The Anderson Story

(See also: James Anderson)

Stainforth at the turn of the last century was still little more than a collection of farms. The area south of the village was open land all the way to Hatfield, save for a couple of gravel pits and a windmill. Nothing remains of the gravel pits now, which were situated near the junction of what is now East Lane and Emerson Avenue, but around the area where the library stands today there are streets whose names, such as "Mill View", tell us that this was where the mill once stood.

After 1912, when work had started on the sinking of the colliery shafts, it was the south part of Stainforth which was most affected. From that time, to the late 1930’s, the population of Stainforth soared from hundreds, to thousands. Indeed, by 1936 the colliery provided employment to over 3,600 men. This influx of men and the families they supported meant that Stainforth had to expand rapidly in order to accommodate the sudden population growth

It was during the early days of the village becoming a mining community that one of the village’s most loved and respected characters arrived on the scene. I refer of course to Dr. Robert Moir Lechmere Anderson, the GP who served the people of Stainforth for 57 years.


The Anderson Family

David Anderson

Dr. Robert’s father, Dr. David Anderson, moved to Yorkshire sometime in 1902, where he took up the post of Medical Officer of Health at Doncaster Royal Infirmary.
Originally from Pitfar House near Dollar, Clackmananshire, David Anderson attended Dollar Academy, before qualifying for his degree in medicine at Aberdeen University.

For a while he was a GP in Peterhead, but one source I came across tells us that he found GP work too harrowing and eventually went into public health, becoming the MOH and police surgeon before moving to Doncaster.

Dr. David Anderson

He succeeded Dr. T. Mitchell Wilson, who had been MOH at Doncaster in a part time capacity, and thus became Doncaster's first full time MOH.

Four years after taking up his post, he was appointed "Inspector of School Children", which possibly prompted him to write his book, "Personal Hygiene for Boys". He was a prolific author, and wrote many other books, including;"In Deadly Peril", "Amy's Luck" and "An Esculapius of the North", (which my own poor grasp of Latin interprets as "A Taste of the North"?),

It was during his student days that David discovered his love for Rugby. Whilst in residence at Aberdeen University he played for a team called the "Wanderers" and also for the University XV. In those days the Scottish International rugby teams were composed mainly from players drawn from public schools and the Universities, and for a while David played with some of the leading players in Scotland.
Evidently, he brought his love of the game with him to Yorkshire. The Doncaster Chronicle of 10th March 1911 tells us that he played a trial in the "Whites v. Stripes County Trial match at Stanningley, where he scored three tries". The Chronicle goes on to bemoan the fact that Dr. Anderson played in a forward position, whereas if he had played as a "back" he would have made the Yorkshire County team with ease.

Dr. David was an extremely intellectual man, and he once broke a World record with the number of permutations for a word game, which was published in a national magazine. He achieved this feat with help of a friend who was the headmaster of Doncaster Grammar school at the time. He also won another magazine competition, which provided him with an income of £500 per year for the next 26 years!

Besides being one of the original members of the Danum Literary Society, Dr. David was also a Freemason at the St. George's Lodge and a former President of the Caledonian Society of Doncaster..

Dr. David Anderson M.O.H. D.R.I.

Another anecdote I have found concerning Dr. David is in an autobiographical text written by his granddaughter, Dr. Pamela White. Dr. White was an eminent physician, now retired, who studied at Edinburgh University, before going on to become something of a legend in Edinburgh. Her work among some of the poorest and drug addicted, established her as a highly popular figure with a saintly reputation, as both friend and counselor to her many patients.

In her book, "The Seventh Child", she tells us that she spent part of her childhood living in Hatfield House, after her mother and father, Lord & Lady Moncreiff of Tullibole, came to this area from Scotland to be closer to her mother’s parents, Dr. David Anderson and his wife, Elizabeth Moir.

In this paragraph from her book she recalls a tale told to her by her mother, "My mother's parents also came from Scotland. Her father was Dr Anderson and came originally from Pitfar House near Dollar. He studied medicine at Edinburgh University where he was one of their youngest students. I remember my mother telling me that at one time he had lived in a house in Castle Street which was haunted by a poltergeist. All sorts of strange phenomena occurred - dishes flying through the air, furniture moving of its own accord, etc. The police were called in and because of his youth the finger of suspicion was pointed at him. No explanation came to light and eventually the house was pulled down".

Robert Moir Lechmere Anderson

Robert Anderson, or "Old Andy" as he was fondly referred to by the villagers of Stainforth, whom he served for 57 years, attended Doncaster Grammar school, before returning to his native Scotland, to follow in his father’s footsteps and study medicine at Aberdeen University.
He returned to the Doncaster area after qualifying for his degree in 1911, and started his first job, as House Surgeon at the Doncaster Royal Infirmary. Shortly afterwards he joined the droves of people arriving in Stainforth, prompted by the sinking of Hatfield Main Colliery, but within three years of his arrival the outbreak of the First World War led to him joining the Royal Army Medical Corps. He traveled to the Far East, where he served in the field ambulance service. Later, he formed a branch of the "Comrades of the Great War", inspired by the events of this time.

