As so often with my projects, I first became aware of the Barnsley Cordwainers Society through researching family history. An article in the Barnsley Chronicle made reference to the death of John Bashforth, cordwainer by trade and innkeeper of the Jolly Sailor Inn at Barnby Basin. He was somewhat long-lived for the times (1765-1845), the 8th son of John Bashforth and Mary Hattersley, and older brother of William Bashforth (1767-1824), my four times great grandfather. He joined the Cordwainers Society and in March 1802 was the President, signing a rule change in the Register.
In turn, the Cordwainers Society featured in my MA Thesis at the University of York, Social Networks in a Pre-Industrial Society: Pennine Barnsley c 1650-1760. That particular section I re-purposed as an article submitted successfully for the 2003 Bramley Award of the Yorkshire History Prize, issued by the Yorkshire Society. It was more than satisfying that occasion, as the judges included David Hey, a family and local historian who remains to this day an enormous influence on what I do, and Maurice Beresford, whose Lost Villages of England (1954) was one of those volumes that inspired this 6th Form History student to take the subject further – a satisfying circle was joined.
I sought permission from the still-existing Cordwainers Society to use their archive material, much of which is deposited with Barnsley Archives and Local Studies, and was invited in quick succession to see the Society ‘Box’, which may not be quite the original but is very old, and its contents. That led to a talk about the history of the Society up to the early 19th century to the members at one of their social events and then being given life membership, in some sense as their official historian – though I am not the only one interested or working on the subject. Before moving home from Yorkshire, I trawled the archives on several hurried trips to Barnsley and am now beginning at last to sift through all this research material, coupled with detailed family history research on the earliest members. What follows, is a revised version of the history of this venerable, grassroots survivor of a very different world.