The Huskar tragedy at Silkstone sent shock through young Queen Victoria, members of parliament and peers of the realm; and was reported in detail in the newspapers of the day.
Silkstone today is a pleasant place to live and attracts many visitors. Silkstone village rests in one of the most beautiful valleys of Barnsley in South Yorkshire. Pause for a moment on a clear day and look from the main road, by the Huskar monument, towards the medieval church and Pot House Hamlet, and you can’t help but appreciate the magnificent setting of wooded hills and attractive countryside. To explore the area in detail there is a network of footpaths and tracks. A leisurely stroll along the Trans Pennine Trail from Silkstone Common to Silkstone and Barnby (Cawthorne) via the historic waggonway is highly recommended. Families with young children can pause at Pot House and feed the ducks by the beck. For residents, there are good schools and easy access to places of work via the M1 motorway.
Silkstone for me, and many people, will always be associated with one of the saddest events of the early Victorian era: the Huskar pit disaster of 1838. Twenty-six children, fifteen boys and eleven girls from Moor End Colliery, were swept to their death during a freak summer storm when trying to escape from an inrush of water via the Huskar pit, a drift in Nabs Wood, on Silkstone Common. The youngest was just seven years old and the average age of all the children just 10.8 years.
The Huskar tragedy sent shock through young Queen Victoria, members of parliament and peers of the realm; and was reported in detail in the newspapers of the day. Lord Ashley was appointed to lead a Royal Commission to investigate the employment of women and children in mines. Commissioners visited Silkstone, gathering evidence for a report whose findings were incorporated in the Mines Act of 1842. The employment of females underground and boys under the age of ten was banned.
The obelisk-type monument at the roadside edge of Silkstone churchyard is a grim reminder of the disaster, described by the Silkstone parson Revd Prince as ‘…a sad commentary on the conditions of labour…’ rather than an act of God. A new memorial was erected in Nabs Wood in 1988 as part of the 150th anniversary commemoration of the disaster.
Moor End and Huskar pits were owned by local landowner and coalmaster, Robert Couldwell Clarke whose mansion, Noblethorpe Hall can still be seen, in its parkland, at the fringe of the village. Clarke died at the age of 46, in 1843. The family’s business affairs were then run by his widow, Sarah Ann and her brother, James Farrer. It was Sarah who ordered the eviction of miners from their rented cottages during the dispute of 1844 and, six years later, funded the building of Silkstone National Infants’ School. A new colliery known as Old Sovereign was sunk at Dodworth Moor End in 1855, shortly before she handed over to her son, Robert Couldwell Clarke jnr, who appears to have preferred the life of a country squire, leaving industrial matters to Farrer, and later to G.H.Teasdale. Like his father, R.C. Clarke died young, at 36, in 1874. The Clarkes’ colliery interests petered out by the 1920s.
It is perhaps hard to imagine that the tranquil Silkstone of today was a notable scene of early industry, where coal was extracted from shallow pits and drifts, iron forged and glass blown – a microcosm of the Industrial Revolution. The village even gave its name to one of our most famous beds of coal: the Silkstone seam. Several farms also had shallow pits where hides of cattle were cleaned and soaked for the making leather. The local oak woods provided the bark used in the tanning process and charcoal may have been the original fuel used in the iron blast furnace, now a scheduled ancient monument, located on private land at Low Moor Farm, but visible when walking the waggonway trail, from Pot House Bridge towards Barnby. When coke-fired, the brick-lined furnace was worked by Cockshutt & Co in the early 1820s.
The mainly fifteenth century parish church of All Saints’ and St James the Great is a fine example of ‘Pennine Perpendicular’ and, like Ecclesfield, has been described as Minster of the Moors. There has been a church here from late Norman times and throughout its medieval existence Silkstone was the centre of an extensive parish when Barnsley was a small, relatively minor settlement. A great re-building took place, the west tower completed in 1479 by the Cluniac monks of Pontefract. This replaced a central tower, part of an earlier cruciform plan. Walk around the outside and you will see some magnificent flying buttresses and grotesque gargoyles – carved from the magnesian limestone, chosen in contrast to the harder coal measure sandstone of the rest of the building. Go inside and you will see a fine oak-timber roof with carved bosses of heads and green men; and lovely late-medieval wooden screens. The most impressive monument is that of Sir Thomas Wentworth (d.1675) and his wife, Grace, two splendid recumbent figures in white marble. Wentworth was imprisoned by Cromwell in 1658 but after the Restoration Charles II rewarded him well for his royal support. He was knighted, created a baronet and placed in command of a regiment. Not surprisingly, Sir Thomas is shown with long, flowing hair and wearing the period armour and clothes of a Cavalier. His country seat was at West Bretton, one of several townships subjected to Silkstone.
