Conisbrough stands on the magnesium limestone belt running northwards from Worksop and through to Pontefract. During the Roman period this area was quite thickly populated with forts at Bawtry, Doncaster, Rossington, Burghwallis and Templeborough. In Conisbrough parish itself, few items of Roman culture have been found and no village or farm sites are known except for one enclosure seen on an aerial photograph. A few scraps of Roman pottery have been discovered on the crags and in 1945 a Hadrian coin was found in the castle precincts. Fragments of stone axes have been unearthed and there are evidences of a Roman settlement at Hill Top.
The identity of the king who gave his name to Conisbrough, (King's Fort) is unknown but the place had that name by 1002 A.D. when it was mentioned in the will of Wulfric Spotte, an Anglo-Saxon aristocrat who was minister to King Ethelred. Wulfric bequeathed extensive lands at Conisbrough to his son (or brother) Elfhelm, not just Conisbrough itself but lands forming a fee as described in the Domesday book. Twenty eight townships were dependent upon this 'lordship' or 'honour', extending from Hatfield in the N. East to Hoyland in the West and Whitwell in the South and all in whole or part acknowledged the lord of Conisbrough as their chief. The entry in the Domesday book for Conisbrough tells us that the Earl de Warrenne had five carucates of land, five ploughs, twenty one villeins and eleven borders, having eleven ploughs between them. There was a church and a priest, a wood pasture a leuga (mile) square and two mills valued at thirty two shillings, where the villeins and serfs were forced to grind their corn. At the time of the Norman conquest the lands belonged to Harold the earl, whom the Normans did not deign to give the title of 'King'. After William's victory the fee of Coningsbrough was given to William de Warrenne the Conqueror's son in law who had fought at Hastings. He was also given lands at Lewes in Sussex.
The first Earl de Warrenne built the first castle at Conisbrough, possibly on the site of the present castle but little is known about this. The stone built keep was probably erected by Hameline Plantagenet, half brother of Henry II. Hameline became the 5th Earl de Warrenne when he married into the Warrenne family and assumed their name (he married Isobel the widow of the 4th Earl). The imposing octagonal and circular plan is said to be based upon that of a castle at Mortemer (or Mortimer) in Normandy and represents the most advanced military architecture of its age. It occupies a very strong position on a hill N.E. of the village overlooking the River Don. The site was originally one of a chain of Anglo-Danish fortifications which included Castle Hills Mexborough, Sprotbrough and Barnborough.
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War Memorial 'Sparrow Park'
The Warrenne family held Conisbrough until the middle of the 1300's when the last earl died without an heir and the property reverted to the crown. The early Warrennes took more interest in their Norman lands and the Earldom of Lewes and granted many of their northern properties to the church, particularly to Lewes Priory in Sussex. Conisbrough church had been granted to this priory by 1121 and the main tithes and right to appoint clergy, belonged to Lewes from this time until the 16th century. By the late Mediaeval period most of the outer walls of the castle had collapsed into the moat, which never was a wet moat and only contained standing water. Because of this decay the castle was partly derelict and was never attacked or defended during the Civil Wars; hence its survival into present times. Other, better maintained castles were in occupation at that time and therefore suffered greater damage and were destroyed. Tales which connect Conisbrough and the castle to Ambrosius and Hengist the traditional first Saxon King of Kent, can all be traced to Geoffrey of Monmouth, the 12th century story teller, who made them up. Very little is known about either of these men and Geoffrey probably included Conisbrough in the story to please the Warrennes who lived here during his lifetime. Several English Kings did however hold court at the castle during their travels. Sir Walter Scott was undoubtedly responsible in later years for carrying the town's name to a wider public when he used the castle as a setting for his famous novel 'Ivanhoe'.
