Saturday was another bright day to open what would be a very busy working party weekend with Friends, volunteers and visitors in and around the site on both days. As usual Friends Glen (Director and Site manager) and Steve (Chair of the Friends) were the first to appear, opening up the colliery gates and preparing the plan of action for the first of two days of volunteer work as the site comes alive once more.
Volunteers and visitors arrive from near and far, by car and on foot. For those travelling from Hemingfield, the approach to the pit is quite a pleasant prospect – descending Tingle Bridge Lane, passing the Elephant and Castle, catching a glimpse of the canal and the Knollbeck stream, before crossing the rails of Elsecar Heritage Railway’s level-crossing, and turning right up the hill, following a trail of dandelions up Wath Road to Pit Row and the colliery site itself, pictured above.
Working party volunteers sign-in before getting stuck in to one of the day’s activities. Suitably attired, Saturday saw regular volunteers John and Alan, Frank, Chris and Keith on site. We were also delighted to welcome Phil whose waterproof overalls proved far-sighted as the morning wore on and April showers made an appearance.
Saturday’s jobs included cleaning up the inside of the currently roofless fan house building. Severely damaged by a fire caused by cable thieves several years ago, the back room needed some TLC, in the form of shovelling rubble and broken slate, and sweeping up the ashy remnants of the room, some of which had been heated so much by fire as to be fixed to the floor with melted bitumen.
As ever, the volunteers proved to be up for any task, and shovelling and sweeping the debris soon made a noticeable difference, with the original red concrete floor colour emerging from the blackness and shattered slates.
‘Want not, waste not’ being a guiding principle to making the most of all resources on site, the rubble and broken slate from inside the damaged fan house were wheel-barrowed over to a rubble pile which we hope will help flatten out the area around the concrete base of the old mobile winder. When finally levelled and completed, this large space right next to the main entrance will provide much improved parking facilities and space for a welfare unit for volunteers and site visitors.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on site, volunteers were continuing the steady progress being made in clearing the huge pile of earth, rubble and – you guessed it – bricks found at the bottom end of the site, down by the old Cornish engine house.
The soil being shifted is slowly revealing the full extent of an old access ramp down from the upper level.
Saturday saw the emergence of the left-side handrail, and helped to reduce the sheer size of the mound which the replacement of the old wall around the site (in the 1990s?) had created. For all of the regular volunteers chipping away of the pile, it is great to see the solid features emerge.
Every foot we unearth reveals more bricks which, with a little bit of attention, can be cleaned up and stacked ready for future re-use. Having a stock of bricks is a valuable resource for the site’s future, as we have a number of areas which will require repairs or rebuilding. Watching the stack grow is also quite a pleasing sight as we watch the individual hours of volunteer work building up over each successive working party weekend. This work continued into Sunday too, with Friends Glen, Steve and Christine, assisted by Nigel and new visitor Amanda. Please visit our facebook page for more images from Sunday.
Back to Saturday: whilst taking a brief pause for lunch, the Friends and volunteers sat in the sunshine and reviewed progress thus far.
On Saturday we also were fortunate to be visited by a professional archaeologist who was exploring the fan house buildings to understand their history and development. He conducted some intriguing survey work, plotting detailed measurements of the standing structures which will help to create plans of the existing buildings, together with indications of the several different phases of building on the site where previous foundations have been built over, or reused. Tracing the sequence of changes made to such industrial buildings over time is no easy task – particular as many alterations might be temporary, or include the reuse of older materials to save the cost of building anew.
The current fan house building includes several building phases; initial suggestions indicate an 1880s element built on earlier foundations, including old engine beds. To this block additions appear to have been made to house the electrical gear associated with the electric pumps installed by the South Yorkshire Pumping Association (1920-1929), and the South Yorkshire Mines Drainage Committee (1929-1946). The electrical switchgear required significant changes to the internal spaces – including additional internal walls, a new floor level and possibly alterations to the height of the roof.
A brief glimpse of the survey suggests there’s much more to be discovered about the history and development of the site.
Certainly there’s much more to try and understand from the maps, photographs and documents we already know about and those yet to be unearthed in local archives.
Opening up the site
The biggest job on Saturday, and one which has made a noticeable difference to the site, was the removal of the metal security fencing which effectively divided the site and prevented the Friends from being able to open up space for vehicles to park and manoeuvre. Removing the fencing panels required the right tools and a sufficient numbers of hands to loosen, lift and move them, especially as they had been very firmly concreted into position.
The end result of digging, picking, some brute force and a little cooperative lifting is a hugely opened space within the pit yard’s boundaries. This makes a massive difference to the accessible area of the site and will really start to open up the site for current and future visitors.
Be our guest – welcoming visitors
Once again, the Friends were very pleased to welcome a number of visitors to the site for the very first time during the weekend.
Explaining the history of the site, showing visitors around the existing buildings and sharing our enthusiasm and interest in the site and its future are one of the most rewarding aspects of the working party weekends.
For anyone interested in visiting, or willing to share their own knowledge of the pit, or any family connections, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – see the Getting involved pages for more information.