The Sand House
One of Doncaster's hidden gems.
In 1832, a man named William Senior bought an area of land on the southern outskirts of Doncaster. It was known as Balby Lane Close and contained some cottages, a market garden and a sand pit (a small quarry dug into the sandstone rock). As Doncaster expanded rapidly with the coming of the railways, the town invested in a major drainage scheme in 1853. The drain passed through Senior’s land and part of it needed to be laid through a tunnel. This created huge interest, giving William’s son, Henry, an idea. Not only did Henry Senior start growing fungi in the tunnel, but he also dug out more tunnels. Eventually, he decided to create a unique house for himself, carved from the solid sandstone. By 1857, the first part of the Sand House had been finished, located within the now enlarged quarry in Balby Lane Close.
In 1857 the Sand House had just 4 rooms, 2 downstairs and 2 upstairs. The quarry had reached the boundaries of Balby Lane Close so, when the neighbouring Thief Lane Close came up for auction, the Seniors were keen to buy it. Over the course of the next few years a much bigger Sand House emerged from the ground, as more rock was quarried.
The completed Sand House had ten rooms, the largest of which was a ballroom that was capable of accommodating more than 200 people.
The Tunnels and Carvings
The system of tunnels that ran from the house, beneath the adjacent streets, was even more amazing than the house itself. A section of tunnel that ran underneath nearby Victoria Street was known as the Cloisters. It was the location of many of the finest carvings. The largest carving was the Elephant and Mahout, but kings and queens, a clown, an Irish man and woman, a cherub and many abstract shapes and patterns were to be found in the Cloisters.
The house was no longer ‘useful’…
After Henry’s death in 1900, The Sand House was bought by Doncaster Corporation. By the mid-1930s the house was no longer useful and a decision was taken in 1935 to begin land-fill operations at the site. The amazing story of the Sand House can be seen in Doncaster Museum.
For the Future:
Following the creation of The Sand House Charity in 2017, events and activities relating to this unique feature of Doncaster’s past are regularly held. Full details can be found at http://www.thesandhouse.org.uk/events. In addition, watch out for developments as the Sand House is set to become a key element of Doncaster’s proposed new museum, opening in 2020.
For day out ideas involving Doncaster's rich culture and heritage click HERE.