Elsecar is a former mining village in South Yorkshire, six miles (10 km) miles north of Rotherham and six south of Barnsley. A sparsely populated agricultural area until the 18th century, the village is a product of the Industrial Revolution, its first houses originally built for workers by the Earls Fitzwilliam not far from their estate at Wentworth Woodhouse. It was expanded by the 4th earl, William Fitzwilliam, and his descendants to become a model industrial community.
The Fitzwilliams developed the collieriesCollieries in South Yorkshire owned by the Wentworth Fitzwilliams from the late-18th century. that exploited the rich Barnsley seam and when it was exhausted sank Elsecar Main Colliery to get coal from deeper seams. Two important ironworks were built that used locally mined iron ore and coal. The Elsecar Branch Canal made it possible to transport coal and iron to more distant markets.
Geography and geology
Elsecar is on built on the southeast facing slopes of the valley of the Harley Dike, a tributary of the River Dearne in South Yorkshire. It is north of Rotherham and south of Barnsley. Immediately to the west is Hoyland and in the valley are the nearby settlements of Jump, Hemingfield and scattered outlying farmsteads, fields and woodland. Some land has been reinstated for agriculture after open-cast mining in the 1950s and ’60s. About one and a half miles (2.5 km) to the south is Wentworth Woodhouse, the seat of the Fitzwilliams who were responsible for developing the village and its industries, the main source of their wealth. Elsecar Reservoir was built at the end of the 18th century by damming the Harley Dike to provide water for the Elsecar branch of the Dearne and Dove Canal. When constructed it covered a greater area of land but it shrank in size when the canal fell into disuse, and is now surrounded by a Local Nature Reserve comprised of grass, marshy areas and woodland.
Junction 36 of the M1 motorway is to the west and Elsecar railway station is on the Leeds to Sheffield and Barnsley to Penistone lines.
The village is built on the Pennine Middle Coal Measures, layers of Carboniferous sandstone, mudstone , siltstones and the coal seams of the Yorkshire Coalfield. The Barnsley seam is up to nine feet (3 m) thick in the area, and several collieries were sunk. Ironstone, used locally, was mined to the west on Fitzwilliam land at Tankersley from 1830.
Elsecar is mentioned in the Wentworth Court Roll of 1576 and as Elseacre in a will relating to a water-powered corn mill in 1678 referencing the agricultural nature of the area in medieval, Tudor and Elizabethan times. In the 1700s the settlement consisted of a hamlet clustered around an area known as Elsecar Green, and was already known for coal mining. Coal was mined from seams above the Barnsley bed that outcropped in the area. There is evidence of bell pits, an early form of shaft mining. Elsecar Old Colliery was sunk in 1742 and taken over by the Marquis of Rockingham in 1755.
The key figure in the early development of Elsecar was the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam (1748–1833) who inherited the Wentworth and Rockingham estates on the death the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham in 1782. A leading Whig politician, industrialist and philanthropist, he built the Rockingham MausoleumMonument commissioned by the Earl Fitzwilliam as a memorial to the second Marquess of Rockingham in 1783. to a design by Carr in 1784–1793 as a memorial to his predecessor, who had begun exploiting the area’s mineral resources. He developed Elsecar as a model industrial villageType of mostly self-contained community, built from the late 18th century onwards by landowners and industrialists to house their workers. for colliery and iron workers. The 4th Earl promoted the construction of the Dearne and Dove Canal’s Elsecar Branch and its reservoir, he sank Elsecar New Colliery and installed the Newcomen-type pumping engineSteam-driven Newcomen-type atmospheric pumping engine still in its original engine house at Elsecar near Barnsley. Designed by John Bargh of Chesterfield, the engine, is based on one invented by Thomas Newcomen in 1712. in 1795. Jump Pit, an extension of New Colliery, was started in 1816.
The 6th Earl Fitzwilliam (1815–1902) continued the family’s industrial interests. Elsecar Low Colliery (Hemingfield) was sunk in 1840, Simon Wood Colliery was started in 1856 and the South Yorkshire, Doncaster and Goole Railway was built nearby. The mineral railway to Thorncliffe was also built during his lifetime. The workshop complex, now Elsecar Heritage Centre was also built.
