Elsecar attracts visitors from a wide area throughout the year. For many it is the Heritage and Craft Centre that is the focus of attention.
Elsecar for the more adventurous come to enjoy the benefit of walking or cycling in the superb countryside, along, for example, the Greenway by the old Dearne & Dove Canal to Broomhill and Old Moor Wetland Centre; and on the Timberland Trail (itself part of the coast-to-coast Trans-Pennine Trail), a 14 km recreational route linking Elsecar and Wortley. A gentle cross-country ramble to Wentworth is also highly recommended, perhaps pausing at the popular garden centre and exploring the famous estate village. A shorter stroll through Elsecar’s public park is also well worth a small amount of effort. You may want to try the mini-golf and walk by the reservoir nature reserve – and why not call at the little cafe where you can be assured of a warm welcome, excellent refreshments and enjoy the view from the hill-top location. The cafe is run by Jean Clarke, with help from her daughter, Donna. Jean’s partner, Gary, keeps a responsible eye on the park and gardens. Thankfully, vandalism is minimal, so there are delightful flower beds and enjoyable vistas.
The first wave of tourism to affect Elsecar took place in Edwardian times thanks to Herbert Parkin, a Sheffield barber who set up his follicular business at Stubbin. A keen amateur photographer, he recorded local people and scenes, including the reservoir, sending his images to the Sheffield Star. To add interest, amusing captions were added. That did the trick.
The newspaper loved them and so did the public of Sheffield. Masses of excursionists from grimy Sheffield shot to the area via charabanc, train and bicycle – especially on Sundays and public holidays. The opportunistic Hoyland Nether Urban District Council took advantage of this, creating Elsecar Park. Amazingly, sand was imported in order to create an artificial beach and soon pleasure boats sailed on the reservoir. Even now a wrecked specimen may be lurking on the reservoir bottom, so fishermen beware. There are still many people with nostalgic childhood memories of Elsecar by the Sea when of course Florida was just an alligator-infested swamp.
Talking about swamps, the second element of ‘Elsecar’, a rare place-name, may refer to a marsh or perhaps a description of a wet part of the old valley landscape. The first part of the word probably derives from Else (or Elsi), the principal Saxon landowner. Today, there are few visual reminders of pre-18th-century and certainly medieval Elsecar, not surprising given the passage of time and that the village was little more than a hamlet and a few scattered fams until relatively modern times. A small glimpse can be had in the cluster of old, now restored properties by the former market hall.
Elsecar’s main claim to fame is because of its exceptionally well-preserved and well-documented industrial and social history, a key part of the enterprising estate of the Fitzwilliam family who lived in the big house known as Wentworth Woodhouse.
More than thirty years ago, when the Heritage Centre was being established and the conservation area was new I gave a public lecture in Rotherham, suggesting that Elsecar had similar assets and potential to Coalbrookdale in Shropshire: a unique coal-mining and ironworking centre with exceptionally well-preserved workers’ houses; therefore a superb microcosm of the making of the Industrial Revolution.
We know that shallow pits and drifts exploited coal seams and outcrops in the area during the later medieval period, principally for local usage. It was the canal and the fast-developing railway system that opened-up the sleepy hamlet to commercial and of course aristocratic enterprise. The Fitzwilliams brought in highly skilful engineers, particularly the Birams, in order to sink and develop the new collieries, starting with Elsecar New Colliery in 1795. The installation of (the already old fashioned!) Newcomen-type beam engine was an essential part of the process, pumping water from a relatively deep pit and its underground workings.
The survival of the engine in its original housing is a remarkable story of international importance and a great tribute should be made to my old friend the late Arthur K. Clayton who did so much meticulous research about this unique industrial building. About the same time that the fourth Earl was financing the development of the new colliery John Darwin began operating the first furnace at Elsecar ironworks, using the local coal and ironstone. Remains of this enterprise are still extant by the back of the Heritage complex. About a mile away, the Milton Ironworks was established by the famous Walker family of Masbrough in 1802. With necessary new housing built for the expanding workforce, in the main by Fitzwilliam, Elsecar soon became a thriving coal and iron community. Today, it is hard for us to imagine the sight and sounds that emanated from Elsecar night and day.
