THE FIRST WORKING PARTY OF THE NEW YEAR!
A grey, but mild, Saturday morning saw Friends Chair Steve catch the attention of an inquisitive, passing dog walker, as he opened up the heavy steel gates to the Hemingfield Colliery site in readiness for another productive working day. Steve duly treated the gentleman and his four-legged friend to an impromptu tour of the site and an explanation of the archaeological and reclamation work underway.
The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery warmly welcome visitors and are always happy to showcase and explain their work to interested guests and to share their exciting plans and aspirations for the future of the site.
Volunteers Nigel and Amanda arrived soon afterwards, loaded down with tools for a productive day of archaeological excavation, eagerly anticipating the revelation of more hidden industrial features which will help to explain the history of the site.
Soon, other Friends and volunteers began to arrive, with Glen, John, Chris, Phil, Alan and Nigel (there are two Nigels!) reconvening for the first time since November. Last December was the UK’s warmest and wettest December on record and Site Director Glen had suspended work at Hemingfield Colliery throughout that month and into January, as the building remains and features became submerged in a quagmire of squelchy mud and pools of water.
By 10.30am a sizable turn-out had assembled and the day’s work could begin. The group split into two main groups, with John, Chris, Nigel and Amanda planning to continue the archaeological excavations on the east side of the switch gear building, while Steve, Glen, Phil, Alan and Nigel persevered with the tree-felling work at the west end of the site.
FOLLOW THE RED BRICK PATH
Using trowels and brushes, archaeologist Nigel and Amanda spent the morning carefully cleaning up the brick pathway running alongside the switchgear building, in preparation for an official photograph of the feature for the archaeological record. The pathway was laid over the original colliery yard in the 1930s and is composed of a variety of red bricks, each manufactured at one of the many brick works in the local area, such as Manvers, Skyers Spring and Stairfoot. Each brick bears the manufacturer’s stamp and this allows us to date them to different periods in the nineteenth century, telling us that they were recycled from other buildings that had once stood on site.
Once the path has been officially recorded, it will be removed to allow for further excavation of the colliery yard beneath and the bricks will be recycled once more. The Friends plan to re-use each brick in the construction of the proposed future mining heritage centre on the site.
THE RAILWAY SLEEPER MYSTERY
Meanwhile, John and Chris extended the trench towards the concrete headgear, uncovering more of the foundations of a demolished boiler house. The features revealed so far in this area include part of a stone wall, several floor surfaces and a series of railway sleepers laid in a parallel fashion. Further excavation will clarify the archaeological sequence and the connections between the various features in this area, but the team put forward some speculations regarding the railway sleepers. In the 1940s, the present concrete headgear was erected and Site Director Glen suggested that the sleepers could have formed a platform on which the equipment used in this endeavour was based.
John and Chris’s excavations also revealed several soil types relating to dumped building sand in this area, alongside coal deposits and iron oxide residues leaching up with water from the pit shaft. A large iron plate with a raised diamond pattern on one side was also uncovered. This had once formed part of a metal walkway and had been dumped on this part of the site during the erection of the 1940s concrete headgear.
Meanwhile, Steve, Glen, Phil, Alan and Nigel were tree-felling on the west end of the site. Since Hemingfield’s closure as a working site in the 1990s, this area has seen an invasion of silver birch trees which have formed a small copse. Offering dappled green shade in spring, glistening silver trunks and branches in summer and rustling golden leaves in autumn, the felling of these beautiful trees is regrettable, but totally necessary for the future development of the site.
Donning his protective red headgear, goggles and earmuffs, Site Director Glen began the work. As the saw whined, the sawdust fountains spurted and the trees toppled and fell. Meanwhile, the members of his trusty team got in touch with their inner primeval man, lighting a fire to burn thinner branches, whilst slicing logs from the thicker trunks to stash away in their man caves.
THE LAST YEARS OF COAL MINING IN YORKSHIRE
The temperature had dropped by the afternoon and so the glowing fire provided welcome warmth and comfort as the Friends and volunteers drew round and stopped for some lunch. Friends Chair Steve had brought along a copy of his newly-published book THE LAST YEARS OF COAL MINING IN YORKSHIRE by Steve Grudgings. This is a beautiful book of Steve’s evocative photographs of Yorkshire collieries shortly before they closed. Sadly, most of these have since been demolished and Hemingfield is one of the few Yorkshire collieries where above-ground buildings still survive and where the iconic shape of a mine headgear can still be seen on the skyline. Steve’s book clearly illustrates the importance of saving Hemingfield Colliery and other important industrial sites for posterity.
Lunchtime also saw a morale-boosting visit from Director Christine. Christine has been gathering oral memories from people connected with Hemingfield to help inform the story of the site. She will also be coordinating the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery stall at Barnsley History Day on Sunday 20th March and this event was discussed with the team. We look forward to seeing you there!
After lunch, the two teams continued their work as before. The excavation of a linear feature, running at a diagonal from the switch gear building, was started. Archaeologist Nigel had spotted this feature on a previous working day and had deduced it to be an in-filled trench probably containing either a drain pipe or an electricity cable. Excellent eyesight is needed to discern the very slightly different soil colour and consistency of the in-filled trench and to excavate it accurately. Work on this area will be continued on our next working day.
As darkness fell and the dying embers of the fire illuminated the stumps of the recently-felled silver birch trees, the Friends and volunteers gathered once more around the fire to reflect on the day’s achievements and discuss plans for the next working day. We hope to expose more of the boiler house remains and will begin the task of making a scale plan of the features discovered so far.