By 1795 Elsecar Ironworks had been built by John and William Darwin & Co., and were originally situated near outcrops of ironstone towards the back of the Heritage Centre.
The ironstone was mined close to Elsecar, although the best ironstone came from Tankersley and was brought to the Ironworks by horse and cart. During their time at the Ironworks, Darwin and Co. sold pig iron and made domestic ranges, spouting rails for colliery tramways, window frames and arches - which can be identified on various buildings in the workshop site.
In 1796, 950 tons of iron was produced by this single furnace. As trade prospered at the ironworks, a second furnace was required and built in 1800 which was in use until 1884.
The Elsecar Steam Railway is located behind the Heritage Centre and was built to serve Earl Fitzwilliam's collieries and ironworks. On 2 February 1850 the first train of Great Northern Railways wagons left with 6 tons of coal each. The railway now operates on a 1 mile section of the branch, using steam and diesel locomotives.
The Elsecar Workshops were built in 1850 to facilitate a more effective management of the various industrial enterprises around the Fitzwilliam estate.
The coal board took over the workshops in 1947 following the nationalisation of the pits. As the collieries began to close the demand for the workshop facilities declined leading to their closure. In 1986 the Department of the Environment listed most of the buildings to be of special architectural or historic interest. Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council purchased the workshops along with the nearby Newcomen Beam Engine in 1988, and started a program of conservation and restoration.