Open Day, Saturday 3rd November 2018

Notching up November

On Saturday morning the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery returned to work on another open day. The approach of winter hardens the ground and turns the air, so working out doors becomes harder and the days slightly shorter as the clocks fell back at the end of October. With the great sleep-in behind us, the Friends and regular volunteers were eager to face the ultimate challenge: shifting the Great Stump.

The Axemen cometh (again)

Friends Chair Steve and regular volunteer John were first on site, joined a little later by a well-wrapped Chris. Heading straight for the lower terrace, the crew returned to the scene of previous struggles with the huge tree stump which had self-seeded atop one of the concrete buttresses of the retaining wall.  Having rooted under the existing boundary wall, the curious tree retains the mortar-marks of a slow but steady war of wood-on-brick. Only by removing the remaining damaged wall, and lifting the stonework enveloped by the tree could the Friends begin to repair much of the damage done to the lower boundary. This week everyone was determined to get the job done.

With chainshaw, handsaw, hatchet, hammers, chisels and pry-bars galore the light infantry moved in and started chipping away at the remaining roots holding the beast in place. After some verbal encouragement and additional sawing, the first hunk anchoring the stump down was shifted.

With it came shattered stonework as the trees roots had gripped onto bricks and masonry over perhaps 50 years or more. Unlike dental surgery, this style of root canal made for a strangely beautiful sight. There were, alas, no points for style, or compliments on technique; no honours for synchronised sawing or plaudits for acrobatic axework.

Onwards, ever onwards. With some sharp-eyed root removal (imagine three-dimensional chess moves) and sweet-talking, it moved. A bit.

Just a tiny bit, but movement was the chink in the armour. A wedge or two later and the whiff of victory, the suggestions of success was in the air, that and steam from Elsecar Heritage Railway passing by below (more of which anon). Wedges in, the rocking and rolling began. The annals of Hemingfield Colliery will no doubt long remember the moment when the Mighty Stump fell. Recorded for posterity.

And it’s gone! The buttress bared, and a whole lot of wall to repair, but with stacks of stone and bricks carefully stored ready for reuse and repairing. It was quite an epic battle!

Remembrance – Home from the Front

November is synonymous with cold; with frosty dull dreary greyness. Not this one. Bright blue streaks of sky, and trees still heavy with leaves,  discoloured but not yet fallen; the scene was full of contrasts. Pit, railway, wood, fields beyond and the water down by the canal. Birds in the sky and the unmistakeable sounds of a locomotive passing beneath the working party at the pit. What a pretty sight, in the shadow of the headgear. Earlier in the morning volunteers has set off from Elsecar Heritage Centre to litter pick their way towards Hemingfield. Caring for Elsecar and making a difference to keeping its surroundings tidy. It’s heartening to have a community of people that really do care.

Admiring the train passing by, the Friends also looked on and considered the special passengers it contained – the living history performers of Home from the Front – bringing to life the stories of real local people returning home from the First World War. Providing a powerful echo of the demobilisation of men from 1918-20, our friends at Elsecar Heritage Railway, together with support from Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar, and students from Barnsley College and University Centre Barnsley, provided a unique journey on a train specially prepared for this centenary of the First World War.

Leaf, no trace

Autumn brings its wonderful colours, but also its natural clutter; leaves gather on the road to the pit. It’s a pleasure to keep things tidy and presentable. A quick before and after tells the tale of the advancing season.



The stump cleared, a fine luncheon to reflect on progress, and the site tidied up, the day’s work was done, and the Friends departed ready for the next phase of works on site, pausing only to remember the lives of the workers of a hundred years ago; their families and friends affected by a conflict which changed forever the local community, both those who returned and especially the loss of those who never came back. Leaving Pit Row behind, we stopped by the poppies of two sons of the Guest family. We will remember them.

Elsecar Poppy Trail

Elsecar Remembers (19th Oct -5th Dec 2018)

As we mentioned in a recent blog post, a collection of local community groups, charities and educational bodies have joined together to create Elsecar Remembers, a project to commemorate the memory of 72 local lives lost in the First World War.

The collaboration includes:

Elsecar Holy Trinity Church

    People across the village contributed to the preparations for the Poppy Trail, including members of the congregation of Elsecar Holy Trinity Church and other ‘poppy volunteers’. Together they have undertaken historical research into the lives of the 72 men commemorated and contributed to the preparations for the trail.

    The historical research is built on work by parishioner Graham Noble and the Elsecar Family History Group who had previously researched the history of the 32 men named on Elsecar Church’s own war memorial (see the limited edition book, Parishioners of Elsecar who laid down their Lives in the Great War 1914-18, 85 pages long, a copy is held at Barnsley Archives). Taking the number to 72 for the wider village has brought new stories and connections to light.

    The design and creation of the poppies themselves was led by textile artist Gemma Nemer, artist-in-residence for Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar, based at the Button Tin studio at the Heritage Centre.

