A Brief History of Penistone

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The author of this website is not too precious about people making use of Penistone Pictorial photographs on such as Facebook but it is good manners to let people know about their source, so that they might discover more about them and view similar material. People copying pictures from this website ought not to imply or claim ownership of them.

Penistone Coat of ArmsBelow is the introduction in the 1914 Penistone Almanack, repeated in other almanacks with some minor variations:

Penistone 'or 'Peniston', the town on the Pen or hill - an etymology fully justified by its situation. In the Doomsday Survey, commenced in 1080 and completed in 1086, Penistone is referred to three times, being spelt Pangeston, Pengestone, and Pengeston.

It can certainly lay claim to antiquity. It was occupied by Britons, Romans, and Saxons in turn, and, in 1066, was owned by Ailric. In 1069 it was devastated by the Conqueror, and was lying waste in 1086. It was given to Lacey, who had it divided into two manors, both of which were sub-infended soon afterwards to Swein, who, in turn, left them to his son. The family of de-Peniston held one of the manors, from which it descended in turn to the Clarels - one of whom was the founder of the Grammar School in 1392 - Fitzwilliams and Foljambes. The Wordsworths of Water Hall, who lived here in the reign of Edward III, were ancestors of the poet of that name.

The market was granted in 1699. The descendents of Ailric built a church at Penistone soon after the Conquest. Formerly it had two Vicars, who each had equal rights to the church. Geoffrey de Loudham, vicar in 1229, afterwards became Archbishop of York. The present building appears to date from the 15th century, and is dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The living is the gift of the Macdonald (Bosville) family.'

History Sections
The 'History Timeline' was a later addition to this website, collecting historic snippets from a wide range of sources. Each timeline concentrates on local, rather than national, happenings, although there are inevitably some of the more important ones included. As with all pages on this website, you can return to the next level above by clicking the 'Back' Back icon on each page bottom. Out of interest, take a look at Google Maps Streetview for 2009 and notice all of the changes.

  Local History Timelines Old Church Interior
Penistone Show
1952 Almanack Cover
1923 Clock

Old Market Place

Advert for films
The Town
The Market
Penistone Church
List of Vicars
Penistone Grammar School
The Railway
Town Hall & Library
The Cloth Hall
Vinegar Brewery
Penistone Show
David Brown's
Old Fire Station Drill
Cubley and Mortimer Road
Old Pictures
Aerial Views 1993
The Population
Old Pastimes
The Old Lockup
High Flatts Quakers
Penistone Vicars
'Stories from the Stones'
Spring Vale Thoughts
1977 Royal Silver Jubilee
Old Customs
Bad Weather
Old Inns
The Coat of Arms
Local Ghost Stories

Many thanks to Graham Saunders for the 'Spooky Stories' and to Steve Lavender for the 'Stories from the Stones' and, of course, to all other contributors. These history sections contain snippets of information from many sources and some old photographs have been 'donated' (scanned and returned) through the goodwill of local people. For non-commercial purposes, if you use them or other material from this website, please be kind enough to attribute the source. Archive groups can apply for funding to Townsweb Archiving digitise their collections.

In Context
For centuries, the nearby village of Thurlstone had been more populous and important than Penistone before the gradual decline of its textile cottage industry and the greater employment opportunities which Penistone attracted with the arrival of the railway and steelworks with other industries. Thurlstone had several important mills on the river Don in the old days, for textile, vegetable oil and grain processing.

The Subsidy Rolls (Poll Tax) of 1379 recorded 33 people in Thurlstone but only 12 in Penistone at that time. Denby ('Upper Denby') had 25 people in the Subsidy Rolls. The Hearth Tax returns of 1672 listed only 28 householders for Penistone compared with 65 for Thurlstone and 23 for Oxspring, although it would have under-reported the dwellings of the poor. The West Riding Directory of 1837 was published before the railway came to Penistone:

Penistone '... consists of one wide street, in which are a few neat houses; but it is now a place of no trade, though the linen and woollen manufactures extend into some of the out-townships of its extensive parish.... The market, held every Thursday, is of small importance.. The township of Penistone contains only 703 inhabitants ..' ... and so on.

But Penistone does have some historical value and has grown steadily over the years to eclipse Thurlstone in importance. There is also a hint of ancient history in the area, with fragments of an ancient Saxon cross in Penistone Church. On the moors a few miles away can be found earthworks from the time of Stonehenge and part of a Roman road. Penistone goes back to before the Magna Carta ("Did she die in vain?") and both Penistone and Thurlstone were in the Domesday Book.

