Cawthorne and Cannon Hall Estate is a treasure trove of history

PUBLISHED: 00:00 30 January 2015

Cannon Hall Museum.

Cannon Hall Museum.

Joan Russell Photography

Expect the unexpected in and around the South Yorkshire village of Cawthorne, says David Marsh


A stuffed cheetah, war time relics, some souvenir china, a collection of bottles, a two-headed lamb, a figure of Methodist leader John Wesley made from a whale’s vertebra, coins, medals...and a cuddly toy. Well, perhaps not the last one, as this is not a run-down of what’s on the conveyor belt in some strange version of the popular 1970s Saturday entertainment show, The Generation Game. It is in fact a list of a few of the many fascinating and wonderful exhibits to be found in the Victoria Jubilee Museum, something of a hidden gem to be found in the charming and attractive village of Cawthorne, just off the A635 between Barnsley and Huddersfield. The diverse and eclectic collection, which has been described as a ‘typical Victorian hotch potch’ tells the story of this thriving and historic community, referred to as Caltorne in the Domesday Book.

Cawthorne’s Museum Society was founded in 1884 and the early collection was housed in a cottage given by the Spencer-Stanhope family, who owned nearby Cannon Hall. It proved popular and spawned a series of winter lectures known as ‘penny readings’ which still continue. By 1887 the collection had outgrown the cottage so, along with an adjoining building, it was demolished to make way for a new purpose-built museum. The foundation stone was laid in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. The new museum was officially opened in 1889.

Today the building is owned by the village, having being bought from the Spencer Stanhopes in 1953, and the museum, which opens throughout the spring and summer and closes at the end of October, is run by a team of hard-working volunteers. Barry Jackson, president of the Museum Society, said: ‘The original collections owe a lot to the interest in geology and science of the Reverend Charles Pratt, who was the vicar of the village and one of the society’s founders.

‘He had good connections and in fact had fossils sent to him by John Ruskin. The Spencer Stanhopes also used to bring things back from their travels abroad and they found their way into the museum. It is a very wide ranging collection and we get a good number of visitors including school parties which is nice to see.’

All Saints Church.All Saints Church.

The nearby impressive Cannon Hall also houses a fine museum that attracts thousands of visitors every year to see its collection of paintings, furniture, glassware and ceramics. The displays have been updated and refurbished with the help of a Heritage Lottery grant. It is also home to the Regimental Museum of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars and the Light Dragoons. It features displays on the part the regiment played in many famous battles, including the Charge of the Light Brigade.

After being acquired by the Spencer family – later the Spencer Stanhopes who made their fortune from iron and mining - the hall underwent a major restructure in the 18th century. It is surrounded by picturesque grounds which are a mix of grassland, woodland, a stream, small waterfall and a lake. A large walled garden, which would have served the hall in the 18th and 19th centuries, has been restored and has an extensive collection of fruit trees. By the latter part of the 19th century Cawthorne had become an estate village, with about 90 per cent of the land and buildings owned by the Spencer Stanhopes.

Barnsley Council bought the hall in 1951 and it opened as a museum in 1957, the same year that Cannon Hall Farm, which had been the estate’s home farm providing food for the hall, was bought by Charles Nicholson. It is still owned by the Nicholson family and over the years has been transformed into a hugely successful and award-winning visitor attraction. Popular with children of all ages – and many adults – is the opportunity to feed and pet the sheep, pigs, cows, donkeys, ponies, rabbits, guinea pigs and other animals kept on the farm. Milking demonstrations, a tea room, gift shop, farm shop, delicatessen and a recently refurbished adventure playground all add to the fun.

Cawthorne boasts a particularly fine church in All Saints, given a grade II listing by English Heritage. It was largely built in the 17th century but does retain parts dating back to the 13th and 15th centuries. The pulpit was made in Florence and is decorated with the work of Roddam Spencer Stanhope, a member of the pre-Raphaelite group of artists who helped found Cawthorne Museum Society.

The village is also blessed with a popular pub, The Spencer Arms, which for nearly 300 years has played an important role in the life of Cawthorne. It is now a gastro-pub and enjoys a fine reputation for the quality of its food. Cawthorne may no longer be the estate village of yesteryear but it is certainly in a state worth visiting.

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