On Saturday the Friends were delighted to host a visit from a number of members of the Northern Mine Research Society. It was a pleasure to introduce visitors to Hemingfield and our colliery site; the two shafts, the 1840s pump and winding engine houses and later machinery and buildings.
We hope our visitors enjoyed their time with us and could also see the real benefits brought to the site, its appearance and security, through the steel security door and shutters which the Society’s grants scheme has enabled the Friends to add to the main buildings (see previous post for further details).
Directors Steve and Glen guided our guests around the colliery and its surroundings on a bright and – thankfully dry – day; rather better than conditions earlier in the week when our Director of Volunteering Christine hosted an enthusiastic, if rather wet, visit by staff from Tesco’s in Hoyland Nether, just up the hill.
Working party tasks
Meanwhile site director Glen had welcomed volunteers Nigel, Chris and Frank during the morning to crack on with the working party tasks. With spades and picks, further clearance was underway; uprooting the knotted roots in the way of progress – no small task after so many years of neglect. The work builds on the removal of the metal security fence at the last working party, and maintains the group’s momentum in opening out the left-hand of the site, by the main entrance – a space which we hope will provide more regular parking and a space to host volunteers and guests as they come to the site.
The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery
Alongside Steve (Chair) and Glen (Site manager), Saturday saw a gathering of all the Friends directors – including Ian and our Director of Volunteering Christine. Meeting to discuss the latest developments, and agree the next steps for the group, their contributions including report writing, funding applications, development of volunteering and education strategies, as well as donning gloves and getting stuck in!
Christine has been particular busy lately as the project to restore the Newcomen type engine at Elsecar Heritage Centre and unveil a new visitors centre and site interpretation draws to a close. She will be present at the visit HRH Prince Edward The Earl of Wessex to Elsecar on Wednesday 13th May.
Saturday and Sunday saw a new development on site as we commenced some archaeological work – with a little help from volunteers Nigel and Diane on Saturday. Turning their trowels and expert eyes to a dressed stone feature unearthed in the last working party, the two made steady progress in excavating the buried remains of a foundation support which may have supported part of the colliery’s pit head or heapstead buildings where coal was prepared and then sent out for transport, either by canal boat or railway wagon.
Apparently dating before 1920 when Earl Fitzwilliam’s collieries were worked under the management of Thomas Newbould (1845-1933), the position of the stone suggests it has remained buried since it became disused, and may provide us with a point from which to gauge the working level of the pit yard, and to measure out other buildings from various maps and photographs which the Friends have started to collect.
As the stone was excavated, further features emerged – including a row of “EFW” (Earl Fitzwilliam) bricks covering a pipe and – tantalisingly – at the top right corner of the trench, a wheel from a pit tub! The tub wheel, cast with five swirled spokes is reminiscent of the steel patterns later advertised by Hadfields of Hecla:though the example unearthed would appear to be rather earlier, and made of iron rather than steel. When cleaned up we may be able to say more about its material, design and origins. The discovery attracted great interest and provides a welcome link back to the period of active coal mining on site.
On Sunday, professional archaeologist and volunteer Nigel (we have two Nigels!) continued this work with Glen, Christine and Frank on hand to join in and learn some new skills.
They discussed the site’s potential and the opportunities for passing on skills through the working party weekends in the weeks and months ahead.
The results of the sample excavations certainly go some way to prove that it is well worth investing the time an effort into investigating the sub-surface remains of the working colliery; its boiler houses, chimneys and other buildings. They also serve to highlight how much enthusiasm the Friends and volunteers have in learning about the site, including new skills and ways of seeing the material remains of the past.
Raising steam – links to the past
Chimneys are particularly evocative signs of the steam age; whether built in stone or brick. From old billheads, photographs and site descriptions we know there were at least two considerable chimneys at Hemingfield, associated with the pumping and winding engines, as well as another further down the road towards Elsecar which powered the later ventilating fans. These chimneys were similar to that still standing at Elsecar Heritage Centre:
Tying them together is a dying trade – that of the steeplejack. Perhaps the most famous in recent times, the late Fred Dibnah (1938-2004), has himself written about Elsecar and its fascinating industrial history. However, back in the late nineteenth century South Yorkshire had its own renowned steeplejacks in the shape of W.E. Harrison of Sheffield:In April and May 1890, Mr Harrison surveyed and repaired several chimneys in the area, including Elsecar works, Simon Wood winding engine chimney, and the pumping engine chimney at Hemingfield Colliery itself (as recorded in Thomas Newbould’s colliery notebooks held in Sheffield Archives, accession X417).
Working party round up
As the excavation of the stonework and tub wheel continued, elsewhere on site, more mundane digging was underway, to remove the odds and sods of dumped materials at the lower yard of the pit. Reflecting the changing uses of the site over time, in 1934 the South Yorkshire Mines Drainage Committee converted the old Cornish beam engine into a dwelling for a caretaker to staff the pumping station. It seems the low yard was used as a garden plot for many years as well as being part of the pumping station itself; certainly we have saved a few gnomes from the depths!
Probably dating from a more recent modernisation of the cottage, a sink had been buried by the wall in the lower pit yard, together with some disgarded window glass, a garden chair and even a sign post!
Tidying these remnants up helps to keep the site tidy and safe, as well as enabling us to conduct more meaningful excavations in future. Collecting up the tools and closing up the site for another weekend, the Friends and volunteers reflected on another enjoyable working party weekend.