finally managed to secure a full sized red post box for the village in 2005. Situated in front of the Shop and Post Office it replaced the small post box in the Recreation Room wall, which quickly became full and was not big enough for the villages needs. After eight years Trish and David decided it was time to “hang up the date stamp and till” and retire.

Tenants Jim and Chris Armstrong who took over in February 2013 successfully ran the business until 2016. Following tenants have made several changes including trying an experiment of providing tables and chairs outside the shop for people to sit and chat or enjoy some refreshments. Beckingham Village Shop and Post Office provides a valuable service to the community and will always need the support and patronage of the Parish in order to survive.

Sadly, despite efforts to find new tenants both the shop and Post Office closed for business on January 06th 2020. However, after an extensive renovation and much hard work the Village Shop reopened minus the Post Office on Friday 4th December 2020 with new tenants Lesley and Rav. Sadly it closed again after a short period of time due to unforeseen circumstances.  Postal services continued to be provided by Outreach Post Office in Beckingham from the Recreation Room for two days a week. In May 2022 the village was much relieved to see the shop reopen on the Green and included the Post Office.

Saundby Cheese Factory

It is unclear when Saundby Cheese Factory first went into production but it was operating during the 1940s onwards. It was originally founded by William Barton, a local farmer who found a use for the excess milk that was available when the school canteens were closed. The factory consisted of a main production area, cheese store, office and canteen with storage of “maturing” cheeses at The Mill at Morton, The Stables at Wiseton and Grove House, Saundby. The main cheese production area was located on Marsh Lane, Saundby.

In the late 1950s Northern Dairy Company took overand it became Saundby Dairy Company (Northern) Ltd. This was a large company that not only specialised in various cheeses, but also other dairy produce. The cheese they predominantly produced at the time was Cheshire Cheese rounds of approximate 56lb in weight (25kg), both red and white, which were delivered countrywide – including Cheshire!   At the National Dairy Show held once a year in London, Saundby Cheese was highly regarded and was regularly presented with first prize. At the height of production the factory operated 24 hours a day and employed over 50 people. Some of the employees were from Gainsborough and had already worked all day at Marshall’s Yard. They would then cross the river to Saundby and work a late shift from about 10pm onwards.

One of the Cheese Makers at the time was a Ukranian (Bill Federshuk), and a driver during both the Barton’s days and Northern Dairies was Sid Curtis who lived in the one of the Barton’s owned cottages down Marsh Lane.

Today, the son of Sid Curtis (of the same name) still lives in the same house. Another driver, Doug Walker lived in one of the cottages before moving up to High House when Northern Dairies bought Saundby Dairy from Barton’s.

Mick Crawford’s mother, Edith, worked in the “Binding Department” where each cheese after it had been pressed, was wrapped tightly in gauze wrapping prior to it being put into storage. Madge Fletcher (an office worker from 1960 to 1964) who lived at The Gables, Saundby now lives in Beckingham and Yvonne White, another office worker, still lives locally. Mrs Fletcher recalls when in the early 1960s a group of Romanians came to visit with especial interest in the purification plant that was installed to eliminate the excess whey. At one time the excess whey was piped underground to large tanks that were periodically emptied and transported to local pig farms for pigswill.

Towards the end of the Cheese Factory days the cheese was produced in block form (as opposed to the large round Cheshires) until its closure some time in the late 60s (exact year unknown).  The original buildings still remain today albeit weather beaten and dilapidated and it is difficult to imagine the thriving business that once existed.

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