Conisbrough Heritage Trail
1. The Coronation Park
The Park was originally known as the village recreation ground.
The stocks which are now positioned there have had a chequered history. They would originally have been on the village green, but in 1848 they were purloined by a local farmer, Richard Rotherham, who took them to Edlington for use as gate posts. On their recovery they were set up in the Park.
The coronation fountain was erected in 1911 to commemorate the crowning of George V and Queen Mary. More than Â£100 was raised by public subscription, but since the cost of the memorial was only Â£30, the rest of the money was used to provide tea and refreshments to mark the occasion for villagers and local schoolchildren.
It was a combined drinking fountain, lamp, horse trough and dog trough, designed by Mr H.Smethurst, a local architect.
The War Memorial which was designed by Mr Tyas has recently been refurbished using money donated by Dr Robert Hayhurst, one of his descendants, and a former resident who now lives in Canada
2. The Mill Piece
This is the site of one of the two mills mentioned in the Domesday book, which were at that time valued at 32 shillings each.
Villeins and serfs were forced to take corn there for grinding into meal. Willows grew in profusion on the Mill piece and during the 17th and 18th centuries a flourishing basket making trade was carried on here.
The water in the brook provided fresh water, fish and muscles for the occupants of the Castle in its early days.
3. The Brook – Burcroft and Cannon Boring
The brook, which originates in Kearsley fields, and is fed by several springs on the way, leads down into the River Don, below the castle in Burcroft.
There was the ruins of the cannon boring factory of Samuel Walker of Rotherham.
These cannons were particularly popular with both Wellington and Nelson, during the Napoleonic Wars, because of their good quality and reliability.
They were even used during the French Revolution.
Many of the cannon balls, employed for testing these cannons have been recovered from the Don, close by.
4. Pop Lane and Market Cross Stone
On Castle Avenue, at the foot of the steps of a ginnel known locally as Pop Lane, is an interesting stone, set into the wall. It is believed this could be part of the original market cross. A market was founded on March 5th 1201 when King John visited the castle, but it was discontinued by 1289 when it was transferred to Braithwell
5. The Priory house
This house was built by J. K. Tudor in 1807 and was used as council offices. In earlier years the site was that of the priests house and actually adjoined the churchyard and the village green.
In the early 19th century, during excavations for a through road into Church Street, many human bones were unearthed. They were later reinterred in the present churchyard. Near the entrance to the Priory a whole skeleton of a woman was found with her feet under the pavement, and her head and body beneath the wall.
In the early 1900´s Godfrey Walker´s widow bequeathed the house as a convalescent home for the sake children of Sheffield.
The half timbered house on high Street was the home of George Kilner of `Kilner jar´ and glass bottle they, whose family from Thornhill Lees came to Conisbrough, to set up their factory in 1863. In its heyday more than 300,000 bottles were produced each week at their Providence works, and many were exported to countries world wide. The firm closed in 1937
Note the stones at thefoot of each gate posts.
These were for protecting the stone pillars from damage by the hubs of the cart and carriage wheels.
This Georgian double fronted house situated close to the junction of High Street and West Street is unusual since it is built of foreign stone, not local limestone. In the late 19th century it was used as a dame school presided over by Miss Jane Sykes.
This old hostelry dates from 1822, when John Smith was the landlord. In the early days of moving pictures, silent films were regularly shown inthe concertroom by the proprietor a Mr Raynor. This was before the Globe Cinema was built in Church Street in 1911 on the site of the original fire station.
The first Wesleyan Chapel was built in 1810 at the foot of `Pop LaneÂ´. It was a square stone building, lit by candles and furnished with rough wooden pews, which survived until 1876, when the new chapel was founded on Chapel Lane. There is evidence that a resident of Conisbrough began open air prayer meetings in the 1790Â´s. There was certainly a Kilhamite Chapel on Old Hill which survived in a ruinous state into the 1930Â´s and perhaps this was a precursor of Methodism.
10. Sir John Fieldhouse
Sir John Fieldhouse lived at Myrtle Villa, Holywell Lane, for a time with his father Sir Harold Fieldhouse and his mother Mabel (nee Elliott). He served in the Royal Navy alongside the Duke of Edinburgh and Lord Havers (Attorney General) later becoming Commander in Chief of British forces in the Falklands War.