Dr. Robert Moir Lechmere Anderson

He returned to Stainforth in 1919, and opened a practice to serve the vastly increased population of the village. He earned the respect of the miners and their families after proving to be a loyal, and eventually much loved, GP.

At this time a direct line between the practice and the colliery was set up, and the doctor was often called upon to attend men injured whilst working at the mine.

An interesting aside, with regards to the early days of telephony in Stainforth, is an item I found in "Wrigley’s Thorne Almanac" of 1938. It lists the telephone numbers for Stainforth, the entire directory taking up just one side of a single page. There were 107 subscriber numbers in total, with the number for Dr. Robert Anderson of East Lane being "2". The number "1" was for C. Saddler, the Postmaster at Stainforth Post Office, and number "107" would connect you with G. H. Taylor, Commission Agent, Station Road, Dunscroft. Taylor was responsible for most of the building work being carried out in the "New Village".

Dr. Robert joined in all aspects of village life; from the setting up of the first local branch of the St. John Ambulance Brigade, to writing plays which were performed by the miners in the local Welfare Hall. We are given an insight into the performance of one such play through a report first published in the Doncaster Gazette, dated 31st March 1938, and later remembered by Peter Dumville and republished in the Thorne Gazette in March this of year (2002)
The play was called "United", and was performed in aid of the Stainforth and Hatfield Main division of the St. John Ambulance Brigade. Dr. Anderson explained the difficulties encountered in organising amateur dramatics in a small mining community, owing to those taking part being on different shifts at the colliery. This made it impossible to rehearse the play with the full cast.
The play opened with a scene depicting a cricket match on the newly opened Welfare ground, and the Gazette tells us, "The Vicar and his sister were the usual burlesque, and might at any moment have launched into a Noel Coward lyric". The following scenes depicted the miners working underground and were lit with miners lamps. The Gazette tells us that the play was somewhat disjointed, due to the fact that the scenes were played between variety acts. The names of villagers taking part in the play and in the variety acts are mentioned and are as follows:
The Players: J. Gallagher, T. Fairhurst, K. Milthorpe, H. Clegg, H. Clegg Snr, G. Robinson, W. Nicholson, M. Peace, A. Evans, W. Heeds, Miss A. Blanchard, Lily Hudson, Hetty May and Christina Rowing.
The Variety Turns: Jimmy Armstrong, (farm yard impressionist), Lily Hudson, (amusing monologue).
Compere: Mr. E. Otter
The remainder of the programme consisted of variety acts performed by local children: Jean Howarth, Colin Massey, Bessie Fisher, Margery Ormerod, Alma Morgan, Dorothy Fisher, Isabella Mcleod, and Moyra and Christina Rowing.
The concert concluded with Dr. Anderson making an appeal for men to join the ambulance brigade at the colliery, which he praised as being one of the best around.
Little did anyone know that the training and skill of these volunteers would be called upon in the very near future.

1939 - 12th December (1:50 pm).
An Overwind at No. 2 Shaft. caused 58 men to be admitted to hospital with serious injuries. One man died in hospital on 14th December. Many men lost limbs in the tangled wreckage of the "cages", the lifts which were used to carry men up and down the half mile deep shafts. Dr. Anderson and his team of St. John Ambulance Brigade volunteers worked tirelessly to free the men who were trapped. It has been said that without their efforts the tragedy could have been much worse.

See the link at the end of this article for more information about the Hatfield cage incident.


Robert was keen sportsman. He had a lifelong passion for fly fishing and, like David, his father, he loved rugby. He was an accomplished player and for a while he played for Doncaster.

The fact that Dr. Anderson was so close to the heart of the community made him the most loved and respected physician this village has ever been blessed with. His name is still fondly remembered to this day by those who knew him. While researching this article I have talked with many people who remember the doctor and his eccentricities. Some recall how he would disappear in the midsummer, when the fishing bug took a hold of him. On some occasions he could be away for as much as six weeks, fishing for trout and salmon in his native Scotland.
His modes of transport spark most memories, with some recalling his motor cycle, which was known to burst into flames. He was particularly remembered for his cars which often refused to start, in which case the patients he had visited could well be asked for a push!
Prior to owning mechanical transportation he had been a common sight around the village in his horse and trap, and on one occasion, during a time of excessive flooding, he used a rowing boat to visit those who needed his services.


