Working Party Weekend 19th-20th September 2015

Cornish Engine House and concrete headgear

Cornish Engine House (c.1843) and concrete headgear (c.1934), viewed from Pit Row on Wath Road

This weekend was a quieter one on site; a time for reflection and planning. On Saturday site manager Glen and volunteer Chris met and discussed further insights from the wonderful Beedan Collection. The Friends are arranging the papers and hope to share highlights from the material over the coming months. On Sunday the Friends Directors discussed current plans and worked on proposals to secure an economically viable future for the site.

Gedney’s mine

The Beedan Collection – the papers of the late Mr George Smales Beedan – is providing a huge amount of information about mining on site, Earl Fitzwilliam’s other collieries in and around Elsecar, and also much about William Gedney’s private mine working in Hemingfield.

In October 1932 William Gedney (1871-1951) hoisted a Union Jack above his mine, stood in 2 acres of land behind the old Milton Arms public house on Cemetery Road, Hemingfield (reported in Yorkshire Post, 21 October 1932, p.6 col.6). He and his sons William Gowforth (1899-1979) and Charles Harold (1907-1981) were sinking a shaft to get at the 2ft thick Abdy, or Winter coal seam at a depth of 60 feet (18 metres) deep. The private mine employed 2 people above and 2 below ground. In 1947 the operation was listed as being at Cemetery Rd, Hemingfield at which time the Winter seam was still being worked, and naked lights were in use. The mine closed in the 1950s.

A Cornish engine… in Yorkshire?

Cornish engines were so called due to their development originating and perfecting in the tin mines of Cornwall. There the demands of working the metal required powerful pumping engines which could be used to lift water and also to raise minerals from deep levels. Their main use came in pumping. In the Yorkshire coalfield as the shallower, ‘outcrop’ coal was being worked out, it became necessary to pump water from deeper levels, and the Cornish pumping engine was the ideal choice. Though the design varied over time, the basic Cornish pumping engine was a high pressure steam engine , working a beam from a large cylinder which was connected by shafts to pumping mains in the ‘engine’ pit of a colliery or other mine.

These engines required huge amounts of power, requiring large boilers to raise steam to the correct pressure:

Cornish pumping engine, taken from Pamely, Caleb [1850-1931] The Colliery Manager's Handbook, 4th edn. London: Crosby, Lockwood and Son, 1898 p.382

Cornish pumping engine, taken from Pamely, Caleb [1850-1931] The Colliery Manager’s Handbook, 4th edn. London: Crosby, Lockwood and Son, 1898 p.382 – originally published by George Guillaume André [1843-1928]

At Hemingfield, the engine itself is no more – only the substantial remains of the building which housed it – now a private residence abutting the colliery site.

Beam-side view of the Cornish engine house.

Beam-side view of the cut-down Cornish engine house.

Based on current research, it is thought that the engine and even the engine house were actually second-hand when they came to Elsecar, apparently purchased from Thomas Wilson’s failing colliery in Kexborough. The engine, rated at some 130 horse power, with a 74 inch cylinder was maintained throughout its working life, 1843-1920, before the site was taken over by the South Yorkshire Pumping Association. In 1917 the pumping equipment was described as consisting of a 15 inch bucket lift and 2 rams raising water from a depth of 157 yards. It worked 10 strokes a minute, the quantity pumped being 500 gallons per minute throughout seven days a week, or 30,000 gallons per hour. In contrast, by 1933 the average quantity of water being dealt with by the electrical pumping plant was 135 gallons per minute.

Sources: Letter dated 31/10/1917 from C.E. Rhodes to South Yorkshire Coal Owners’ Association. Copy Letterbook of C.E.Rhodes and Sons Consulting Mining Engineers. Private Collection; Annual Reports of South Yorkshire Mines Drainage Committee 1933, Sheffield City Archives, NCB 1297/9/4

Returning to the current state of the former buildings, this weekend showed a brilliant change in the appearance of the pumping engine house compared to earlier in the year.




September colours on the cornish engine house

Looking towards the winding engine house, with glorious red ivy on the Cornish engine house.

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