Open Day and Working Party Weekend, 2nd April 2016

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A Colourful Colliery

The rotating seasons have presented us with a kaleidoscope of colour at Hemingfield Colliery, conjuring up spectacular displays of natural beauty on this site of industrial decay. But a particularly vivid assault on the eyes met the Hemingfield Friends and volunteers who happened to look directly to their left on entering the colliery gates last Saturday morning.

A variety of mosses had colonised piles of russet-red and terracotta bricks at the south-western corner of the site, covering them in a spongy lime-green carpet. In the absence of any other plant life at this time of the year, their bright citrus colour was startling and contrasted sharply with the tangerine-orange wood flakes that had spilled from the truncated branches of a recently-felled silver birch tree.

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Most mosses are attracted to damp and shady locations. They are tiny non-vascular plants, with no root system and no xylem or phloem in their stems through which to transport water and nutrients from the soil, so they take in moisture through their leaves instead. These leaves are tiny, often only one cell thick, and so they are prone to heavy water transpiration and will dry out easily if not supported by a moist habitat. At Hemingfield, we can see clearly how a damp March, along with the dusky conditions under the tree canopy, in the shade of the old boundary wall at this end of the colliery site, have suited their needs.

We can also see that, although tiny and flowerless, mosses can be vibrantly beautiful. Of a subtler, but no less intriguing beauty, are lichens. At Hemingfield, a type of lichen can be seen enveloping some recently-felled tree stumps in a pale turquoise patina. Unlike mosses, lichens are not plants, but are composite organisms, composed of algae or bacteria and fungi, each depending on the presence of the other for their survival. As well as on tree bark, you can often see their copper verdigris coating on gravestones or on rocks, although lichens can display a variety of colours.

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Chain Gang

Site Director Glen and volunteer Nigel were the first to arrive on site and had already started work when other volunteers Nigel and Amanda rolled up around mid-morning, with Chris, Alan and John arriving a little later in the day. The two early birds had made a start on clearing the remaining tree stumps from the south-western end of the site. This area is to the left as you enter the current entrance and is being cleared for the creation of a new entrance, a car park and other volunteer and visitor facilities.

Tree-felling and stump-uprooting has continued over several working days. The stumps have often been stubborn and persistent, but so has our team! Showing resolution, perseverance, strength and stamina, the team have been determined to continue with their tough task until not one stump remains in the ground.

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Using a sturdy-looking stump as a support and stay, heavy chains are wrapped around both this and the stump to be dislodged. On this particular working day, Nigel swung the axe, chopping around the base of the unyielding stumps, as Glen winched the chains ever tighter, clicking and grinding, back and forth. Ever greater pressure was placed on each seemingly intractable stump until, at last, it was forcibly uprooted.

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Throughout the day, the pile of slaughtered stumps grew larger and the area was cleared.

 

The Pump House Gang

Meanwhile, the archaeological excavations around the switchgear building continued. This area is now looking particularly intriguing, especially since Chris had uncovered more timber beams on our previous working day. There are now four lines of timbers visible, all running in the same direction. We are still not entirely clear as to their function but, stratigraphically, they seem to date to the erection of the concrete headgear and before the extension was added to the switchgear building when it was converted into a pump house.

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Nigel and Amanda began the day by extending the trench further in the direction of the winding house to expose more of the walls of the adjacent demolished stone building. Diagonal lines in the exterior walls of the winding house show where the roof of the demolished building once butted against the winding house. The excavation of the extended trench revealed more of a stone wall and a well-preserved brick floor together with a stone socket which might have held a post for an internal timber partition wall.

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The next task was to clean up the stone wall and the brick floor. Cleaning up involves the trowelling away of surplus dirt and vegetation from the surface of the excavated features. This is an important job which enables us to clearly see the structure of the wall and floor and to plan and photograph them for the archaeological record.

Sounding Out The Archaeology

Meanwhile, Chris began a small sondage excavation by the switchgear building/pump house entrance. The term sondage is used by archaeologists to describe a small trial trench which is cut through the existing layers of archaeology in order to analyse and understand the stratigraphy of the area (the order and position of the different layers of archaeological remains). The word comes from the modern French word sonder meaning to sound. The purpose of Chris’s sondage was to establish the relationship between the archaeological deposits that the timbers outside the switchgear building/pump house rest upon, and a concrete electricity cable duct which runs from the building toward the headgear. Chris pegged out his trial sondage trench with string and soon got to work digging. By the end of the day he had established that the cable duct was later in date than the enigmatic timbers.

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The End of the Day

Aching backs and bodies were a sign that the working day should be drawing to a close and that tools should be gathered up, cleaned and put away. This was also a time for the teams to catch up with each other’s progress and to discuss plans on site for the next few months. Site Director Christine had already popped in earlier in the day to discuss our community event programme for 2016. This includes some very exciting events in which we will be participating this summer, including Elsecar by the Sea and Mates of Milton Gala, as well as our Second Birthday Open Day on June 25th. Watch this space for more details later in the year!

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