In the church there is also a metal plaque dedicated to the great Stainborough-born engineer Joseph Bramah, famous for his invention of an advanced lock, hydraulic press and several other innovations, including a water-closet. Such was his high regard among colleagues such as George Stephenson and Isabard Kingdom Brunel, that his portrait was placed in the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, in London, where it remains to this day. Some of you may remember Adam Hart-Davis coming to Silkstone when filming the Local Heroes series of television programmes, demonstrating one of Bramah’s inventions in the car park of the Red Lion. Years later, I met Adam at a literary event in London and we talked about the great contribution that Bramah made to engineering.
In the middle of the seventeenth century, when Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector, a second or third generation French immigrant family settled in Silkstone, bringing with them the ‘mysteries’ of glassmaking and established a small works in the valley of Silkstone Beck, at the foot of Church Hill. The site was owned by John Scott, a well-to-do yeoman farmer. A small but important cluster of buildings developed at what became known as Pot House or Pothouses (now Pot House Hamlet). The Pilmays – brothers John and Peter, and their sister, Mary – arrived after working in Manchester and the Midlands but their continental origins made them highly distinctive incomers. Despite this, they soon integrated into the local community, John marrying a local widow, Abigail Scott. Abigail appears to have been increasingly involved in running the glassworks following the deaths of her brother, John, in 1675, and Peter, in 1697. When she died, her probate inventory – a list of goods and chattels – provides us with an interesting glimpse of the works: two furnaces, two warehouses and several outbuildings. The stock included ‘both flinte [sparkling or crystal], green [window] ware & ordinary’ glass. A variety of colouring agents are also mentioned, along with basic raw materials such as ashes, sand and salt petre. The Pilmays used innovative and sophisticated technology. Their glassworks passed to John Scott, Abigail’s son by her first marriage, manufacturing continuing into the first decade of the new century – but then ceased. However, not too far away, at Gawber, a small glassmaking furnace had been established, initially on a very small scale. From the 1730s a more advanced furnace was functioning when Francis Morton, who had worked with the Pilmays at Silkstone, moved to Gawber. The Silkstone site developed into a small pottery during the eighteenth century, by the beck, on the site of the present car park. Remains of the old Silkstone glassworks site were excavated by English Heritage in 2003, following many years of research by my late friend, Dr Denis Ashurst. It is one of the most important early glasswork locations in the country, and of international importance.
The waters of Silkstone Beck were also harnessed for the use of a water corn mill which can still be seen as part of the Pot House Hamlet. The adjacent waggonway – a horse-drawn railway – was constructed in 1809 in order to convey coal to the canal basin at Barnby. It was extended to Moorend, Silkstone Common, in 1830, when new collieries were being developed. A superb recreation of a Silkstone waggon can be seen at Silkstone Cross. So, when you visit Pot House Hamlet (see our separate feature), it is worth being aware of this considerable heritage.
Moving back into the village, two old pubs survive. The oldest is the Red Lion, a former coaching inn where Coronor Thomas Badger, from Sheffield, presided over the Huskar pit disaster inquest. Nearby, across the road, is the Ring O’ Bells (formerly known as the Six Ringers), next to the village stocks. The first Miners’ Union meeting was held here in the 1850s.
Neighbouring Silkstone Common was a small, mainly linear development along the main road from Dodworth, plus a scattering of farms but, from 1854, had its own little, now long disused, railway station. Nearby, the Bonny Bunch of Roses public house (c.1813) has gone but its neighbour, across the road, formerly known as the Junction Inn – but renamed as The Station – thankfully remains. Some residents may remember the old rose gardens at the ‘Roses’ and Sunday evening concerts held there by Old Silkstone Brass Band. South Yorkshire Buildings – or ‘Sparrow Barracks’ were the homes of the navies who built the railway to Wentworth Silkstone Colliery and Penistone. Alfred Horn ran a small shop in the front room of one of the houses, later used by his granddaughter, Hilda Carr. Hilda’s father, John Gillott Carr, was choirmaster at the parish church for 62 years. In recent times, a thriving and distinct community has developed.
A Primitive Methodist Chapel was established at the Common in 1868 and a Sunday School added six years later. In 1930 the foundation stone of the present Methodist Church was laid by 48 members and friends. On Saturday 18 April 1931 about 400 people walked from the old chapel to the new and ‘a splendid tea’ was provided, Rev J.M. Craddock being the circuit minister.
Silkstonians are rightly proud of their history. In recent years the Parish Council, churches, the Horsfield family and local groups such as Roggins have done much to commemorate and celebrate local features. May they long continue to do so.
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)