    Around the village, on 16 separate streets, the individual poppies are to be found attached to lamp posts close to the addresses from where the soldiers came. From October to December 2018 local people and visitors will be able to see the trail of poppies and read about the lives of the men who did not come back; the 5th December marks the date when the final local casualty occurred.

    A map of the locations of the poppies has been produced and can be accessed online here: Elsecar Remembers Poppy Trail Map.

    The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery are pleased to see this project come to life, particularly as two names appear opposite the colliery, at Pit Row: two members of the Guest family, Ernest and Frank, whose names also appear on the Hemingfield and Jump War Memorial.


    Hemingfield and Jump War Memorial

    We hope to write more about these men as the year progresses and on the impact of the war, both in terms of the casualties, but also on the service men and families who emerged from a world at war into a new and uncertain peace. Indeed the end of the First World War would mark a significant point in the life of the colliery itself.

    Printed copies of the World War I Poppy Trail are available from the Visitor Centre in the Elsecar Heritage Centre, from Holy Trinity Church itself (open on Mondays from 10.30am-2.30pm), and also from Hoyland Library. Some copies have been delivered to local village pubs including the Market Hotel, the Milton Arms, the Crown Inn, and the Fitzwilliam Arms.

    There will also be a special service of remembrance at Elsecar Holy Trinity Church on the 27th October 2018 at 4pm.

    For detail of other Remembrance services and events taking place in 2018, please see the Barnsley Remembers programme.

    Open Day, Saturday 6th October 2018

    October mild

    The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery arrived early on site, swinging the gates wide open and stepping into the pit yard. Expecting rain, but finding mostly dry terrain and pleasant working conditions in the mild autumnal air. Looking over across the valley over to Hemingfield proper, the sky was cloudy but blue, and the farmed fields in the distance contrasted with the dense and beautifully dis-colouring trees nearby. It is a turning point in the year when days shorten, clocks go back and woolly jumpers emerge.  American poet Robert Frost put it crisply:

    O hushed October morning mild,
    Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
    Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
    Should waste them all.

    (From ‘October’, published in A Boy’s Will, 1913)

    Continue reading

    Heritage Open Days 2018 Part 2 

    Saturday 15th September 2018

    The second and final Heritage Open Day of 2018 began with grey and cloudy skies, though without the unbroken rains that preceded the previous weekend. Friends Chair Steve and regular volunteers Keith and Chris were on site to welcome another series of visitors to the site and provide walking tours of the surviving buildings and machinery.

    Continue reading

    Heritage Open Days 2018 Part 1

    Saturday 8th September

    After a Summer of unprecedented sunshine and near-uninterrupted heat, the first Heritage Open Day weekend of 2018 was almost guaranteed to be – let’s say English in its variability. Nevertheless it was not cold, and the rain, while wet, was not too persistent, so the Friends were pleased to be opening up the colliery, and taking a break from the working parties, to spend some time sharing their passion for the site, and guiding visitors around the remarkable surviving features.


    Continue reading

    Open Day Saturday 25th August 2018

    High times

    True blue skies above greeted the Friends as they arrived at Hemingfield-sur-mer for another in the seemingly endless summery days of 2018. More heavy work was at hand, but some beautiful weather made it fun, and the company of regular volunteers Paul, John, Keith and Chris certainly kept the mood light with laughter drifting out over the canal and railway below the colliery.

    Continue reading

    Open Day, Saturday 11th August 2018

    And the heat goes on…

    August, and the Indian Summer continued at Hemingfield. Site Manager Glen was joined by Friends Chair Steve in opening the site. Tales of summer holidays were in the air as regular volunteers John and Chris arrived. The Friends would also be delighted to receive a special group of visitors.

    Continue reading

    Milton Gala 2018 and Milton Dig!

    Milton Gala, Sunday 22nd July 2018

    Arriving at the crest of an extraordinary heatwave, the 2018 Milton Gala was a scorcher! Organised and managed by the Mates of Milton community group, and held on the Milton Forge recreation grounds, the day was busy with food, fun, music, rides, displays, dancing, dogs (not dancing) and a great turnout from members of the local community in Hoyland, Elsecar and further afield.

    Beneath striking blue sky and the direct sun, the day was glorious; the parched grass like straw, turned yellow-brown, encouraging picnics and sunbathing, as well as gentle conversation as the crowds gathered to join in the fun on the upper field. On the lower field, for the first time, a volunteer cordon for parking ensured no snarl ups, and encouraged everyone to enjoy the whole of the recreation ground.

    Young and old, families and friends walked around the Gala grounds, stopping to admire the shops and stalls surrounding the performance and display area. Local community, volunteer and faith groups were out in force, including Holy Trinity Church Elsecar, Wentworth Castle Volunteers and others, as well as a strong presence from the South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue service, with a fire engine on site and a rolling series of demonstrations on the dangers of domestic fires – leading to some spectacular flames!