An ex-miner who worked at Hatfield Main from before the war years and retired sometime in the 1970s told me a tale about "Old Andy", which showed that although he may have had his eccentricities, he was certainly no mug!
Around 1948 the Hatfield miners worked on a bonus scheme which was based on a reward system for non-absenteeism. If the miners worked a full week, from Monday to Friday, they would receive a bonus for each day worked, plus an extra bonus payment. However, should they miss a shift at the pit, then they would not only lose that day’s pay and the bonus payment for that day, they would also lose the extra bonus payment. The only way the miners could keep the extra bonus payment was to produce a sick note which had been signed by a GP, explaining why they were too ill to work on the day they were absent.
Dr. Anderson's East Lane home and surgery

Some miners were partial to a drop of beer at the weekend, and there were those who counted Sunday evening as viable a time for drinking as any other part of the weekend. Anyone who has ever worked shifts at a coal mine can tell you that Sunday night beer and Monday morning 6.00 am shifts do not go hand in hand!
As you may have guessed, Monday mornings at Dr. Anderson’s East Lane surgery were often quite busy. The fact that patients just turned up and waited in a queue, (appointment systems hadn’t been introduced at that time), meant that morning surgery could last most of the day, with the queue stretching from the surgery to East Lane itself on some occasions.
The miner who told me this tale said that on this particular day he and many others had turned up to get a note from the doctor, so that they only lost pay and bonus for that day. One of the first miners to see the doctor checked his sick note as he left the office and was stopped dead in his tracks when he read that he been certified "sick" for the whole week. The same thing happened when the next miner left the doctor’s office. Of course, there was uproar! Losing pay and bonus for one day was serious enough, but to lose pay and bonuses for the whole week was tragic.

Monday mornings at "Old Andy’s" surgery were much quieter affairs after that.

Dr. Anderson may have put an end to the bonus scam, but the village’s respect for him was in no way diminished. In the 1950’s the doctor was given the ultimate compliment which the village could bestow upon him. The Coronation Road area had been developed at this time and the important task of naming the new streets was undertaken. Dr. Anderson Avenue was named so in his honour.

Prior to his retirement in 1956, and by which time he was 70 years old, Dr. Anderson had lived where he practiced, at Rannoch House on East Lane. I believe the name for this house was taken from an area north west of Dollar, in Scotland, namely Rannoch Moor and Rannoch Loch, where the doctor often visited on his fishing trips.
His second son, also called Robert and also a doctor, lived in "Sunningdale", a house on Doncaster road.. When the old doctor retired, they swapped houses, he taking up residence at Sunningdale, and "Young Dr. Bob", as he affectionately became known, taking up residence at the practice in Rannoch House.
In 1963, Sunningdale was sold to the Arnold family.

To mark the doctor’s retirement a special award ceremony was planned.
An article appeared in the Doncaster Gazette, dated Thursday, April 12th, 1956, bearing the headline: Stainforth thank "Old Andy". An accompanying photograph showed Dr. Anderson and his wife receiving a silver tea set from Stainforth’s St. John Ambulance Brigade Divisional Superintendent, Mr. W. T. Alberry. Mrs. Anderson was presented with a diamond and sapphire brooch, which she received from Miss. Agnes Blanshard,. The retiring doctor was presented with gifts of a fly fishing rod and tackle by Mr. Albert Hargreaves, and a gold watch, by Mrs. Phyllis Severn.

"Old Andy" enjoyed his retirement for thirteen years, before receiving his final calling in September 1969. A memorial fund was set up in respect of the service he had given to the village, the proceeds of which amounted to over three hundred pounds. In 1972 it was decided to use the fund to erect a more permanent memorial in his honour. This took the shape of a large three sided, two faced clock, which was mounted upon a fifteen feet high wooden pillar, bearing a small brass plaque. It was situated in the grounds of the Stainforth Old Folks Centre, where it was visible from both directions along Church Road..

Unfortunately, less than thirty years later, the clock was removed after it fell into disrepair and was often the target of mindless vandalism.


Dr. Robert Anderson (the younger).

Young Robert attended Thorne Grammar school before carrying on the family tradition of studying medicine at Aberdeen University.
After qualifying for his degree, he worked for a friend of his father at Doncaster Royal Infirmary. Following this, he worked for another of his father’s friends at Thorne, before joining the army, prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. He served in the armed forces from 1942 to 1946, and returned to Stainforth after the end of the war.

I’m told he was on old fashioned doctor, and that he would become annoyed when patients performed a self diagnosis. He was often heard to remark that "a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing".

Like his father, Dr. Bob was also a keen angler and sportsman. He played Rugby Union for Yorkshire against Cumberland in 1946 when he was 26 years old. Standing at over six feet tall, I’m told he was a very effective wing forward. He also played many games for the Old Thornesians.

He continued to live and practice at Rannoch house, until he retired in August 1986, (probably on "the Glorious 12th, or so I’m told)
The house became the property of the Brownsword family , and from that time has been a private nursing home.

At the present time (June 2002) I am told that Dr Anderson is a sprightly octogenarian, who likes to walk his dogs and leads a fairly active life. He returns to Stainforth occasionally to visit friends. He also returns to the village on sadder occasions, such as to attend the funeral of his friend, Dr Pollock.

See also: James Anderson


Links, URLs and other items.

Dr. Pamela White's on-line book.
The Seventh Child

The Hatfield Main No.2 shaft overwind
Hatfield Main - 1.45pm 12th December 1939



Stainforth 2001 Homepage