Welcome to the Brierley Village Web site

Pronounced as "bry"-"early"

Introducing the work of Brierley and its people in photographs (Baipip)

Brierley is a small village near Barnsley in South Yorkshire England

This web site is kindly hosted by me-too. net and is intended for your enjoyment. However if you find any article offensive please email and it will be removed at once

Please email your comments on this web site and any requests to Gary (see email link below)

Introduction to this website

View the statistics for this website

Your contribution

 Local links

Old newspaper cuttings

Search the Brierley Village website

Email this website

Local news stories

Home page
Ask Richard
Facts about Brierley
Photographs on line
Index to the Baipip photograph archives
Your Email
People Search
Where R U Now
Local Services
Local Organisations
Local History Archives









 John Steele 2007

Written for the Brierley Village web site







Photography by Baipip



Part 1

     With the departure of the Romans in 400AD, the Celtic Britain’s who were by this time truly Romanised were left undefended having failed to learn how to govern and write and so were raided and in some cases settled by Saxons and Angles from North Germany and southern Denmark. In the 9th century the Danes took an interest in England and established settlements on the coast before moving inland and capturing York. By using the Navigable river systems which existed, they slowly progressed westwards in their search for land suitable for farming and in due course arrived in this area already populated by the Angles and Saxons. One can only surmise that the three different peoples were integrated and absorbed into one community during the passage of time using each others language in just the same way that we today use French, German and Indian words in our everyday conversation adapted by our ancestors. We should not forget that the part played by Christianity in this early integration because, after all, there were Christians during the Roman occupation, so that when the Danes arrived Christianity had spread rapidly to most areas of the country and also across Europe.

     In addition to the continental services there was of course the descendants of the Celts and the Romans who, before they accepted Christianity, worshipped their own God or Gods e.g. the God of the seasons, the moon, the earth mother, the goddess Fortuna, Mitras and many others.

These people congregated at their religious sites during certain times of the year to worship their particular diety. These settlers still spoke the same old Celtic language and used customs passed down through many centuries by their ancestors and yet they also became integrated into what was by now a cosmopolitan community. This brings us to the first two questions. Who decided that a church was needed in this area and why was the present site selected?

     By approximately 900AD, the Danish influence in this area seemed to be well established judging by the settlements locally which end in the small phrase ‘by’ e.g. Wragby, Foulby, Kirkby. Unfortunately we cannot put a name to anyone in person and state that he or she commissioned the building of the church. It is possible that a group or council was formed who appointed one of their members as chief and met regularly to make decisions affecting their particular area. It has been said that the church was built in the centre of the parish but that cannot be true as it is situated more or less on the Northwest edge. It is also possible that the original church was perhaps near the centre of an Anglo Saxon estate but as to the size of the estate one can only guess. We must take into account that there are two springs of water close by and springs or wells were popular places of worship for hundreds of years as even in this the 21st century, well dressing is an established art in many communities. So there we have three reasons for St Peter’s position to choose from, there may be more, but I prefer the third one, I could be wrong.

     One thing is really certain; a church made of wood was built on this piece of land in the late 10th century or the early 11th century long before the Normans invaded Britain. At this juncture it is time to consider the name Felkirk because there is not and never has been, a place called Felkirk which when one pauses to think about it is most unusual, after all, churches are called after the name of the village or town in which they have been built following their dedicated title. For many years it was believed locally that Felkirk meant ‘The church in the fields’ due to the isolated position but if one thinks logically there were no fields as we know them now when the church was built. Land was cultivated under the three-field system by all settlements i.e. two fields cultivated each year and the third field left fallow, plus common land and woodland. Everyone practised crop and strip rotation. It was suggested and published some forty or fifty years ago that the name of the church was derived from the Danish title of Fjol Kirche, Fjol meaning a plank or a board or split logs of wood which over many centuries became corrupted into fel. At the same time the Anglo Saxon word Kirche was corrupted into Kirk. The ‘e’ was dropped and ‘ch’ pronounced as a soft ‘k’ was replaced with the harsh ‘k’ of today. Thus we had Felkirk. Many others, more knowledgeable than myself, and I, now accept this as the most logical explanation for the word Felkirk and will continue to use it until perhaps someone has an even more logical explanation.

     What happened to the wooden church is another intriguing question without a definite answer. As we know wood will deteriorate when exposed to the elements so perhaps this is one answer. The church could have also been destroyed and burned during the Harrying of the North by William the first between 1069 and 1070. Whichever answer we choose it will be pure conjecture until something or someone establishes its true ending.

     According to the Doomsday Book the area, which includes the site of the present day church, was given to a loyal Norman called Ilbert de laci along with several others parcels of land within England. This was Williams’s method of rewarding those who helped him to take over this country and administer it on his behalf. Strangely enough Ilbert de laci appointed an Anglo Saxon or Dane to act as a kind of deputy administrator or Lord of the Manor in his Stead. The mans name was Alric and he must have been very high in the local hierarchy to be chosen for this position and it is quite possible that, with the consent of Ilbert de Laci, Alric was the instigator of the first little stone church on this site built later in the 11th century or very early in the 12th century. Some idea of the size of this first stone built church can be gained by looking at a small area of the exterior near the lancet window at the west end of the south aisle. Just above the window one can clearly see the ancient roofline extending downwards to the old south wall at an angle of about 45 degrees (see photograph). The vertical south wall is also well outlined and contrasts with the regular ashular blocks added at a later date to increase the width of the church. The irregular masonry above and below the windows are typical of the Anglo-Saxon style of building not yet under the influence of Norman stonework. The stone framework of the lancet window is 12th century and it coincides with the later widening of the church. Despite 900 years of erosion by the elements, the original architecture of the first St Peter’s is still available for examination. When the roof and wall outline is compared to that of the schoolroom in the church yard this building would be roughly the same size 30 feet (9m) and 20 feet (6m) wide with most likely a thatched roof and possibly an Apse at the eastern end. The apse being a semicircular or polygonal recess with an arched or domed roof.


Back to Top of Page