    Amongst the stalls of books, plants, crafts, gifts and sweets, was the great group from Old Martha’s Yard Community Garden, just up Milton Road in Hoyland, tucked away behind the Belmont club, off West Street.

    Also present was a joint stall hosted by the Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar team,  with Heritage Specialist Megan Clement, together with the Elsecar Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) officer Dr Tegwen Roberts; both are experienced commercial and community archaeologists with a passion for sharing their expertise.

    Milton Dig

    The Great Place WE and Elsecar HAZ teams were on site to share the progress of their Milton Dig project – a two week community archaeology project on the Milton Forge fields to investigate the history of the site and any remains of the former Milton Iron Works which occupied the site from c.1799-1885.


    #MiltonDig – a community archaeology project from 16th-28th July 2018.

    Building on the findings of Historic England’s national Geophysics Team, who used a number of techniques to investigate the Milton Forge playing fields area, including caesium magnetometry and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR).

    Linford, N.T., Linford, P.K., Payne, A. W., Elsecar, Barnsley: Report on Geophysical Survey, May 2017 (Report number: 62/2017), Historic England Research Report series ISSN  2059-4453  (Online).

    The Milton Dig project, from 16th-28th July 2018 was designed to excavate a number of features identified by the geophysics, together with indications of structures from old Ordnance Survey maps, and some archival plans from Barnsley Archives, to determine what if anything remains of the original iron works and ancillary buildings.


    The Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar team worked closely with ElsecarHAZ project officer Dr Tegwen Roberts to design a programme of archaeological and creative activities. The dig itself was delivered by an experienced team from Arc Heritage, supervised by Richard Jackson. It also provided an opportunity for young people in the area to be inspired by their heritage, and the Great Places WE team enlisted local writer and poet Michéle Beck to lead creative writing workshops with local children during the dig period.

    The Heritage Action Zone for Elsecar is a 3 year project resourced by Heritage Lottery Fund monies and led by Historic England to undertake new research into the area to reveal its heritage and help develop future plans for its visitor economy. The Great Place WE scheme brings together work by Barnsley and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Councils with the resources and expertise of Arts Council England to engage and inspire young people locally with the creative opportunities of the heritage found at Wentworth and Elsecar, as well as arranging a series of fantastic events to remember in the two villages.

    Local schools and members of the community were invited to come and see the dig and learn about the emerging finds as the work progressed. There were daily opportunities to volunteer on site, and many members of the local community, including families were quick to reserve a spot to get down in the trenches to see their history emerge first-hand.

    Gala update

    At Milton Gala, a highlight was a series of tours of the ongoing archaeology. Historic England Elsecar HAZ Project Officer, Dr Roberts led groups around the site, explaining the choice of excavation sites, and the emerging discoveries to date. The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery were delighted to visit and learn more about the history of the area, and how interconnected the collieries and ironworks were through the years.

    Elsecar HAZ Project Officer Dr Roberts explaining the context and understanding of one of the Milton Dig excavation trenches, showing the re-uses of the Milton iron works site in the late 19th through to the mid-twentieth centuries.

    Trench 1 at Milton Sunday 22nd July 2018, Careful excavation showing the many different levels of material filling to the current surface – the layers (stratigraphy) of the trench and the discovery of features including elements of a stone building (top-centre).

    Dr Roberts explaining the initial interpretations of Trench 1 in the Milton Dig excavations.

    Context is everything

    After explaining the progress of the Milton Dig to-date, Dr Roberts led visitors to the project cabin where the cleaned and sorted finds were bagged and tagged with individual labels, giving the trench and context numbers relating to where they were found.

    Following the Dig #MiltonDig

    In the week following the Gala, the Milton Dig concluded. The recording work will lead to a study of the findings and the results will be shared with the community in a report produced by Arc Heritage in the near future. To learn more about the exciting progress of the dig, and the many local people and professional archaeologists who got down in the trenches, or who visited to see the progress being made, please see the videos presented by Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar:

    • Introduction to the Milton Dig project, Megan Clement, Heritage Specialist, Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar.
    • Introduction – Richard Jackson (archaeological project supervisor, Arc Heritage)
    • Day 1 – Opening trenches, Megan Clement, Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar
    • Day 2 – Schools visit (Dr Tegwen Roberts, Elsecar HAZ officer)
    • Day 3 – Update (Richard Jackson from Arc Heritage)
    • Day 4 – Megan Clement Great PLace Wentworth and Elsecar Heritage Specialist
    • Day 5 – Michéle Beck, Freelance Author and Poet – creativity from shared heritage
    • Milton Dig and the Gala – For local people and their history, Dr John Tanner, Barnsley Museums
    • Day 7 – Richard Jackson, Arc Heritage
    • Day 8 – Richard Jackson, Arc Heritage
    • Day 10 – Drawing the Milton Dig to a close, Richard Jackson, Arc Heritage