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Barnsley Life

The first historical reference to Barnsley is in the Domesday Book of 1086, where it was referred to as ''Berneslai''. The name has its roots in the Saxon word Berne, a barn or storehouse and Ley, meaning a field.

Through the centuries ownership of Barnsley''s land passed through many hands, from the monks whose influence led Henry III to grant Barnsley a charter to hold an annual fair and weekly markets, to the Crown following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539.

The Civil wars of the 17th century left Barnsley undisturbed, so it steadily developed into a prosperous market town. As the town was on the route between Leeds, Wakefield, Sheffield and London, a large number of coaches passed daily through the town, generating good business for hostelries and related trades.


The Linen Industry

Barnsley was one of the principal British centres of linen weaving in the 18th and 19th centuries and insured its growth as an important manufacturing town. William Wilson founded the Barnsley linen trade in 1744 when it began as a small-scale domestic industry, with hand-loom weavers working at their own homes. James Cocker introduced the power loom into Barnsley in 1837 and the first factory for making linen by this new process was built by Thomas Edward Taylor in 1844. By the 1850s a cluster of linen mills had been built in the Town End area, drawing water from the Sough Dyke to feed their millponds. There were plentiful orders for finer and more expensive fabrics which were largely exported to continental Europe, the USA and South America. In 1880 Taylors Mill in Peel Street housed over 400 steam looms and employed over 800 people. However, the demand for heavy Barnsley lines eventually fell, changing in favour of lighter and cheaper articles manufactured in Ireland and Scotland.



There is a long tradition of making quality glass products in Barnsley. Glass bottles for ginger beer and pickle-jars were first made in Gawber in the mid 18th century but the industry accelerated 100 years later when the manufacture of glass-stoppered bottles was introduced. The Redfearn brothers established their glass and bottle works at Old Mill in 1862 on a site bounded by the Barnsley Canal and Harborough Hill Road. The making of flint glass was carried out by Wood Brother Glass Company Ltd. and a great deal of etched, engraved and cut glass work was produced by their factories.


The Rise and Fall of the Coal-mining Industry

In terms of its industrial history, Barnsley became best known as the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield. There had been mining in Silkstone parish at least 200 years before the Norman Conquest and there is documentary evidence of leases for coal being awarded in 1370 at Cortworth, near Wentworth. The monks at Pontefract Priory acquired a coal pit at Barnsley in 1491 for £8, said to have a life of about 16 years. Before 1688 much of the coal bearing land was owned by the Crown but mining rights were frequently granted. By the late 17th century coal was in demand as a domestic fuel, for use in smithies and furnaces, in brewing and other trades. There was a considerable amount of coal beneath Barnsley, enough to supply the town's needs and export elsewhere. This created the need for an integrated transport networth. In 1910 there were two canals and four railway lines serving Barnsley: the Aire & Calder and Dearne & Dove canals; the Midlands, Great Central, Lancashire and Yorkshire, and Hull & Barnsley railways.

At the turn of the 20th century coal was the most important industry in Barnsley and by far the largest employer. The 1910 Borough Pocket Guide of Barnsley describes the coal trade as the "staple trade of the town and district". The profitable Barnsley seam had been virtually worked out by the end of the 1940s but coal was still to be found in 24 seams throughout the Yorkshire coalfield. By the mid 1970s the Barnsley coalfield was in decline but as a result of massive investment the 1983 Barnsley Town guide could optimistically (and ironically) confirm that "a new coalfield-from-old is being created, taking Barnsley''s 16 pits and 15,000 mineworkers well into the next century on a secure and profitable footing". However, this was not to be. The demise of the coal-mining industry followed hard on the heels of the 1984-85 Miners'' Strike, and by 1992 only two pits remained open in the Barnsley coalfield: Grimethorpe and Houghton Main. These too were nominated for closure by the end of that year.


A Market Town

As a shopping and commercial centre, Barnsley has always served a wide surrounding area and Barnsley''s market has a long history of importance as the commercial and social heart of the town. The monks of Pontefract held their market and fairs from 1249 until the dissolution of the monasteries and it is likely that the inhabitants of Barnsley have been bartering and exchanging goods on May Day Green since the Middle Ages. Barnsley market has been in its time the largest open-air market in the north of England and has attracted people in their thousands every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The 1948 Barnsley Official Handbook described the market as consisting of "300 and 400 canvas-covered stalls, covering an area of between three and four acres". At this time, it was divided into six separate markets: May Day Green, Lower May Day Green, Market Hill, Kendray, Queen''s and New Market.

Being recognised as one of the largest and best markets for busness in the country, stallholders came every week from London, Leicester, Stoke-on-Trent, Blackpool, Preston, Manchester and surrounding areas. A shopping centre naturally developed around the site of the historic market. The character of the market has changed in modern times. A new market complex was constructed in 1974 when the town centre shopping centre was redeveloped and there have been no stalls on Market Hill for many years.


Barnsley Today

Barnsley has undergone a great deal of change since its days as a small village at the time of the Norman Conquest. The Enclosure Act of 1777 enabled commons, moors and waste ground to be enclosed and built upon, thereby marking the beginning of Barnsley''s growth and development. The 21st century sees old colliery sites being regenerated to provide sites for supermarkets, factory units, enterprise parks and housing. Today, the Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council area covers 32,853 hectares (127 square miles) and has a population of just under 230,000. There remain strong contrasts between the rural and Pennine setting and urban industrial areas including the main town of Barnsley (population just under 90,000) and other smaller towns and former mining villages.


Sources from:

Renaissance Barnsley, John Thompson and Partners, 2002 - The Making of Barnsley, Brian Elliott, 1988 - Pits and Pitmen of Barnsley, Brian Elliott, 2001 - Images of Barnsley, Barnsley Archive Service, 2001 - A Pictorial Record of mining in Barnsley, John Threlkeld, 1987 - Golden Threads, Barnsley''s Linen Industry, John Goodchild 1983 - Barnsley Town Guides: 1910, 1925, 1933, 1948, 1983