Prehistoric and Romano-British activity in the Wath Upon Dearne area is indicated by a variety of field systems, tracks, a lane and settlements that are visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs of the area to the east of Wath Wood Road. A bank and ditch earthwork feature now within Golden Smithis Plantation may also date from this period.
Early medieval activity in the area is indicated by place-name evidence. Recorded as ‘Wat’ in the 1086 Domesday survey, Wath derives its name from the Old Norse ‘vad’, meaning a ford (Smith 1961). Settlement is likely to have developed in the area due to this crossing over the River Dearne. Early medieval deposits survive within the fabric of All Saints Church and a ‘pre-Conquest’ manor appears to have existed on the site of Thornhill Hall.
Following the Norman Conquest, Wath was granted to Roger de Busli, the lord of Tickhill. All Saints Church occupies the site of a Norman church, while Wath Hall stood within a moated site in the grounds of the present-day vicarage. Vicarages have occupied this site since the early 15th century. In 1312-1313, Edward II granted a royal charter for a market and a fair to be held at Wath and the base of the Market Cross remains extant. Part of the Town Cross also survives. Three mills were recorded at Wath during the medieval period.
Several early post-medieval buildings contain elements of earlier structures, including timber-framed farm buildings, ecclesiastical buildings and high status dwellings. A post-medieval dovecote also survives. Bell pits throughout the area indicate that coal was mined at Wath during the early post-medieval period, when the area came into the ownership of the Wentworth family of Wentworth Woodhouse.
The North Midland Railway opened in Wath in 1841. Two further railway stations were constructed during the 19th century and the Wath Concentration Yard, a large marshalling yard from which coal was transported to various parts of the UK, was built in 1907. Wath was an important railway town for several decades, having three stations.
Deep coal mining commenced in the area from the 18th century and when the Dearne and Dove Canal was opened at Wath in 1804, it was used predominantly to transport coal. Wath Main Colliery was sunk in 1873, with Manvers Main Colliery following in the 1890s. The two mines were amalgamated in 1986 and closed in 1988.