There was heavy industry in Elsecar from the early 18th century. Elsecar and the adjacent villages were packed with collieries, ironworks, and other industrial concerns, playing a critical role in the economic development of the region. Like many villages in the area, it was for many years a colliery village built by colliery owners to house their workers.
The Heritage Centre is the former foundry and colliery workshops of the Earl Fitzwilliam, developed from the 1790s. The Centre includes a canal basin, an early railway station, built for the owner himself, and now, separately, a restored steam railway. When first built (by 1795) the site had an ironworks and furnace drawing on local ironstone mines and other material brought by tramway from further afield. It is within the conservation village of Elsecar, initially designed and built for the workers in the mines below the site and the workshop by the same architect as the ironworks as the owner wanted to be seen as a good employer.
A canal was cut into the site in the 1790s and a railway with vast sidings created in the 1840s. Elsecar’s industrial story continued long into the 20th century. The buildings which are now Elsecar Heritage Centre were National Coal Board workshops until the 1980s when they were closed down. The colliery where the Miners Strike of 1984-5 began is just a mile away.
Around the site are interpretation boards exploring the history of the site, with periodic special events to bring it to life. Restored buildings now house an antiques centre, individual craft workshops and businesses, children's indoor play centre, Heritage Railway and an exhibition hall which features a year round programme of special events.
The centre features the only Newcomen type Beam Engine still in its original position, anywhere in the world. It was built in 1795 to drain the mines below and last worked in 1928. The Newcomen Beam Engine is one of the most important inventions of the industrial revolution and a breakthrough in the creation of mechanical power from steam.