Thinking about by-products, the Earl located a tar distillery near the pumping engine in 1814, the place-name Distillery Side, a reminder of a short-lived enterprise. A more successful privately-run gasworks was established in 1857, still functioning over a hundred years later.
Several later coal mines functioned in the area, some of them quite small concerns, adits or drifts, described locally as ‘day-holes’. Among the most notable larger pits were Simon Wood Colliery (closed c.1903), Elsecar Main (1906-1983) and of course nearby Cortonwood (1873-1985). The NCB Elsecar Workshop site was aquired by Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council in the late 1980s and the Cortonwood and Elsecar Group campaigned for the establishment of a Heritage Centre.
Elsecar Heritage Centre, run by Barnsley MBC, has had its fair share of success, failure and uncertainties over the years. I always thought that the exceptionally important history of the area in such a well-preserved setting should be the main focus of attention but even the Living History Centre has now closed. The principal old workshop building was initially transformed into an interactive science-type facility in the style of Haliax’s Eureka! When this closed, new life was ?injected in the form of an antique centre, run by Newcomen Fairs, a venture which proved to be unsuccessful due to an unhelpful rental policy. Power House is now used as an activity area for pre-school children.
Thankfully, Newcomen’s other highly popular antique centre survives in adjacent Building 11, along with the unique Coddswallop Museum (previously Alan Blakeman’s Bottle Museum), housing a remarkable and rare collection of former utilitarian items such as bottles, jars and pots, of international importance. Barnsley has a rich heritage of glassmaking, starting at nearby Wentworth, so the museum is both in an ideal location and good hands. Exhibition space by the museum entrance hosts a variety of touring displays, one of the most popular being the rare coal mining memorabilia from the collection of Frank Burgin.
Next door to the museum is Alan’s BBR Auctions specialising in the sale of advertising ware, bottles and pot lids; also items described thesedays as breweriana and kitchenalia, as well as pottery (especially Doulton, Beswick and Wade). The auctions in actuality and on line attract world-wide interest. A variety of craft units can be found on the Heritage Centre site but a personal favourite is Hot Metal Press, run by Geoffrey Willis. A veteran printer if ever there was one, Geoff, who admits to starting in business in Hoyland nearly fifty years ago, will successfully tackle the kind of jobs that many modern printers would scratch their heads about and abandon. Intrepid Geoff can also provide the most modern design and print services too. Building 21, a former mid-nineteenth century workshop, very well restored by the Council, serves as a large and popular exhibition and performance venue. A series of special events organised via Barnsley MBC are supplemented by a variety of private bookings including dog shows, plant shows, transport rallys and the ever popular monthly antique and collectables events run by Newcomen Fairs. The BBC television series Bargain Hunt filmed one of their programmes at the Fair last April.
On Sundays and during special events the Elsecar Steam Railway runs from the Heritage Centre to Hemingfield Basin. The steam events are very popular during themed weekends dedicated to Thomas the Tank Engine, Wartime (1940s) and during December when of course Santa appears. Getting hungry? Tired of looking around? Then call at Brambles Tearooms – just opposite the main entrance.
I am very fond of Elsecar, particularly the buildings in and around the conservation area, set near marvellous countryside. If you haven’t been then do make a visit and if you have been here before do come again. There is always something new and interesting to discover in this gem of a Barnsley area village.
Incoming search terms:
- Barnsley (3)
- Barnsley Town Centre (1)
- Barnsley's Villages (29)
- Barugh Green (1)
- Cawthorne Village (2)
- Cudworth Village (1)
- Darfield Village (1)
- Darton (1)
- Dodworth Village (1)
- Elsecar Village (1)
- Grimethorpe Village (1)
- Gunthwaite Village (1)
- Hoyland Village (1)
- Hoylandswaine Village (1)
- Inbirchworth Village (1)
- Lundwood (1)
- Mapplewell Village (2)
- Monk Bretton Village (1)
- Penistone Village (3)
- Royston Village (1)
- Silkstone Common Village (1)
- Silkstone Village (1)
- Thurgoland (1)
- Thurlstone Village (1)
- Wentwort (1)
- Wentworth Village (2)
- Wombwell Village (1)
- Worsbrough Mill (1)
- Wortley Village (1)