Elsecar is pronounced else-uh-kuh, although strangers and train announcers pronounce it else-carr. It’s a small village in the metropolitan borough of Barnsley between Hoyland, Jump and Wentworth. And it is steeped in industrial history. The houses there were built by Earl Fitzwilliam for the workers in his coal mines.
Historically, the village was a series of farms, and while there was mining in the area from the 14th century, the first colliery opened in 1750. This was called Elsecar Old Colliery, but the coal seam worked here was exhausted by 1888.
Meanwhile, in 1795 a new colliery and mineshaft proper was sunk. This became known as Elsecar New Colliery and wasn’t superseded until the 1850s, when the Simon Wood colliery was sunk. When the mine network was closed down in 1984, it was called Elsecar Main.
The jewel in Elsecar’s industrial crown, and indeed in the country’s industrial crown, can still be seen.
The Newcomen Beam Engine arrived at Elsecar New in 1795 where it continued to pump water from the pit until 1923. She went into semi-retirement but was still used on standby for another 7 years. Today it is the only steam engine of its kind to be seen in its original working position, fully restored and still functioning.
By 1795 there was also an ironworks in the village. Although ironstone was mined close to here, the best iron was brought in by horse and cart to be worked on at the ironworks. And at the end of the century, in 1799, a new ironworks joined the original.
With all of this industry going on, it didn’t take long for the railway and the canal to follow, and in 1838 a horse-drawn tram-road was built to link the village to the Dearne and Dove Canal and to other ironworks in the surrounding area.
In 1850, the Elsecar workshops were built to facilitate all of this industry. These were taken over by the coal board in 1947 when the pits were nationalised, but they declined along with the coal industry.
In 1986, the workshops were designated as buildings of architectural or historical interest and they were bought by Barnsley Council in 1988.
Today, the workshops are known as the Elsecar Heritage Centre, where you can still see the ruins of the first ironworks, and they’re run by Barnsley Museums and Heritage Trust, which was set up in 2015 to “help preserve, enhance and champion the borough’s heritage”. We don’t have any still photography of the heritage centre, but there’s considerable footage on the vlog.
Here, you can bring the kids – and the dogs – enjoy a stroll in the sunshine, an ice cream, a cup of coffee, or even something a little stronger (Yorkshire tea …). There are craft workshops and retail outlets here now, as well as the Elsecar Antiques Centre and the Elsecar Heritage Railway, the latter of which is completely run by volunteers. Trains still run along a 1-mile stretch pulled by diesel and steam engines. Sunday is the main timetable day, but there are events throughout the year.
In 1785 a reservoir was built to provide water for the canal. The canal was extended to reach the colliery in 1799, but it originally only went as far as the bridge in the village. The land surrounding the reservoir is registered with Natural England and designated a local nature reserve. The reservoir sits in 12 acres and fishing rights are leased to Elsecar Colliery Angling Society. Day tickets are available, and there are club events and matches throughout the year.
One day in 1910 an amateur photographer called Herbert Parkin took some pictures of the reservoir and sent them to the Sheffield Star, captioned “Elsecar by the Sea”. The name took on, and soon visitors were flocking to the area to make the most of the natural beauty, taking advantage of the very good local rail links. Soon afterwards, the council constructed an artificial beach and they built a refreshment room, and visitors were then able to take boats out on the water.
Barnsley Council now run an event each year to commemorate Elsecar by the Sea. In 2018 it takes place on 1 and 2 September.
A bandstand appeared in 1930, and this was followed by three parcels of land being donated from the Fitzwilliam estate in 1935, 1947 and 1950. This land became known as the top park and the bottom park. The top park hosted galas and fairs, while the bottom park was laid out to formal leisure gardens. In the 1950s, a pitch and putt golf course was added, and a paddling pool. Another 37 acres were added in 1973 and in Elsecar Park today, the paddling pool is now a sandpit, the bandstand has electricity, and there’s a crazy golf course as well, plus lots more.
It’s all FREE with FREE parking. And, of course, it’s dog-friendly.
From the main car park next to the heritage centre, we wandered around the heritage centre first, and then we crossed the road to go into the park. From there, we went up the side of the weir and walked along the dam head. Then we did a circuit of the reservoir, including a visit to the bird hide, before heading back into the park. We walked just under 3 miles, burnt more than 600 calories and did almost 14,000 steps, but we went across the dam head and back to the car first before retracing our steps.
In May 2018, Barnsley was host to the Tour de Yorkshire.
When we visited soon afterwards, the village was superbly decorated for the event with every available tree, wall and building bedecked in blue, white and yellow bunting.