When ever showmen show their generosity to their less well off fellows, there are inevitable cynics who see in their actions only self motivation, something done to promote their image in society. But this outlook was answered to the full in a feature about ‘Tom’ Tuby in an 1894 issue of ‘The Doncaster Review’.
After Mr Tuby had taken the whole of the inmates of the Doncaster Workhouse to Scarborough for the day, after giving them a day at Cleethorpes the previous year and Skegness in 1893, there were those who saw these charitable acts as an advertisement for his fairs. The magazine answered this charge by saying that it did not take much calculation to make it clear that the trip to Scarborough would cost him a very large sum of money. It added that when ‘Tom’ Tuby gave a benefit for the Infirmary or other similar institution, he defrayed all the incidental costs – the expenses of his men, the power to work the machines, the lighting, etc; and gave the entire takings to the funds of the charity for which he was asking for support. It was, as the article tells us, 1876, the year that Petrarch won the Ledger at Doncaster race course, that ‘Tom’ Tuby settled in the town . And it was while he was Doncaster race course with amusements, that he commenced his charity work. For the terrible railway accident at Hexthorpe, on the Friday of race week 1887 when a Liverpool to Hull express ran into the rear of a Midland race excursion standing at Hexthorpe platform, telescoping the guard’s and three coaches, drove ‘Tom’ Tuby into action. Twenty five passengers were killed and sixty six injured, most on the waiting excursion, and such was the general shock and sympathy in Doncaster that Mr Tuby was induced to give his first benefit for the Infirmary. The public rallied round to such an extent that he was able to hand over £13, a large amount at that time. Following this the ‘prince of showmen’ had an annual benefit for the Infirmary. In 1888 he raised £11 5s 6d, 1889, £13 0s 9d, 1890, £17 15s, 1891, £31 3s 1d, 1892 £23 7s 7d, and 1893, £18 7s 2d, making a grand total of £127 19s 1d in five years.
Nor was Doncaster the only town to benefit. The writer claimed that more than £500 had been handed over to Infirmaries, Orphans’ Homes, Nursing Homes etc; and on 3rd May, 1893, he held a benefit for the Louth Hospital and raised over £50 8s.His actions were so appreciated locally that a dinner was organised and a surprised ‘Tom’ ‘Tuby, not only found himself the guest of honour but receiving a gold medal with a view of the hospital on one side and on the other the inscription ‘Presented to Geo. T. Tuby by a few friends as a memento of his handsome gift to Louth Hospital, May 3rd 1894′.
On the 17th of the same month he held a benefit for the Grimsby Orphans’ Home and raised £14 3s 6d. Again he was presented with a gold medal, the Grimsby Docks on one side and an inscription on the other. They were described as ‘beautiful examples of the goldsmith’s art, and highly prized by ‘Tom’ Tuby. With this attitude of care towards his fellow men and women, it was not surprising that his thoughts should turn to civic work and in 1892 he stood for council in Doncaster’s North Ward.Unfortunately he was not elected, but he was a born fighter and his set back only spurred him to greater effort. By 1896 he had been elected to Doncaster Council to represent St George’s Ward, starting a thirty six year association with local politics. He became an Alderman in 1913. There were three vacancies to the Aldermatic bench and it seemed certain that two would be filled by Aldermen Spencer and Theobald being re-elected. This happened and the final place choice was between Councillors Tuby and Halmshaw. The proceedings appear to have be3en lively. For it is recorded that the voting was followed with the closest interest at the November meeting of the council. It seems evident that Mr Tuby was the popular choice. Every time it was recorded that someone had voted for ‘Tom’ it is said that there was an outbreak of applause from the public at the back of the room.
However, when the voting was finished it turned out to have been a close thing, Councillor Halmshaw eight votes and Councillor Tuby nine. When it was announced he had been elected, his friends gave him quite an ovation and he ascended the Aldermanic bench to the plaudits of the people. Sixteen years later, in November 1929 he lost this status when he was outvoted in another Aldermanic election. There was almost a total public outcry. One newspaper said that they thought the council might have bidden a less abrupt farewell to their kindly old colleague. He might, for example, have been given fairly lengthy notice of the Council’s intention to exercise their preference for a younger and more physically alert man.
