The History of Mapplewell or Staincross
by Nick Hibberd
It is recognised that the villages of Staincross and Mapplewell are so closely linked that they have grown together over the years, despite originally being two very different hamlets. For the diehard historians, however, we tend to recognise that Mapplewell lies along Towngate, between the Four Lane Ends and the area around the King’s Head Inn and Staincross is said to be in the area of the Paddock and the upper end of Greenside.
The Census of the 1800’s, however, allocated one side of Blacker to Staincross and the other side to Mapplewell. They regarded the King’s Head Inn and an adjacent building as part of Mapplewell. The road now known as New Road was called Staincross Common Lane, so we can assume New Road was part of Staincross. To this day there is still some confusion as to which properties were deemed to be in Mapplewell and which were in Staincross.
It is most likely that in the past, no effort has been made to define a specific boundary between the two places and as each began to expand. some distinction seemed desirable. However, for the purpose of this site, both will be included as one.
As a combined conurbation, Mapplewell and Staincross are part of the Metropolitan Borough of Barnsley, being three miles north-northwest of Barnsley, South Yorkshire and seven miles due south of Wakefield, West Yorkshire.
Blame it on the Danes
It was the Danish invaders who settled and took control of most of northern England during the ninth and tenth centuries and they divided Yorkshire into three Ridings with each riding further divided into smaller areas known as Wapentakes.
West Riding was made up of seven Wapentakes, one of them being the Wapentake of Staincross. This continued to be an administrative and legal unit until the middle of this century. Its centre is deemed to have been a “stone” or stane cross (Staincross) and according to wikepedia the name is believed to have been Saxon in origin that is supposed to have stood at the junction of Staincross common until the 18th Century. It is not possible to say with any certainty where the stone cross was located. It may have been the remains of a rural shrine.
In Jackson Rowland’s ‘History of Barnsley’ written in the 1800’s, he arguably claims that a Roman altar was found in the vicinity of Staincross Common. It was damaged and incomplete but bore an inscription indicating that it had been dedicated to the god Mars (I like chocolate as well!).
There are some deeds relating to the transfer of land that makes it clear that Mapplewell, Carr Green and Swallow Hill were inhabited before 1300, but the inhabitants would be serfs, tied to the land and working for some of these land owners, such as the de Laci family. After conquering England, William the Conqueror had rewarded many of his Knights with generous areas of land for their loyalty during the Norman Invasion and Battle of Hastings in 1066 (careful with that arrow Harold – you’ll have somebody’s eye out!)
The de Laci serfs (could this be where we get the expression ‘lacky from?) would have had to weave their own cloth, grow their own food, find their own fuel and water and make much of their own furniture, becoming very much self-sufficient. They were their own doctors and nurses, often relying on herbs, using remedies handed down from their own parents. They made their own entertainment and rarely or never bathed (nothing has changed much really for some!).
The Feudal system introduced by William the Conqueror and the Normans did eventually break down. This was further hastened by the Black Death of the 14th Century. This disease had such a dramatic impact – killing off so many of the working population – there was a drastic shortage of supply of workers which actually helped to improve wages and working conditions for those that had survived.
A time of change
The change in the lives of the ‘lower orders’ had been slow for 450 years but improvement did eventually come. By the 16th Century, much of land had been given to the church and the Monasteries whilst some had been subdivided and sold off to successful traders who had managed to put aside money in the form of savings. Some of this land was also leased to farmers who would pay and an annual rent. By the time Henry VIII was crowned king in 1502 a number of Yeoman had already become successful in trade, business or farming and had gained the status of ‘Gentleman’.
Let the Records Begin
Much earlier, in 1150, the first church was built at Darton and so the Darton Parish was established around it. These were effectively the dark ages as it wasn’t until Henry VIII became King and subsequently made the Church of England independent of Rome and the Catholic Church 1527 (he obviously needed a ‘quickie divorce’ from Catherine of Aragon). It was on or around this time that parish priests were instructed to keep a record of all Baptisms, marriages and burials in the parish. The Darton Registers began in 1539 (by which time Henry was already working on wooing wife number four).
