The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery joined in the fun at the forge playing fields as the Mates of Milton hosted a wonderful afternoon of stalls, activities and attractions at the 6th annual Hoyland Milton Gala.
The local community in Hoyland and Elsecar descending on the upper part of the forge playing field, by the Furnace inn, off Miton Road in Hoyland.
The crowds gathered; young and old, families and friends attending the dancing, sports, music, amusements and stalls. The weather was great and lots of smiles were seen as the afternoon progressed. The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery attended with stall, to raise awareness and to have some fun, talking to the local community.
Arranged in the round, stalls and displays from community groups, shops and services. In the centre, a display area for dance and performance and the dog show later in the afternoon.
Down at the Friends stall, Friends Directors Christine and Glen, and volunteers Glenda, Nigel, Phil and Chris were on hand to staff the bookstall and to join in the game – a fun combination of battleship and tombola…
…with prizes to be won, players had 5 goes, each turn consisting of letters and numbers which might or might not appear on a grid. Thanks to Glenda for devising this wonderful game and encouraging the players. It was fun to explain and get people engaged.
Meanwhile, with music playing, sports taking place and rides to enjoy, the Friends toured the ring of stalls at the gala, attractions included a bouncy castle, a fun shooting range hosted by a local air-soft team, a fire engine and crew and other local community groups raising awareness and meeting new people.
They say England is a nation of animal lovers; that certainly proved to be the case with the large turnout for the dog show. Canines of all shapes, ages and surprising sizes.
Meanwhile, across the road from the forge playing fields, keeping cool in the old ponds was a flock (or is it a bevy?) of swans, reminding us all that Hemingfield, Elsecar and Hoyland each have a beautiful balance of town and country; green villages on the edge of an urban mass: the best of both worlds indeed.
Milton Ironworks: a blast from the past
They say the past is always with us, and that’s certainly the case at the forge playing fields where the Milton Gala takes place. Hidden by time and tide, the fields are in fact the heavily-re-levelled remains of the Milton Ironworks – a major industrial site – which brought smoke, heat and a lot of work to the area from its opening in 1799 until its closure in 1883.
The works began under Messrs Samuel Walker & Co. a family of ironmasters from Rotherham (visit Clifton Park and Museum to share their story). The Walkers named the works after Viscount Milton, the son and heir of the then 4th Earl Fitzwilliam who was the landlord to the company.
By 1821 the Walkers had left the scene, and Henry Hartop with various partners took over. Struck by management problems and economic crises, his last partners, Messrs Robert and William Graham ousted him in 1829, and ran the ironworks until 1848 as ‘Graham & Co’. In 1849, the 5th Earl Fitzwilliam re-leased the Milton works and also those at Elsecar to William Henry and George Dawes from Staffordshire. The Dawes expanded the site and cranked up production. A visitor in the 1860s described the scene:
“The works of Messrs Dawes lie upon the slope of one member of the broken chain; and on reaching the brow, you hear the roar of the machinery, the whirring of the great rolling wheels, the sharp hiss of the steam which rises in dense clouds, the thunder of the giant hammers as they tenderly handle or fiercely crush the mass of yielding metal, and you see the tall chimneys and the broad-based cupolas and the intense blaze of the furnaces, through a dim medium formed of volumes of mingled smoke and steam which lazily ascend and spread themselves over the landscape…”
The Leeds Mercury, Saturday 20th January 1866, p.8
Another visitor to Milton recorded the details:
“There are mills, forges, hammers, and an endless variety of ferocious looking articles banging, smashing, and grinding away in a manner calculated to produce epilectic fits […]. Here too, an additional process is carried on, namely the burning of the stone brought from Tankersley Park. This is performed in five huge kilns, each capable of containing about 150 tons. […] At these works there are two blast furnaces for producing iron […]
In the forge there are twenty six puddling furnaces, all of which are worked by hand. […] There are also two steam hammers of about twenty horse power each, for forming the molten metal into slabs ready for rolling. […] In attendance on these stood two men and two boys, the latter looking as though nothing too mischievous to suit them had yet been discovered. […] At the conclusion of this process, what was at first a bar some 10 or 12 inches in length had been rolled out to a thin strip almost as many yards long […] In this mill is a large circular saw made of steel, which cuts off neatly the ends of the red hot iron bars as fast as they can be produced, and at night the sight is very pretty, the showers of iron “sawdust” making quite a brilliant display like an exhibition of fireworks.”
Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 1870s
When George Dawes did not renew his lease with the 6th Earl Fitzwilliam, the extensions and addition made by Dawes since 1849 were demolished. This had a major effect on employment for the local population. With no buyer in sight, the main works were dismantled, though some smaller businesses set themselves up as brass works on one part of the site.
The Lie of the Land
The modern ground levels of the forge playing fields are somewhat deceptive. The Ironworks dominated the hillside, and the range of mills, boilerhouses, furnaces, chimnies, gasworks and kilns were razed, with rubble and spoil used to level out the area.
Paradoxically, nowadays the most visible remains of this industrial past is also the natural hot-spot of the ponds. Dug out as reservoirs for the ironworks, the two ponds are still in existence by the Furnace inn. Originally they were the smallest of several around the site, all now filled in. The ponds are popular fishing and nature watching areas – although they have gone by other, rather more sinister, names in the past, such as ‘the cat and dog pond’.
Down the Line
The other intriguing clue to the past industry of the area, is the double bridge over the railway line to Sheffield. This is part of an incline plane railed line to Elsecar, which originally formed part of the Elsecar-Thorncliffe railway. It brought ironstone and coal from the Tankersley hills down to the ironworks, and minerals and goods went down from the ironworks to the canal side at Elsecar basin.Itonstone also went the other way to Thorncliffe, itself a major ironworks own by Newton, Chambers & Co. The line’s use changed in the 1880s when ironstone mining ended at Skiers Spring, after the Thorncliffe section had fallen out of use.
The bridge we now see crosses the Barnsley-Sheffield railway line which was opened by the Midland Railway Company in 1897, i.e. well after the closure of the Milton ironworks. By that stage it mainly transported coal from the Lidgett Colliery down to the canal side and also to the railway sidings at Elsecar. The Lidgett Colliery took over the Skiers Spring ironstone mine in 1879, and so changed the incline from ironstone to purely coal supply.
Fun in the Sun
All-in-all the Friends and volunteers were delighted with the day at the Milton Gala. It was great to see some familiar faces and meet lots of new local people – young and old. It was a great family day out. Many thanks to the Mates of Milton, the organisers and the volunteers and stallholders, performers and members of the local community who attended. See you next year!