The start of Summer can only mean one thing – torrential downpours. Perhaps predictably Saturday was something of a washout. On Sunday, however, the Friends and Volunteers gathered early once more. Site manager Glen welcomed John, Nigel and Amanda, and Chris. Phil and Frank joined the troops later during the day.
Today’s main task was to continue the initial stages of industrial archaeological investigations around the switchgear building. Guided by Nigel, the volunteers got stuck in digging out the top levels of soil, roots, rubble and other debris.
The idea being to tidy up the brick path revealed in the last working party weekend, and to try and identify any significant sub-surface features, and perhaps to locate the original working surface levels from when the colliery was active.
With shovels, spades, and cutters to hand, and with trowels close by the group spread out down the side of the building away from the path and started to clear an area stretching out into the yard.
As the top layers started to be lifted away, and the never-ending knotty roots were not-so-gently eased out of the ground, a number of small finds emerged from the ground. In addition two metal plates and a section of cast concrete could be seen. Initially it was though these might indicate voids beneath, but as further soil was removed, and the roots cleared away, it became clear that these were simply laid on the surface. All of the spoil was not being wasted, the site’s trusty wheelbarrow was carrying it to fill in the old trenches previously dug, measured and recorded.
After a few hours of toil, and root clipping, the team decided to pause for some luncheon, and Glen kindly obliged with some delicious examples of his culinary skills; good work, good company and good food!
In the early afternoon the volunteers had to seek cover for a while as the rain clouds returned, giving everyone an opportunity to learn a little more about the history of the site, and share stories, insights and heated debates.
Industrial History Societies Visit (3/6/15)
Since the last working party, on 3rd June, Friends Director Christine and Volunteer Nigel helped guide a walking tour to Elsecar and Hemingfield for members of the South Yorkshire Industrial History Society, the Industrial Archaeology section of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society, and the North East Derbyshire Industrial Archaeology Society. Together with Dr John Tanner from Barnsley Museums, the group of 18 visitors were given a guided tour of the restored Newcomen type engine and introduced to the new site interpretation recently completed.Afterwards they were led on a walk down the Elsecar branch of the Dearne and Dove Canal, past the Hemingfield canal basin and up to the Hemingfield Colliery site itself. The Friends were pleased to welcome new guests, and were delighted to see the enthusiasm of visitors learning more about the pit, its remaining shafts, important engine buildings and the future plans of the Friends group.
After lunch, when returning to shoveling yet more earth, all agreed we could certainly see the progress being made.
Towards the end of the day, activity focused on the mixture of stone close by the Wath Road boundary wall. The sandstone found here seems to match the tooling of the sandstone blocks in the winding house walls, and although there are loose stones and some uneven lines, it appears there may be some wall alignments suggestive of original colliery buildings – something the Friends will definitely be following up in the weeks and months ahead.
Rounding off the day, quite a large amount of earth, rubble and plant debris (not to mention roots!) had been cleared by the switchgear building, so the group could be pleased with their efforts on a particularly wet day.
All of those present were discussing the upcoming open day on 27th June 2015 which would be an excellent opportunity to show visitors around the site and explain the initial historical and archaeological investigations the Friends have conducted during the first year since the Friends took ownership of the site. Compared to a year ago things have changed quite a lot!
Small finds inside and out
Over the past few working weekends a number of finds have emerged which help to tell the stories of the site, or reflect the skill and technological development of the wider mining industry. Two little remnants relating to the Pumping Station years of Hemingfield include:
The General Electric Company (GEC) provided many of the small electrical accessories used in and around Hemingfield from the 1920s-1940s. Renowned for providing “Everything Electrical”, GEC was established in London during the 1880s by two German immigrants whose perseverance created one of the largest UK electrical companies by the 1920s, with offices throughout the country and works in Witton and Erith. GEC’s later history is somewhat labyrinthine, with huge expansion and diversification through acquisitions and mergers in the mid-twentieth century. Subsequent sales, name changes and several unfortunate acquisitions at the peak of the ‘dot-com bubble’ (1997-2000) meant that by 2006, Marconi Ltd, as the old company was by then known, was no more.
A delightful remnant of the pumping systems established at Hemingfield, this sign, found in the fire-damaged rubble indoors, reflects the control point for the 2nd of the 2 pumps in the Barnsley seam – hence the name. Interestingly the sign itself has been reused, with some thus-far indecipherable, text having been painted over.
After tidying up the day’s activity, it was time to close the site, lock the gates and head home. Another enjoyable weekend.