Changing Occupations in the Village
Even back then, new technology was having a major impact on workers and due to changes in farming methods, the farms needed fewer labourers. For this reason, nail making became a popular occupation and Mapplewell and Staincross as well as Thurgoland and Hoylandswaine became production leaders in this field for the Barnsley area.
In the 17th Century all nails had to be manufactured by hand and so there was a close and enduring connection between nail makers and farmers. Farmers were equipped to carry out their own simple repairs to tools and equipment. Most would have had outbuildings and they owned horses which meant they could bring in supplies of materials and carry any finished goods to market or any other known buyer. Farmers and also builders would have been key users of nails at that time.
For four months of the year there would be less to do on the farm and in Mapplewell coal was in abundance, much of it close to the surface of the ground. For this reason they had a ready supply of fuel for the furnaces needed to heat up the iron. Making nails meant that they could diversify but it soon took priority. Nail making was a job which could involve the whole family (no TV or Computer Games in those days kids) and so the whole family would actually work to make a living
One such known tradesman was John Spark of Mapplewell who had died in 1726 and it is surmised that ‘Spark Lane ‘was most likely named after him.
In God we Trust
From 1150 until the 1800’s, the Church at Darton was the only place you could go to worship and this serviced the whole of Darton and all the surrounding villages. It was also the only place where baptisms, marriages and burials could be carried out (nothing like a captive audience). There are no records, however, as to how many ‘regular users’ would attend on a Sunday for weekly worship from the outlying districts, especially in the depths of winter.
As with many of the local communities in Barnsley, it was in 1761 that John Wesley is known to have preached at Mapplewell. His views were held in very high esteem throughout the country and his preaching was greatly received in Mapplewell. It is for this reason that it was the Methodist church that became the first place of worship to be erected within the village boundaries with the ‘New Connection Chapel’ being built in Peckett’s Square in 1800. (Foster’s Bakery now gives us our daily bread instead as they occupy the original site). More building of chapels took place throughout the 19th Century. All of these chapels flourished at that time (now in 2021 there are only 23 Methodist Chapels left in Barnsley with many having been sold off for private development).
Teaching & Learning
One of the features of all these original chapels (and of the church at Darton at that time) was the Sunday School. These early Sunday Schools tended to focus on the teaching of children to read and write rather than any religious education.
Prior to 1856 any full time education would have been paid for through a private arrangement. A few of these would be referred to as Dame Schools which tended to be small and generally run by ladies who were considered ‘capable’ of giving some instruction to youngsters. Normally they would be ‘home based’ working out of their private houses.
There were also two private schools in the area that were run by ‘school masters’. One of these was the Salem Chapel which later became the ‘Institute’ and the other was in the original Primitive Chapel off New Road. These were operating in 1861 for just a short period of time. Prior to that, in 1856, a Mr. Beaumont of Bretton Hall, had put forward the money for an educational building to be created called a British School. This same census of 1861 shows that there were 271 scholars at the school which had nearly doubled to 553 pupils by the tine of the next census of 1881. The present school had been built on Blacker Road and an additional school was built, and in more recent times, the Wellgate Infants School.
Also in 1861 the census showed a dramatic switch in occupation. According to records, in the 1841 census there was just over 240 Nail makers in Staincross and Mapplewell and 45 miners with mining being just an alternative occupation to farming. It was in this year that a commission was set up to inquire into the employment of young children in mines in the Yorkshire coalfields and elsewhere so some of these mine workers could have been children. By 1861 the focus had shifted towards coal and in the 1861 Census there were now 280 Nail makers and 314 miners. The early miners had worked in shallow mines or surface mines dotted around the village. However, as most locals are aware, the sinking of a deep mine at North Gawber was to make mining the main industry of the village for the next 100+ years.
Also in the 1861 census it is reported to show that almost 200 of the men working in the mine at that time were effectively ‘incomers’ and had not been born in the parish of Darton. A few came from nearby villages and towns and some even travelled from adjoining counties in the search of work. However, a greater number had travelled up from the south of England and some even from Scotland and Ireland. For this reason, many had brought their families with them which swelled the size of the Mapplewell and Staincross to a whole new level.
