Monthly Archives: February 2021

Elsecar

Reform Row, Elsecar, South Yorkshire

The coal mining industry created many industrial settlements across Britain, simply because coal was often found in places where there were few inhabitants.

Few of them are as elegant as Elsecar, the mining village of the Wentworth Woodhouse estate, which stands in an area where the Barnsley seam could be anything up to nine feet thick and below it the Silkstone seam, up to six feet thick. 

The “black diamonds” were mined on behalf of the Marquis of Rockingham from before 1750.

When the Dearne & Dove Canal was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1793 two branches, each leading to feeder reservoirs, were provided to Worsborough and Elsecar. 

Lord Rockingham’s successor, the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, opened the Elsecar New Colliery in 1795, and the branch canal reached the colliery site shortly after 1799. 

The village was subsequently laid out as a model of good practice and enlightened self-interest by a dynasty of aristocratic coal-owners who, while very much of their time in their attitudes to – for instance – trade unionism, seem to have taken a sincere, paternalistic interest in their employees. 

The sturdy stone rows of cottages, Old Row (1798), Station Row (1800), Meadow Row (c1803), Reform Row (1837) and Cobcar Terrace (1860), are solidly constructed, functional and visually attractive.  Like many buildings of the period on the Wentworth Woodhouse estate the first two terraces in Elsecar were designed by John Carr of York. 

Vegetable gardens and pig-sties were standard, and at Cobcar Terrace separate wash-houses were provided.  Rents were slightly higher than in other nearby settlements, but there seems to have been little difficulty in attracting workers to this relatively isolated spot. 

In 1850 the fifth Earl opened the distinctive and attractive Model Boarding House to attract young single miners from neighbouring coalfields:  this building housed Elsecar’s first fitted bath and hot-water geyser.

Apart from coal-mining, Elsecar has had other industrial enterprises, none of them so consistently successful.  There were two ironworks, the Elsecar Ironworks (opened in 1795 with the New Colliery) and Milton Ironworks (1803), and a short-lived tar-manufactory which gave its name to Distillery Row

The Elsecar Workshops (1859) provided the ironworks and collieries with everything “…new as regards iron and woodwork and the greater proportion of the repairs required for coal and iron mines, and all machinery, iron and heavy woodwork on the whole Estate particularly steam engines…”.

The Fitzwilliam estate provided all the substantial public buildings in the village – the Church Day School (1836;  closed 1852 but still forming part of Distillery Side Cottages), the Elsecar Steam Flour Mill (1841-2), Holy Trinity Parish Church (1843), the Gas Works (1857, behind Old Row, now demolished except for the Manager’s House), and the Market Hall (1870, renamed Milton Hall after alterations, 1922).

The South Yorkshire Railway reached Elsecar in 1850, vastly widening the available markets. 

Amidst the rows of coal-wagons and the bustle of shunting, one strange feature underlined the intimate relationship between the colliery and its owners – Earl Fitzwilliam’s private railway-station (1870), which still stands in the middle of the village virtually next to the mine, from which would set forth the Earl, his family and guests in their special railway carriage, having travelled by horse-drawn coach from the Palladian splendours of Wentworth Woodhouse.

In the years since the mining industry went into decline, Elsecar has reinvented itself as a tourist site, based around the Elsecar Heritage Centre, which incorporates Earl Fitzwilliam’s private station, the Elsecar Heritage Railway and the only surviving in situ Newcomen pumping engine in the world.

Wentworth Village

Rockingham Arms, Wentworth, South Yorkshire

The estate village of Wentworth stretches west from the boundary wall of the park to beyond the two parish churches

Most of the buildings date from the time of the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam (inherited 1782, died 1833) and his successors, but the site and the medieval church are ancient.  At least two of the structures in the village contain evidence of pre-eighteenth-century construction – the timber-framed Ivy Cottage (possibly late-sixteenth century) and West Hall Fold (possibly seventeenth-century). 

Most of the houses and cottages in the village are vernacular in style, sturdily built in the local sandstone.  Green paintwork remains the clearest sign still that the dwellings share a common owner.

The more distinctive buildings include the two public houses, one of them called the Rockingham Arms, the other – the George & Dragon – providing space for the market and the annual tenants’ “feast” or fair.  There is a group of almshouses which included the boys’ school (1716), a girls’ and infants’ school (1837) and a Mechanics’ Institute or Christian working-men’s club in castellated Gothic.

Until the 8th Earl vacated the Mansion in 1949, the village of Wentworth was entirely dependent on the Fitzwilliam Estate:  only one other freeholder, Mr Pole the grocer, built in the village, and he sold his three cottages to the Estate early in the twentieth century. 

In its heyday the Fitzwilliam Estate was the dominant employer, not only in Wentworth but also in the surrounding villages of Elsecar, Nether Haugh, Scholes and Thorpe Hesley. 

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the family are said to have employed roughly the same number of workers – about a hundred – in the mansion and home farm as they did in their coal mines.  Later their mineral interests became far more extensive, though up to the Second World War the house still needed sixty staff to operate.  The ancillary functions of the estate yard and timber yard continued into the 1970s.

The 10th Earl, knowing that the title would die with him for lack of a male heir, established the Fitzwilliam Wentworth Amenity Trust to take care of the village “for the benefit of the public, and in particular the inhabitants of the Parish” after his death in 1979.

By this means Wentworth remains an attractive place to visit, and an enviable place to live.

North Street

North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire (1977)
North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire (1977)

Richard (later Sir Richard) Arkwright came to Cromford in Derbyshire seeking water to power his cotton-spinning factory despite the sparse population of lead-miners and agricultural labourers.

Not only did he need to import labour to keep his spinning machines turning day and night, but he and his partners had difficulty initially in persuading weavers to accept the relatively coarse thread that the water frame produced.

Ideally, he needed to employ his own weavers, preferably with large families, so that the men could weave at home in what was still a domestic trade, while their wives and children could with their delicate fingers tend the spinning machines in the mill.

Accordingly, Arkwright advertised in the Derby Mercury in December 1771 for “Weavers residing in this Neighbourhood” as well as offering “Employment…for Women, Children, &c and good Wages”.

This practice is reflected in the architecture of North Street (1776), one of the very first examples of planned industrial housing in England, sixteen plus eleven three-storey gritstone houses with distinctive loom-windows on the top floor of each house. Evidence of further weaving-facilities exists at the Mill, where a three-storey loom shop still survives. 

Each of the North Street houses had a designated garden.  When the loom shops were no longer needed, the long top-floor windows were reduced in size:  the uninsulated rooms must have been extremely cold in winter.

The design of the North Street terraces has survived intact, though in the late 1960s Matlock Rural District Council intended to demolish the houses until dissuaded by a campaign led by Professor J D Chambers of Nottingham University.

The historic significance of Cromford as a whole was first recognised by the Arkwright Festival of 1971, a celebration of the bicentenary of the founding of the mills. 

During the 1970s North Street was rescued by the Ancient Monuments Society and one of the houses, no 10, was restored by the Landmark Trust and is now available as a self-catering holiday let.

The Festival committee became the Arkwright Society, which has spearheaded the growth of academic and tourist interest in what became the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site in 2001.

The two books to consult about this fascinating area are The Derwent Valley Mills and their Communities (Derwent Valley Mills Partnership 2001) and Doreen Buxton & Chris Charlton, Cromford Revisited (Derwent Valley Mills Partnership, 2015).