The wonders of Elsecar

I know I bang on about Yorkshire’s hidden gems – though that’s our job, isn’t it? This one really did amaze me. Elsecar has potential to be as recognised and revered as Saltaire or New Lanark.

Thinking I should get out more, I signed up for last week’s early engines conference there, expecting to see an 18th-c Newcomen-type steam engine. Which I did. What I didn’t expect was (in various states of survival and re-use) an ironworks, canal basin, railway line with steam locos, some John Carr cottages and later miners’/ ironworkers’ cottages, a quite astonishing miners’ lodgings block, and sites of collieries, inclined plane, coke ovens, capped shafts etc etc just crying out for archaeological investigation. Not forgetting a pristine 1930s park with bandstand. And just over the hill is the palatial Wentworth Woodhouse, a 365-room mansion recently acquired by a preservation trust, known as the largest private house in Europe.

Barnsley Council is at last pumping (pun intended) some serious money and intent into Elsecar village. The site’s been removed from HE’s buildings at risk register. Small businesses – really interesting ones – are filling the ironworks site. Potential for archaeology is enormous – because it’s some way out of town, new building hasn’t spoiled it. Most of all this is a living breathing place inhabited by friendly people, a couple of miles from the M1, south of Barnsley, set in fabulous wooded countryside.

Here are views of the beam from inside the engine house, and an external shot. The engine, installed in 1795, was substantially updated in 1836-7 and remained in service until 1923. It has been carefully and sympathetically restored by volunteers, retaining as much as possible of the early versions. And it works!