Elsecar Heritage Action Zone (2017-2020)

The Elsecar Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) was a highly successful three-year partnership between Historic England and Barnsley Museums.

It ran from 2017-2020 and was one of the first ten Heritage Action Zones in the country.

Exterior of Newcomen Beam Engine showing pump and machinery for pulling water up the mines

The aims of the HAZ were to;

  • Develop a better understanding of the extent and significance of Elsecar’s heritage – it’s built heritage, planned landscapes, stories and buried archaeology​
  • Guide how that heritage is managed in the future, for the benefit of the local area
  • Encourage and support local people to get involved with heritage-led activities
  • Support economic growth in the region
Elsecar Heritage Action Zone
Elsecar Heritage Action Zone

Over the course of the project, in-depth research was carried out by Historic England, supported by Barnsley Museums and Archives staff and local people. This has resulted in a new report about the development of Elsecar, which was built as an early model industrial village by the Earls Fitzwilliam of nearby Wentworth Woodhouse from the late 18th century onwards.

Elsecar Heritage Action Zone
Elsecar Heritage Action Zone

In 2018 a community excavation was held on the site of the former Milton Ironworks as part of the Elsecar Heritage Action Zone and Wentworth and Elsecar Great Place projects. The Milton Ironworks was built in the 1790s on land belonging to the Earl Fitzwilliam of Wentworth Woodhouse. It was the second ironworks to be built in Elsecar and its furnaces dominated the horizon for over 80 years. The site is now a playing field, with few clues to it’s industrial past.

The dig took place in July 2018, during a mini heatwave. We commissioned local archaeological unit ArcHeritage to oversee the excavation. We invited local schools to take part, as well as local community volunteers. There was an amazing response locally, with 100 people volunteering during the two weeks, many coming back multiple times, and others popping back when they had the chance to see how things were going.

The volunteers did amazing work, despite a mini heatwave that baked the field for the full two weeks. The first trench targeted the area of the blast furnace shown on the archive plan. We opened the trench with a JCB digger and found ourselves in the 20th century landfill. We dug down to a depth of 2 metres, which is as deep as we could safely go, and hadn’t found the bottom. Eventually we had to admit defeat and fill the trench back in. We did find some interesting 20th century objects from the landfill though, including lots of broken bottles and jars, some very local pottery and lots of animal bones. Although later than the ironworks, these discarded objects give us a fascinating insight into everyday life in Barnsley in the mid-20th century.