Barnburgh: Yorkshire village may be small but it has many fascinating stories

Barnburgh, situated near Mexborough, is only a small area but there are many stories packed into its long history.

Barnburgh’s church, dedicated to St Peter, can trace its origins back to around 1150. This is mentioned in A History of Barnburgh (1952) by J. Stanley Large, who adds that from a close examination of the fabric it would appear that the church passed through a number of main changes. He suggests that about 1330 the church underwent what was ‘almost a total rebuilding.’ A famous church architect, Henry de Eynsham, living at Bolton-on-Dearne, probably planned the work. Further alterations were made around 1410. This included the installation of perpendicular-style windows, the roof and nave being made higher, and the clerestory windows inserted to give more light. Restorations took place in 1859 and 1869. A number of coloured windows have been fitted into the church most notably in 1904, 1906 and 1946.

Large mentions the ‘Cat and Man’ legend which is associated with the church. The main thrust of the story involves a knight called Sir Percival Cresacre and a wild cat (or lynx). Late one night on a road nearby, Cresacre’s horse was attacked by the cat and he was thrown to the ground. A long savage struggle ensued all the way to the Porch at Barnburgh church. Before dying, the knight stretched out his feet and killed the cat against the Porch wall. So, the cat killed the man and the man killed the cat.

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Archaeologist J.R. Magilton wrote in 1977 that the demolition of Barnburgh Hall in the late 1960s was an act of folly, and many people have agreed with him. Outlining the building’s history, Winifred Hayward in The Secret Rooms of Yorkshire (1956), said: ‘Early in the Tudor period [the Cresacre family] transformed their manor house into a more comfortable mansion, ranged round three sides of a small courtyard…In the eighteen century the house was much altered…’. Perhaps Barnburgh Hall was most noted for its connection with Sir Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of Henry VIII’s reign. According to a newspaper article dated May 27, 1932, Sir Thomas ‘came to Barnburgh to affect a marriage between his only son, John, and Anne Cresacre, the only daughter and heiress to the estates of the Knightly family of that name who occupied the Hall for generations.’ After the marriage, the article alleges that Sir Thomas was a frequent visitor to the Hall. And, for generations a picture had hung in the house showing Thomas, his son and his wife. Tradition held that the painting was by Hans Holbein.

Barnburgh main old colliery banner 12-12-1988Barnburgh main old colliery banner 12-12-1988
Barnburgh main old colliery banner 12-12-1988

Naturally, the Hall was not without its nooks and crannies, not to mention secret rooms and a ghost. The Revd W.J. Parker in The Cresacre Treasure The Church and Village of Barnburgh (undated) gives the following details: ‘The Hall was often used in troubled times of the sixteenth century as a refuge by Roman Catholics and priests. It contained a secret room on the first floor, with a window slit only the width of the plaster on the outside but widening inwards. In the secret room was a loose floor below which was a priest’s hole, entered by a rope ladder. This was at the side of the Dining Room fireplace and a sliding panel in the wall was used for passing food to the fugitive. The Hall is said to be haunted by a ghost that frequents the organ loft half way up the staircase.’ Barnburgh Hall was demolished by the National Coal Board.

Another noted building was Barnburgh Grange, formerly situated off the road to High Melton. Surviving photographs suggest the building was of considerable age but J.S. Large (1952) says it was not the original building. He mentions that from time-to-time Religious Houses acquired land by bequests and endowments and as these grew in size it often became necessary for them to set up a grange and employ a granger (or bailiff) to look after the land. Barnburgh Grange was part of Nostell Priory in whose possession it had been for over three centuries at the time of the dissolution. When Barnburgh Grange was demolished in July 1965, it was owned by Mexborough UDC, having been acquired in 1928 to be used as a farmhouse.

Barnburgh once had several pubs: The Coach & Horses, The Crown, and Plumbers Arms. Initially, the Coach & Horses was situated on High Street but was rebuilt on The Green in 1937. Over the years, the premises have featured in newspapers when detailing assaults on the landlord, suppers, dinners, gambling (skittles) and inquests. The Crown was a beer house from at least 1830 and received a full licence in 1857. It was demolished and a new building opened on part of the old site on September 22, 1967. William Moxon, a plumber and glazier, probably established the Plumbers Arms around 1861. The premises closed c.1930.

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Sinking Barnburgh Colliery, situated half a mile south west of Barnburgh village, was begun in June, 1912 by the Manvers Main Colliery Company of Wath-upon-Dearne. In fact, the colliery was really an extension to Manvers Main, some three miles away. The Barnsley seam at Barnburgh was discovered at 560 yards at no. 6 pit on May 28, 1914 and at no. 5 pit on June 13, 1914. Sinking was continued in the Parkgate seam at 757 yards which was reached in no. 5 shaft on February 28, 1915, and in no. 6 shaft on 3 March, 1915. Shaft nos 1,2,3 and 4 were located at the nearby Manvers Colliery site to which Barnburgh colliery continued to be associated for much of its lifespan.

Barnburgh Plumbers Arms. Peter Tuffrey collectionBarnburgh Plumbers Arms. Peter Tuffrey collection
Barnburgh Plumbers Arms. Peter Tuffrey collection

An unusual earth tremor or small earthquake caused the floors to rise in the Parkgate seam shortly after 6pm on Friday, April 24, 1942. Seismographs recorded the incident as far away as Durham and some minor disruption was felt in properties nearby.

The movement of rock strata underground resulted in 17 men and youths being trapped, some for nearly three days. Four of them died.

Pit Deputy Albert Cadman, played a vital part in the rescue of men trapped underground after the 1942 roof fall. Ignoring warnings, he crawled on his stomach to reach five of the trapped men. One was dead, but he helped drag the others to safety. To recognise his heroism, he was presented with a miners’ lamp in a ceremony organised by NACODS in March 1989.

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Pictures were taken in December 1988 of two miners with the centre piece of the first ever Barnburgh Main NUM banner. One side of the banner showed former miners’ leader and Labour politician Tom Williams (1888-1967) who later became Lord Williams of Barnburgh. The other side showed an early view of the colliery.

Barnburgh main Albert Cadman pit rescue award 8-3-1989Barnburgh main Albert Cadman pit rescue award 8-3-1989
Barnburgh main Albert Cadman pit rescue award 8-3-1989

By the end of the 1980s there was a turnaround in fortunes at Barnburgh Colliery as NUM Branch officials were having to put forward a survival plan. Unfortunately, this was in vain and the shock announcement of the pit’s closure, along with the Manvers Coal Preparation Plant later in the year, united the community in a bitter condemnation of British Coal’s decision. Official reasons put forward for the closure were geological difficulties and lack of reserves.

In a statement, British Coal said: ‘We want to make it clear it is no reflection on the workforce at Barnburgh. Many of the miners there were ‘refugees’ from other colliery closures.’ Barnburgh Colliery closed on June 16, 1989 with the loss of approx. 750 jobs.

Barnburgh's No 5 headgear and no 6 headgear were blown up on June 8, 1990 and August 10, 1990 respectively.