11. The Tannery
In Napoleonic times uniforms for the forces were made from leather, processed by the old tannery in March Gate, as were the saddles and harnesses of the horses used in battle.
Most of the old cottages which once stood in March Gate, housed the cordwainer’s who fashioned shoes from leathers tanned at the old tannery on Brookside
The old coaching road from Doncaster to Rotherham came up Old Hill, a narrow rocky road from Brook Square and proceeded up West Street to the `lighteningsÂ´. Here extra horses which had been employed to assist the heavy coaches up the steep hill, were unhitched before they continued their journey to the Toll house at Hill Top, thence to Rotherham and Templeborough.In the old coaching days the village would be a constant whirl of bustle andexcitement whenever a coach or chaise arrived. There would be incoming mails, the hauling of luggage, and the rushing to and fro of travellers, drivers, ostler’s, postboys and coachmen, only to return to the normal peace and quiet after the coachÂ´s departure.
After the opening of the new Turnpike in 1787 the coach road was diverted from the bar at Hilltop, along the Sheffield to Doncaster road as far as the Star Hotel.
13. Beech terrace
Sgt Laurence Calvert V.C. lived at 19 Beech Terrace. He joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry from Denaby and Cadeby Colliery Company and on September 12, 1918 won a Victoria Cross at Haveringcourt in France.
He was presented with the Military Medal and the Belgian Croix de Guerre, £500 worth of War Bonds, in addition to a sum of £35 raised by a village collection at a special ceremony.
14. The Statute Fair
The statute or hiring fair was held each year at Martinmas, the feast of St Martin on 11th of November. Bailiffs, farmworkers, labourers and household servants assembled here, waiting to be hired out to employers for a one year term. In 1841, out of a total population of 1445, no fewer than 105 are listed in the census returns as being agricultural labourers, 28 as farmers, others having occupations related to agriculture like farriers, saddler’s, corn dealers numbering 14, as well as 127 servants.
Since Conisbrough was therefore essentially an agricultural village, the statute fair was an important occasion. The fairs were often riotous and disorderly. People stood in the muddy, unmetalled street, waiting to be selected for work. They were minutely inspected by prospective employers for their “muscle and general physique”. The work to be undertaken was fairly arduous, lasting from dawn until dark every day. A small coin, usually a florin (10p) was given by the hirer, to bind the agreement and then no further payment was made until the end of the year of service, except perhaps for the occasional “sub”. Many of the women and girls worked in the farm kitchens as well as on the land, but they were generally much better fed than their city counterparts.
There would be singing, dancing and drinking. Market stalls, shooting galleries, wild beast shows, conjurers, tumblers, wrestlers and organ grinders were commonplace. It was generally a time of high spirits and pandemonium which provided a brief respite from the monotonous daily grind.
15. Morley Place.
This was the site of the old Board School, built in 1873 in response to the 1870 education act. This school served the village for nearly 100 years before its demolition. Many of the older residents will remember being taught their 3R’s their.
There has been a library service in Conisbrough since the early 1900’s and when it was decided to provide a new purpose-built library in the village it was constructed on the site of the old school.
The Liabrary is scheduled for closure at the end of May 2011 as part of the Local Government’s speding cuts.
On the grassed area to the side of the library can be seen a public sculpture.
Following the closure of the Denaby Main and Cadeby main collieries, and clearing of their sites, it was decided to erect a permanent memorial. This was to commerate the many men and boys who lost their lives whilst employed in the two pits.
The two bronze figures, one depicting a trapped miner, the other a miner’s widow, were the work of Barnsley sculptor Graham Ibbeson.
Once himself a mine worker and with strong family links with industry, he was well aware of the hardship and stress a mining community experiences during the production of coal.
16. The Mining Industry and Colliery Disaster
The Denaby Main and Cadeby Main collieries had a powerful impact on Conisbrough. They were instrumental in helping shape the Conisbrough we know today attracting people into the area who were seeking work deep in the bowels of the earth.
Industry has always had its element of danger, and none more so than that of mining. During the life of the two pits from 1869 to 1977, a total of 400 men and boys lost their lives in the course of their employment. The death of some 200 of these being attributed to falls of coal, roof or sides. However one fatal event figures highly in the history of Cadeby main colliery.
