16 Historic Sites Listed and Upgraded in Village of Elsecar, South Yorkshire
16 historic sites in the South Yorkshire village of Elsecar 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 carried out by Historic England, which revealed the village’s significance as an international centre of industry and innovation in the late-18th and 19th centuries under the direction of the visionary Earls Fitzwilliam.
Elsecar was built by the Earls Fitzwilliam from the late 1700s. It lay close to their vast ancestral seat of Wentworth Woodhouse, one of the largest houses in the country. The village was home to coalmines and a huge ironworks, and served as a potent symbol of the Fitzwilliam’s power and ambition.
Although it was quite common in the late-18th and 19th centuries for aristocrats to invest in industry, the works were normally situated a long way from their country seat. The Earls Fitzwilliam were unusual in the way they put their industrial interests front and centre of their public image.
The 4th Earl Fitzwilliam (1748–1833) was interested in the welfare of his workers, building good-quality housing, giving access to education and encouraging church-going. Elsecar was one of the first model villages, predating more famous examples like Saltaire.
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, which 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 also been upgraded from Grade II to II*, elevating them into the top 10% of England’s most important historic buildings. These form a pioneering centralised workshop complex serving the earls’ industries, which includes the earls’ personal railway station, from which they and their aristocratic guests would depart for days out at the Doncaster races.
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.
Newly listed and upgraded sites at Elsecar
Hemingfield Colliery (protected as a scheduled monument)
Hemingfield 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 (1804–1857), an influential engineer who was a pioneer in mining safety.
On 22 December 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, including the Elsecar Newcomen Engine (scheduling enlarged)
The world’s first practical steam engine was invented in 1712 by Thomas Newcomen, with engines based on his design built throughout the 18th century. Elsecar retains the only surviving example in its original position anywhere in the world. Installed in 1795, the Newcomen Engine pumped water from Elsecar’s mines for over 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)
The Elsecar Ironworks 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. 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*)
In the 1850s, the 5th Earl Fitzwilliam added a central complex of workshops, offices and stores 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). This was used by the earl and his guests at Wentworth Woodhouse, and acted as their departure point for frequent days out at the Doncaster Races.
The earl’s choice of the ironworks for the railway station over the splendour and convenience of Wentworth Woodhouse indicates the pride he had in his industrial enterprises and reflects how the Fitzwilliams used Elsecar as a symbol of their power.
Elsecar Holy Trinity CE Primary Academy and School Master's House (listed at Grade II)
Like most of the Earls Fitzwilliam, the 5th Earl Fitzwilliam (1786–1857) had a paternalistic relationship with Elsecar, taking a keen interest in his workers. As well as providing good quality housing, he funded the construction of Holy Trinity Church in 1842 and built a new school in 1852 to replace an earlier, smaller school.
The school was inspected on 6 August 1852 and the buildings were described as excellent. Four classes of mixed boys and girls were taught by the under master, his wife, and two pupil-teachers.