Our beautiful church is known as Barnsley’s 'hidden gem' (as described by John Betjeman).
Here lived Robin Hood’s black monks of St Mary’s Priory. Their £million business made Barnsley into a thriving market town and brought rival Priors to fight over its wealth. Today it is a peaceful picnic spot with stunning countryside views. Founded in 1153 Monk Bretton Priory belonged to the powerful monks of Cluny, who followed the 6th century rule of St Benedict.
After Robert de Laci gave land in Pontefract to found a priory there for Clunic monks from Charite-sur-Loire in France, Ailric of Cawthorne, a landowner under de Laci, also gave to this order. Aliric’s grandson, Adam founded St Mary Magdalene Priory at Lundwood to be run by the Cluniac monks from Pontefract. Adam wrote to both Priories in Pontefract and France that they should choose Lundwood’s Prior. This led to over 100 years of in fighting that had to be dealt with by Sheriffs, a King and two Popes. Pontefracts monks came with soldiers to take over, but the Lundwood monks locked out the Pontefract Prior and three monks were killed in the fighting.
King Henry VIII brought monastic estates under Crown control in 1538 and Monk Bretton Priory was closed and sold off. Seven bells, church silver, sixty tonnes of roofing lead and countless tonnes of sandstone building blocks were taken away. Thomas Wentworth bought the church’s north aisle columns for his family church in Wentworth village.
Today the administration building and Prior’s rooms still stand, because after the Dissolution they were kept in use as farm buildings. Unfortunately when the good stone was taken away from other buildings, rubble wall-filling spread out and buried everything else up to three metres deep.
In the late 20th century archaeologists uncovered the church, cloister and hospitality building walls - and Britain’s best example of Cluniac drainage. The Priory grange water mill still stands on Grange Lane as a restaurant called the Mill of the Black Monks.