The oldest standing building in South Yorkshire is the parish Church of St. Peter. It shows evidence of Anglo-Saxon origin and must pre-date the castle by at least 200 years. The nave has been dated between 750 and 760 but it has been covered by later Norman masonry. It was once besieged in 1325 and a commission of enquiry was instituted by Roger de Flete. He was a former constable of the castle and complained that 'whereas he went to the church of Conyngesburg to audit the accounts of the King's bailiffs and to levy the King's moneys according to his office, Alan, William, John and Elias de Vescy and others assaulted him. . .and besieged him in the church and prevented him from doing his business'. The environs of the church are much more peaceful today! In 1202 a market was founded in the village but there is no certain evidence of its location in the modern street pattern, though the triangular shape of the old village may hold a clue. There was a village green at one time, situated at the junction of Church Street and High Street. The market was discontinued and another founded at neighbouring Braithwell, which in 1289 was part of the honour of Conisbrough.
In 1379 there were 78 households in Conisbrough according to the Poll Tax records, each of whom paid an average of 4d in tax. There was a potter, a swineherd, a franklin (landowner) called de Westby who paid %d, and a cartwright. Only craftsmen and gentlemen paid this tax. Throughout the rest of the middle ages Conisbrough remained a large village rather than becoming a town, as during this time the royal lords neglected it. During the 1400's there were coal pits in Denaby Fields and two mills in Conisbrough; one on the Mill Piece and one at Burcroft; these survived into more modern times. Parkland covered almost half the area and it was used as a hunting ground. Conisbrough Park (which included Parks Farm, Conisbrough Lodge and Birk Lodge) was of Anglo- Saxon and Danish origin and was the only park in South Yorkshire except for Sheffield Manor. In 1575 farm timber was sold locally for £1900, and in 1656 a document shows that the woods were leased to Thomas Bayville Pagdin Wilson. Gervais Boseville owned Conisbrough Lodge at that time and part of the park was leased as agricultural land. Pottery making was an important local industry at the kilns at Firsby, a hamlet between Conisbrough and Raven field.
By the seventeenth century the old village certainly had its present plan with the Moot Hall on the site of the present Church Hall and the house and cottage known as the Old Hall, nearby. It was mainly an agricultural community until well into the 18th century when more industries came to the area. The Walker family of Masborough, Rotherham were iron founders and lead manufacturers between 1741 and 1893. In 1777 they owned land in Burcroft near the River on ,containing houses, stables and a shop. In 1779 they constructed a new boring mill there for the manufacture of cannon and it was here that cannon were bored for use in the Napoleonic Wars.
After the river was canalised in the mid 18th century industries such as Walkers, were sited here for commercial transport rather than for water power. Waterways were cheaper to use than was road transport and the railways had not yet come into prominence. By 1805 the ironworks had passed to John and Thomas Mullins who as forgemasters began to produce scythes, sickles, hooks and other agricultural implements. They were succeeded by William Linley and in 1847 by Thomas Booth and Sons, (Thomas and George). George took over the running of the firm in 1869 and held the business until Rawding, Blackburn and Rawding bought it in 1898. They retained the name of Booth and successfully exported their tools to all parts of Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Eventually Spear and Jackson took over the firm and made all kinds of edge tools until the closure of the works in 1976.
In 1801 Conisbrough was still mainly a large agricultural village with a population of 843. Most of the old limestone buildings near the church date from the time when farmers, agricultural labourers and rural tradesmen formed the largest part of the community. There were millers, tanners, saddlers, sawyers, boot and shoe makers and wheelwrights, making it very self-sufficient. At this time also there was not a single brick building in the village, they were all of limestone construction. As the 19th century progressed, so did the industry in the outlying parts of the village. Lockwood, Blagden and Kenip leased two stone quarries and two lime kilns at Levitt Hag from the Wrightson family for £600 per year rent. Railways were being built for transportation of coal from South Yorkshire, and new turnpikes were developed. In 1849 the South Yorkshire railway was constructed to Barnsley via Conisbrough and Denaby from Doncaster and in 1850 when the G.N. Railway from Doncaster to King's Cross (via Shaftoe Junction) was inaugurated, it meant that West Riding goods could be sent South.
In 1857, at the time of the Conisbrough Enclosure Awards, there were 1,840 acres of land in the township and 200 acres in Conisbrough Parks. The wider roads at this time were Northcliffe Hill Road, Kearsley Field Road, Highfield Road, Montague Road and Broomfield Road. Lesser roads mentioned were Mill Road and Drake Head Road. The lord of the manor was Mr. Lane Fox and Mr.Pitt Rivers owned the Priory Manor House. The population in 1861 was 1,665.