However, as the report continued, ‘nothing could rob Mr Tuby of the affection in which old and young Doncaster townspeople hold him. Far beyond Doncaster his generosity and his regard for his less fortunate fellows is known and acknowledged’. Even before he was deposed the press had heard a rumour and they reported that it would be a most ungracious way of showing appreciation of a man who had such a record of service to the community of which he could be so proud. The press were equally certain that the ratepayers of the town would not sanction such a move if they had the power. And it was the press who paid him the most generous of tributes when they said, ‘Thomas, a generous and popular figure was thrown off the aldermanic bench for some reason or other. Some, it was said were envious of his popularity. There are one or two men in the town who could supply the answer. But Tuby the exception to the rule. He went out of office with good humoured defiance’, “I shall return”, he said. @Here’ the report continued ‘is an outstanding example of the council flying in the face of public opinion. It is also a lesson to public men on how to take a licking and come up smiling’. And return he did. For the opinion of the people was put to the test that December when George Thomas Tuby announced that he was to stand again for election to the council. In his election address he told the people of Central Ward that because of the elevation to the Aklermanic bench of their previous councillor, they were being asked to elect a councillor on December 3rd, 1929.
Having been approached by several electors in the ward to again allow myself to be nominated for public honour, I have decided to do so, and with confidence I ask for the same support on election day as has been accorded me by the electors of St George’s Ward for the past 33 years.
Herewith I append my record in the council of the various committees on which I have served; Race, Market, Watch, Finance and Mansion House Committees.I was not re-elected Alderman on the 9th November, supposedly on account of ill health. I can assure the electors that I am in good health and as alert as ever, in fact I am in full control and directing the whole of my business, which no person who is not in good health could do. If you do me the honour of electing me as your representative to the Council Chamber, I shall do my best to serve and further the interests of the burgesses to the utmost extent of my ability’. ‘ And there was a slap in the face for those counc8illors and aldermen who thought ‘Tom’ Tuby was finished, when the results were declared. More folk voted for him than for the other three candidates combined. When the Returning Officer announced that G.T. Tuby, Amusement Caterer had polled 668 votes as opposed to the 271 for Clothier, E. Elland, 137 for Railway Clerk, P. Judd, and 54 for Butcher, W.R. Fowlstone, the crowd, quite rightly, went wild. And, as George Thomas himself once said, ‘everything comes to those who wait’. In his case it was a wait until 1921 when he became the town’s first citizen, the Mayor and Chief Magistrate. It says much of his regard by the council that there was no one nominated against him. Even his political opponents supported the selection of showman, Alderman George Thomas Tuby to the highest honour the council could bestow. And it was an honour which showed the true love this showman for his adopted town. The Doncaster Gazette of September 22nd, 1922 praised his year of office. It recalled that he was honoured by His Majesty with an invitation to dine at Buckingham Palace, an honour which had not been bestowed on Doncaster for many a year. A few days after the Buckingham Palace visit he was back on the road. When he was on the fair ground, building up his attractions, his wife saw a lady in her garden and walked across to ask permission to use her toiler.
The reply was to the point. “Certainly not, I do not want fair folk in the house”. “Madam” replied ‘Tom’s wife, “May I tell you that a few days ago I was using the Queen’s toilet at Buckingham Palace”. I do like a man who will stand boldly upright And tell to your face what he mans, For I’d fight with a lion that roared my face But I don’t like a cur at my heels.
Nor was ‘Tom’ backward when it came to making a point. At a council meeting the town’s fire brigade was under discussion. “Sir” said ‘Tom’ to his chairman, “I could spit as far as the fire engine throws water”. “Mr Tuby”, came the retort, “you are out of order”. “Yes” replied ‘Tom’, “and if I was in order I could spit even further”. During that year in office, the showman mayor created a record for this church appearances in his robes. And he received public support. For when the news of his first such appearance was announced more than three thousand joined the congregation. There is little doubt that he was much respected wherever he appeared. Invited to the civic reception before a Rotherham fair, he ordered a pony and trap and took a showland friend John Barwick, with him. Both men were resplendent in morning dress and top hat. However the wine was passed round to such an extent that when they returned, John Barwick only wanted to sleep. The trouble was that the family were building up for the following days opening, and his wife Lizzie, was far from amused when her husband decided to spend the vital build up afternoon sleeping in the living van. ‘Tom’ Tuby, however, was hungry. There was a cold meal but none of the ketchup he enjoyed. ‘Tom’s’ wife called on Lizzie Barwick to help. “Look at my husband”, came the reply, “and we’ve still got to finish. There’s no ketchup for ‘Tom’ Tuby”. Then the penny showman himself decided to use his charms in the interests of a more tasty meal. But it was of no avail. “Go away”, Lizzie told him. “I’d rather throw the ketchup down the sink than give it to you”. And ‘Tom’ retreated, picking up knife and fork for a ketchupless meal. As Mayor and chief magistrate Coun. Tuby was the success that his friends always predicted when they put his name forward. And with the exception of Midlands showman Pat Collins, he was the only ‘man of the fairs’ to be so honoured by his fellow citizens.
