“Barnsley have started off the way they mean to begin”

– Chris Kamara

Barnsley is a former mining town in South Yorkshire. According to the 2019 Census rehearsal, it had a population of around 98,924 people. It’s best known for its distinctive culture, brass bands, and coal mining heritage.

Things to see and do in Barnsley

There are plenty of fun things to see and do in Barnsley. One of these is the Elsecar Heritage Museum which is based in the conservation village of the same name. It has stone cottages which were built for workers at its nearby colliery and foundry.

Attached to the same village is the Elsecar Heritage Railway. It runs a steam powered passenger service from the heritage centre to Rockingham station on Sunday’s. People who take this service will find some fantastic local scenery. The attraction also boasts a park, craft workshop, and antiques centre.

The Victorian Garden at Wentworth Castle Picture credit: Steve Fareham geograph wikipedia creative commons
The Victorian Garden at Wentworth Castle Picture credit: Steve Fareham geograph wikipedia creative commons

Another place to visit in Barnsley is Wentworth Castle Gardens. The gardens were built in the 18th Century on the site of the former Stainborough Castle which existed previously. The original is now a folly which can be found in the gardens.

In 2007, Wentworth Castle Gardens were opened to the public and has since become a popular tourist destination in the area. The project to restore the castle and grounds were featured on the BBC reality TV series “Restoration”, in 2003.

Its extensive gardens feature many notable national collections of rhododendrons, camellias, and magnolias. In 2013, the gardens Victorian Conservatory was restored back to its former glory making it a significant feature.

The 600 acre parkland has a number of historic monuments. You’ll find the Queen Anne’s Obelisk, the Rotunda, and the Duke of Argyle’s statue. It also contains a deer park which has both red and fallow species.

Cannon Hall Museum, Park, and Gardens situated five miles west of Barnsley is another notable place to visit. There are records of the property and site from the Domesday book. The current building received its present name from a 13th Century inhabitant called Gilbert Canun.

The museum, Cannon Hall Gallery, delves into the history of the military. It features displays related to the Light Dragoons and Royal Hussars regiments. These displays explore their roles in famous battles such as “The Charge of the Light Brigade”. It also includes an array of paintings, furniture, glassware, and ceramics.

Cawthorne Park at Cannon Hall makes a great day out for the family. They have a range of themed areas such as the Victorian Fairyland Garden. Within the grounds, you’ll find a maze, garden centre and adventure playground.

The ruins of an old monastery called Monk Bretton Priory can be found in the village of Lundwood. It was founded in 1154 by Adam Fitzwane as The Priory of St Mary Magdalene and became an integral part of the original formation of Barnsley. Like most monasteries in England, it was disbanded in 1538 during the Reformation. The ruin is now owned by English Heritage and can be visited by the public.

A historical industrial site called Pot House Hamlet used to house glassworks, a grinding mill and pottery. These have been converted to create an attractive shopping and dining area. The mill now hosts a number of independent craft stalls and the old potting shed is now a popular café.

Barnsley and Pop Culture

Barnsley has been used extensively in popular culture and is perhaps most famous for the book, “A Kestrel for a Knave,” written by Ken Loach and its big screen adaptation, “Kes”. It tells the story of a young boy from Barnsley who takes up falconry in order to escape his inevitable path of working down the local coal mine.

Another popular film is “Brassed Off,” created in 1996. The film focuses on the story of the Grimethorpe Colliery band and their struggles to cope with the closure of their pit in the early 1990’s.

Brass bands are synonymous with the Barnsley area, although they are present throughout the world in various forms. The popular Grimethorpe Colliery band was first formed in 1917 as a communal activity for pit workers. They have since become one of the most successful colliery bands in the country. The band has gone on to win the national championships on four occasions and represented England in the European equivalent finishing second in 2007. The band has successfully outlived the coal mine which shut in 1992.

Barnsley Theatres and Nightlife

Barnsley is home to two theatres: The Lamproom, and The Academy. The Lamproom was built in the old Methodist chapel and currently hosts a range of dance, musicals and comedy shows. Four theatre societies operate from here including two youth companies plus a musical and drama section.

The Academy theatre located in Birdwell was a purposely built auditorium. It houses a drama school and also acts as a venue for music concerts and plays.