The sinking of the collieries at Denaby in 1863 and Cadeby in 1889 led to the formation of the industrial village of Denaby Main. This 'model' village was the work of Pope and Pearson, colliery owners, who leased the land from the Fullerton Estate and J. B. Pope the managing director who also raised money to build the Hull and Barnsley railway line. There were approximately 49 houses to the acre in the village. Kilner Brothers started their glass bottle manufacturing business at Castleford in the 1830's. In 1840 a Caleb Kilner founded the works at Thornhill Lees and then established the Conisbrough branch in the 1850's. The site was eminently suitable for the manufacture and distribution of the finished goods because of its proximity to roads, river and railways. In the 1881 census, Caleb Kilner is listed as being a glass manufacturer employing 171 men, 33 women and girls, and 109 young men and boys. Many of whom came from the Castleford and Thornhill Lees area. Jars for jam, pickles and drugs were made as well as bottles for medicines, wines and spirits.
The most famous product was the Kilner bottling and preserving jar which is still produced today under licence. They opened a distribution centre on Blundell Street, North London and won many international gold medals for the quality of their products which were exported to many parts of the world including India and South Africa. The firm ceased trading about 1937 when George Kilner of Ivanhoe Lodge was managing director. In Marchgate, formerly known as Codder Alley, stood the old tannery, some of the old stone buildings of which are still in existence.
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Tanning was an important industry in the community, for furnishing horse saddles, reins and even uniforms for soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars. Thomas Simpson lived at Ashfield House and was a brick and tile maker who also manufactured sanitary pipe ware up to the end of the 19th century. There were two breweries in the village: Nicholson's, opposite the end of Holywell Lane, and Ogley's at Hill Top. They supplied the local inns and taverns, but beer was also brewed and sold from houses and cottages in the village. In 1822 the landlord of the Eagle and Child was John Smith and at the Star, was Edward Goodacre. The Star Hotel burned down in 1911 but was rebuilt almost on the same site. In 1836 there are two more inns recorded: The Red Lion situated at the top of West Street and the Hill Top Inn owned by the Ogley family, where Earl Fitzwilliam met with horses and hounds in the hunting season.
The Railway Inn, so called because of its patronage by early railway and viaduct workers, is now known as the Castle Inn. Even with the advent of industry, farming remained important here until the time of the first world war. Many farm labourers were employed under the hiring system and there was a statute fair at Conisbrough as late as 1870. The town continued its growth into the 20th century with the expansion of coal mining, stone quarrying, wood turning, sweet manufacturing, metal working, gas manufacture and leather working.
In the late 14th century, Layamon in his mediaeval poem 'Brut' says of Conisbrough, 'There is not in all the world a burgh so fair'. This is scarcely the impression that a modern traveller might receive. Apart from the impact of church and castle, Conisbrough is perhaps just another example of modern urban sprawl, but dotted here and there amongst the characterless modern evelopment are just a few survivals of a Conisbrough rich in legend and history.
SOME INTERESTING DATES
1078 Revenues of Conisbrough Church bestowed on the Priory of Lewes by Earl
1392 550 deer
killed in Conisbrough Parks.
1843 Kilhamite Chapel on Old Hill discontinued.
1844 January 3rd. First official impression used at Conisbrough Post Office.
Mr. Edward Harrison was Postmaster.
1853 Richard Jennings resided at the Priory.
1863 Denaby Colliery shaft sunk.
1864 The Sheffield Flood carried a baby in a cradle downstream of the River
Don to Conisbrough where the baby was rescued and survived.
1869 Denaby Colliery Strike.
1870 First house built in Denaby Main. Gas laid on at Conisbrough, the first building lit was the Red Lion Hotel.
1871 The Moot Hall was demolished.
1873 First Board School in Conisbrough.
1882 Church clock was installed, paid for by Mrs. J. H.Simpson in memory of
her husband Simeon.