1 Tourist Information Centre
2 Rotherham Bridge
3 Chapel on the Bridge
4 Parish Church of All Saints
5 College of Jesus
6 Three Cranes Inn
The Middle Ages were a rich period for Rotherham and its surrounding district. As well as the magnificent Parish Minster of All Saints and the Chapel of Our Lady on the Bridge, a range of less well known material lies ready to be explored, and this is an introduction for the visitor to the most interesting of these.
This walks starts from Effingham Square continue along Frederick Street towards the railway station, until you reach Rotherham Bridge. Rotherham Bridge dates from the Middle Ages, and its present four arches and 15-foot (4.5 metres) width are now as they were in that period. The old bridge stands next to its 20th Century successor at an important crossing point on the River Don, where there was originally a ford; the date of the first bridge is unknown. The bridge played a small part in the English Civil War in the 1640's when a group of townspeople defended it (unsuccessfully) against a Royalist army; the defenders included thirty boys from the Grammar School. The results of the gunshots can be seen on the Chapel wall today.
The bridge was widened, and a fifth arch added, in 1768, but by the beginning of the 20th Century its days were numbered, and in 1930 a new bridge was built a little way upstream. As part of the work the old bridge was restored to its Medieval dimensions, and the fifth arch removed. Although as much as possible of its original 'Rotherham Red' stonework was retained at its restoration, the scarcity of local stone meant that new stonework had to be brought in from the Duke's Quarry at Whatstandwell in Derbyshire. This is particularly noticeable on the coping of the old bridge. Because of diversions of the river in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the bridge no longer reaches the Masbrough bank.
The Chapel on the Bridge is almost unique, one of only three complete bridge chapels that still exist (the other two are in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, and St Ives, Huntingdonshire). It dates from about 1483, in which year John Bokyng, master of the grammar school, left 3s 4d (17p) 'to the fabric of the chapel to be built on Rotherham Bridge, though it is possible that most of the subsequent construction cost was met by Thomas Rotherham.
The chapel was sumptuously furnished with rich fittings, but it lasted only until the reign of King Edward VI (1547-1553) when it was closed under the same legislation that saw the end of the College of Jesus. During the 17th and 18th Centuries it was used as almshouses, and from 1779 it was used successively as a prison, a private dwelling and a tobacconist's shop. The chapel was finally reconsecrated in 1924 by the Bishop of Sheffield and services are now held every Tuesday morning. An interpretative panel on a plinth opposite the chapel gives further information about this fascinating building, and there is a permanent exhibition inside the Chapel.
A walk up Bridge Street brings you into All Saints Square and the Parish Church of All Saints. All Saints Minster is Rotherham's oldest surviving building, built over a 200-year period from the 13th to the 15th Century on a site dating back well over a thousand years. The manor of Rotherham and the existing church within it had been given to the monks of Rufford Abbey in the 13th Century, and it was the monks who rebuilt the church substantially in its present form, though changes were made at its restoration by Sir Gilbert Scott in the years 1873-75. The beautiful Chapel of Jesus in the south choir aisle was erected by Rotherham's greatest figure, Thomas Rotherham, in 1480.
Born in Brookgate in 1423, his illustrious career took him via Eton and King's College, Cambridge, to become Provost of Beverley, Bishop of Rochester, Bishop of Lincoln, Lord Chancellor of England, and Archbishop of York. He died in 1500 and is buried in York. The licence for the foundation of the Chapel of Jesus dates from 1480 when he was still Bishop of Lincoln. A permanent exhibition within the Parish Church illustrates in words and pictures the history of the site, the building, and Thomas Rotherham himself.
In 1482, when he had become Archbishop of York, Thomas Rotherham founded the College of Jesus on the site of his birthplace in Brookgate, which was subsequently renamed College Street. The priests of the College of Jesus taught grammar, writing, mathematics and music to choristers and other boys, but within less than three-quarters of a century the College had been suppressed in the Reformation. No trace of the College now survives in the town centre, and its site is now occupied by Woolworths, though a doorway from the College was removed to Boston Park in 1876, and this can still be seen there. 2 pieces of stonework can be found on display at Clifton Park Museum.
Leave the churchyard by its south side and a couple of minutes walk brings you into High Street and opposite the oldest surviving secular building in the town centre. As its twin-gabled facade suggests, the former Three Cranes Inn is timber-framed and dates from the 15th Century with late 16th/early 17th Century additions. The interior remains include a coved dais canopy, the only existing example in South Yorkshire. The street frontage was then occupied by shops with access to the inn down an alley.
Previously used as Wakefield's Army Stores, the building has sadly been empty for many years. The Three Cranes originally occupied one half of a much larger building with four gables facing the High Street. The lower two gables, which originally belonged to another inn known as The Swan, were demolished in 1963 when Freeman, Hardy Willis rebuilt their shop; this site is now occupied by the Dragon Pearl Restaurant. It is not possible to view the interior of the Three Cranes, but this does not detract from the importance of the building.
This concludes the tour of Rotherham's Medieval town centre, but two optional extensions to the trail give you further glimpses of Medieval Rotherham. High Street and Doncaster Gate bring you to Clifton Park and Clifton Park Museum.
The museum houses smaller medieval relics, including a 10th Century Viking ring unearthed in 1993 in the garden of a private house in Hooton Roberts and a 9th Century Viking brooch found near Maltby.
Alternatively, a walk or drive up Moorgate brings you to Boston Park, notable not only for its 18th Century folly Boston Castle, but also for the Medieval doorway from the College of Jesus. Currently a heritage lottery bid is being pursued to re-open Boston Castle as an attraction in the future.
Last modification: 21/10/2013