The History of Whiston

Article written by the late Mr H. Tompkin - former Whiston Heritage Society Secretary and Treasurer

The village of Whiston started in Anglo Saxon times. True, there is some evidence of an iron age fort in Canklow Woods (and some excavations to find Roman roads along with a pot containing Roman coins found at Guilthwaite) - the Ulley horde in Rotherham museum - but in reality, it is most unlikely that there was any sort of early settlement where Whiston now stands.

The Anglo-saxon claim is supported by no less than three distinct entries in the Domesday Book (1086) where the village is named as both Widestan and Witestan (and also Wideotha); these words in Anglo-Saxon mean “white stone” which is odd in itself as the stone quarried in Whiston was red. The name ‘Whiston’ was rendered differently over the years and in 1718, the Warburton Survey tells us the locals called it ‘Hwiston’.

At the time of the Saxons however much of this area was dominated by the Vikings – and the names of the hamlets that were for long a part of Whiston (some still are) show names that are of Viking origin: namely Herringthorpe, Guilthwaite and Morthen. Of these, Morthen (Morthing) is perhaps the most interesting as a ‘Thing’ was a meeting place for Vikings - though of course we have really no way of telling whether they met there or not. Moreover, Canklow was also part of Whiston back then, but that is an Anglo-Saxon name. Nothing remains of Anglo-Saxon Whiston except for a few coins found in 1939 (see Rotherham museum.

Some historians have gone on to claim that the famous Battle of Brunanburh was fought at Morthen; but this is most unlikely, and no-one knows for certain where the battle was fought. Not a single bone or weapon has been found at Morthen to substantiate the claim.

The owners of Whiston proved to be a very interesting lot starting with Thorketill at the time of Edward the Confessor (Domesday Book). By 1086 his lands had passed to “Richard” acting on behalf of the Count of Mortain. Interestingly a small part of the manor belonged to Conisborough and was held by King Harold (tactfully referred to as Earl Harold in 1086); and this was passed to Roger de Busli (of Tickhill). Whiston mainly passed to a series of Lords, few if any were likely to have every visited the place. Most likely they put a bailiff in charge, whilst they did more important things. One of the de Lovetots founded Worksop Priory in 1103 and the first Sheffield Castle - which was to be the home of several lords over the years. Soon came the Furnivals, who were too busy fighting in the crusades (where Gerald and his son Thomas were killed in 1219); leaving it to younger son Gerald to bring back the bodies for burial in Worksop Priory. Probably the best known owners were the Talbots: created Earls of Shrewsbury in 1441. John was the chief general for Henry VI who was killed in battle in 1453. George (4th earl) built Sheffield Manor and lived there with his huge family, whilst the 6th Earl was the man who looked after Mary Queen of Scots for many years and was married to the famous Bess of Hardwick. This is an occasion when we know who the Steward was who acted for the Earl. He was called George Stringer (d.1588). In due course one of Bess’ children married into the Norfolks who took over Whiston, but in due course all the village - except for Canklow mill and woods - was sold to the Sitwells of Renishaw (1823); who remain nominally Lords of the Manor to this day.

Who actually lived in Whiston and what did they do you may ask – information about the early years is rather sketchy – the very best piece of information is the Poll Tax Return of 1379. When an amazing fact emerges as paying £2 no less (when most folks paid 4d), was Johanna, the widow of Sir Thomas Furnival of Sheffield Castle. Why she and her son were living here is not known but it is so, and she is not listed elsewhere in the return. All the villagers who paid were listed – most appeared to be involved in agriculture – but other tradesmen were also listed, and this trend carried on throughout the life of the village. Often there were quarrymen, masons, boot makers; inn keepers, iron workers and coal miners living here. As we get nearer to modern times information becomes very plentiful with the first Directory of 1822 and the first major Census of 1841 – so names in plenty are known – but sadly rarely actual addresses even for Census entries; so it is not always possible to find out who was actually living where in the village. The innkeepers can be located and all three inns (The Ball, The Chequers and the Sitwell Arms - known as the 3 Cranes up to the time the Sitwells bought the land in 1823), also the main farmers and of course the Rectors.

You might be surprised to see a mention of coal miners in the list of occupations – but from C.17 right up to fairly modern times, there have been coalminers in the village. The early ones worked in tiny pits situated in the Herringthorpe area later ones had Treeton Colliery and Rotherham Main to choose from. The ironworkers made their way down Moorgate Road to Rotherham - famous for iron and later steel works.

Another surprising entry might be for the Toll Houses since both roads passing through the crossroads were turnpiked (1760 and 1763). Indeed, Pleasley Road was one of the most important in the whole area as it was a major route for those wanting to travel to London (as an alternative to the Great North Road). Tolls finish later in 1874 and 1878 and the tollhouse vanished from the village in 1910 when the road was widened. The very last tollkeeper (Sutton Gurnell) lived on in the village as a hawker until he died.

There are two major old buildings in the village – one is the Manorial Barn where parts date back to C.13 with additions made in C.16 and C.17. This is probably the oldest secular building in South Yorkshire and in recent times has been well restored and is now used as a venue for weddings etc. Inside the Barn is an excellent selection of old farming equipment and other items. The second building is the Parish Church, high on the hill. All the rectors are known, starting with Robert de Doncaster. The tower has stood since 1250 and, originally, the church was quite small. Some enlargement took place when Rector Robert Ragenhall left £16.66d in his will in 1430, but the main development of the church began in 1882 under the Rev. Howard. There are some interesting old gravestones in the churchyard and close by are both the village stocks (dating from 1686) and the Lychgate, which is the village war memorial. It is said that Jabby Jarvis was the very last person to be sat in the stocks. Also nearby is a cottage where there once stood a private school run by a Mrs Davison in the 1840s and 1850s (the pupils’ names can be found in the 1841 and 1851 census). Finally, there is what was the Church Institute of 1913, which was financed by Mrs Eliza Rawdon Hall (wife of the richest man in Australia at the time) - whose father George Kirk emigrated there in 1839. She also paid for the new church organ. The Institute was sold off in 1993 and is now a private residence.

Furthermore, also to be found in the village are a number of other old houses (many of them once farmhouses) including Abdy Farm, Whiston Hall and the Old Rectory on Moorhouse Lane. In the hamlets which were part of Whiston stand a number more old farmhouses (some still in use as such) – the most notable of these buildings is Morthern Hall (at one time the residence of Rev. Obadiah Browne – a long serving Rector of the village 1689 to 1739). Sadly not all the major buildings of interest have survived and no longer can you see Herringthorpe Hall, Canklow Hall, Howarth Hall or Whiston Grange. In the village itself there remains many buildings dating from C.19 (these include the 1840 Rectory and the Methodist Church) which make it an attractive place to visit (see our ‘suggested walk’ set out on this website).

Much has changed in recent years and many newer houses have been built on what were once fields and no doubt more will be added over the years. The old school has gone from the schoolyard, the post office has closed, as has the blacksmith’s shop; not to mention several other shops; but what remains can still be admired so why not pay us a visit? At least now there is a bus service - a relatively new addition to the amenities!