Barnsley has a well developed nightlife which offers plenty of pubs, clubs, and bars to choose from. Highlights include the themed Che Bar & Coco nightclub, and Volt nightclub both of which can be found on Wellington Street.

There’s a free music event held in June each year called “Live”. Various venues around the town feature many local bands.

Transportation in Barnsley

Barnsley was originally established at the meeting of two ancient roads. It’s very well linked to other towns and overtime the infrastructure has modernised around it.

The town lies between a motorway “triangle” making it easy to access the M1, M62 and M18. These motorways connect Barnsley to places such as Leeds, Sheffield, and Hull. There are also several “A” roads which link the town to places such as Doncaster and Huddersfield.

Barnsley Interchange station opened in 1850 on the Penistone-Hallam line. It has services which run to Leeds and Wakefield to the North, Sheffield and Nottingham to the South, and Huddersfield to the West. Up until 2008, there was also a direct line to London St Pancras.

In 2007, a new Interchange Bus station opened to the public. It’s services run to other local Yorkshire places such as Wakefield, Doncaster, Sheffield, and Rotherham.

Barnsley College is the place to go for higher education in the town. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd
Barnsley College is the place to go for higher education in the town. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd

Education in Barnsley

Barnsley College is the sole provider of higher education in the town. It has several campuses dotted around and just outside of Barnsley town centre. The college offers a wide range of courses and apprenticeships for people aged 16+. Former pupils include Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys and kids TV presenter Sam Nixon.

Barnsley and Sport

The dominant sport in Barnsley is football. In 1887, the town’s team was formed as Barnsley St Peters by a local clergyman. The team spent their early days competing in the Sheffield & District league before joining the National Division Two in 1898. Since their formation, they played at Oakwell and were nicknamed “The Tykes”.

During 1996 to 1997, the club had a brief taste of top flight football before being relegated. Then, in 2002, the club entered administration after financial losses made from the collapse of ITV Digital. They were only just saved from extinction when the mayor at the time, Peter Doyle, bought the club at the eleventh hour. He then sold it on to two local businessmen who have owned the club ever since.

Another popular sport in Barnsley is Cricket. Barnsley Cricket Club plays in the Yorkshire ECP County Premier League which is the top tier of amateur cricket in the region. It’s noted for its steady supply of players who have gone on to play for Yorkshire and England. These players include Geoffrey Boycott, Dickie Bird, – who also became a top international umpire – Martyn Moxon, and Darren Gough.

Local hero Dickie Bird is a symbol of barnsley's great cricketing heritage. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd
Local hero Dickie Bird is a symbol of Barnsley’s great cricketing heritage. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd

Shopping in Barnsley

When you go to the Alhambra in Bradford, you go to watch a play. In Barnsley, you go to the Alhambra to shop. In 1991, the Alhambra shopping centre was opened and has since been the main retail focal point of Barnsley town centre. Boasting 41 shop units, the Barnsley shopping centre is home to big high street names such as Primark, Next, and TK Maxx.

Barnsley also has an indoor and outdoor market which, combined, has 300 stalls such as JuJo & Co, Barker’s Butchers and Devine’s Footwear. You’ll find a wide variety of goods ranging from fashion, fresh flowers, bakeries and much more. The Indoor Market is open Monday to Saturday 8:30am – 4pm and the Outdoor Market is open everyday except Thursday 8:30am – 4:30pm.

Re-development in Barnsley

There was an ambitious major redevelopment to the town called “remaking Barnsley”. Barnsley has seen several developments to the town centre with a focus on attracting visitors and to make the overall feel of it modern.

The scheme started in 2003 and involved a number of regeneration projects across the town. These included a new entertainment venue called The Civic, a digital media centre, a new town square, and a new train station amongst other innovations to revitalise Barnsley.

One of the projects was the development of the “Experience Barnsley” museum. The museum focuses on the history of the town and its people from ancient times to the present day. Exhibitions change throughout the year ranging from photographs to archaeological artefacts. The archives and discovery centre enable locals to research their family tree and find out about the history of their house.

Another project was the re-development of “The Civic” theatre and entertainment venue. It had previously been closed for eleven years before it opened again in 2009. The venue has a 300 seat auditorium along with a variety of studios and workshop space for local and in-house productions. The yearly programme includes a mixture of plays, comedy, children’s, and dance shows.

