The Village of Brierley

Brereley - A History of Brierley
by M. R. Watson & M. Harrison
First Edition 1975, Reprinted 1976
Anchor Press, Barnsley Road, Cudworth

Brierley! A field of briars? This is a possible definition of the name 'Brierley' but a precise definition is very difficult to achieve, due to the many variations in the spelling of this name, which have occurred over the years. In the Domesday Book, our village is referred to as 'Brerelia'. The actual Domesday Book spelling is 'Breselia' but all ensuing documents use 'Brerelia' which must be the correct form. Later, this name became 'Brereley', then Brearley from which we get one of our modern pronunciations. It was first spelt as 'Brierley' in some documents relating to the leasing of Brierley Manor by descendants of the Harryngton family, from Queen Elizabeth I in 1572. This spelling of the name was not commonly used until it appeared in a Manor Court Roll for 1665.

The history of our village begins long before this, of course. The ending 'ley' is a Saxon ending and indeed Brierley was an early Saxon settlement. The Saxons came to Britain in the sixth century and there was an Anglo-Saxon battle near Fitzwilliam in A.D. 654.

The fort at Brierley Gap, mistakenly called Saxon, is from a much earlier period - probably the Iron Age. This is the most northerly of a group of earth-works around the Sheffield area, the best-known of which are at Winkobank Hill and Carl Wark. The stones alluded to in the name 'Ringstone Hill' may belong to a group of stone circles from the same area and period as at Froggatt Edge and Arbor Low.

The village grew first around the hill top on the Barnsley to Pontefract road where a small hollow and the sites of several wells provided a good building area. The well in the garden of Red House Farm may have stood on the edge of the square-shaped village green which stretched south-east from where Red House Farm now stands to where the Post Office is now situated.

The first fields around this old Brerelia would be reached by way of Frickley Bridge Lane, Paty Croft, Cliff Lane and Ket Hill Lane. On the latter coal seams come to the surface and form part of the soil so coal must have been known to these early farmers. Sandstone and coal in alternate layers are the underlying rocks of the area.

The village then grew in the direction of what is now Church Street. This street has many sharp bands which mark the corners of important fields. These developed over a large area with the extra access lanes of Wager Lane and Mackay Lane. The names of two of these early fields have survived to, the present day: Sow or South Croft Field to the south of Church Street and Cliff Field to the south- west of Church Street. These were sub-divided, the names of some of the divisions being Car Jug Close, Gill Croft, Le Long Roods, Stainforth Field and Rowall Flatts. Housing developed away from the green along Church Street, and the village gradually took the form it now has. The early field boundaries can be recognised on the Ordnance Survey Map by the irregular way in which they ring the village and by the winding outline of their hedges due to the ploughing methods of the time.

Early building would be of the Toft and Croft plan with the fields lying behind the crofts. (The croft was the plot of land on which the toft or house stood.) The early roads, crofts and fields have retained their original plan due to the village remaining largely agricultural. The buildings, of course, will have changed many times but will have remained on the original sites.
Hall Steeds seen from Brierley Lodge Farm, the hall occupied the oval field in the centre of the photograph.
Brierley is sometimes referred to as 'the village on the hill' and at the foot of the hill is Grimethorpe which has always been closely connected with Brierley. In fact, the name 'Grimethorpe' could be the name of a Norse farm built close to Brierley village. On a well- hidden site between Brierley and Grimethorpe stood the fortified Manor of Hall Steads (the name means 'hall site'), which belonged to the early Brereley estate. One of the best places from which to view this site is from Brierley Lodge Farm. From there, about three hundred yards to the north, can be seen the mound on which the hall stood, and the almost-circular moat which is marked by a line of trees. There are today remains of the stone dams which held this moat which was obviously formed by the modifying of a nearby stream and was stepped up the hillside. The deepest part of the moat is full of willows and now bears the name of Willow Garth. Under a nearby stile is a large, well-finished, limestone block which could be from the old building. When the field within the moat is ploughed the shape of the building can still be seen on the high, centre section. The building appears to have been L-shaped with a large hall occupying the northern wall, the other part of the L being a south-east wing. Buildings of this kind often had a large hall used as a general living area with a chapel occupying the wing. Hall Steads was surrounded first by a high, stone wall, and then by the moat. The site covered an area of aboutfive acres. The building was mainly of local sandstone and many of the stones can still be seen in the soil. Fragments of 14th and 15th century pottery have been found amongst these stones. In a field, four hundred yards to the west of Hall Steads, there are the remains of several wooden buildings which could be the remains of the early Brerelia, but seem more closely related to modern Grimethorpe as they are different from the remains found at Hall Steads.
Stokesay Castle, the is a similiar hall to the one which stood at Hall Steads.
A track leaves the site and climbs the hillside towards Brierley. At the time when Hall Steads was in use, this would have been an important road. It seems to have been used quite early in the history of Brierley and Grimethorpe and was the road from Hall Steads to Brereley. It ran from Brereley along the Flatts, down Tom Bank, forded the stream and climbed through the woodland, then down to the moated side. The deep, worn cuttings on this track mark its age. When the manor moved to its present hilltop site, the road used became what is now called Common Road. This road avoided the steep climbs and stream of the Tom Bank route.