Some houses and farms in our area are several centuries old. Our fine medieval church had used building materials from an earlier time. Part of an old Saxon cross can be found embedded side-ways on in one of the stone pillars near the pulpit. Possibly for several centuries, it is likely that the early Christian worshippers from a scattered community had gathered together as a focal point worship around this cross on top of the hill, where the church would be built in the 13th century. The church tower dates back to the 1500s, at about the same time as the similar tower of Silkstone church was also built. Penistone Grammar School can trace its roots back to 1392, although, according to old sources, the paperwork was lost to prove the point. It started in the church then continued in a building on Kirk Flatts (somewhere near JT Smith had a furniture shop) which was rebuilt at least once before the school moved to Weirfield, near the Netherfield chapel. Its current location is now on the site of the former Workhouse, lower down the hill than the old Weirfield site.

Sketch from a 1892 booklet

The Name of Penistone
The two explanations of the name are from the town's location as being on a hill (or 'pen'), as in the item above, or from a personal name as in this section. Most sources take the first one as the most likely. However, no stone remains unturned here so here is an alternative meaning from 'Place-names of south-west Yorkshire' (p.227) downloadable from Archive.org:

PENISTONE, on the western border, may be compared with Penisale, an obsolete name connected with the adjacent township of Langsett. Early records of Penistone include:
DB 1086, Pengestone, Pengeston, Pangeston, and YR 1228 Penegelston, Penegeston. These forms are not in agreement with the following later forms, side by side with which those of Penisale are recorded:

YI 1227 Penigheston - CR 1290 Peningeshale
YR 1232 Peningeston - CR 1307 Peningesale
YI 1258 Peningstone - CR 1308 Penyngesale
WCR 1284 Penyngston - CH 1358 Penesale

The closeness of the parallel between the forms of Penistone and those of Penisale is obvious, and we are fully warranted in explaining Penistone as 'Pening's farm'; compare CR 1252 Peningeshalge, Lincolnshire, and the Frisian patronymic Penninga (Brons). It is not easy to account for the earliest of the forms of Penistone. Possibly Pengestone stands for Penige-stone, where Penig is an alternative to Pening; but Penegelston on the other hand finds no support and must be rejected.

Abbreviations (p.45) are:

So now you know. There are still some Pennings left in Penistone, which makes one wonder if they might have a remote connection with the early settlers.

History Links
Just a quick roundup.

Buildings and Industry
The excellent PGS Archive site has 360° views of old PGS buildings, including Fulford Building and Netherfield. It also has a range of photographs and documents and a section on the PGS Time Capsule (which is now kept in the church). Also, see the Listed Buildings, bridges, etc., in our area. You can find local industries in Grace's Guide and a potted history of Britain and Penistone on Mr Wainwright's website.

Burial Records
According to 'Diocesi Eboracensi', Penistone church registers start from 1644, with some defective marriage entries for 1750 - 1745 and 1786 - 1812. These old records can be found at the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield and their coverage is: Baptisms: 1644 - 1944, Marriages: 1644 - 1974 and Burials: 1644 - 1977. Transcripts of various Penistone Church marriage registers (list) can be purchased from Barnsley Family History Society.

The Burial Board of the Ecclesiastic Parish of Penistone was formed in February 1870. After Stottercliff Cemetery was opened in 1880, all further burials in the Penistone area took place there and no further burials were permitted in the churchyard. Burial records for Stottercliff Cemetery can be found at Ardsley Crematorium, Barnsley, which covers the whole borough.

Genealogists can consult the larger branches of 'The Church of the Latter Day Saints' (Mormons) such as in Huddersfield, to study their church records on microfische. The peculiar advantage of the Mormons is that they claim to be able to convert ancestors retrospectively and this has led them to collect vast repositories of church records from all over the world. Genealogy researchers might also like to visit Free Genealogy UK (including the FreeBMD project), which aims to put records of Births, Marriages and Deaths in the public domain, free of charge.

For War Memorials, Barnsley and District War Memorials has some interesting information. A 'Blogspot' from the same people has references to individual graves, such as that for Albert Webster in 2015, although it is not clear how to search it.

Please also see 'Stories from the Stones' - Gravestone inspirations by Steve Lavender (on this website) from Penistone churchyard.

Bits of local historic note.

