A Summer Celebration
On a gloriously sunny day, the Friends arrived on site early, eager to set-up and get ready for the first anniversary open day event – a chance for the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery to celebrate one year of progress since taking possession of the site on 27th June 2014. What a year it has been!
Friends and volunteers alike were pleased to open the pit gates to the public and guide visitors around the colliery site. Directors Ian, Christine and Glen were on hand to discuss the work undertaken by the Friends in planning its future development – to secure funding and further support. Likewise regular volunteers Alan, Phil, Chris, Frank, Keith, Nigel and Amanda attended to reflect on the many hours of volunteer effort contributed to the Colliery – both on and off site which have already seen great progress in the physical condition, but also the state of knowledge about the site; its social, economic and technical history, the surviving buildings, current archaeological investigations and flora and fauna.
Setting out our stall(s)
Making use of the concrete hardstanding and some welcome shade, the Friends set out their stalls – quite literally – with table displays reflecting the history and development of the Hemingfield or Low Elsecar Colliery from the 1840s to 1920 – as part of the Fitzwilliam Estate, on through its pumping station years – from the Twenties, through Nationalisation to Privatisation in the Nineties, before finally coming into the stewardship of the Friends group last year.
As well as opening the site to new visitors to explore, the day provided a rare opportunity for the Friends and volunteers to spent time together to share books, documents, pictures and maps and discuss common research interests and the emerging knowledge about the pit’s lifetime – whether it be Alan and Chris debating the innovative role Hemingfield had in the development of mechanical ventilation – being a pit which never had an underground furnace; or Glenda, Christine and Phil unraveling the fate of the families of the miners present at the time of the Disaster in Dec 1852 when ten miners were killed.
Maps are particularly useful in explaining how connected the site was to the wider world – through the canal and railway networks, as well as serving to illustrate the nature and extent of the coal seam being worked 150 yards underground. We were particularly fortunate to have such a rich selection to hand (including some rare original nineteenth century documents) helping us to picture and understand the nature and extent of the processes and produce of a busy Victorian coal mine; its diverse range of domestic and industrial customers stretching from the two ironworks just down the road (Milton and Elsecar), out as far as the East Coast, down to the great metropolis of London, and indeed over to the continent in Europe.
A year in, it is great to see such enthusiasm for uncovering the past – whether it be the documentary traces, or the more elusive, but intriguing physical clues. Nigel was on hand with a sample of recent industrial archaeological finds from the site. He demonstrated the techniques employed in recording the archaeology and outlined plans for sharing new skills with the community of friends and volunteers, all eager to seize new learning opportunities arising from the site.
The anniversary also provided a fabulous opportunity to share the creativity that has been unleashed through the Friends’ activities. We were privileged to see some beautiful examples of the artwork produced by artist Amanda Willloughby, whose latest investigation ‘Coal, Collapse and Colonisation’ explores the pioneering plant species which flourish in the abandoned industrial habitat the pit provides. Through intricate plant illustration, Amanda is recording the flora on site. Building on her award-winning illustration of the unique plant life which grows on the abandoned lead mines of the North Pennines, the Friends look forward to seeing further examples of the natural beauty which exists all around as the site continues its journey to a new future with human activity returning to Hemingfield.
A warm welcome
The anniversary was a great occasion – a chance to open up the site and welcome the public in to see what the Friends are all about and learn a little about our plans for the future. With site tours, and plenty of material to explain and discuss, we hope our guests left as intrigued and enthused as our supporters and regular volunteers.
Pondering the future
With many new conversations started, notes made and photographs taken, the Friends were rightly pleased with the first anniversary event, set against a wonderfully warm and bright summer’s day.
To our guests, we hope you enjoyed your visit to Hemingfield – please do keep in touch, and don’t hesitate to see how you could get involved. To the Friends and regular volunteers – thanks for your enthusiasm and dedication to the cause over the last year – we look forward to welcoming everyone back again soon!