Coal mining continued but the Barnsley seam under the Wentworth estate was becoming worked out, and in 1903 Simon Wood closed. In 1905 the 7th Earl decided to sink Elsecar Main Colliery to access deeper seams. The modern colliery lasted until 1983, and the surface plant was demolished in 1985.
Elsecar Ironworks was built close to the canal terminus in 1795 and leased to John Darwin and Company. In 1827 the Darwin was bankrupt and the Earl installed managers who operated the works until 1848. The ironstone pits in nearby Tankersley Park belonging to the Wentworth Fitzwilliams provided raw material for the ironworks.
The Milton Ironworks between Hoyland and Elsecar opened sometime between 1799 and 1802 and were leased until 1821 by Walkers of Masborough and until 1824 by Hartop, Sorby and Littlewood. Hartop had new partners, the Graham Brothers in 1824 and after he withdrew the Graham Brothers operated the works until 1848 when they advertised the works to let.
The Earl decided to lease the Elsecar works at the same time and in 1849, George and William Dawes whose father was an ironmaster in the Black Country took on the tenancy of both works. The works contained blast furnaces, puddling shops, rolling mills, and foundries. George Dawes gave up the tenanct in 1884. The Milton works became a foundry and the Elsecar works were closed, the site became part of the estate’s colliery workshops and is now used as a heritage centre.
The oldest village houses date from the 18th century. Old Row and Station Row, completed by 1801, are believed to have been designed by the architect, John Carr, who carried out several commissions for the Fitzwilliams. After 1833 the village was further developed by the 5th Earl Fitzwilliam (1786–1857), who built Holy Trinity Church and a national schoolSchools set up by Anglican clergy and their local supporters, initially run by single teachers using the monitorial system. , a lodging house for single mine workers and a subscription reading room. The cottages in Reform Row are dated 1837. The first Inspector of Mines, Hugh TremenheereCareer civil servant and inspector of schools, and from 1843 to 1859 the first inspector of mines. described colliers cottages at Elsecar in his 1845 report as “superior in size and arrangement”, having four rooms and a pantry, a pig-sty and a garden.
Elsecar’s population had grown to 557 in 1851, including 185 men and boys who worked in the coal pits and 15 in the iron works. The population also included a shopkeeper, butcher, two innkeepers, a tailor and a shoemaker as well as a curate, schoolmaster, coal agent and a corn miller. Some women and girls found employment as house servants, dressmakers or seamstresses.
The opening of Elsecar Main in 1905 led to a demand for more housing, and Earl Fitzwilliam built houses on Strafford Avenue in 1911. At the earl’s instigation, Hoyland Nether Urban District Council erected a model village development of houses in Strafford Avenue, Howse Street and Cobcar Avenue, also for colliery workers. The council constructed more houses and bungalows in 1940.
The feed reservoir for the canal became a popular visitor destination after Herbert Parkin, a keen photographer, sent images of the reservoir to the Sheffield Star newspaper in 1910. The photographs, published as “Elsecar-by-the-Sea” promoted the village as an attraction and day-trippers began to arrive at Elsecar station by rail. An artificial beach was created on the north side of the reservoir and by the late 1920s, Elsecar Park, to the north had also been landscaped with footpaths and bridges over the dike, a refreshment room and a band stand.
When King George V and Queen Mary embarked on a five-day tour of the northern mining areas in 1912 they stayed at Wentworth Woodhouse. The 7th Earl showcased his Elsecar Main Colliery, and conducted the King on a tour of the underground workings.
The village lost most of its employment when the last colliery closed in 1983.
Heritage Action Zone
Historic England recognised the importance of Elsecar’s heritage in 2017, working in partnership with Barnsley Council and local people, a three-year Heritage Action Zone project was set up. The project aimed to examine the extent of Elsecar’s heritage, industrial, social and its archaeology, and how it is managed in future, encourage the involvement of local residents and support economic growth. 
The project resulted in sixteen changes to protected status including some listed properties upgraded and others added to the list. The newly listed sites include the former ironworks that produced armour plating for the Royal Navy’s HMS Warrior, Hemingfield Colliery’s rare mid-1800s pithead and three worker’s cottages.