Open Day and Working Party Weekend, 29th October 2016

Seasons to be cheerful

The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery arrived on site this weekend as autumn colours finally began to take hold all around. Shivering trees of burnt orange and raw sienna tones, Woody Nightshade berries of bright tomato-red shades and Yellow Snapdragon flowers of a delicate lemon hue all displayed their dazzling natural beauty against a backdrop of grey-brown industrial features.

Woody Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) plants have invaded the site, clambering over rocks and brick rubble and smothering scrap heaps. This plant is a member of the Solanaceae family, the most well-known genera of this family perhaps being Solanum tuberosum (potato) and Solanum lycopersicum (tomato). Woody Nightshade is a truly beautiful plant with curvaceous, arrow-shaped leaves and striking purple flowers, which are succeeded by succulent, though highly poisonous, scarlet fruits.

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Yellow Snapdragons (Linaria vulgaris) are dancing happily on our freshly-formed clearance spoil heaps, their delicate pale lemon and yellow petals adding a welcome splash of sunshine to the dull brown mounds of soil. Naturally a late bloomer, the Yellow Snapdragon can often be seen brightening up waste places, disturbed land, road verges and railway sidings as the sparkly month of October turns into gloomy November.

And this changing season has brought with it changing times for the colliery – the beginnings of a new lease of life for the engine house.

Thanks to generous support from The Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership, the Association for Industrial Archaeology, and Subterranea Britannica, the colliery site has been transformed as work has begun on the repair and restoration of the roof of building which held the 1846 beam winding engine.

Pole positions

The metal scaffolding poles criss-crossing the brick and sandstone engine house are quite a sight to behold. Spanning multiple levels, from the main headgear, along and around the sides, and down onto the lower terrace; the poles embrace and encase the irregular lines and eroded surfaces of the heritage buildings beneath, like a wireframe.

The scale of the roofing work being undertaken is something that all of the Friends and volunteers readily appreciate, but even so, some images of the condition of the roof serve to illustrate how important it is that we take action now to prevent further decay and potential collapse of the roof and walls of the winding engine house.

The roofers’ views from the scaffolding offer unique insights into the size of the task ahead, as well as providing wonderful opportunities to see the site from new angles.

Once, twice, three-hundred times a ladybird

Amid the excitement of seeing the beginning of roofing work on site, the Friends and volunteers did not initially notice that the pit had been taken over by a very different type of visitor: harmonia axyridis – the Asian ladybird, had arrived in abundance, and a swarm had landed on and around the headgear, readying themselves for the winter ahead. The collective noun for ladybirds is a ‘loveliness’ and these insects are certainly beautiful, sporting a variety of scarlet-red and jet-black markings.

A ladybird’s-eye view. Visitors on the headgear

Excavations continue

Meanwhile, site manager Glen and regular volunteers John, Chris, Nigel and Amanda continued with pit yard tidying and excavation; cleaning up earlier digging sessions, and continuing to clear away the rubble from the demolition of the old boundary wall. The overgrown mounds running alongside Wath Road, facing onto Pit Row, present quite a challenge, and the brick:soil ratio proved frustratingly high as the crew got to work, dislodging, shoveling and wheeling the spoil and reclaimed materials away.

The rubble mounds have built up over the decades since the end of the colliery’s industrial life and the collapsed brick remains of the original wall have been obliterated by an accumulation of debris and industrial scrap from the site, coupled with fly-tipping waste dumped over the present wall from the adjacent road. This has resulted in an intriguingly eclectic mix of industrial artefacts, old carpet, plastic bags and garden waste overlying the original collapsed brick wall.

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As John and Chris strove forward prising out brick after brick, Nigel and Amanda followed along behind, shovelling away the remaining earth until the former colliery yard surface was exposed beneath. Wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow was filled with solid red brick or loose brown soil, which Glen trundled away, the soil going onto waste soil heaps and the bricks onto a seperate pile to be cleaned and recycled. All of the materials retrieved during our clearance of the site will be re-used, either in the levelling out of the site surface or in the reconstruction and renovation of the site buildings.

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Clearing away the soil and debris to expose the former yard surface.

Piling on the fun with some hard labour

The retrieved bricks were moved onto an ever-growing, randomly arranged pile beside the base of the concrete winding gear and, as the ladybirds swarmed above them, Glen and Chris began the task of cleaning the bricks, before restacking them in an orderly fashion. In the process, Glen realised that he had inadvertently created his own version of ‘Equivalent VIII’ by Carl Andre. This art installation, commonly referred to as ‘The Bricks’, is Andre’s interpretation of stark, industrial brutality and is composed of 120 bricks laid out in two layers. A media outcry was created when the Tate Gallery bought the piece for £2,297 and first exhibited it in 1976. To my mind, Glen’s version of this artistic classic is an altogether richer, warmer, more interesting and textured interpretation of industrial functionality and bleak utilitarianism than Carl Andre’s. Follow this link to see if you agree! –

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‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles?

Unaccustomed as we are to heavy flows of traffic on site, the arrival of materials for the scaffolders, and for the roof repairs yet to come, lends a new life and sense of activity to the site. This is as nothing however, to the regular running of the railway – the steam engine running back and forth from the station and Elsecar Heritage  Railway‘s engine shed. What a magnificent sight the steam engine is, powering up and down the line from Elsecar to Hemingfield, and – eventually – onwards past Tingle Bridge, down towards Smithy Bridge and over to Cortonwood.

We continue to be delighted to see the progress being made by our Friends on the railway, and all of the fantastic special events and activities they are engaged in. Saturday was Ghost Train day. The Friends watched with interest as lineside preparations got underway for the evening’s Halloween activities – spooky trips down the line; and perhaps some one-way journeys for the less fortunate travellers as the evening wears on [stop the evil cackling, ed.]


Towards the end of the day, there was a forbidding sound; a fearsome buzz and unholy whirr. What devilish contraption could it be? Not an angel of judgement or death, but rather a wingéd traveller of a more leisurely sort, a paramotorist, a form of powered paraglider.

The team stopped work for a while to marvel at this novel sight and soon after, as the sun began to set on this Halloween Eve, they decided to pack up their tools and beat a hasty retreat, leaving the site to the bats and the owls… and the ghosts.

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