Thursday, 14 January 2010

In the past.

Observations of my childhood.

My childhood years were spent living in Rotherham, quite close to the confluence of the River's Don and Rother adjacent to Bow Bridge. In the mid 50's early 60's there was still a fair bit of traffic on the cut. In the summer months when we were off school, it was not unusual for groups of us to cadge a lift from the Rotherham lock on the Barges going up as far as Tinsley and occasionally beyond or down as far as Wash Lane (Aldwark)  lock. By way of payment we would help with the locks and occasionally got the chance to take the tiller. We considered that Tinsley and Wash lane were within easy walking distance home, just in case we were unable to get a lift back.

Our playground was around the river in the days before the "health and safety Taliban" arrived. Our play included "Tarzan" rope swings which were to be found hanging from the old twin arched "power petroleum" bridge. The "bull" ropes for the swings were often pilfered from the occasional, moored but unattended barge. In all the years, we never thought of un-mooring a barge - it just never occurred to us to do such a thing. We would sometimes go to the old Robinson's flour mill building on the banks of the Rother to watch the grain being off-loaded. Sometimes the dredger would be in action on our stretch and we would certainly take some interest in that. When we moved away from the area in 1958, I lost contact with my old friends on the barges and the childhood playground alongside the river.

My main fascination was for the wildlife. Even when the river was heavily polluted there were backwater places where the wildlife hung on. Sections of the Rother had been straightened and two small elbow lakes created and they were a haven for wildlife. I watched a moorhen build a nest on the branches of a bush that had fallen into the elbow. I would check the nest from time to time and eventually four chicks were fledged. Ducks like mallards would overwinter on the lakes but I don't ever remember them breeding there. I can remember going to Greasborough with a group of friends and walking home with a few fish in a bucket intended for the elbow. What we had not realised was that this area was regularly flooded and so any fish would have been swept away on the next flood. The other main item were the water beetles, frogs, toads and newts that could be found by doing a bit of "pond dipping" in the weed fringes. Years later the lakes eventually disappeared under the encroaching furnace slag tip that was created by the furnaces. In this time of "environmental impact surveys" I wonder if the wildlife would have been protected from the slag encroachment?

  • The Rother and the Don have improved in water quality, now there are people fishing this section. However, even as a child, I can remember seeing small roach at Robinsons flour mill wharf. I guess there must have been a bit of corn falling into the water from the grain lifters.

The river and the cut has always held a fascination for me. At one point in my 20's I was doing a course in local history at Sheffield University. One of my student projects was to research and write up something of the history of the Sheffield navigation. I have walked most of the Sheffield Navigation over the years and in that time I have witnessed many changes taking place. The best memories are still those of my childhood.


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