A Village Called Silkstone
As often as I have visited my beloved England, I have always confined myself to the well-worn path of my favorite cities and villages. Flying into Heathrow or Gatwick, I would head out in search of the familiar places I had come to know and love. I thought I knew almost all of the lovely countryside and depending on my mood, I would plan on spending time in London, wander Cotswold villages, or perhaps swoon over the vistas in the Lake District.
Imagine my delight when I recently learned of a village in the borough of Barnsley in South Yorkshire called Silkstone. I had no idea this charming village bearing my name existed. I have not been there yet but hope to soon spend some time wandering the bucolic fields and pleasant community.
This will be a short post as I plan on sharing all the information sent to me by Andy Horsfield, the village of Silkstone historian, on my Second Act Café website. Thank you, Andy! Many thanks also to Barbara Taylor, my new Facebook friend and a resident of Silkstone for introducing me to Andy.
The ancient village of Silkstone is located in the foothills of the Pennines about an hour’s drive from Manchester. The nearest town is Barnsley, which was once at the heart of the Yorkshire coalfields, but as the mines have all closed, the area has been returned to the countryside and most evidence of that heavy industry is almost all gone.
The name Silkstone is Old English in origin and is thought to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon man’s name Slyc and ton meaning farmstead…hence Slyc’s farm. The earliest written record of Silkstone is in the Domesday Book of 1086. Silkstone is a mining town known for having a very shallow coal seam—not too far underground.
A church of some kind has stood in the village since before 1066. It originally was a wooden Anglo-Saxon church. The oldest bell in the tower is dated 1510. It has always been a focus of the village being used to celebrate marriages, baptisms, and burials for many generations. Some of the gravestones in the churchyard date back to the 1600s and are themselves, listed and protected.
As travel was restricted up to the middle of the 1800s, the village would have been self-sufficient with many traders and shops catering for local demand. A big change in village life came in 1854 when a railway station was opened at Silkstone Common on the new line constructed from Barnsley to Penistone. The station closed in 1959 but was re-opened with a new style platform in 1984.
Silkstone was a typical miners’ village in those days. Also characteristic was the existence of the village squire or nobleman and in the case of Silkstone, it was the Clarke family who owned the majority of the land under which the coal was found, and therefore they owned all the pits. They also owned all the houses that the families lived in and the shops that they bought their provisions from. As a result the Clarke family ruled over the area. They were a very influential family in and around Barnsley and Silkstone. The Clarkes lived at Noblethorpe Hall on the edge of the village. The hall is still there but the family fell on hard times in the middle of the 20th century and moved away.
The population was largely unchanged between 1800 and the early 1970s. In the 1800s and early 1900s many of the men, women, boys and girls were employed in the local coalmines. A bed of coal called the Silkstone Seam is quite close to the surface in and around Silkstone and was easily mined in the 1800s without having to sink deep shafts, so Silkstone was one of the earliest recorded areas where coal mining developed as an industry as it was easy to get to. It was at this time that the Huskar pit disaster happened.
Silkstone’s place in history
Boys and girls under ten years of age were regularly employed at the mines. The children received very little education; their meager lives revolved around church and laboring in the mines.
In 1838, a mining tragedy known as the Huskar Pit Disaster, occurred killing twenty-six children who were working in the mines when a sudden, violent thunderstorm raged causing a flashflood. The children ages seven to seventeen were trapped underground and drowned while trying to escape.
The newly enthroned Queen Victoria was shocked and ordered an inquiry immediately set up—not just for the Huskar Mine but for all working conditions in Britain’s factories and mines. The investigation was led by Lord Shaftesbury, long known for his emancipated views. Four years later, the Mines Act of 1842 was passed wherein women and boys under the age of ten were prohibited from working underground in coalmines. Before this legislation men, women, and children were working in brutal conditions underground for as long as ten or twelve hours a day.
When visiting these charming English villages, one bit of research often leads to another. I found this fascinating video prepared by a group of volunteers preserving the site of the Huskar Mine Disaster by building a dry stonewall around the property. Have you ever wondered how those lovely old stonewalls that crisscross the rolling lands of the UK were constructed and why they have been able to withstand the centuries?
How dry stonewalls were made to last for centuries ~ Click Here! https://youtu.be/DwarWdBzUks
Thank you for joining me on my little stroll through Silkstone in South Yorkshire. Please remember a more detailed tour will soon appear on my website the Second Act Café.com
With love & laughter!