Earls’ industrial legacy puts village on the map

Some of the historic buildings at Elsecar Heritage Centre

Important historic sites in South Yorkshire have been recognised for their great significance. Chase Editor ANTONY CLAY reports

PROTECTION has been boosted for 16 historic sites in a South Yorkshire village to mark their historic importance.

The sites in Elsecar have been recognised for their significance to the village’s industrial heritage and links with the visionary Earls Fitzwilliam who owned the nearby Wentworth Woodhouse estate.

Six sites have been newly listed, nine upgraded to Grade II* status and one site’s listing has been expanded.

The sites have been listed and upgraded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England, giving them greater protection and recognition.

The new listings follow recent research which has been carried out by Historic England which highlighted Elsecar’s significance as an international centre of industry and innovation in the late 18th and 19th century.

Elsecar was built by the Earls Fitzwilliam from the late 1700s and had coalmines and a huge ironworks.
Aristocratic investors in industry were common in the late 18th and 19th centuries but their work sites were usually located well away from their homes. However, the Earls Fitzwilliam located their industrial sites close to their stately pile and made them a prominent feature of their estate.

The station building at Elsecar

The 16 new listings and upgrades form part of the legacy of the Elsecar Heritage Action Zone, a three-year partnership project between Historic England and Barnsley Museums, aimed at uncovering Elsecar’s heritage and realising its economic and social potential.

There are six newly listed sites, which include the former Elsecar Ironworks that produced plating for HMS Warrior, the Royal Navy’s first armour-plated warship; Hemingfield Colliery, a rare surviving mid-19th century pithead; and a school, which reflects the paternalistic attitude of the Earls Fitzwilliam towards their workforce.

Nine sites have been upgraded from Grade II to II, putting them into the top 10 per cent of England’s most important historic buildings. These form a pioneering centralised workshop complex serving the Earls’ industries, which includes the 6th Earl’s personal railway station.

Hemingfield Colliery – also known as Low Elsecar Colliery – was developed in the 1840s by the 5th Earl Fitzwilliam (1786-1857) and remained in operation until 1920.

The creation of the colliery was overseen by the Earl’s superintendent, Benjamin Biram, an influential engineer who was a pioneer in mining safety. He developed an improved safety lamp, experimented with fan-powered ventilation and invented a mechanical anemometer, a device which was used for measuring mine ventilation.

Biram used Hemingfield as a test bed for new ideas including the installation of a hydraulically-powered ventilation fan. On December 22, 1852, 10 miners were killed and a further 12 were injured following an explosion in the mine. An inquest found that the incident would have been far worse had it not been for the mine’s ventilation system designed by Biram.

Elsecar New Colliery included the Elsecar Newcomen Engine which was the world’s first practical steam engine, which was invented in 1712 by Thomas Newcomen. Elsecar retains the only surviving example still in its original position in the world. Installed in 1795, it pumped water from Elsecar’s mines for more than 125 years.

The engine and its house became a Scheduled Monument in 1973, but recent excavations have shown that important remains of the associated colliery pit head survive, justifying the extension to the scheduled area.

The former Elsecar Ironworks, protected as a Scheduled Monument, was built in 1795 and was one of two created in the area by the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam (1748-1833). Here, coke produced from locally mined coal was combined with iron ore – mined to the west of Elsecar – and smelted in massive steam-powered blast furnaces to create iron. This was then refined into wrought iron that was rolled in the rolling mill or made into castings in the casting shed to produce an array of goods sold and shipped out via the canal and railway that were linked to Elsecar by the Earls.

HMS Warrior which was built with iron plating from Elsecar

In 1859, the ironworks produced iron plating for HMS Warrior, the Royal Navy’s first ironclad warship, which was built to maintain Britain’s maritime supremacy.

The Earls’ Central Workshops, upgraded to Grade II, had a central complex of workshops, offices and stores added in the 1850s by the 5th Earl Fitzwilliam to serve his various industries. This pioneering industrial complex is now home to the Elsecar Heritage Centre and all of its buildings have now been upgraded to Grade II*.

