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A Brief History of Walton

The old gatehouse at Walton HallWalton has a long and fascinating history with origins dating back to Saxon times. There is mention of the village, then called Waleton, in the Domesday book of 1086, with the King owning land in the village.   The name has had a few variations but the name Walton, literally translated, apparently means ‘Welshman’s village’ with evidence of links to Wales pre-dating the Saxon era.

One famous Walton family, the Watertons, appear in records in 1435 and in the following year Richard Waterton is recorded as the Lord of Walton and the associated estates. He had a grand hall constructed for the benefit of his family on the site of the present Walton Hall with the original gateway, surmounted by a crucifix, standing on the site to this day. In 1645, during the Civil War, the Parliamentary forces attacked the Hall and the old gatehouse still bears the marks of the cannon balls.

Probably the best known of the Waterton family was Charles, born in 1782 at Walton Hall.   He became the Squire of Walton and is famous for his many travels in South America as well as his formidable reputation as a naturalist. Perhaps the most important of his many achievements was the creation of what is claimed to be the world’s first nature reserve within the 3 mile stone walls he had erected surrounding Walton Hall.  Charles died at the age of 82, following an injury sustained on the estate.   Unfortuntely, his only son, Edmund, had little interest in his father’s work and preferred to live a life of luxury which was well beyond his means, becoming bankrupt in 1876 and having to move abroad to avoid his creditors.

One of the Lakes in Walton Nature ReserveWith the advent of the industrial revolution, Walton became subject to some major changes. Coal, at or near the surface, had been available since mediaeval times but the development of industry meant that increasingly large quantities were required.   Mines had been successfully developed in other local villages and various attempts were made to extract coal on a commercial scale in Walton from the 17th century.   However, it was not until 1890 that coal mining in Walton became fully established with the sinking of the new colliery shafts.   Within 15 years there were over 700 employees working in the industry with the peak being reached in 1930 when some 1200 men worked at the Walton colliery. Coal mining finally came to an end in the village in 1979 with the closure of the Walton mines. The area has now been transformed, firstly into a Nature Park, and has now been given the status of a Nature Reserve (October 2008).

The development of the industrial revolution also meant that transport had to be developed with canals being seen as a vital component in the transport network. Construction of the Barnsley canal began in 1793 from the River Calder in Wakefield to the Barnby basin in Barnsley and was finally opened in 1802. It ran through Walton with 15 locks built between the River Calder and the summit of the canal at Walton. The canal was 16 miles in length and some five feet in depth, enabling it to take boats 58 feet long and 14 feet 10 inches wide. Unfortunately for the canal system, the development of railways soon became a more competitive from of transport and income for the canals, through the tolls, began to decline after 1837. However, the decline was quite slow for a further 100 years or so but the increasing costs of maintenance, due mainly to subsidence through the many mines in the area, finally brought the complete closure of the canal in 1953. Another chapter in the history of the canal is starting to be written with the activities of the Barnsley Canal Group and their efforts to find ways
of re-opening the canal.

References: A History of Walton by Peter Wright 
                        The Squire of Walton Hall by Philip Gosse