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History of Barnsley

Barnsley has a long history both as a market and mining town in Yorkshire from at least the eleventh century until the last decade of the twentieth century. One of the earliest written references  to the town is as Berneslai in the Domesday Book in 1086. This the first recorded mention of what became the town of Barnsley. Like most English towns, however, it is likely that a community existed there long before the coming of William the Conqueror. Barnsley is probably best known for its prominence in the coal mining industry, and in the Silkestone area of Barnsley there is evidence of mining more than two hundred years before the Norman invasion. In 1491 the monks of the Pontefract Priory bought a Barnsley coal pit for £8 and had it running for about sixteen years.

Much of the coal land was owned by the king prior to 1688 although the monarchy often granted mining rights to people. Coal was needed as domestic fuel by the late seventeenth century and was also used  in trades such as the breweries, furnaces and smithies. There was sufficient coal under Barnsley to supply the needs of the towns and to transport elsewhere and a proper transport network was needed for this. By the start of the twentieth century coal was the town’s main industry and in1910 Barnsley was served by four rail lines and two canals.

Following the dissolution of the monasteries, in 1539 Barnsley was granted a charter to hold fairs and weekly markets. The civil war of the seventeenth century barely touched Barnsley and it continued developing as a prosperous market town. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Barnsley was at the centre of the linen weaving industry and became important in manufacturing. The first linen making factory was introduced in 1844 by Thomas Edward Taylor and by the eighteen fifties there were a cluster of such mills near the town centre. By 1888- the Taylor mills employed over 800 people but at the turn of the century the linen industry started to decline. People were buying lighter materials from Scotland and Ireland rather than the heavier Barnsley linens.

Barnsley also has a history of glass making and in the mid eighteenth century produced glass beer and pickle bottles and the manufacture of stoppered bottles was introduced by the middle of the nineteenth century. As some industries declined so others increased and Barnsley’s place in the coal mining industry remained prominent until the mid nineteen forties when the seams started to be mined out. Mining still continued in the 24 remaining seams of the Yorkshire coalfields but by the nineteen seventies the industry was in fast decline. The final end of the mining industry in Barnsley and in elsewhere in the region followed the miners’ strike of 1984 and 1985 and by 1992 only two pits remained and by the end of that year they too were headed for closure.


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