The complex includes a private railway station opened in 1870 by the 6th Earl (1815-1902) which was used by him and his guests at Wentworth Woodhouse, often acting as their departure point for days out at the Doncaster Races.

But the station also served for more ordinary purposes, such as annual railway excursions to the seaside for workers’ families.

The railway station is now used as a nursery, aptly named Railway Children.

Elsecar Holy Trinity CE Primary Academy and School Master’s House, listed at Grade II, was created due to the 5th Earl’s paternalistic relationship with Elsecar which saw him take a keen interest in his workers. He provided good-quality housing, funded the construction of Holy Trinity Church in 1842 and built a new school to replace an earlier, smaller one.

The Earl opened the new school with a fundraising tea and sale for the Church Missionary Society on June 1, 1852. The following day children and teachers celebrated with tea and plum cake and an evening entertainment of magic lanterns and fire balloons.

Four classes of mixed boys and girls were taught by the under master, his wife, and two pupil-teachers.

The 4th Earl was a supporter of the abolition of the slave trade. His son, the 5th Earl, held similar views and was a supporter of the Great 1832 Reform Act, which widened the voting franchise in England and Wales.

A Royal visit to Elsecar in 1912

Nigel Huddleston, Heritage Minister, said: “The village of Elsecar in South Yorkshire undoubtedly played a vital role as a hub of industry and innovation in the 18th and 19th centuries. I’m delighted that these listings will ensure its rich legacy and history will be protected for the local community and visitors to enjoy over the years to come.”

Veronica Fiorato, listing team leader for the North at Historic England, said that Elsecar is an important location.

She said: “What is remarkable about Elsecar is that so much of its rich industrial heritage survives today. Not only can we see many of the remains of its collieries and ironworks but also the community that was built around it – the school, the workers’ cottages and the church.

“These new listings will both help to raise the profile of Elsecar’s significance and also protect its rich heritage for future generations.”

Councillor Sir Stephen Houghton, leader of Barnsley Council, welcomed the move to provide further protection for the buildings.

He said: “We are very proud of this official recognition of just how important the heritage at Elsecar is. Already visited by over half a million people each year, the village means a great deal to local people and supports jobs and economic impact for our communities.

“Elsecar’s potential is even greater as a result of this recognition and we are committed to fully realising this over coming years.”

The schoolmaster’s house at Elsecar

The full list of new listings and upgrades in Elsecar:

  1. The former Elsecar Ironworks (Scheduled Monument)
  2. Building 1, former Elsecar Ironworks casting shed (Grade II*)
  3. Building 2 & 3 and boundary wall, former Elsecar Ironworks entry range (upgraded to Grade II*)
  4. Housing at the former Elsecar Ironworks, 2 and 4 Forge Lane (upgraded to Grade II*)
  5. Buildings 4-7, stores at former Elsecar Central Workshops (upgraded to Grade II*)
  6. Buildings 8-12, former workshops, offices and warehousing at the former Elsecar Central Workshops (upgraded to Grade II*)
  7. Buildings 13-14, former railway station, offices, housing and gate piers at Elsecar Central Workshops (upgraded to Grade II*)
  8. Building 17, former fitting shop at Elsecar Central Workshops (upgraded to Grade II*)
  9. Building 19, former workshop at Elsecar Ironworks (upgraded to Grade II*)
  10. Buildings 20a and 21, former rolling mill at Elsecar Ironworks, including two halved colliery pit wheels (upgraded to Grade II*)
  11. Building 22, former Joiner’s Shop, including chimney and rebuilt boiler (upgraded to Grade II*)
  12. The former Elsecar New Colliery, including the Elsecar Newcomen Engine (Footprint of Scheduled Monument expanded)
  13. Former Cornish pumping engine house at Hemingfield Colliery (Grade II*)
  14. Hemingfield Colliery (Scheduled Monument)
  15. Elsecar Holy Trinity CE Primary Academy and School Master’s House (Grade II)
  16. 12 to 15 Skiers Hall Cottages (Grade II)

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