New city with a long history

Danum Gallery, Library and Museum, Doncaster

As its name suggests, Doncaster dates back to Roman times, yet despite centuries of importance as an administrative, social and industrial centre, it is one of the newest British cities, awarded Letters Patent confirming its city status in 2022 on the occasion of the Platinum Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Coincidentally, it has gained a superb new museum, art gallery and central library, named after the original Roman fort, Danum, that probably existed where the parish church of St George, now Doncaster Minster was later built.

The Danum Gallery, Library and Museum stands on the site of the Doncaster Girls’ High School, which dates from 1910-11 and was designed by J M Bottomley, Son & Wilburn in bright red brick, contrasting starkly with elegant white Burmantofts ‘Marmo’ faience.

Latterly it amalgamated with the corresponding boys’ Doncaster Grammar School, renamed Hall Cross Comprehensive School, part of which still occupies its 1869 George Gilbert Scott building on Thorne Road.

When the Girls’ High School building became redundant there was a popular demand to retain at least its distinctive butterfly-plan facade.  The extent and physical decay of the rear buildings are admirably illustrated at Doncaster High School for Girls, Doncaster. (, Report – – Doncaster High School For Girls – October 2009 | Other Sites | and Esoteric Eric: In Accordance with Ordinance : Doncaster High School for Girls, Doncaster (

The initial proposal to bring together the then borough’s library, gallery and museum facilities behind the school frontage looked quite different from the final design:  Old Doncaster Girls’ High School frontage plans for new library – BBC News.  The new building opened on May 29th 2021, designed by Willmott Dixon [Danum Gallery, Library and Museum | Willmott Dixon] as part of the new city’s Civic and Cultural Quarter.

The entrance leads into an entirely conventional modern lending library, brightened by full height windows.  Following the line of the windows leads to a surprising space dominated by the spruced-up brick and faience façade of the old school.  Here is Café 1910, where welcoming, homely Yorkshire ladies provide satisfying hot drinks, healthy snacks and irresistible cakes and pastries.  Their warm, well-mannered Facebook stream reflects their style and their service.

Behind the school frontage, the Museum and Art Gallery explores the rich variety of Doncaster’s history in a sequence of displays that leads the visitor from the local ichthyosaurus and the Norman Conisbrough Castle to living legends such as Doncaster’s Diva, Lesley Garrett, in a 2022 portrait by Michael Christopher Jackson, and One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson.  The Museum also tells the story of the local regiment, The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

Uniting four previously cultural facilities – library, archives, art gallery and museum – in one location with a café makes it possible to look at art and artefacts, read and research, and eat and drink in comfort.

As someone who is prone to overstimulation and sore feet in museums and art galleries this is a welcome luxury.

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