The Market Cross, Montgomery Square, Wath-upon-Dearne
|Wentworth and Dearne
Wath-upon-Dearne (also known as Wath-on-Dearne or simply Wath) is a small town on the south side of the Dearne Valley in the West Riding of Yorkshire. It is to be found 5 miles north of Rotherham, almost midway between Barnsley and Doncaster. It had a recorded population of 16,787in 2001.
The name of the town is Old English; wæþ means "ford", though the Norse vaþ of the same meaning has been suggested, in reference to its position at a ford on the River Dearne. It appears in the Domesday Book as Wad.
For hundreds of years Wath remained a quiet rural village astride the junction of the old roads from Doncaster to Barnsley and Rotherham to Pontefract, the latter a branch of Ryknield Street. North of the town was the ford of the River Dearne that gave the village its name.
Wath received a Royal Charter in 1312/13 entitling it to hold a weekly Tuesday market and an annual two-day fair, but these were soon discontinued. The market was revived in 1814.
Until the mid-19th century the town was home to a racecourse of regional importance, linked to the estate at nearby Wentworth; the racecourse later fell into disuse although traces of the original track can easily be found between Wath and Swinton and its memory is left in local street names, such as Racecourse Road, built on the line of the course.
There also was a pottery at Newhill, close to deposits of clay, although this always lived under the shadow of the nearby Rockingham Pottery in Swinton.
Around the end of the 19th century the poet and newspaper editor James Montgomery, resident in Wath at that time, described it as "the Queen of villages". This rural character was to change rapidly in the 19th and 20th century with the development of the deep mining industry.
The town lies within the South Yorkshire Coalfield and high quality bituminous coal had been dug out of outcrops and near-surface seams in primitive bell pits for many hundreds of years. Several high-grade coal seams are close to the surface in this area of Yorkshire, including the prolific Barnsley and Parkgate seams. The industrial revolution and consequent massive increase in demand for coal led to a rapid industrialisation of the area in the 19th and early 20th century. The population of the area swelled and the local infrastructure was developed for the coal industry. The local economy became overly reliant on this one single industry; this was to store up problems for the future.
The Dearne and Dove Canal, which was opened in stages from 1798 to 1804 to access the local collieries on the southern side of the Dearne Valley, passed through the town just to the north of the High Street on a large embankment and then turned north into the valley; this wide section was known locally as the 'Bay of Biscay'. The canal finally closed in 1961 after many years unused and in poor repair. Much of the line of the canal in the town has since been used for new roads, one called 'Biscay Way'.
By the 20th century, heavy industry was evident in the area with many large, busy collieries operating. Wath Main and Manvers Main were the two usually associated with Wath. After the Second World War the collieries clustered around Manvers were developed into a large colliery complex, coal preparation, coal products and coking plant, which were not only visible, but also detectable by nose from miles around.
Rail]] took over from the canal as a means of transporting coal out of the area, and Wath-upon-Dearne became a railfreight centre of national importance. One of the biggest and, for its time, most modern railway marshalling yards in the land; the Wath marshalling yard was built north of the town in 1907. It was one of the eastern ends of the trans-Pennine Manchester-Sheffield-Wath electrified railway (also known as the Woodhead Line), a project which spanned the Second World War, and was in part justified by the need to transport large amounts of coal mined in the Wath area to customers in Lancashire.
Wath once had three railway stations, all on Station Road:
- Wath Central
- Wath (Hull and Barnsley)
- Wath North
Wath North was the last to close in 1968 as a part of the Beeching Axe. The town no longer has a direct rail link, although there has been talk of opening a station on the Sheffield-Wakefield-Leeds line at Manvers, roughly a mile from the town centre.
The decline of coal
The local coal industry followed the fortunes of mines nationally, falling into dramatic decline in the latter half of the twentieth century. The miners' strike of 1984-1985 was sparked by the impending closure of Cortonwood Colliery in Brampton Bierlow, a neighbouring village often considered a part of Wath.
Since the pits closed, Wath's character has been changing, from a grimy coal town to be more rural as large areas of ex-industrial land to the north of the town which were once collieries and railway marshalling yards were turned back into scrubland and countryside, dotted with light industrial and commercial office parks. This regeneration has now progressed such that the reclaimed countryside, as it still classified as brownfield land, has been built over with various industrial and commercial parks, and large housing developments have also been started.
Wath-upon-Dearne is centred on Montgomery Square, where the town's main shops, library and bus station are located. Immediately west is the substantial Norman built All Saints Church in a small leafy green with the Town Hall, the Montgomery Hall and a campus of the Dearne Valley College. There are several busy high-street pubs in the town centre, along with many local pubs dotted around the town.
Today Wath is still emerging from the hardship caused by the sudden end of coal and over the past decade jobs and a certain albeit relatively low level of affluence have returned to the area. In very recent years, after a hiatus between the clearing of the former colliery land and the recent redevelopment when the area felt rather rural, the construction of large distribution centres to the north of the town is once again bringing an industrial feel to the area, although without the pollution issues that were connected with the coal industry. Recently several very large distribution warehouses for the clothing chain Next have opened. A significant amount of new housing is also being built on this reclaimed industrial land.
Wath Festival, held every May bank holiday, is the biggest folk festival of its kind in the area, with a growing national reputation. Some of the biggest names in the folk scene have appeared in recent years. It is also very much a community festival with traditional dancing, street performances, workshops, children's festival and the famous throwing of the bread buns from the Parish Church Tower.
The RSPB's Old Moor nature reserve lies a mile to the north-west of the town; it is a flash, where mining-induced subsidence of the land close to a river has created wetlands.
- Hey, David, Mediæval South Yorkshire (Ashbourne:Landmark Publishing) 2003 ISBN 978-1-84306-080-2
- Martin, W. Keble, A history of the Ancient Parish of Wath-upon-Dearne (W. E. Farthing) 1920
- Glister, Roger, The Forgotten Canals of Yorkshire: Wakefield to Swinton via Barnsley; The Barnsley and Dearne & Dove Canals (Barnsley:Wharncliffe Books) 2004 ISBN 1-903425-38-7
- RSPB Old Moor