“Coal mining is tough. Acting is just tedious.”

– Johnny Knoxville

Barnsley is a former mining town in South Yorkshire, with a population of around 70,000 people. It is best known for its distinctive culture, brass bands and coal mining heritage.

There are plenty of things to see and do in Barnsley and the surrounding area. The Elsecar Heritage Museum is based in the conservation village of the same name. Its stone cottages were built for workers at its nearby colliery and foundry. Attached to the village is the Elsecar Heritage railway, which runs a steam powered passenger service from the heritage centre to Rockingham station on Sundays, taking in 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

Wentworth Castle gardens were built in the 18th Century on the site of the former Stainborough Castle, which had existed previously. The original is now a folly located in the gardens. In 2007 it was opened to the public and has become a popular tourist destination in the area. The project to restore the castle and grounds featured on the BBC reality TV series, “Restoration,” in 2003.

Its extensive gardens feature notable national collections of rhododendrons, Camellias and Magnolias, while its Victorian Conservatory newly restored in November 2013 is also a significant feature. The 600-acre parkland has a number of historic monuments, such as 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 and gardens are situated five mile west of Barnsley. There are records of property on this site from the Doomsday book, but the current building received its current name from a 13th Century inhabitant called Gilbert Canun.

Presently the attraction houses two museums. The first is the Cannon Hall gallery, which concentrates on military history. It features displays related to the Light Dragoons and Royal Hussars regiments, exploring their roles in famous battles, including “The charge of the Light Brigade.” The other museum focuses on art, including an array of paintings, furniture, glassware and ceramics.

The gardens, named Cawthorne Park has a series of themed areas, such as the Victorian Fairyland garden. Within the grounds there are also a maze, garden centre and adventure playground.

Monk Bretton Priory is the ruin of an old monastery in the village of Lundwood. It was founded in 1154 by Adam Fitzwane as The Priory of St Mary Magdelene and was an integral part of the original formation of Barnsley. Like most monasteries in England it was disbanded in 1538, during the Reformation, leaving a ruin now owned by English Heritage.

Pot house hamlet is a historical industrial site, which used to house a glassworks, grinding mill and pottery. These have since been converted into an attractive shopping and dining area. The mill hosts a number of independent craft stalls, while the old potting shed is now a café.

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 is the 1996 film, “Brassed off,” which charts the story of the Grimethorpe Colliery band and their struggles to cope with the closure of their pit in the early 1990s.

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

Barnsley is served by two theatres, The Lamproom and The Academy. The former was built in an old Methodist chapel and hosts a range of dance shows, musicals and comedy. Four theatre societies operate from here including two youth companies plus a musical and drama section. The Academy theatre at Birdwell was a purposely built auditorium and houses a drama school. The venue also stages a mixture of music concerts and plays.

Barnsley has a well- developed nightlife with plenty of pubs, clubs and bars to choose from in a relatively small area. Highlights include the themed Coco nightclub and Voudou, based on Wellington Street. Live in Barnsley is a free music event at different venues around the town, featuring many local bands and is held in June.

Barnsley, which was originally established at the meeting of two ancient roads, is very well linked to other towns, as over time the infrastructure has modernised around it. It lies within a motorway “triangle” with the M1 running to the West, M62 northwards and the M18, which makes up the third side, connecting it to places such as Leeds, Sheffield and Hull respectively. “A” roads also link the town to places such as Doncaster and Huddersfield.

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

The new Interchange bus station was opened in 2007 and runs services 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

Barnsley College is the sole provider of higher education in the town. It has several campuses, offering a wide range of courses and apprenticeships. Former pupils include Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys and kids TV presenter, Sam Nixon.

The dominant sport in Barnsley is football. The town’s team were formed in 1887 as Barnsley St Peters, by a local clergyman, and spent their early days competing in the Sheffield & District League, before joining the National Division Two in 1898. They have played at Oakwell since their formation and are nicknamed “The Tykes.” More recently the club had a brief taste of top flight football in the 1996-97 season before being relegated. The club entered administration in 2002, after financial losses made from the collapse of ITV Digital. They were only saved from extinction when the mayor at the time, Peter Doyle bought the club at the eleventh hour. He sold it on to two local businessmen, who have owned the club ever since. At the time of writing Barnsley FC suffered relegation to League One at the end of the 2013-14 season.

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

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

If in Bradford you go to the Alhambra to watch a play, in Barnsley you go there to shop. Opened in 1991 the Alhambra shopping centre has been the main retail focal point of Barnsley town centre, boasting 41 shop units and housing high street names, such as Primark, Next and TK Maxx to name but a few. Barnsley market has 300 stalls selling a wide variety of goods, every day except Thursday and Sunday.

An ambitious major redevelopment, called, “re-making Barnsley,” has seen several developments made to its town centre in order to attract visitors and brush off its gritty, industrial image.

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

One such project is the development of the “Experience Barnsley” museum, which charts the history of the town and its people from Ancient Times to the present day. Visitors can also discover changing exhibitions 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 is the re-development of “The Civic” theatre and entertainments venue, which 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 amongst others. Attached to the Civic are the newly re-developed Mandela Gardens, which provide not only a green space for the town centre, but also hosts a range of outdoor events. The area has been designed to represent the surrounding countryside of Barnsley with hills, rivers and rocks. Overlooking the site is the controversial Barnsley Clock, which sits on two sides of The Civic building. Another renaissance project has been 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 from an industrial wasteland into a thriving, modern market town over the next twenty years.

Barnsley is a place which is very aware of its past, but is also trying to build a future in which it can be proud of too.

Barnsley was known as “Berneslai” in the Doomsday book and the origin of the name is believed to have come from Berne, meaning barn and lay which is the old word for field. The village of around 200 people developed very little, until the 1150s when its lands were given to the monastery based in Pontefract. The monks who settled here developed a brand new town at the meeting of two ancient roads; running from Sheffield and Wakefield to the North and South and Huddersfield to Doncaster, East and West. The original Doomsday village named “Old Barnsley” was left alone and lies roughly 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 and was granted a weekly market in 1249 and a four day fair at Michaelmas. At first due to its location at the meeting of these important roads Barnsley became a hospitality town and a stop off point for people travelling between Leeds and London. Taverns and inns sprouted up in the 17th Century. However, by this time Barnsley was also becoming a manufacturing town with its first coal mines being sunk and famous glass-making factories starting to produce and export their wares. An act of Parliament in 1777 enabled the surrounding heaths and moorland to be built upon and thus started Barnsley’s industrialisation and expansion. In 1802 the Barnsley Canal became a very important connection to the Aire-Calder Navigation System, giving the wool factories of Wakefield, Leeds and Bradford access to Barnsley’s coalfields in order to power 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 1980s when Barnsley became the centre of the miners’ strike. The dispute divided the many mining communities within the district, which eventually resulted in all Barnsley coal mines being closed down by 1994. Since then the town struggled to come to terms with the loss of its industry. However in 2003 a huge 30-year regeneration project started to take Barnsley into the future. It has returned to its hospitality roots and has become a desirable place to live due to its proximity to Leeds and Sheffield. Furthermore the development of its town centre and digital media building, to attract more modern businesses, has helped Barnsley let go of its industrial past and step into a brighter future.

Barnsley was the home of 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 subsequent DVD releases had to be dubbed into English for US audiences, due to the strength of the regional Barnsley dialect spoken by characters in the film.

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

At its height there were ten coal mines in the Barnsley district.
In 2002, plans were put in place to convert Barnsley into a “Tuscan hill town,” similar to those in northern Italy, complete with a surrounding wall and lights beaming out from the town hall.