South Yorkshire : Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster


Rotherham lies in the coal mining district of South Yorkshire to the north east of Sheffield and grew principally as an iron, steel and brass producing centre. Its main historical features are a very large fifteenth century church and a chapel dating from 1483 located on an old bridge across the River Don. The church was made collegiate by a native of Rotherham called Thomas Scot in 1483. Scot was a Chancellor of England and an Archbishop of York. His tomb is located in York Minster.

A few miles to the east of Rotherham is Maltby, a Viking place-name and close by the ruins of Roche Abbey. Roche was a Cistercian foundation established in 1147 by Richard de Busli of Tickhill Castle and Richard Fitzurgis. The abbey was settled by monks from Newminster Abbey near Morpeth in Northumberland. Newminster was itself founded by monks from Fountain Abbey near Ripon. Roche Abbey fell into ruin in the reign of King Henry VIII after the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Conisborough, the site of Conisborough Castle is a town halfway between Rotherham and Doncaster. The castle overlooks the River Don close to where it is joined by the River Dearne and is thought to be located on the site of Anglo-Saxon earthworks. The castle may have been built by Hameline Warrenne in the reign of Richard I. He also built the neighbouring chapel which was featured in Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. Conisborough Castle is now a National Trust property.


Barnsley lies to the north of Sheffield and to the south of Wakefield and is principally a town of the Victorian age, though its history goes back much further. In Anglo-Saxon times it was the ley or clearing belonging to someone called Beorn - 'Beorn's ley' and the place is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1089. In the following century a Cluniac priory called Monk Bretton Priory was established in the Dearne valley just to the east in the year 1154, but the abbey is now a ruin.

The Dearne is the river of Barnsley, rising south of Dewsbury and east of Huddersfield. It flows east through Barnsley before joining the River Don at Conisborough between Rotherham and Doncaster.

Historic features in Barnsley include a May Day Green market established in 1249 and a Grammar School established in 1660, although scholars no longer use the original building.

Barnsley is best known as the heart of the old South Yorkshire coalfield and there are many mining towns and villages in the area like Darfield where a monument at the parish church commemorates the 189 men and boys buried alive at Ludhill Colliery in 1857. It was not the only pit disaster to affect the Barnsley area. In 1866, 361 men and boys were killed at Barnsley's Old Oaks Colliery.

Barnsley was principally famous for coal and iron and it grew in the Victorian age with its population in 1801 of 3,600 growing to 10,000 in 1831 and rising further to 30,000 in 1881. Its present day population is somewhere in the region of 80,000.

Famous sons of Barnsley include a Victorian railway engineer called Joseph Locke, the missionary and James Hudson Taylor who tried to convert the Chinese to Christianity. From a more recent age the TV personality Michael Parkinson, cricket umpire Dickie Bird, cricketer Darren Gough, actor Brian Glover and former miners' leader Arthur Scargill all hail from the town.


Doncaster is known to have been the site of a Roman fort which was probably called Danum. The fort was located somewhere near the River Don and traces of a Roman iron and pottery industry have been found in the neighbourhood. In Anglo-Saxon times the Kings of Northumbria are thought to have established a palace at Doncaster but it was attacked and destroyed by the Danes in a later century.

Medieval Doncaster lay around the area of St George's Church. This was built between 1854 and 1858 by Gilbert Scott on the site of an earlier medieval church that was destroyed by fire. Almost cathedral-like in appearance, it is one of the tallest and most impressive parish churches in Yorkshire.

Doncaster was granted a charter by Richard I and became the site of a medieval Friary, but Doncaster's real heyday was in the eighteenth century. Horse racing began at Doncaster in this period and races have been held in the town since at least 1703.

The famous St Leger race, older than Epsom's Derby, commenced in 1778, two years after the Doncaster racecourse grandstand was built by John Carr, the famous Yorkshire architect. Other buildings dating from the Georgian period in Doncaster include the town's Mansion House, built for the Mayor of Doncaster by James Paine between 1745 and 1748.


