Site Clearance and Teamwork
The Friends and volunteers arrived on site early on Saturday, hopeful of getting a few hours of work done before the impending doom of the forecast rainclouds. In the event, however, the weather held out long enough to make significant progress and the friends were joined by some very welcome visitors with stories to share.
Site Manager Glen opened up the pit yard, and Friends Chair Steve joined him in getting the site ready for another Open Day and working party weekend. Regular volunteers John and Chris arrived shortly afterwards, and tools in hand, the teamwork began. After previous working parties, a large amount of felled timber had amassed on site, so the group got stuck in to lifting and logging the wood and moving it into local storage. From pile, to saw, to barrow and storage, the morning’s work saw the pile disappear.
Open Day Visitors – voices from the past
The Friends were delighted to welcome two sets of visitors who re closely related to the history of the site – families who worked on site during the period 1939-80. From the stories of their work, the challenges and dangers of pit life, we are gathering oral histories and finding new research leads, enabling the Friends to fill in the gaps in the site’s story. We’re very grateful for the information they have shared and continue to offer an open invitation for anyone with memories or momentos from the site to get in touch with us.
Tangible links to the past
As well as oral histories and tales from the past, the Friends are fortunate to hold a number of physical items from the history of the site. Site Chair Steve brought out a curious object with direct connections to Hemingfield:
What could it be?
Made of wood and canvas with metal brackets and hinges; heavy to lift, but it collapses down. When opened up, things are a little clearer:
It’s a pit stretcher – originally stored in Hemingfield Colliery’s ambulance station, a now-roofless room in the switchgear building. Dating for perhaps the 1920s, this design is an older pattern of stretcher, yet one which was called into use over the history of the pit which saw a number of accidents and even a number of fatalities, in 1926 and 1940. The stories of these incidents are being investigated and we will shared the details when we have completed this research.
The Bicycle Pit – Then and Now
Hemingfield Colliery has undergone immense changes over its working life, yet some vestiges of the past remain, mixed with new additions – extensions, rebuilds, new developments are intermingle with recognisable features.
In the Victorian period the pit became known as “The Bicycle pit” due to its distinctive double vertical winding wheels. Compring similar views from the 1930s with the present day, we see the bicycle wheels have gone, the wooden support of the headgear, last renewed in 1883, was finally replaced by a concrete headgear in 1939-40. The outer wall has disappeared (though we still have the bricks!). The first two bays of the old surface haulage building, dating from circa 1897 and itself built upon on earlier buildings, can still be seen, though a third bay was added to the front after 1940 a the pit became a pumping station and was electrified.
Round two: the work continues
After a hearty dinner (chips are the fuel of champions!) , the group moved around to the lower terrace of the site and continued the site clearance efforts begun in the last open day weekend. Snipping back the undergrowth and felling trees which are obstructing access and damaging boundary walls is important to ensuring the site’s condition does not deteriorate. Thankfully the bonfire took light this time, so the afternoon saw a good amount of progress.
Picks and mattocks lifted the carpet of weeds and roots covering the hard surface next to the old pumping shaft. In the foregound the rails show where equipment was moved towards the pit. This surface appears to date to the 1940s.
One of the most invasive trees, damaging the boundary wall on the lower terrace, has been felled. Small branched are chopped for the bonfire and the large boughs and branches cut down and storage for firewood.
The lower terrace is supported by a substantial concrete retaining wall, but this wall had been somewhat hidden under a blanket of ivy, so the Friends and volunteers cut it back.
As a final treat or torment, depending on your viewpoint, the volunteers suggested digging up and pulling out an old wire haulage rope which was partly buried in plant mulch. However, the length of wire cable coiled up was significant – indeed the depth of the winding shaft, so the coiling up took quite some time!
The day drew to a natural close after 4 pm, when the friends rounded off the day with some final thoughts and discussions of continuing the archaeological excavations on site After recent progress we’re very excited to uncover more of the past!