Attached to The Civic is the more recently developed Mandela Gardens. They provide a green space for the town centre and also host a range of outdoor events. The gardens were designed to represent the surrounding countryside of Barnsley with hills, rivers, and rocks.

Overlooking the Mandela Gardens is the controversial £32,500 Barnsley Clock which sits on the side of The Civic building. No longer working, the clock was made up of red lights. A long line was the minutes, a shorter line was the hour and the dot was the second. Most people didn’t realise it was a clock and when they did they couldn’t tell the time.

Another project was the opening of the Barnsley Digital Media centre which has helped to attract creative businesses to the town. There are also several other developments planned for the future in order to transform Barnsley into a modern market town.

Barnsley continues to build itself a modern future whilst still remaining close to its roots.

In the Domesday book, Barnsley was originally known as “Berneslai”. The origin of the name is thought to have come from Berne, meaning barn and lay which is the old word for field.

Home to around 200 people, the village developed very little. In the 1150’s, its lands were given to the monastery based in Pontefract.

Monks settled here and developed a brand new town at the meeting of two ancient roads. These roads ran from Sheffield and Wakefield to the North and South, and Huddersfield and Doncaster to the East and West. 

The original Domesday village called “Old Barnsley” was left alone and roughly lies in modern day Silkstone. A priory of St Magdalene was also founded at a place now known as Monk Bretton.

The town of Barnsley grew around its market during the 17th Century. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd
The town of Barnsley originally grew around its market during the 17th Century. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd

The new town grew to around 600 people. In 1249, it was granted a weekly market and a four day fair at Michaelmas. At first, due to its location at the meeting of important roads, Barnsley became a hospitality town and a stop off point for people travelling between Leeds and London.

In the 17th Century, taverns and inns began popping up. By this time, Barnsley was becoming a manufacturing town. Its first coal mines were sunk and famous glass-making factories started to produce and export their wares.

An act of Parliament in 1777 enabled the surrounding heaths and moorland to be built upon. This started Barnsley’s industrialisation and expansion.

In 1802, Barnsley Canal became a very important connection to the Aire-Calder Navigation System. It gave the wool factories of Wakefield, Leeds, and Bradford access to Barnsley’s coalfields which powered them. By this time the town’s population had grown to over 3,000 people making it an important town in its own right.

Coal mining has played an important part in Bransley's history. Picture credit: pixabay
Coal mining has played an important part in Barnsley’s history. Picture credit: pixabay

Arguably, the town’s most notorious moments came in the 1980’s. Barnsley became the centre of the miners’ strike.

The dispute divided the many mining communities within the district. In the end, all of Barnsley’s coal mines were closed down in 1994. It took years for the town to come to terms with the loss of its industry and still it continues to take effect.

In 2003, a huge 30 year regeneration project was created. Its main purpose was to make Barnsley a modern town.

Barnsley returned to its hospitality roots and has become a desirable place to live due to its proximity to local cities such as Leeds, Sheffield, and Wakefield.

The development of Barnsley town centre has attracted modern business with the help of the digital media building. Barnsley is continuing to progress and move forward with the times however this former mining town will never forget its past and how it came to be what it is today.

Barnsley is home to the first ever bottle bank which was first used in 1977. There are now around 50,000 across the country.

When the 1969 film “Kes” was released on video and later on DVD, it had to be dubbed into standard English for the US audience. Due to the strength of the regional Barnsley accent and dialect spoken by the characters in the film, Americans found it difficult to understand.

The original village of Barnsley actually lies in modern day Silkstone. The residents moved to higher ground closer to the meeting of the two ancient roads – Sheffield to Wakefield, and Doncaster to Huddersfield.

In total, there were 11 coal mines in the Barnsley district:

  • Barnsley Main
  • Cortonwood
  • Darfield – merged with Houghton Main
  • Dearne Valley
  • Dodworth
  • Goldthorpe
  • Grimethorpe
  • Hickleton Main – merged with Goldthorpe
  • Houghton Main
  • North Gawber – merged with Woolley
  • Royston

In 2002, plans were put in place to convert Barnsley into a “Tuscan hill town”. This would have made it similar to towns in northern Italy. It would have been completed with a surrounding wall and lights beaming out from the town hall.