On 9 July 1912, 88 men were killed by two explosions. The previous day had been itself a memorable one. A day of flag-waving, cheering and elation, for King George V and Queen Mary had visited Conisbrough Castle. Hundreds of people had lined the streets and packed into the castle grounds, including many miners who had forsaken their employment in order to witness the visit of the Royal couple. However all this was to pail into insignificance when in the early hours of July 9th an explosion took the lives of 35 men and boys, deep within the pit. Some time later a further explosion killed 53 more miners and rescue workers. It is said that if it had not been for the Royal visit, many more would have been working in the pit and no doubt would have perished in the disaster.
17. 39 Church Street
Like many other of the old limestone buildings in the village, this two-storey L-shaped building was cement rendered some years ago. Now some of this rendering has been removed and one can see the different roof lines on the gable ends. An earlier stage can be glimpsed at the rear of the building, where massive oak beams show the original timber framed construction.
18. 20 Church Street
This attractive limestone 18th-century building was one of the first in the village to have its rendering removed
It was originally a farm bailiffs cottage, with very low wooden beams and on the outside a staircase leading to the upper rooms.
The family would have lived on the upper floor with animals being kept in the space below.
19. The Old Hall
At first glance the front elevation of this fine building may look to be that of a Georgian residence, however investigations have proved it to be of a much earlier origin. If it was truly Georgian the front door would have been placed more centrally. This was not possible due to there being a thick internal load-bearing wall there. Furthermore it has been shown that a storm label mould running the length of the building above the first floor windows has been chiselled of, along with the original stone mullion type window surrounds. All of which confirm it is earlier construction.
In the early 1800Â´s the property was owned by the Walker family, who were farmers. By the 1830s it had become a boarding school run by the Rev Henry Ellershaw, curate of Hooton Roberts. One of the pupils named Gully was later to become Speaker of the House of Commons. In 1858 William Curtis was a tenant and it was about this time that it reverted back to use as a farmhouse.
The 1861 census return shows that it then housed the village post office, with William Lawton as postmaster. The post office remained there until well into the 1900Â´s. The postmaster at the turn of the century was C.H.Allport, an amateur historian who wrote a book entitled “a history of Conisbrough”, which he published in 1913.
In 1908 George Walker gave the property by deed of gift to the local St Peter’s Church. It was later used for church purposes, first as the vergers house and for church meeting. After refurbishment in 1965 it was used as living accommodation by the verger and the curate. Eventually being sold and at the present time houses a restaurant and has reverted back to its old name of the Old Hall.
Adjacent to St Peter’s Church stands the Church or Parish Hall, of which the oldest part was built in the 1870s. For some 800 years the site was occupied by the Moot Hall, which was demolished in 1871. This was the court house of the village where rents and fines were paid, and summary justice dispensed. A number of old documents and deeds which were executed in the Moot Hall are still in existence. In 1846 an outbreak of cholera struck the village and victims were buried near the hall. 20 years later while extensive restoration work took place in the church, all religious services were held in the hall.
21. The Parish Church
The Church of St Peter is the oldest building in South Yorkshire. The earliest parts date from the eighth century, some 300 years older than the castle. The Anglo-Saxon work is to be seen in the nave and lower part of the tower, unfortunately much disguised from external view by later medieval additions and restoration.
During Saxon and Norman times the village houses would have been clustered around the church, and it is probable that many of the present-day properties in this area stand upon the same foundations as those of 1000 years ago.
Many of the tombstones which surround the church are of great age, but due to time and weathering no longer readable. However there are still a number of interesting ones to be seen.
Amongst the oldest is one (near south-west corner of town) in memory of William Flower, who died in 1760 also of James Flower, would died aged 77 in 1797. Another is that (near gate into high-street) Thomas son of Isaac and Elizabeth Leach, who departed this life, 17 April 1777.
One of the three graves close under the southern church wall, alas almost unreadable now, is that of Joshua Snowden, a relative of and mention in the inventory of the goods and chattels of Jonathan Snowden, farmer of Conisbrough, deceased August 17, 1698.
There are several Nicholson graves nearby and later members of this family farmed Birks Lodge.
Many of the tombstones bear macabre inscriptions like the one, on the right of the pathway from Church Street, dedicated to Mary, wife of Joseph Chadwick:
“Ah lovely appearance of death
What site upon earth is so fair
Not all the gay pageant that breathe,
Can with a dead body compare.
