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Darfield is on the A635, about 5 miles east of Barnsley, between Manchester and Doncaster. There was an ancient packhorse route, across the Pennines and through the village, which was used to carry salt from Cheshire to towns on the east side, such as Barnsley and Doncaster. The village has an ancient Roman history, but was more recently known as a mining village, until Darfield Main Colliery was closed in 1989. All Saints Parish Church is one of the oldest in the area; its churchyard has the grave of Ebenezer Elliot, the ‘Corn Law Rymer’, who famously wrote, ‘When wilt thou save the people, Oh God of mercy when? The people Lord the people, Not thrones and crowns but men.’ Now the mine has gone, along with many others in the region, many of the villagers have to travel to nearby towns for work. Much of the detritus from the local mining days has been cleared and the area is gradually returning to its natural beauty with wild life in abundance. The village sits on a steep hill above the confluence of the river Dearne and its tributary the Dove, the valley of which now contains a nature reserve.
The Wash, Darfield, Yorks.
The Manor of Woodhall, Darfield, West Yorks.
There has been some confusion about the location of the medieval 'Woodhall' at Darfield. In the 15th century Woodhall Manor was occupied by the Drax and Bosville families. By a settlement charter of December 1420, John and Margaret Drax were granted the rights of the manor from John Bosville and his eldest son William. John Bosville had inherited the manor, together with Ardsley, probably on his first marriage to Mary Drax. The Drax family continued to occupy Woodhall until the early 17th century. In 1516 the Court of the Star Chamber at Westminster reported the 'Siege of Woodhall Manor' involving Thomas Drax, a local priest. Quite a large number of old musket balls have been found in the surrounding fields in recent years, which may have come from this seige. In 1601 the Darfield parish register records the burial of Thomas Drax of Netherwood Hall, esquire. In 1603 a Ralphe Woodcock occupied 'Nether Woodhall', but by 1605 the Bosville family were once again in residence.
Map reproduced by kind permission of: ©Cassini Publishing Ltd – cassinimaps.com
The location of the 16th Century Drax home, 'Woodhall', can be found on the following Ordnance Survey re-print map: Cassini Historical Maps Old Series 1840-1841 Map 111 Sheffield & Doncaster. Prior to finding this entry on a Cassini 'Historical Map', I had spent several years trying to track down the site of the original 'Woodhall'; 'Netherwood Hall', had been suggested as the location, but this is clearly nearer to Wombwell and the river Dove. This is a brilliant series of old maps that are invaluable when studying family histories; so many modern roads just weren't there 100 years ago, sometimes much less, and this makes understanding transport and communication links almost impossible without using these old maps. Original versions are scarce, expensive and delicate; with Cassini re-prints you can always get another one if it gets damaged, or if you want to mark where your family once lived.
The area around Darfield and Wombwell was affected by coal mining and the associated railway lines; since mining came to an end in this area, it is gradually reverting to something closer to its earlier appearance and now has a nature research near the river Dove. The site of Woodhall is now a modern farmhouse and a stable block, with some 18th century stone buildings in between. It is visible from the air via 'Google Earth' at map reference: 53º 32' 01.47" N / 1º 23' 38.06" W. If you don't already have 'Google Earth', there is a free download at: Google Earth.
Modern Darfield is a former coal mining community that is gradually improving in atmosphere, and the local residents are getting more interested in their heritage and are making good efforts to understand and preserve their local history. When I last visited the village, they were trying to raise money to restore the Community Hall and repair the church roof.
The Darfield Area Amenity Society Limited and The Maurice Dobson Heritage & Amenity Centre, 2, Vicar Road, Darfield, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S73 8PL; tel: 01226 754593; website: Darfield Museum - The Maurice Dobson Museum and Heritage Centre. This is a voluntary village civic society, who are also the organisers of a good local Museum and local history archive. If you get a chance to visit them, they have a brilliant Tea Room with lovely homemade cakes and good Yorkshire tea, and its all at very reasonable prices served by wonderful voluntary staff. There is free on-street parking in the adjacent streets.
If your very hungry, there is a brilliant pub between the Museum and the Parish Church; they serve excellent food at very reasonable prices, and the staff are very friendly. There is a great community atmosphere during lunchtime dining and, as a visitor to the village, I was made to feel very welcome by all present.
The Parish Church has a medieval 'Bosville' tomb with two well preserved figures on the top. This is a church with a lot of history and the list of incumbents on display includes three 'Drax' Rectors: Robert Drax (1470); Thomas Drax (1520); Sir John Drax, knight (1554). The History of All Saints Church, Darfield.
There is also an active Darfield History Group; contact information can be obtained from the Museum or the local libraries.
The Local Libraries are open weekdays, 9-5 or 9-7 (closed 1-2 for lunch); Wednesdays: closed all day; Saturdays: open am only:
Darfield Library, Church Street, Darfield, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S73 9LG; tel: 01226 752548.
Wombwell Library, Station Road, Wombwell, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S73 0BA; tel: 01226 753846.