A medieval chapelry and market town in the eastern part of the parish of Silkstone, developed as an industrial town, initially engaged in wire drawing. In the post-Napoleonic age it became a centre for flax-spinning and linen manufacture, with a rapid growth in population. Well supplied with good coal seams, it was a major mining centre until the collapse of the industry in the 1980s.
The origins of Methodism are unclear, although it was established in some of the surrounding villages by 1760. The earliest evidence is in 1760, when James and Elizabeth Taylor settled in the town soon after their marriage. There was a preaching room in Eastgate by 1780 and John Wesley paid the first of three visits in 1786. Growth was then rapid, with a chapel, still standing, being opened in Westgate by 1794. This was enlarged in 1811 and replaced by Pitt Street WM (by James Simpson) in 1846 (later extended, but demolished in 1982).
Alexander Kilham preached in the town in 1797 and it became an early centre of the MNC; originally in the Sheffield Circuit, it became the head of a circuit in 1811. A chapel opened in New Street in 1805 was replaced in 1873 by 'Ebenezer', a gothic chapel by William Hill, now demolished. Until 1874 a chapel at Old Town was shared by the MNC and UMFC. In the summer of 1820 William Taylor (1800-1849; e.m. 1821), then a local preacher, established PM in the town, as the Connexion spread northwards to Halifax, Huddersfield and Wakefield. It became the head of a circuit in 1821. The PMs took over Westgate, in place of an earlier chapel, when it was vacated by WM in 1846; it continued in their use until it closed following Methodist Union in 1932.
The Protestant Methodist secession in Leeds in 1827 led to a meeting of seceders in the National School, Barnsley in 1828. Their Blucher Street chapel, opened in 1829, was the head of a circuit spreading into surrounding villages and becoming UMFC in due course. Extended in 1901, with further alterationsin 1928, the chapel closed in 1958, proceeds from the sale going to the building of Laithes Crescent church in 1961. It is now used by an evangelical congregation. Further secessions from the WM circuit followed the Wesleyan Reform agitation and continue as a WRU circuit. In 1859 the Reformers acquired Salem (built in 1811) from the Congregationalists. It contains a memorial to Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission. He was related to some of those who seceded from Pitt Street WM and the site of his birthplace is now marked by plaques in English and Chinese.
After Methodist Union in 1932, the various circuits were reorganized to form the Barnsley East and Barnsley West Circuits. After Methodist Union in 1932, the various circuits were reorganized to form the Barnsley East and Barnsley West Circuits. These later merged to form the Barnsley Circuit, and then in the early 1980s there was a further merger with the Wombwell & Hoyland Circuit to form a larger Barnsley Circuit.
Among the town's most famous natives is the cricketer and umpire 'Dickie' Bird (born April 1933), a member at Staincross Methodist Church.
John Wesley's Journal:
Junr 1786: 'I turned aside to Barnsley, formerly famous for all manner of wickedness. They were then ready to tear any Methodist preacher in pieces. Now not a dog wagged his tongue. I preached near the market-place to a very large congregation; and I believe the word sunk into many hearts; they seemed to drink in every word. Surely God will have a people in this place.'