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Barnsley Methodist Archives

This article is an update from Barnsley Archives on our project, announced in Spotlight magazine in 2019, for the cataloguing of our holdings of nonconformist church and chapel records.

We are very pleased to say that the project is now complete, with the new catalogues available both in paper form at Barnsley Archives' public search room at the Town Hall, and online via our collections website: https://www.explorebarnsleycollections.com/default.aspx

From the home page of the collections website, you can scroll down to a special section which introduces 'Barnsley Methodist Circuit', or dive straight in by putting a search term in the 'Find a record' box at the top of the page.

In archival terms, cataloguing equals accessibility, so now both public and staff have information at their fingertips on the surviving historic records of every chapel in the borough, even those that are long gone.

For instance, there is a catalogue for the records relating to the long history of the current Cudworth Methodist Church (which was established by the Wesleyan Methodists), but also separate catalogues for Cudworth Primitive Methodist chapel (White Cross Road) and Ebenezer Chapel, built by the Methodist New Connexion (Barnsley Road), both of which closed in 1963.

Moreover, the catalogues for each chapel now follow a consistent format: each begins with the surviving baptism and marriage registers, followed by administrative records such as the minutes and accounts of the Society and Church Council, similar items for the Trustees and Property Committee, records relating to building and re-building projects, and the minutes and registers of the Sunday School.

There are also records of the social side of chapel life including the Guilds and Women's Fellowships, choirs, bazaars and concerts, amateur theatricals and sports clubs. Of course, not every chapel will have surviving records in all these categories, but where they do exist, they are catalogued in a consistent manner.

The project also includes the records of the various local Methodist circuits which have existed over the years. As many readers will know, the current Barnsley Circuit was established in 1971; before that, there were two separate circuits, Barnsley East and Barnsley West, not to mention the Wombwell and Hoyland Circuit, which was independent until 1982. This is even before we come to the circuits of the denominations which existed side-by-side with one another before Methodist Union in 1932 – the Wesleyan Methodists, the Primitive Methodists, the United Methodists, the Methodist New Connexion, and so on.

We also had the opportunity to address the anomaly of the differing boundaries of Barnsley Borough and Barnsley Circuit. Now, members of the public who might (quite reasonably) enquire at Barnsley Archives for records of the Methodist churches around Cawthorne and Penistone (which were always in the Denby Dale Circuit) will find directions to the West Yorkshire Archive Service in Huddersfield; while those looking for the very interesting records of the two Wesleyan chapels at Cortonwood (1901 and 1927) will be directed straight to Barnsley Archives, despite Cortonwood being situated just over the municipal boundary in the Borough of Rotherham.

The cataloguing project has enabled us to rationalise the collections where there was duplication of printed documents, usually retaining the one in best condition; weed out those items not actually worth preserving (bundles of 1960s electricity bills – no, thanks all the same) and identify those items in poor condition which need specialist conservation work, some of which has already been commissioned.

There are, of course, a few accessibility limits (based on the guidance of the Methodist Conference Standing Orders on closure periods for confidential records). But the vast majority of the material is open for consultation in Barnsley Archives' public search room, whether your interest is family history, the chapel heritage of your own area, or a particular topic such as the history of Women's Fellowships or Methodist cricket clubs.

We look forward to hearing from you. Please see our website for our contact details and further information about the service: https://www.experience-barnsley.com/our-archives

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