February is LGBT+ History Month, an important chance to celebrate the incredible stories of a community forced to be hidden for so long. This includes the fascinating story from Darfield of Maurice Dobson and Fred Halliday, who were in an openly gay relationship from the 1950s - a time when homosexuality was neither accepted nor legal - until Fred’s death in 1988.

Maurice was born in Wombwell in 1912. Like most boys of his age, he became a miner, going down the pits at the age of 14. He worked as a miner until he was 17, before joining the army in 1929. It was when Maurice was fighting in WWII that he met his lifelong partner, Fred, who was from West Yorkshire. After the war ended, the two spent a decade working at hotels along the coast, before deciding to move back to Barnsley. Maurice and Fred settled in Darfield, taking over a small shop that was to become Darfield’s well-known convenience store.

On the occasions when Maurice did encounter harassment, as a veteran and as a former boxer, he was more than able to stand up for himself, and the people of Darfield were largely on his side. Maurice and Fred were also antique enthusiasts, and whilst they were far from experts, they had a number of treasures in their collection. When Maurice died two years after Fred’s passing, he left their shop and collection to Barnsley Council.

The site of Maurice and Fred’s store is now the Maurice Dobson Museum and Heritage Centre, open to the public to find out more about the fascinating history of two brave and inspirational Barnsley residents, and the local area of Darfield.

The Maurice Dobson Museum and Heritage Centre is the only museum in the country that is run entirely by volunteers. This includes Ken Brookes, who recounts the story of what might have happened to Maurice and Fred’s swearing parrot, famous amongst young people in Darfield, as no one ever knew for sure what became of it!

Ian McMillan, another of the Museum’s volunteers, said of Maurice and Fred’s story: “I think the beautiful thing is the love and respect that the community showed to Maurice and Fred and how that can be a metaphor for how people should always treat each other with love and respect.”

Ian also volunteers in the onsite café. He is there every second Saturday, in his own words, with his pinny serving lovely tea and cake. The cafe is open on Wednesday afternoons, all day on Sundays, and every second Saturday of each month, where local people can enjoy a hot drink and a slice of Darfield cake.

The Heritage Centre are always keen to have new volunteers join the team, so please consider getting involved if you can!

I was pleased to pop into the museum once again a few weeks ago with local Darfield councillors to welcome the Mayor of Barnsley. This is a part of history that Darfield is proud of, and the story of tolerance is testament to Barnsley’s tolerance and kindness towards others, which is an integral part of the community to this day.