Ask anyone to describe Barnsley and they will almost certainly mention coal, The Reds, Dickie Bird, Michael Parkinson, Grimethorpe Colliery Band, Arthur Scargill and Kes, writes Graham Walker.
Owls or Blades fans may even affectionately throw in the term ‘Dingles’.
But it all only scratches the surface of this amazing South Yorkshire town – first mentioned as ‘Berneslai’ in the 1086 Domesday Book – which has never made a fuss about itself. Until now.
Experience Barnsley, packed with stories and objects donated by local people, is the first-ever museum and discovery centre exploring the town’s past, present and future.
VIDEO: Press the play button to watch our exclusive video peak at Experience Barnsley and interviews with the town’s cricket legend Dickie Bird, Barnsley Council leader Sir Steve Houghton and Dr John Tanner, Experience Barnsley Project Leader,
A prehistoric axe head, Iron Age treasures, Medieval pottery and an ugly gurning gargoyle, made over 850 years ago for Monk Bretton Priory, transport visitors back through the centuries.
But this is billed as a museum by the people, for the people. And the hundreds of artefacts on show, mainly donated or on loan from the public, live up to the hype.
There’s an old mill clock, a hospital midwife’s uniform, brass band tubas, played by Old Silkstone Brass Band, from 1886 to 2013, and even the funfair horses and cars, beautifully restored, from the town’s famed Barnsley Market Roundabout.
A very special delivery bike has pride of place, owned by the Albert Hirst family.
For the uninitiated, Albert Hirst’s Butchers was a huge part of Barnsley’s history – from preparing Barnsley chops for the Prince of Wales, for the opening of the Town Hall, to providing generations with black puddings and pork pies. And, of course the town’s most famous moments and people are well represented.
There’s even the 1912 FA Cup final ball which was won by the Super Reds, on loan from Barnsley Football Club.
The National Football Museum and Manchester United are providing other wonderful objects about Barnsley’s Busby Babes Mark Jones and Tommy Taylor, including a special shirt.
There’s a Brassed Off Film poster, a production call sheet and photos from Kes, records by Barnsley rockers Saxon and Seventh Son, the cap worn by Stan Richards, who for years was gamekeeper Seth in ITV soap Emmerdale, the tracksuit worn by Katherine Kelly, as Becky in Coronation Street, and even a signed poster by the Arctic Monkeys – some of them were students from Barnsley College.
There’s still a long wish list of wanted items. Organisers wouldn’t turn down the interview chair used by Cudworth’s own chat show king Michael Parkinson.
Umpire Dickie Bird’s famous white cap and coat are yet to be included. But the great man is planing to sort that and he’s already well represented – with a bronze bust and the ball used in the 1975 Cricket World Cup Final, which he umpired.
He laughed at a suggestions that he should be put on permanent exhibition in one of the glass cabinets, but says people will probably bump into him as he plans to make lots of visits himself.
He told The Star: “This is tremendous for Barnsley. I’ve been for a look around and the museum looks magnificent. I just hope the people of Barnsley get behind it and come along. They won’t be disappointed.”
Sir Steve Houghton, Barnsley Council leader, said: “We have lots of museums in Barnsley but this is the first to tell the story of the town and most importantly, its people. The public response has been incredible in terms of objects and stories donated.
“The big thing for me is the mining industry because I used to work in it. Visitors can literally go down the pit – young people can experience what that was like. There’s a house which celebrates two or three centuries of the town, with stories from families. The words are worth listening to. And being a Barnsley fan I enjoy everything in there about the club.”
Dr John Tanner, Project Leader, Experience Barnsley added “We want to thank everyone who has come forward so far. We will always be after other Barnsley artefacts to display and stories to tell. And there will be special exhibitions to come.”
Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund, the county’s latest visitor attraction opens to the public at the Town Hall on Thursday at 2pm.
Experience Barnsley will open seven days a week and admission is free. Visit the official Facebook site at www.facebook.com/ExperienceBarnsley2012