The Penistone/Clarel Coat of Arms
This belonged to Penistone's absentee landlord, Thomas Clarel. It consists of Six footless, swift-like birds on a red background, as shown above. It was thought that swifts never landed and did not need feet, only tufts of feathers. The Clarel line died out long ago but the town of Penistone uses the coat of arms as its own.

The Yorkshireman's Coit o' Arms
This consists of: A fly, a flea, a magpie and a flitch of bacon.

From JN Dransfield's 'History of the Parish of Penistone' as was explained by Mr AW Pope in The Spectator:

A Flea, a Fly, a Magpie, an' a Bacon Flitch,
Is t' Yorkshireman's Coit o' Arms:

An' t' reason they've choszn these things so rich,
Is becoss the've all speshal charms,

A flea will bite whoivver it can,
An' sooa, my lads, will a Yorkshireman.

A magpie can talk for a terrible span,
An' sooa an' all, can a Yorkshireman.

A flitch is no gooid whol it's hung, tha'll agree,
No more is a Yorkshireman, dun't tha see?

Local Industry
As a traditional farming area in the old days, with plenty of wool available, one of this area's main cottage industries had been in specialist textile-making and this occupation is very evident in early censuses, of Thurlstone in particular. There are still houses dotted around Thurlstone constructed with textiles in mind. Penistone had a Cloth Hall built with open sides opposite Penistone Church but it failed as a commercial enterprise.

The Cubley Brook brewery at 'Vinegar Bottom' on Mortimer Road is fondly remembered in the area. It had started out as a beer brewery and maltings and it provided beer to local public houses. It was not the sole brewery in the district as there was a small one in Millhouse Green. Over time, the brewery became 'Penistone Pure Malt Vinegar Company' and provided vinegar for many well-known brands including Sarsons and Heinz. Now there is no trace of a brewery. The final indignity was for its horse-trough to be obliterated by builders in 2006-7 (follow the link above).

Gittus railway wagons manufactory was an important company near the railway sidings off the road from Spring Vale to Oxspring, now an industrial and housing area. It had started as builders of horse-drawn wagons in the old days but was sharp enough to move into railway wagons at a time they were in demand.

Iron and steel-making had been an important industry in our district since the mid-nineteenth century but declined very gradually over the decades. The old Cammel Laird works came to a stop in the 1930s Depression era, only to be resurrected as David Brown's foundries after a five-year gap. As David Brown's it was an important local employer. DB's made heavy parts for the wartime tanks and there is a tank loading bay near the Green Road bridge. What is left is only a shadow of Penistone's former steel-making glory.

As Cammel-Laird, the company had great plans for Penistone. Take a look at the Cubley link above to learn about a 'Model Village' for steel-workers which was intended to be a model for the nation to copy but which never reached fruition because of the Depression. David Browns' foundries lasted many years and the long, red-brick wall on Green Road, would have been a familiar sight to decades of pupils walking to Spring Vale school. The wall was demolished in stages from late 2007 to make way for new houses on part of the 'Hitec' site. Much of the former steelworks land is now taken over by houses.

Winterbottom's produced specialist wires in their wire mill works close to the eponymous spring of Oxspring. It was said that they produced a special kind of wire for NASA's space shuttles. The company became known as Wintwire after a management buy-out. Now the site also hosts other companies such as John Donnachie's building company and smaller industrial units.

Another major steelworks in the area was Samuel Fox's, a few miles away in the badlands of Stocksbridge. Anyone living in the Penistone area a few decades ago would remember the sky going red over Stocksbridge as the Bessemer Converter disgorged its contents. The electric current flowing through the massive cables to its electrodes would cause them to writhe like elephants' trunks as the current was switched on. The CEGB HQ near Leeds (electricity supply) had a metered branch for the company alone, labelled in MegaWatts. This company later became British Steel Company, BSC (aka 'Billy Smart's Circus').

Then British Steel merged with Hoogovens and created the Anglo-Dutch company CORUS, registered in the UK and run by British people (it was a takeover by any other name). Later, the Indian manufacturing company Tata took an interest. The rest of its timeline is lost to history, although there is still some steel activity in Stocksbridge. In its heyday, it was said that Fox's site stretched for seven miles down the valley. Much of the site is now the Fox Valley shopping area but there might be another ray of light for their district if they can get a railway line reinstated from the Porter Valley into Sheffield. At this time, I don't have pictures to illustrate the local steel industry.

