Barnsley is a rural town in South Yorkshire, that lies on the River Dearne; it encompases several smaller settlements which together form the Metropolitan Borough of Barnsley; it is notable as a former industrial town centred on glass-making, linen weaving and coal mining; these industries helped the town grow into an important manufacturing town and although these industries declined in the 20th century, Barnsley's local culture remains rooted in this industrial heritage.
In the mid eighteenth century Barnsley produced glass beer and pickle bottles and the manufacture of stoppered bottles was introduced by the middle of the nineteenth century.
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 and Barnsley became a principal centre for linen weaving during the 18th and 19th century, but at the turn of the century the linen industry started to decline; people had started to buy lighter materials from Scotland and Ireland rather than the heavier Barnsley linens.
Barnsley is probably best known for its prominence in the coal mining industry, although, apart from "Barnsley Main" colliery, which closed in 1991, most of the pits were actually in the surrounding villages, rather than in the town itself and 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.
In the Silkestone area there is evidence of mining for 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, and most of the coal land was owned by the king prior to 1688, although the monarchy often granted mining rights to other 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 in 1910 Barnsley was served by four rail lines and two canals; however, all of the mines in the borough are now closed; Goldthorpe was the last to close in 1994.
The town lay in the parish of Silkstone and developed little until in the 1150s it was given to the monastery of St John, Pontefract; the monks decided to build a new town where three main roads met, the Sheffield to Wakefield, Rotherham to Huddersfield and Cheshire to Doncaster routes; afterwards the Domesday village became known as "Old Barnsley", and the new town grew up on the new site.
Barnsley became the main centre for the Staincross wapentake, but in the mid-sixteenth century still had only 600 inhabitants; from the 17th century it developed into a stop-off point on the route between Leeds, Wakefield, Sheffield and London; the traffic generated as a result of this location fuelled trade, with hostelries and related services also prospering.
The first historical reference occurs in 1086 in the Domesday Book, in which it is called 'Berneslai' with a total population of around 200; like most Yorkshire towns, however, it is likely that a community existed there long before the coming of William the Conqueror; the exact origins of the name Barnsley is still subject to debate, but Barnsley Council claims that its origins lie in the Saxon word Berne, for barn or storehouse, and Lay, for field.
Barnsley has a tradition of Brass Bands, originally created as social clubs for its mining communities.
Retired miner Reg Mellor, from Barnsley, set a new Ferret legging world record time of five hours and twenty-six minutes on 5 July 1981 at the Annual Pennine Show at Holmfirth, Yorkshire; he had practised the sport since his youth, but had received no recognition until he set the new world record; Mellor, who had hunted with ferrets in the dales outside of Barnsley for many years, had grown accustomed to keeping them in his trousers to keep them warm and dry when out working in the rain; Mellor's trick was to ensure that the ferrets were well-fed before they were inserted into his trousers.
Ferret legging seems to have become popular among Yorkshire coal miners in the 1970s; according to Marlene Blackburn of the Richmond Ferret Rescue League; ferret legging originated in public houses "Where patrons would bet on who could keep a ferret in his pants the longest."; the sport may alternatively have originated during the time when only the relatively wealthy in England were allowed to keep ferrets, which were used for hunting, forcing poachers to hide their illicit ferrets in their trousers to avoid detection by gamekeepers, although, this was also done to keep the animals warm in cold weather.