The first reference to Barnsley occurs in 1086 in the Domesday Book, in which it is called Berneslai and has a population of around 200. The origin of the name Barnsley is subject to debate, but Barnsley Council claims that its origins lie in the Saxon word "Berne", for barn or storehouse, and "Lay", for field.
The town was in the parish of Silkstone and developed little until in the 1150s when it was given to the Pontefract Priory. The monks built a town where three roads met: the Sheffield to Wakefield, Rotherham to Huddersfield and Cheshire to Doncaster routes. The Domesday village became known as Old Barnsley, and a town grew up on the new site.
The monks erected a chapel of ease dedicated to Saint Mary, which survived until 1820 , and established a market. In 1249, a Royal charter was granted to Barnsley permitting it to hold a weekly market on Wednesdays and annual four-day fair at Michaelmas. By the 1290s, three annual fairs were held. The town was the centre of the Staincross wapentake, but in the mid-16th century had only 600 inhabitants.
From the 17th century, Barnsley developed into a stop-off point on the route between Leeds, Wakefield, Sheffield and London. The traffic generated as a result of its location fuelled trade, with hostelries and related services prospering. A principal centre for linen weaving during the 18th and 19th century, Barnsley grew into an important manufacturing town.
The first passenger station to serve Barnsley was opened by the North Midland Railway in 1840. Barnsley station (latter called Cudworth railway station) was located some 2½ miles away at Cudworth. On 1 January 1850 the Manchester and Leeds Railway opened Barnsley Exchange station, close to the town centre. On 1 May 1870 the Midland Railway opened Regent Street station, a temporary structure. A new station was opened by the MR on the Regent Street site on 23 August 1873. As it incorporated the old court house in its construction Regent Street station was renamed Barnsley Court House station.
Barnsley became a municipal borough in 1869, and a county borough in 1913. The town's boundaries were extended to absorb Ardsley and Monk Bretton in 1921 and Carlton in 1938.
St Mary's Church (Church of England)
Barnsley was the site of a stampede that resulted in the deaths of 16 children in 1908, at a public hall now known as The Civic, when children were rushing to watch a film in the building.
Barnsley has a long tradition of glass-making, however Barnsley is most famous for its coal mines. In 1960, there were 70 collieries within a 15-mile radius of Barnsley town centre, but the last of these closed in 1994. The National Union of Mineworkers still has its HQ in Barnsley.
George Orwell mentioned the town in The Road to Wigan Pier. He arrived in the town on 11 March 1936 and spent a number of days in the town living in the houses of the working class miners while researching for the book. He wrote very critically of the council's expenditure on the construction of Barnsley Town Hall and claimed that the money should have been spent on improving the housing and living conditions of the local miners.