A good many people worked for the former 'Hepworth Iron Works' at Crow Edge, which made clay pipes in spite of its name. People often said that t' Company "Made pipes and old men" as it was no place for the lazy. They would not last long. It was later renamed 'Hepworth Building Products' but was always known as "t' Company" in our district. It became part of a worldwide company of many parts, which even included a central heating boiler manufactory. The Hepworth company continues to make clay products in its kilns but also supplies specialist plastic pipes.

Penistone Historic Archive
Penistone Mug from Hallmark Card ShopThe main local history resource for our district is the Penistone and District Community Archive, based on the great work of the late Neville Roebuck who amassed a huge amount of historical materials. The Neville Roebuck Room, Lower Hall in the Community Centre, Church Street, Penistone, S36 6AR, is always our first port-of-call for anything about local history and the volunteers are very knowledgeable if you would like to speak to them when the archive is open. In normal times it is open from 10am to 1pm on Market Days (Thurs).

The group also holds (in normal times) local history talks for members and the public to enjoy, 1.45pm on the first and third Wednesday every month (except August) at the Community Centre, for a small fee, with a brew and a biscuit. If you have some historic local knowledge to share, guest speakers are always welcome and suitable contributors can be fitted in their busy schedule of speakers. The talks might be particularly suitable for older people who are in danger of social isolation, to enable them get out more, make friends and discover (or add to) local knowledge.

The archive had started as a personal project by Thurgoland historian Neville Roebuck, who had accumulated a large collection of material and wanted to preserve it for the local community. Much of it was photographs and newspaper cuttings but other material was on computer and DVDs. Neville tried for many years to pass his work on to the local council but his messages did not always reach the right people and, before a room was specially allocated for it in the Community centre, there was a problem finding anywhere to put it all.

After he passed on, the collection was moved into a Town Hall storeroom (left side of the stage) and opened up to the public on Market Days, manned by volunteers who later formed the Archive Group. It was in cardboard boxes, each labelled with their contents. The whole caboodle is now looked after and indexed by the Penistone History and Archive Group and it is now well-established in the Community Centre.

Until 2019, one of its most prolific supporters had been the late Brian Parkhurst who scanned and photographed many of the documents to a very high professional standard for the archive. Brian was a keen photographer and a member of Penistone Photographic Society. He died soon after his wife Liz passed away. They were both popular people in Penistone and had a lifestyle which was in harmony with the natural world. It is particularly sad that Brian passed away before he could properly enjoy the benefits of his new house.

The group is always looking for old documents, Penistone Almanacks, family histories, maps, memorabilia, photographs, slides, negatives, cine/video of local events and any history relevant to the Penistone district. These things are precious to us and must not fall into Barnsley's hands or otherwise leave our area. The group is entirely independent and, in spite of rumours to the contrary, will never send our history to Barnsley. All donations are welcome. Plans are now in operation to extend the Neville Roebuck room to enable much more capacity. There is also the possibility that Penistone might have a museum at some point, although that would need to be in another building, possibly in rooms next to Penistone Town Hall.

Keep it in Penistone
Some of Penistone's historic resources will have migrated (not via the group) into Barnsley museum. However, given that BMBC must have amassed a huge amount of material from the Borough and via old records, it will have limited space to exhibit them. If our local history ends up in distant Barnsley rather than kept local, it might only be displayed in rotation, if at all, and become lost, disregarded or forgotten in their system. The public can't request to see what we don't know about. Penistone also aspires to having its own museum but there would be the worry that our history might never be returned to Penistone from Barnsley.

Another matter is that we know that Barnsley's archive indexing system can be flaky. We know that the deeds to Penistone Town Hall had been sent to Barnsley archives around 1974 during the Local Government Re-organisation changes but, after extensive searches by such as the late Cllr George Punt and others, the deeds have never been found. That makes it all the more important to keep our local history in our local hands. 'Better kept in Penistone than lost in Barnsley.'

Local History Books
These are of particular local interest but some will be out of print. Try Penistone Library, Penistone Church and local garden centres. A Yorkshire shop in Denby Dale has a good collection of Chris Heath's books, which mostly focus on Upper Denby and Denby Dale but give a rich insight into local life from Anglo-Saxon times, right up to the Industrial Revolution and beyond.

The Great War
Stories of the local fallen of the Great War (see also CWGC). Published in the centenary year, 2014. Available in local shops or via Janet Dyson, Tel. 01226 765093. See also Pen Memorials.

Top Home Winston Churchill: 'It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.'