A special event was held at Elsecar on the February 8th to share the initial results of the Heritage Action Zone project. Well over 100 villagers turned out, along with local groups, stakeholders and supporters from across the region and further afield. Speakers, led by the Mayor of Barnsley, reflected on changes to Elsecar over recent years and a commitment to supporting Elsecar realise its potential going into the future. Trevor Mitchell, Director of Planning for Historic England, set out what the purpose of the Heritage Action Zones are nationally – of which Elsecar was one of the first ten announced - to ensure heritage acts as a driver for positive change and growth (https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/heritage-action-zones/)

Attention then turned to the history of Elsecar, introduced by John Tanner of Barnsley Museums, who set out the story of the village over recent centuries. The important contribution by many people was emphasised in bringing its history together, including local historians, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, and Dr Nigel Kavanagh, who has just completed an impressive PhD thesis on the development of Elsecar in the 18th and 19th centuries.

A new understanding of Elsecar now focuses on seeing it as an estate village for Wentworth Woodhouse – but more specifically as a model industrial estate village designed with great care and significant expense, by the Earls Fitzwilliam. It is thought to be a unique example of Britain’s aristocracy embracing the Industrial Revolution in this way. As a model village, it is earlier than other examples such as Saltaire and in some respects a forerunner to what was to happen elsewhere. That makes Elsecar extremely important, but its proud traditions of coal mining and ironmaking and the extraordinary extent of the heritage which survives in the village, make it even more special.

Dave Went and Lucy Jessop of Historic England then recounted their experience of exploring Elsecar over recent months, looking in detail at local archaeological sites and buildings. Not least, enthusiastic thanks were passed on to all those villagers who have provided cups of tea and invited the team into their homes! The results of careful geophysical surveys, on key sites around the village were shared, with locals coming forward after the talks to provide insights and local stories to inform new discoveries. These included around the Milton Ironworks, ‘furnace field’ near the Elsecar Ironworks and also the site of the original Elsecar Canal Basin.

Lucy explained their approach to understanding the village’s built heritage, using a series of zones that span its development. An important theme was the care and planned approach to the village’s buildings, not just back in the 19th century but all the way through into the 20th century too. Guests eagerly spotted their own and friends and families’ houses as Lucy pointed to architectural features and groups of buildings that make Elsecar so distinctive.

The evening finale was by John Hamshere of Barnsley Museums & Heritage Trust, who revealed some of the plans that are emerging for the future – at the heritage centre and around the village, including at Hemingfield Colliery and the Heritage Railway. The consolidation and conservation of very important archaeological sites in and around the village, many of which are in a precarious state, is an absolute priority. A focus will be on linking those sites up for visitors to explore. Improvements are planned to facilities and planning is underway to create a new state-of-the-art visitor centre, which will share the astonishing story of the village before local communities and visitors from afar start to explore.

With so many local people, groups and organisations so enthusiastically supporting the future of Elsecar, and the committed support of both Barnsley Council and Historic England, the future of Elsecar looks very exciting indeed.