Barnsley has been awarded High Street Heritage Action Zone status for Eldon Street in Barnsley Town Centre. This is part of an exciting new national programme funded by Historic England. Over the next four years the High Street Heritage Action Zone will offer grants to restore historic buildings on the west side of Eldon Street, work with local business and uncover and celebrate the stories of one of Barnsley’s most important historic high streets. Our Heritage Action Zone Officer, Dr Tegwen Roberts, tells us more.
Early days of Eldon Street
Eldon Street was first laid out in 1840 by architect and surveyor John Whitworth. Whitworth was responsible for a programme of ‘improvements’ to Barnsley Town Centre, following an Act of Parliament in 1822. Eldon Street was one of a number of new, wide streets created by John Whitworth around the earlier medieval town core, including Pitt Street and Wellington Street (in 1815) and Peel Street (in 1830).
Initially a number of garden plots were laid out along Eldon Street, however these were soon developed and the street quickly became a mixed commercial and cultural area. From 1850, Eldon Street became a principle gateway into the town, when a new railway station opened at the north-east end of the street. A large new public hall opened in 1877 and a fashionable covered shopping arcade opened in 1892. Both still survive and are an important part of Eldon Street’s story and unique character. The second edition Ordnance Survey map published in 1893 shows how Eldon Street had developed during the second half of the 19th century into to a busy commercial and social hub, with hotels, pubs, the large public hall, shops and a cattle market to the south.
A centre for independent business, culture and community
Many of the businesses that traded on Eldon Street in the early 20th century were household names in Barnsley. One of the best known was Benjamin Harral’s, where generations of Barnsley people bought their engagement and wedding rings. The shop window was a local attraction in itself, known for its elaborate displays. Other notable shops included Woolworths, Mallinson’s, Brown’s (ironmongers) and the Haigh Brothers newsagents. In more recent years, business like Frank Bird’s, Lesley Francis and Globe Travel have become familiar names.
As today, many of the businesses in Eldon Street during the 19th and early 20th centuries were independent traders, and there is a strong tradition of local businesses working together to put on joint events and promotions. Eldon Street’s long history as a centre for local, independent businesses is something the High Street HAZ will support through work with new and existing businesses, and an exciting cultural programme of events and activities, working with the Civic Barnsley, Barnsley Libraries and others.
In the 19th century Eldon Street was also a place for local people to meet and socialise. It was home to numerous pubs including the Three Cranes, the Royal Oak and the Magnet Hotel. The Public Hall and Mechanics Institute – now The Civic, Barnsley – opened in 1877. It was gifted to the town in 1890 and became Barnsley’s first free public library. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Public Hall hosted regular events including concerts, theatre and variety shows, lectures and meetings. The grand main entrance to the hall was on Eldon Street, and thousands of local people flocked to see big names like Charlie Williams and Ken Dodd. From 1907, the Public Hall also hosted a programme of ‘penny’ film shows with Saturday afternoon matinees, attracting children from across the borough. Some of the earliest films were shown by Jasper Redfern, a pioneering film maker from Sheffield.
Another famous name connected to Eldon Street was royal photographer Warner Gothard junior. Along with his siblings he is credited with pioneering the montage postcard, used to mark notable events and disasters in the early 20th century. He moved to Barnsley in 1893 and set up a studio at 6 Eldon Street. His studio doesn’t survive, but a block of shops and offices that he built on the corner of Eldon Street and Regent Street South in the 1920s stands as a monument to his success, and his long connection with Eldon Street.
The Public Hall was renamed the Harvey Institute in 1890 and became home to Barnsley’s first Free Public Library. A new purpose-built central library, the Lightbox, opened on the opposite side of Eldon Street in 2019, continuing this important part of Eldon Street’s story, serving local communities and supporting education within the town. The new library has become a landmark in its own right and is a cornerstone of the new £20million Glassworks town centre redevelopment. The Heritage Action Zone will connect Eldon Street, the Glassworks and Barnsley Old Town to the west, creating a link between new and old, and reinvigorating this important historic gateway to the town.
Parades, performance and protest
Throughout its history, Eldon Street has also been an important venue for parades, demonstrations and celebration events, including demonstrations by the National Union of Miners in the 19th and 20th Centuries and parades by the Barnsley Pals Battalion and Home Guard during the first and second World Wars. This tradition continues with the annual Barnsley Lord Mayor’s Parade, and town centre festivals like Bright Nights.
The story of Eldon Street has a darker side too. In 1908 the Public Hall (by then renamed the Harvey Institute) was also the scene of a terrible tragedy. 16 children were killed and another 40 injured when they were crushed in a stampede during a film show, when the hall became too crowded. Reports of the tragedy were published in newspapers as far away as New York. The disaster led the way for the first Cinematographic Act in 1909, which regulated the UK film industry for the first time and required all cinemas to be inspected and licensed by the local authority.
The High Street Heritage Action Zone
The High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) will invest in key historic properties on the west side of Eldon Street over the next 4 years, from 2020-2024. It is a partnership project between Barnsley Council and Historic England, who have awarded a grant of just under £2million for the scheme. The Eldon Street HSHAZ is one of 68 similar schemes across the county, and one of only 9 in Yorkshire and the North East.
The grants will help property owners to restore historic features (including traditional shop fronts) and bring empty upper floors back into use. The HSHAZ will also offer training and support for local businesses and will work with local people to record and celebrate the amazing stories of Eldon Street. The HSHAZ will also work with local partners, led by The Civic Barnsley, to develop an exciting cultural programme of events and activities focussing on the HSHAZ area.
What would you like to see for Eldon Street in the future? Do you have a story about Eldon Street that you would like to share? Which parts of Eldon Street’s past do you think are most important to celebrate? Would you like to talk to us about possible grant support to restore your building? Would you like to get involved in the project by volunteering, or helping with activities? Please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.
We will also be running online and face to face consultation events in coming months, as Covid-19 restrictions allow. Plans may need to be changed at short notice. Please keep an eye on our twitter and facebook for more details.
Visit the Historic England website for more details about the HSHAZ programme.For more information please contact us at EldonStreetHAZ@barnsley.gov.uk or follow us on twitter.