Penistone is a small market town and civil parish in the Metropolitan Borough of Barnsley, in South Yorkshire, England, with a population of 10,101 at the 2001 census. It lies west of the town of Barnsley and north-east of Glossop, in the foothills of the Pennines. Historically within the West Riding of Yorkshire, Penistone town centre stands at an elevation of above sea level. Rising steeply to the highest point in the surrounding area at Hartcliffe Tower at 364, (1194ft) ,metres above sea level, with stunning views over the Woodhead bypass and the Dark Peak. The surrounding immediate countryside is predominantly rural and lends itself to farming on rich well watered soil on mainly gentle slopes rising to the rugged/bleak moorland , otherwise known as the dark peak, just to the west of Penistone town centre. Dry stone walls small hamlets and farms surrounded by fields and livestock are synonymous with the area. Famous for its rugged breed of sheep, the Whitefaced Woodland, Penistone continues to thrive as an independent upland market town.
Penistone is a compound word formed from the Welsh Celtic roots penn, meaning "end" or "head" or "hill" (similar to Penn in the West Midlands) and is meaning "below"; with the suffix ton, meaning "enclosure" or "estate" (a cognate of the Old English root tun, meaning "farm" or "village"). Records of the name as Penstun (1143) and Penstone (n.d.) prove the second element is Old English tūn (instead of Old English stān, meaning "stone", as might be suggested). Thus the name Penistone means "The town below the hill".
The history of Penistone can be dated back to 1066 when it was known to be owned by Ailric. However, following the Norman Conquest it was razed to the ground in 1069 in what became known as the Harrying of the North; the Domesday Book described the settlement in 1086 as "wasted".
Sir Gyles Penyston (fl. 13th cent.), whose family seat was in Cornwall (perhaps at Truro) prior to his time, and who is an ancestor of the Penyston Baronets, was styled of Penyston, denoting that he resided in Penistone.
The town remained small until the coming of the railway in 1845, although several pre-19th century buildings survive. The oldest still standing is 'Penistone Church'. This is the Grade I listed mediaeval parish church, St. John the Baptist Church. The White Hart pub in the town dates from 1377. Penistone had a market for a long time before its royal charter was granted in 1699, although its historic livestock market was closed recently to make way for town centre re-development. A new landmark building has been built in Penistone for the Market Place. This is an oaken 'Cruck Barn' and was built by Carpenter Oak of Totnes, Devon.
The M.S. and L. (Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway), Sheffield to Dunford Bridge railway line and the three-mile Woodhead Tunnel opened, 15 July 1845. Conditions were harsh, with 32 men dying in the construction of the tunnel and a further 28 dying of cholera. In 1849, Penistone's spectacular 29-arch viaduct was built by Messrs Ingham and Bower. The stone was obtained from Walk Mill bank, Oxspring, and conveyed by a tramway on the side of the River Don. M.S. and L.'s Penistone to Huddersfield Railway Line opened 1 July 1850. The second and third arches of Penistone Viaduct collapsed, 2 February 1916, along with a stationary freight locomotive, when heavy rain weakened the foundations. The collapse was slow enough for the driver and fireman to jump clear and survive the crash. Cracks in parapet had been observed some days earlier. The Viaduct was repaired and back in service in August of the same year.
Penistone became a major railway junction, including a depot for engineering trains. Penistone station was once a well-used interchange with the reputation of being one of the coldest in the country. It had frequent trains to Manchester, Sheffield and Huddersfield but, after Dr Beeching's 'axe' fell, passenger trains on the Woodhead Line to Manchester finished. Freight trains continued for a number of years but eventually also came to an end. The existing Hope Valley line between Sheffield and Manchester took the freight which would have been on the Woodhead Line and much of the former railway infrastructure was removed. The town's station is still open, but is now only served by Huddersfield-Sheffield trains on the "Penistone Line".
The town was formerly served by the Woodhead Line which ran between Manchester (Piccadilly), Hadfield and Sheffield (Victoria) via the Woodhead Tunnel. Penistone station was served by express passenger trains on the line. Following major investment (started in 1935 but delayed by the Second World War), the electrification of the railway was completed in 1954; the line's power control centre was built adjacent to Penistone station. This building still stands, but has been converted to alternative commercial use. The Woodhead Line was the first main line railway in the UK to be electrified, but its once-pioneering 1500 V dc system was ultimately to become non-standard. Penistone station lost its Woodhead Line passenger trains on 5 January 1970, but freight trains (mainly coal trains) continued for a further eleven years. The line was finally (and controversially) closed in 1981 and the track lifted several years later. The route of the old track is now being used as part of the Trans-Pennine Trail.
Recent plans to re-open parts of the Woodhead line as the Don Valley Railway are being taken increasingly seriously by planners, though current plans are from Sheffield to Deepcar/Stocksbridge only and not extending to Penistone. The line would reduce travel time to Sheffield from the current 45 minutes to around 15 minutes.