Happy New Year from the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery, to volunteers, partners, our local neighbours and all interested followers of our progress near and far – here’s hoping 2015 is a busy and productive year for all of us!
Saturday and Sunday 24th-25th January saw the first official Working Party event of 2015, and we were pleased to welcome old friends and new to the site over the course of the weekend to get stuck in to more site clearance work.
Saturday 24th January
It was a cold, but bright start to the year on Saturday, with snowy remnants of the recent cold snap in evidence around the site. Volunteer Nigel got the site bonfire underway, bringing some warmth to the working party.
Just getting up to the Colliery proved to be the first challenge on Saturday – the early starters were met by a Police roadblock on Wath Road (B6096) between Tingle Bridge and Elsecar Bridge, due to a car accident near Elsecar. Nevertheless our intrepid band made their way through, and by 11 o’clock there were already a core group of volunteers hard at work – some travelling from as far away as the East Midlands – before the ‘afternoon shift’ arrived to lend a hand.
The Directors have been finalising a programme of tasks for the working parties. These are the key jobs that need to be done in and around the site. Many of these tasks involve clearing vegetation to open up previously inaccessible or obstructed space around the pit yard. There’s also plenty of rubble to remove from around the buildings left in situ from previous phases of demolition or damage. It’s essential that any useful/reusable materials are collected in order to be able to make repairs or improvements around the site.
A key issue identified by the Friends was vehicular access via the main gateway – ensuring vans and delivery vehicles can get in and out of the site from Wath Road all year round. The need to improve this was illustrated earlier this month when contractors visited the colliery to install new metal shutters and security doors (see related post).
So the Friends and volunteers set to work, with John, Ian and Steve digging out the mulch, mud, roots and rubbish from around the pit gates, and in the process revealing some very rich top soil!
Next – in came the rubble reclaimed during previous working parties – broken bricks and concrete which could be used to provide a firm base and even out the drop from the main road into the yard. Sorting, carting, dumping and smashing the rubble was no easy task. Heavy loads and uneven terrain led to a wheelbarrow puncture, but thankfully Glen was on hand to repair the inner and get us all moving again!
Finally a layer of broken slate was added to the layer of brick and building rubble.
In future a graded layer of stone aggregate can be poured and raked over this base to give visitors’ vehicles a firm foundation on entering or exiting the pit yard.
Elsewhere on site, on the lower terrace, volunteers were helping remove unwanted vegetation, passing it up to the main level to be cut up and added to the working party bonfire which kept everyone smoky and warm!
Sharing knowledge and interests
One of the most pleasing aspects of meeting people through the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery group is the wide range of skills and knowledge different individuals bring to the group. During the break – or ‘snap time’ as we ought to say – a number of the volunteers emerged with maps and plans of Hemingfield colliery and the wider South Yorkshire coalfield. Discussions ranged from the geological to the mechanical:
– assessing the direction of the dip of the Barnsley coal seam underground, the extent of the workings, and how the pit was drained of water;
– reviewing the details of Benjamin Biram’s early experiments with fan ventilators to replace the older furnace methods – something which the Friends hope to be able to research and describe in more detail as an example of how Hemingfield was a place of innovation as well as industry in the Nineteenth century.
Finally, as the day drew to a close and volunteers headed home, some of the Friends headed into Elsecar, to the Market (a most agreeable local hostelry) to reflect on the day’s activities and plan for the following day…
Sunday 25th January
Sunday was a bright and brisk morning, but the sun was shining and the last of the snow was melting away.
Before the working party began, the Friends held a Directors’ meeting – with Steve, Glen, Christine and Ian. As Christine observed – who else gets sit out under a pit headgear as a boardroom?
As the volunteers started to arrive, the site bonfire was coaxed back into life once more. Sunday would be a day of felling, stripping, chopping and burning at the west end of the pit site beyond the modern metal fencing. Meanwhile, away from the smoke and ashes, rubble clearance was taking place at the east side of the fan house building, with brick and stone being sorted and salvaged as the area was cleared from years of fern growth and rubbish dumping.
Glen and Steve proved themselves to be crack lumberjacks, opening out a large area at west end of the colliery site which in future will give the Friends more space to accommodate site visitors and volunteers.
The large concrete base – formerly used for a mobile winder – provided a great platform for the bonfire and the Friends were soon making progress.
We also welcomed some new visitors and an additional volunteer to the site. The Friends encourage passers by to say hello on Working Party weekends and welcome anyone interested in volunteering. Although the site is not open to the public in general, volunteer numbers on site mean that there will be people available to discuss the aims of the group and even to provide a tour of the site including the colliery buildings and points of interest.
Rubble clearance may not seem like a glamorous task [editor: really!?] , but it can be rewarding – as each layer revealed can help the Friends understand a little more about the history of the site and its sequence of uses, and periods of demolition/renewal. Some stonework and metal implements unearthed suggest demolition of a stone building with masonry cut in a very similar style to the markings of the 1840s beam winding engine house. Thanks go to Adam, Glen, Frank, Keith and Chris for carting the stone and brick back and forth, collecting branches and keeping things tidy.
With the afternoon fast ebbing away, the last barrow-loads were dumped off and attention turned to the bonfire. Bright flames flickering show the progress being made in opening up Hemingfield Colliery once more.
Our thanks go to all attendees for an enjoyable and productive weekend’s work.