In Real Barnsley, Ian McMillan delves into the past of the Barnsley area in which he was born and still lives, exploring its history and recalling his various experiences of this particular patch of South Yorkshire.
Barnsley, which is mentioned in the Domesday Book, became an important commercial and cultural centre for the surrounding area, the home of cinemas, theatres, civic life and McMillan’s beloved Tykes – Barnsley FC. Appropriately for the home of an ancient glass blowing industry, it was the site of the first bottlebank in Britain.
In the book McMillan also tours the towns and villages which surround Barnsley: Penistone, Hoyland Common, Wombwell, Cawthorne, Royston, Carlton, Cudworth, Grimesthorpe and his native Darfield. Some were mining villages, home to the seventy collieries in a 15 mile radius of Barnsley – all now closed. McMillan discovers that as the industrial tide has ebbed, the heritage tide has flowed, with the establishment of the Elsecar Heritage Centre at an old ironworks, and other museums. And there are always the moors, where workers have escaped over the centuries and where the film Kes was shot.
As the Bard of Barnsley finds, Barnsley is nothing if not an eclectic mix of brass bands and the Barnsley Chop on the one hand, and the Arctic Monkeys and Saxon on the other. His pages are peopled by Michael Parkinson, cricket umpire Dicky Bird, sculptor Graham Ibbeson, Lord Halifax, poet Ebenezer Elliott, the highwayman Swift Nick and a host of interesting, regular people. And present throughout is McMillan himself, one of the most popular poets and broadcasters in the country. Real Barnsley is his shared story.