Many families were now taking in lodgers which meant that homes were becoming overcrowded, but the area was prospering. A sizable number of new houses had been built in Spring Gardens and in the vicinity of Wentworth Road and there was some development on what is now referred to as New Road. Those on New Road consisted of small developments in which the immigrant miners were mixed with people already established in the village. However, in the Wentworth Road and Spring Gardens area these were predominantly ‘incomers’.
Their lifestyle and culture was said to be so different to that of the ‘locals’ that it confused and offended the old residents of that area. For this reason, locally Wentworth Road become known as “Monkey Park” and Spring Gardens as “Silly-Row” (so much for equality and diversity). These names remained in common use right up until both areas were demolished some years after World War II.
Fortunately, later generations were less derogatory in their acceptance of ‘new blood’ to the area. For example, Pye Avenue was merely referred to as “Happy Valley” and is still remembered by this expression by some of the more elderly residents.
There were two public houses in the villages in 1841 which had increased to four by 1861 and to eight by 1871. For some these were as much a refuge as the religious establishments were to others. From 1850 onwards there appears to have been a certain amount of drunkenness, particularly from latecomers to reside in the villages which incensed and outraged the chapel folk and many right-minded people of no particular religious persuasion. As a result, a flourishing Temperance Society was formed by two residents, George Hamby and James Casmey, which was part of a UK wide movement established to reduce the sale of alcohol and promote safety and sobriety.
Diversification and new skills
As with any prosperous community, new occupations other than nail making, farming and mining were attracted to the area (which shows the benefits of buying local to keep the area prosperous and self sufficient).
Those involved with the building trade, such as masons, carpenters and even basket makers appeared on the scene. Basket makers were chiefly employed in making baskets for use in the mines but were used for carrying many items (and we complain about 20p for ‘a bag for life’).
We have already mentioned the nail making, but now there was a flourishing iron works and other labours such as gardeners, growing and selling their own produce direct to the public.
It was until the 1880’s that the first doctor was reported to have moved in, but there were reports of herb gatherer and from the year 1861, there was an apothecary (a dispensing chemist) who sold and prepared drugs for health and wellbeing. In 1871-1881 there were 12 cordwainers (that’s a load of cobblers if you ask me) or shoemakers some of which went on to become clog makers.
Believe it or not, in the middle of the 19th Century there was a also a buoyant boat-building industry in the area. A family called the Turners of Carr Green carried out boat-building and boat repairs at Low Barugh where barges would call regularly. This would indicate that there was a local canal in operation at that time. When the canals declined, following the expansion of the railway network widened, some of those employed as boat-builders/repairers were employed in the pit as carpenters in the mines. Others will have gone into the building trade or even worked on the railways themselves.
Staincross and Mapplewell also had its own railway station. It was one of three stations built on the Barnsley Coal Railway and opened when that line was completed in 1882. Its location was adjacent to the main Wakefield road (A61), slightly to the east of Staincross, on the edge of the present day Athersley estate. It was about a mile east of Mapplewell and between Stairfoot and Notton and Royston. Staincross and Mapplewell station consisted of two flanking platforms with access from the road bridge.
The station was eventually closed on 22 September 1930, although there is still a service from Darton that serves the Community.
The North Gawber mine closed after the miner’s strike of 1984/5. The pithead gear, has been dismantled, the site cleared and on it stands the Co-Operative store along with a Chinese Restaurant and other industrial and residential buildings.
Mapplewell & Staincross Today
Today, Mapplewell and Staincross has a population in excess of 4,000 (2001 Census) and is generally seen as a commuting village with good access to the motorways and other major routes, serving Leeds, Wakefield, Huddersfield, Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster, Barnsley and beyond. There are regular trains running through Darton and a good bus network running through the village on a regular basis.
It would be fair to say that the Local industry tends to be clean SME’s and service industries that serve the local community. For this reason, despite being seen as an area of deprivation like most mining villages when the pits closed in the 80’s, it is a more affluent suburb of Barnsley and now has a vibrant ‘high street’ with a number of small, specialist shops with the capability of serving the local community well.
The fact that the population consists of an above average elderly demographic that appreciates the importance of ‘Community Spirit’, Mapplewell and Staincross are seen as a pleasant and aspirational place to live.
References Points and big thank you to: