Open Day and Working Party Weekend, 16th April 2016

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Steam engine Birkenhead passing beneath Hemingfield Colliery

Steaming ahead

There’s nothing more inspiring than arriving at Hemingfield to find a steam engine on the move and already at work. The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery are lucky to have the Elsecar Heritage Railway right by our site,  on a branch line first laid in 1850 as part of the the South Yorkshire Coal Railway (enabled by the 1847 South Yorkshire Doncaster and Goole Railway Act).  Built to serve Elsecar’s collieries and ironworks, the line transformed the market for Earl Fitzwilliam’s coal, opening lucrative markets beyond the reach of the Dearne and Dove canal. Barnsley and silkstone seam coals were soon on their way down the Great Northern Railway to London coal merchants at the Kings Cross coal depot.

Keeping on track

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Steam engine Birkenhead down by the Tingle Bridge crossing, note near fencing and vegetation clearance by trackside

As the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery returned to the pit for another weekend’s activity, our friends and near neighbours from the Elsecar Heritage Railway were getting down to some serious trackwork – with the help of a squad of junior soldiers from the Army Foundation College (AFC) in Harrogate. The Friends went down to Tingle Bridge to say hello and wish the workers well, as well as taking some photographs to record the fantastic work underway, which is transforming the valley.

Junior soldiers from the AFC, Harrogate ready for a weekends trackwork

Junior soldiers from the AFC, Harrogate ready for a weekend’s trackwork

For the second week running the team from the AFC were assisting in alignment, ballasting and leveling work, and also in the fencing of the track as the railway continues work on its extension towards Cortonwood, from Tingle Bridge down to Smithy Bridge.

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Ballast delivery to Tingle Bridge, Smithy Bridge side.

Ballasting and alignment work by EHR volunteers and the junior soldiers from AFC down the line between Tingle Bridge and Smithy Bridge

Preparations for the work were significant, with a truckload of ballast being delivered to the Elsecar Rockingham station yard some weeks ago. With engineers and volunteers ready, the railway sent their steam and diesel engines down the line to deliver the loads ready for the team to continue work.

Ballast being carried down the line by Diesel engine Elizabeth, note the huge amount of trackside clearance

In recent weeks the EHR have also been clearing a huge amount of vegetation between the track and Wath Road to give a clear line of sight to drivers approaching the Tingle Bridge crossing and to make space at Hemingfield for future developments.

Trackside clearance work

Trackside clearance work looking back up the line towards Elsecar

The results of this work are wonderful to see, and really help the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery in maintaining the colliery site and its surroundings; restoring sightlines to the headgear from Hemingfield village, and the Transpennine trail, down by the canalside. Their efforts have opened up views of the headgear and retaining wall not seen for over twenty years. Fantastic work!

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Hemingfield Colliery headgear, viewed from the canal side, with Hemingfield Basin in front.

Clearance work revealing Hemingfield Colliery's original retaining wall.

Clearance work revealing Hemingfield Colliery’s original retaining wall. Junior soldiers and Birkenhead steam engine down the line at Tingle Bridge

Once again the 1840s stone masonry retaining wall can be seen - providing a glimpse into the past of Hemingfield Colliery - where coal wagons would have been loaded ready for weighing and despatch.

Once again the 1840s stone masonry retaining wall can be seen – providing a glimpse into the past of Hemingfield Colliery – where coal wagons would have been loaded ready for weighing and despatch.

In the trenches

Meanwhile, back at the pit, Site Director Glen had opened the gates to volunteers Nigel, Amanda, John and Chris. This week the focus was mainly on some excavation and tidying to support the industrial archaeology recording  underway on site.

A key part of this has been clearing the former cable trenches on the site – concrete channels which conveyed electrical cables from one part of the site to another. Over the years the trenches had become filled with rubble and many of the cables simply removed or stolen. Trees had taken root in the rubbish left behind, leaving quite a challenge for present day shovels and spades!

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For the Record

Meanwhile, volunteer archaeology coordinator Nigel and volunteer Amanda continued the programme of recording the archaeological features on site. Whilst Amanda drew a scale plan of the pipe trench that she had excavated previously, Nigel completed a plan of the 1930s brick path running alongside the switchgear building. Site director Glen then helped the pair to add spot heights to their respective plans using the dumpy level (for more about planning and the importance of establishing levels across the site, see our Working Party blog for 5th March 2016 under ‘Site Reports’).

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Building the Site Archive

Having completed their plans, Nigel and Amanda ensured that they had completed a Context Record Sheet for their respective archaeological features. These special forms record the shape, measurements, height and characteristics of each archaeological feature excavated on site. Together with the plans and record photographs, the Context Record Sheets form the Primary Site Archive of the excavation. Careful record-keeping is essential, since as we dig through the later layers of archaeology to reach earlier features, we will unavoidably destroy or remove these later features. Our next task, for example, will be to remove the 1930s path in order to expose the earlier archaeological features underneath. Our Primary Site Archive will thus allow us to recall the position, layout and characteristics of the path after it has been destroyed.

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Future Plans

By the end of the day, the team had sucessfully completed their tasks- the electricity cable trenches had been emptied of particularly large and stubborn tree roots, and all the archaeological records had been finished. On our next working day, we will dig out the path and extend the excavation area, before getting to grips with the partially revealed timber structures in the excavation area. Our next phase of work will be to clarify the purpose of these enigmatic features and their relationship to the demolished building adjacent to the winding house.

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