Doncaster’s Grade 1 listed Mansion House was built between 1745-9 and is one of only three remaining Mansion Houses in the country. It sits in the heart of Doncaster and is the most important piece of heritage remaining of this once elegant Georgian country town. Originally used for civic entertaining, for over 100 years it was used for Council business and so the building has never been directly open to the public.
Designed by up-and-coming architect James Paine, the Mansion House was built between 1745-9 and was one of only five Mansion Houses ever built and the only one to have been built principally for the purpose of pleasure. Only three remain, Doncaster, London and York. The equivalent of a ‘country house’ for the Doncaster Corporation, it demonstrated the scale of their ambition and their desire to make Doncaster the heart of a thriving and wealthy social scene – based around the September horseraces that became the St Leger Race Week.
The Mansion House was commissioned by the Doncaster Corporation principally as a place of municipal entertaining and for holding private assemblies. Assemblies were to become very popular during the Georgian period combining general socialising with dancing, drinking (both tea and alcohol) and card games. Light refreshments would usually be provided. The Corporation already had a Town Hall, which they continued to use for Corporation business, and so the estimated £4,532 that they spent on the Mansion House is a testament to their ambition and wealth.
The sums involved are also a reflection of the quality of work that went into the building – not only through the designs of James Paine, but also through the work of distinguished craftsmen such as the master plasterers Thomas Perritt and Joseph Rose. The façade of the building was taken by Paine from a design by Inigo Jones produced for the Palace of Whitehall.
The Mansion House was incredibly successful as a social venue and was soon regularly used for winter assemblies and for the Leger Week in September. Before it had opened in 1747 the mayoral allowance for entertaining was £150, but by 1810 it had almost doubled in real terms to £630. This allowance provided for an October feast (probably following mayoral elections), balls and suppers to mark the birthdays of the King and Queen, two dinners for the assize judges and a ‘green goose feast’ at Michaelmas on 29 September.
In 1806, in anticipation of a visit by the Prince Regent, the Mansion House underwent an extensive refurbishment under the direction of the architect William Lindley, including the alteration of the front with the giant pediment at the top of the building changed to a ‘Palladian Attic’ and metal railings replacing the stone balustrade. In 1831 the Mansion House was further altered by William Hurst to increase the area available for social events.
Georgian Doncaster was a thriving and prosperous place, acting as it did as a hub of the national turnpike network. By the early 19th century there were more than 24 coaching routes passing through the town and it was also a major centre for the transportation of goods.
The Mansion House marked the start of an era of civic improvements by the Corporation with bridges, streets, markets, public buildings, the racecourse and the water and lighting supply all being improved during this period.