A Brief History of Piccadilly and its Recreation Ground; a place for Sport and the Natural Environment
Despite being situated on an important highway built during the time of the Turnpike Acts the Piccadilly area of Swinton was slow to develop. In 1865 only a gamekeeper’s cottage and property known as Holywell House existed. Holywell House was the home of a gentleman farmer called George Haden along with his wife Harriet. However much of the land around the Piccadilly area belonged to Edwin Thomas Harrop a member of a prominent local family who went on to become a solicitor in partnership with his brother Frederick.
Around the early 1870’s an entrepreneur from Liverpool, James Bickerstaff, bought some land from Harrop and built the High House pub with a joiner’s shop and stables to the rear.
James Bickerstaff also created a new community when he built houses and cottages which were soon snapped up and occupied by people who were moving in to the rapidly expanding, industrialising district. More builders followed quite rapidly building a further seventy-two houses; by 1878 a Primitive Methodist Chapel had been built to serve the spiritual needs of the community.
Many Piccadilly residents earned their living in the coal mines. Close to home they had access to allotment gardens, two local shops and by 1900 the West Riding Police had accommodated a local ‘Bobby’ in a police cottage to ensure law and order in the locality.
The people of Piccadilly developed keen sporting traditions over the years. Tennis courts were built in an old quarry and were said to be the finest in Yorkshire. Piccadilly Cricket Team gained a strong reputation in the local leagues and a football team also thrived. A strong tradition of sports days held on a large open field which became known as the recreation ground evolved throughout the twentieth century. Permission to use this land was kindly given by an old Swinton farming family named Sharply who were tenants of the Harrop family who were the landowners. E. T. Harrop died in 1932 and his two nieces Beatrice and Edith inherited his estate as he had never married. Sports days included races for all age groups from tiny tots to mums and dads. Specialty races such as egg and spoon, sack and wheelbarrow were popular as were regular adult and children’s fancy dress competitions. A committee of local people carried out all the organising, planning and stewarding on the day. They would also seek sponsorship from businesses for prizes and raise the necessary funds to provide treats for the children’s tea parties held in the church school room.
In 1958 Edith Katherine Lee Harrop discharged the area of her land at Piccadilly, which by then had been used for years for public recreation to Swinton Urban District Council. Her legal advisors drew up a provision that the land would be used for recreation and sporting purposes.
Today the Piccadilly Recreation Ground has not been used for formal sports activities for some time however the area is very well used for informal recreation such as walking and contributes significantly to local people’s health and wellbeing. Interestingly a professional ecological assessment has identified the area as an important habitat for a fascinating range of flora. Piccadilly Recreation Ground has been recently surveyed (2013) and it has been found to be a wildlife haven. Over 30 species of wildflower have been identified on the site including Cuckooflower, Meadow buttercup, Knapweed, Pignut, Yarrow and White deadnettle, all of which are typical meadow and woodland flowers that attract lots of bees, butterflies and other insects; the survey also found 7 different types of grass. Many of the plants have been able to flower due to a relaxed cutting regime that has been put in place in certain parts of the Rotherham Metropolitan Borough to help enhance biodiversity. This particular site is proving to be very interesting and, in combination with the adjacent hedgerows and woodland, is an excellent example of how small changes can have a big impact for wildlife.
The changes to the site’s management will mean that the grass cutting is relaxed during the flowering season but will resume in late summer after the plants have had chance to seed for next year. A number of mown paths will be maintained through the site for public access and enjoyment. A healthy natural environment contains a mosaic of wild and managed spaces; this enables different plants and animals to find all they need to survive. It will also support movement and expansion so that they can react and adapt to changes in climate and from human impacts. Natural habitats are usually more diverse and can support many kinds of wildlife but semi-natural, landscaped and amenity open spaces are valuable and also support wildlife. All our wildlife will benefit from our efforts to keep, expand and connect open spaces.
A healthy natural environment makes human life possible and provides quality of life; it provides food, fuel, clean air and water, medicine and climate regulation. These products are not just from exotic rainforests and remote jungles; woodlandsand street trees help to keep our air clean, our agricultural products are pollinated by bees and other insects that need local woodlands, grasslands and wetlands to survive.
The Harrop family were great lovers of the British countryside. Much of the wealth and property they accumulated was left for the benefit of people locally and to the nation as a whole. It is certain that they would have been pleased with the natural environment which has evolved on their land at Piccadilly.
(For a detailed history of the Harrop family’s lives and times please see ‘Civic Lives, a Story of a Town Clerk and his Family’ available from this website).
Piccadilly was a hill-top gathering place on common land, for the Welsh cattle drovers from the 1600’s along their drove routes across England. At Swinton they were no doubt about to ford the river Don on their way to north Lincolnshire.
Other sites so far located are;
Ivinghoe Bucks (sp959163) with adjacent race course “ Horse race piece”, before 1762.
Great Kimble Bucks (sp829053)
Wooten Hants (su593550)
Wilcot Wilts (su148609)
Darwen Lancs (sd658198) a public house
In 1585 Piccadilly Circus in London was Llamus common land which was enclosed and developed
in 1612. A “Hall” was built which took in “lodgers” and by 1624 “Pikadilly Hall” was the name of “divers houses and messuages”. This was the main gate-way to Smithfield market from the west, now the A4. The Welsh had an affinity with London names which they took back to the Principality and used as place names in the 1700’s, no doubt because London was such an amazing place..
The site at Swinton may well have had a race course adjacent at (sk444997) shown as the oval shaped open area on Swinton common.
They also created settlements called Little London from Medieval times, with sites located at Leeds, Sheffield, Halifax, Mirfield, Goole, in the north.
This is an unknown subject because very few archive records are available, but the Welsh left us with a huge secret legacy.