With solemn delight I survey,
The corpse when the spirit is fled
In love with a beautiful clay,
And longing to lie in state”
One which gives a timeless reminder is that (to left side of pathway on the stone dedicated to the Dearden family. This reads:
“All you that do behold this stone,
Oh think how quickly I was gone.
Death does not always warning give
Therefore be careful how to live”
23. 21 Church Street – Sir Walter Scott Coffee house
Inside this old limestone building can be seen the original stone walls and fire place, giving one an idea of what the exterior must have looked like before it was rendered. The roof of 18th-century design still bears the all authentic red pantiles which unfortunately have been recently coated with black weatherproofing. Note the front of the building where a plaque bears the date 1710.
This site once housed the oldest part of the village but all that remains amongst the extensive modern development is the stone capped Village well. This supplied the greater part of the old village with water until the laying of the mains. The origin of the well is described in an old legend which can be seen separately.
In 1936 Conisbrough U.D.C.embarked upon a large slum clearance scheme which involved the removal of many old stone buildings in the area. One of these buildings, a large house known as the Priory Manor was of great historical value. There is no recorded age for this house but it was said that in 1022 King Malcom of Scotland stayed there on his way to Worcester. The house stood close to the rear boundary walls of the shop which are sited on the lower part of Church Street. On demolition we are told the house was found to have thick stone walls on the lower level with timber framing and wattle and daub on the upper level.
25. Castle Street
The Place youth centre was built on the site of a row of almshouses. At the rear of the centre can be seen the original limestone wall of the houses.
26. Police station
The police station was erected in 1883 on the site of the old tithe barn, which burned down in 1865. For hundreds of years the annual tithes for the Vickers of Conisbrough were stored there. Farmers had to give one 10th the value of all their produce to the clergy The police station is now disused and empty as the Photo accross shows
27. The Old Vicarage
At the foot of Castle Street can be seen a private nursing home. This occupies the house which was once Conisbrough vicarage. It is a two story building of limestone construction. The main part of the house was rebuilt in 1771 but to one side can still be seen the 17th century stable barn with its original red pantile roof. This is the oldest part of the building. For nearly 300 years the vicarage housed the vicars of Conisbrough, however owing to its large size and increasing cost of upkeep in recent years it was an unfortunately was sold
28. Conisbrough through the ages
Very little documentary evidence of the early life in the village has survived the years. However by 1537 we know the castle having been much neglected was already in ruins, the gatehouse and part of the curtain wall having fallen. This neglect no doubt included the village, for no attempt seems to have been made to develop Conisbrough into a commercial centre.
Over the next 300 years, although the village appears to have supported a number of localised industries, by the beginning of the 19th century agricultural employment was the major occupation of its residents. At that time Conisbrough was a picturesque village, its essential character being created by the limestone buildings. From the magnificent church and Castle ruins, to the many farm buildings and humble cottages.
The 1841 census return shows there were 840 residents and although by 1861 the population had increased to 1655, the village had changed very little. It was still described as a pleasant, pretty place to live in and retire to. There were still three times as many agricultural workers as sickle workers, the next biggest employer. The ironworks where sickles were manufactured were situated in Burcroft and at that time owned by Thomas Booth and sons.
Over the next few years however much change was to be wrought in the area. In 1863 Kilner Brothers, glass bottle manufacturers, who had founded their business in Thornhill Lees, Dewsbury, decided to erect an additional factory. They chose Conisbrough as being the most suitable place and opened their factory down near the Don. Also in that year mining was established in the area, with a sinking of the shaft for Denaby main colliery. By 1871 no doubt encouraged by these new industries the population of Conisbrough had increased to 2107. Now however although there were 107 agricultural work included in the census return, there were also 125 glass workers and 50 coal miners, the first of many who would be drawn to the area seeking work.
Although the new industries were mainly cited in the Don Valley, leaving the village almost entirely untouched, the economy of the village was to take a boost and much physical change was to take place over the next hundred years.
The old triangular structure of the village survives to present times but many of the old stone buildings were demolished or have been rendered or altered out all recognition. However enough remains to preserve its unique character and many of the old limestone buildings are now being rediscovered as rendering and later editions are stripped away.
Prepared by the Conisbrough Local History Group: