Bolsterstone, a South Yorkshire village loved by its community

The aim is to promote the well-being of the people of Bolsterstone and it looks as if the plan is coming together <br/>Words and photographs by Bill Hearld

It must be something in the air at 1,000 feet above sea level, but the people of Bolsterstone pull together. The pretty little hill village between Sheffield and Barnsley is a hive of activity. There’s so much going on in this village which has a population of just over 100 people.

The only discord I found – and it was just a friendly argument, mind you – was that both the village hall and the one village pub each claim they are the beating heart of the community. Perhaps they are both right.Bolsterstone’s biggest claim to fame right now is its male voice choir, known as ‘England’s largest village choir’.

It has won a long list of national competitions, including the Bangor International Festival in 2008, the Llangollen International Eisteddfod (twice), National Male Voice Championships of Great Britain (three times), Northern Male Voice Choir and Welsh Miners Eisteddfod Championships.

The choir’s 80 members don’t all live in Bolsterstone – their success has attracted members from as far away as Manchester, Huddersfield, Barnsley and the Hope Valley, who rehearse in the village every Monday evening and perform all around the country.

It started out in 1934 as a village church choir and grew from there. Chairman Alan Hobson lives in Bolsterstone and has been involved with the choir for 30 years. ‘The secret of our success is a desire for self-improvement, we are very competitive and we love to travel,’ he said.The choir’s darkest day was in 1947 when a coach taking members to a concert crashed down a hill into a warehouse in Holmfirth, killing eight people and injuring 13.

These days the choir retains its association with its ‘headquarters’, The Castle Inn, and rehearses in Bolsterstone Village Hall, which was the village school until 1993.

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Two years ago, hundreds of mourners packed the village church for the funeral of local man, Royal Marine David Marsh, who was killed in Afghanistan.

Scores of Royal Marines joined the 23-year-old’s family and friends for a full military service. Mourners crammed into St Mary’s Church, with some forced to wait outside.

Little will change for Bolsterstone in the foreseeable future because it has one foot in the Peak District National Park, the other in a conservation area. But that does not stop the villagers getting on with a busy life.

Residents converted the old school into a village hall and it is now a popular venue for keep-fit classes, a playgroup, fairs and flower festivals.Farmer’s wife Carol Webster is secretary of the village hall and was involved from the start. ‘A lot of people put in a lot of hard work and money to get it up and running,’ she said. ‘But it was worth it because it keeps the heart of the village beating.’

There is also a thriving community group which is dedicated to providing the village with some tender loving care. Its constitutional goal is ‘to promote the well-being of the people of Bolsterstone and the adjoining areas by the advancement of education and information and the conservation of the environment.’ The group has attracted more than �70,000 in funding for Bolsterstone and works with local authorities to protect and improve village amenities and tackle issues such as traffic concerns.

The community group has just won a �2,000 National Parks grant to establish a medieval-style signal beacon on the village field, in line with other high-visibility sites across the area.

And while Bolsterstone has a Castle Inn, Castle Cottage, Castle Farm, Castle Garth and Castle Green, there’s no castle.

A few years ago, Bolsterstone Castle Project got a �20,000 grant to investigate and after a series of excavations on the local playing field, they found remains of 15th and 16th century buildings, possibly part of a large manor house, but no sign of a castle. Out of that, though, has grown the Bolsterstone Heritage and Archaeological Society.

Back at the Castle Inn, Glynn and Alison Stebbing are busy keeping their ‘heart of the village’ beating. They organise events and, in summer, cater for hundreds of hikers attracted to Bolsterstone for its countryside views.

Talking about hearts, the couple have run pubs all over the Sheffield area but returned to Bolsterstone to run the inn where they first met and had their first date. Also, Glynn’s grandfather was the local vicar for 47 years.

‘It’s such a lovely, quaint village. The people are wonderful,’ said Alison. She means people like the local character Ken Hall, aged 75, whose dashing white hair and beard earn him the nickname ‘Colonel Sanders’ of KFC fame.

He’s a retired steelworks technician, veteran of the Malayan Emergency, a pub regular and a founder of the nearby Morehall Reservoir Fly Fishing Club. ‘I always dreamed of living in Bolsterstone and I achieved it. It’s a beautiful tranquil place, I can think of nowhere better.’

Where is it?About 10 miles north west of Sheffield and stands on high ground between Stocksbridge and Ewden valleys. Leave the M1 Jct 36 and take the A616 sign-posted Manchester. After about two miles, look for a left turning, sign-posted Bolsterstone. There’s a regular bus service number 58 from Sheffield city centre to Bolsterstone.

What to do?Bolsterstone is a walkers’ paradise with the Peak District on its doorstep and its own Heritage Trail through the village

Where to park?Park in the village with consideration

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