Through his connection with the Race Committee he got to know and became a friend of the Ear of Lonsdale, that he not only called our showman ‘Tom’ but extended an invitation for ‘Tom’ Tuby to spend a fortnights holiday each year at the family seat, Lowther Castle, Penrith.
And throughout the season game and venison arrived at Doncaster from the estate at Penrith, a present from the Earl of Lonsdale. The Mayor was to be witness to many interesting events during his year of office. It was during his period that Doncaster applied for County Borough Powers. The Hackney Horse Show was held in the town for the first time, and there was the presence of the Princess Royal, Princess Mary, daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, and Lord Harewood for the first time at the September races following their wedding. And it was in March 1922, that the ‘Penny Showman’, ‘Tom’ Tuby had the honour of representing the town on one of its rare royal visits. This was the occasion of the arrival in Doncaster of Princess Helena Victoria, cousin to the then King George V, to open a tudor Fayre and Bazaar, arranged by the Y.M.C.A. to raise £1,000 towards their funds in three days to help the young of the town. 1921 had been a financial disaster for the Y.M.C.A. with the bad state of trade following the coal strike. The town, however, turned out in force as Doncaster was honoured by a member of the royal family. Reports said that the pavements of the streets along her route from the Railway Station, where her train had steamed in on time, were five or six deep on both sides. The Mansion House, the Mayor’s official residence, was flying the Union Jack, and the choir of schoolgirls, charmingly attired white, sang the National Anthem. There was a guard of honour made up of Girl Guides in their blue uniforms from the 1st Doncaster (High School), Troop with six from the Bentley Guides. It was recorded that the schoolgirls entered the vestibule allowing the public outside to get a glimpse of the fine floral decorations inside. During the luncheon in the Mansion House it was reported that Mr C.V.Taylor’s Picture House Orchestra, stationed in the ballroom, played selections of music. The Mayor must have paused at sometime during the meal to reflect on the change that had brought the moving pictures from the fairground to these permanent buildings and changed the fair organ for an orchestra that was then entertaining royalty.
And from the proceeds of the fayre, only 90% of the money went to the local Y.M.C.A. For in 1922, a mere four years after the end of the First World War, our troops were still serving overseas, in India and on the Rhine with the Army of Occupation. Wherever there were soldiers there was the Y.M.C.A. So it was felt that some money should be made available to help ‘our boys still serving overseas’.
To look at the fayre, is to look back on a period when the was still vivid in their minds. And for many who visited it, it must have seemed like a holiday of a lifetime. For not content with mere stalls, the interior of the Corn Exchange had been transformed and by the use of a little imagination one could fancy that the wares offered for sale were placed in front of quaint houses the Tudor style.
The variety of offerings can be seen through the purchases made by Princess Helena as she toured each ‘stall’. She bought jellies and soaps, a locally made dressing jacket, a red suede bag from the arts and crafts display and a whitewash brush and a dozen dusters. At the sixpenny ‘lucky dip’ she gave her prize to one of the boys manning the stall, then there purchases of three baskets and two cushions. Doncaster butterscotch was bought and butter, hat pins, a pork pie, two fancy bags and a pair of scissors.
From the Rotary Club volunteers, the royal visitor bought a plant pot stand, vases and toys. She also bought some China tea, which she took away with her. Most of her other purchases and autographed Y.M.C.A. cookery book were left to be auctioned in this good cause, to which Princess Helena also gave a £1 paper note. The Y.M.C.A. opened in Doncaster in 1918, and it was the first town to allow women and girls to be involved in its activities. This of course, was the year that the conflict which was to claim so many lives, World War One started. And in the Corn Exchange, a Mr Spooner who served in the Royal Engineers Tunnelling Company in France, exhibited some interesting war time relics. There on view for the public to see for the first time were German steel helmets, gas masks and picture postcards of the devastation cased to France by the war. There was also a shooting range and footballers could exercise their skill by shooting at a goal. And the wireless section of the Y.M.C.A. let members of the public ‘listen in’ to messages from Marconi stations. The wonders of the age were indeed on view.