Adwick-le-Street to the north of Doncaster was for two centuries the home of the Washingtons, ancestors of George Washington who originally came from Washington in County Durham (now Tyne and Wear). The town has a Norman church and is situated on the site of an old Roman road.

A Celtic ridge system called 'Roman Ridge' runs nearby to the north towards Pontefract. Not actually Roman in origin, It protected the boundaries of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria and the Celtic kingdoms of Elmet or Hatfield (Meicen). Burghwallis nearby may be associated with this area - its could mean Welsh fort as the Celtic Britons spoke Welsh, but in the 12th century it is known to have belonged to the Waleys family. Their surname also means 'Welsh'.

Burghwallis and neighbouring Campsall are situated in Barnsdale Forest and both places are associated with the legendary Robin Hood who is supposed to have been active in the area. This neighbourhood's claim to Robin Hood is just as strong as, if not stronger than Nottinghamshire's Sherwood Forest.

Hatfield, to the north east of Doncaster lies close to the sparesly populated and poorly drained Isle of Axholme which forms the border with Lincolnshire. The area around Hatfield was known in the Anglo-Saxon days of the Venerable Bede as Haethfelth (Heath - field) and was synonomous with a Celtic region called Meicen (not to be confused with Mercia) which held out against the Anglo-Saxons for some time.

In 633 AD the area was the site of the Battle of Hatfield in which the powerful Northumbrian King called Edwin was defeated by Penda, the King of the Mercians (the midlands). The king's head was laid in a small chapel at York which was later to become the site of York Minster. In later centuries Hatfield became the site of a manor and a famous Bishop of Durham called Thomas Hatfield was born here. His impressive tomb lies below the bishops' throne at Durham Cathedral.

For most of its history the land surrounding Hatfield was known as Hatfield Chase. The chase was a swampy, fenland area and stretched far into Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire.

Much of the land was drained in the seventeenth century by a Dutchman called Cornelius Vermuyden who also created the 'Dutch River' at Goole just to the north of Hatfield. During his drainage activities the Dutchman was fired upon by the fenmen who who found their employment from this particular terrain. They also tried to destroy his dykes.

Hatfield village itself has a Norman church of the 12th century with a 15th century tower. Seven miles north west of Hatfield is the little village of Fenwick - its name means Fen Farm and is thought to be the place of origin for the surname Fenwick, now most closely associated with Northumberland.


Bawtry on the River Idle is a former coaching town of Georgian origin centred around a Market place that resembles a High street. It lies south of Doncaster and east of Rotherham on the border with Lincolnshire and was one of the main points of entry into Yorkshire from the south. In historic times Kings and Queens were often greeted at Bawtry as they entered Yorkshire.

The River Idle on which Bawtry stands is mostly a Lincolnshire river and is a tributary of the River Trent, joining the Trent to the north of the Lincolnshire town of Gainsborough as it makes its way towards the Humber.

Austerfield village, just to the north of Bawtry was the birthplace of William Bradford, a Puritan who fled to Holland to escape religous persecution. He later sailed with the Pilgrim Fathers to America in 1620 and went on to become the second Governor of Plymouth in New England. He kept a diary of his journey, which is now a very important document of American history. He died in 1657.

Tickhill to the west of Austerfield is a mile from the Nottinghamshire boder and has a fine church with architecture dating from the 11th to the15th century. It was once the site of a castle of which their are scant remains including a moat. The castle was built by Roger de Busli or de Bully who owned the estates here from the time of the Norman conquest. Bully also founded the abbey of Roche near Rotherham.

Tickhill castle was later visited by Henry I, Henry II and Prince John. The castle was garrisoned by Charles I in the 1600s but was destroyed by Parliament at the end of the Civil War. Tickhill itself is centred around a market place with a notable market cross of 1766.

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