Events, dear boy, events…
2017 has arrived. We made it. Happy New Year to all of the Friends, volunteers, supporters and local partners who helped to make a real difference to saving and protecting our heritage last year: May 2017 be full of fun, new friendships and further progress. There’s much to do!
The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery began the year by setting out the programme of events for the whole year ahead, so there’s plenty of opportunities for people to visit and see what’s happening. We’re always pleased to see and hear from above interesting in the site, the local area, its people, environment and history.
Whether through a family connection, mining memories, or curiosity, there’s much to discover at Hemingfield and throughout the surrounding area, from Elsecar up to Wentworth; from Barnsley to Rotherham we are fortunate to live in a semi-rural district with strong industrial and transport links to the big regional cities. It provides a beautiful balance, and the Friends would be delighted to hear from anyone, as well as sharing our knowledge of the site, it helps us to understand the development and impact of the colliery over time.
So, as 2016 retreats into memory, cards and decorations come down, and cruelly-uprooted evergreen guests are ousted for another year, it’s time for the new year to get underway: life in Hemingfield very much goes on.
Except for the mud of course. On Saturday 7th January 2017 the festive rain (if there is such a thing) frustrated activities on site. The sodden pit yard was somewhat churned up from comings and goings, so the Friends agreed to adjourn the open day, and start the year with some research and preparation; more reading and writing, responding to messages, and generally easing their way into MMXVII.
Even still, there’s progress to report on site. The roof restoration work on the 1840s winding engine house has leaped forward since the last open day of 2016, with a fine re-laid slate roof in place on the main building.
The ridge stones are on their way to being put back in place too. As work is completed on one part other works can continue, on the back and lower side brick extensions, to restore a rot-free weatherproof cover for the future after years of languishing unloved.
Next, work on the drainage should follow: with fascia boards, guttering, flashes and down pipes. We look forward to reporting on the development of this important restoration work as the year continues – hopefully the Friends can see in the darker days of winter with a renewed roof over their heads.
Once again we must give huge thanks to the groups who have supported us to make this restoration work possible, including the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership (funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund) whose banner is proudly displayed next to the winding engine house; the Association for Industrial Archaeology, and Subterranea Britannica.
Friends in the Field, or Catching the drift
The Friends and volunteers are never idle or still, and the Christmas holidays provided the perfect opportunity to get together and share some of the various strands of research individual volunteers have been undertaking over the past year. On 29th Dec 2016 it was time to get outdoors and do some fieldwork: a trip out to view the surface remains of the Elsecar water drift. – ‘The Elsecar what?’ you say?
Glad you asked: the drift is a long drainage feature, an underground water channel, first hewed out under Elsecar in the eighteenth century to help drain the coal mines worked by the Marquis of Rockingham. Its origins are somewhat obscure, but it was certainly extended over time, especially between Skiers Spring and Thorncliffe in 1839-44, to support Earl Fitzwilliam’s collieries and ironstone mines and those of his lessees Newton and Chambers. Exploring its path takes us on an historical, geographical and geological journey, connecting the landscapes we see around us today with their industrial past.
Leaving Broadcarr Road, just at the top of Armroyd Lane (SK372997), the group set off up the public footpath skirting the bottom edge of Cloughfields Estate and over through Skiers Spring towards Tankersley. We began on the trail of the Elsecar- Thorncliffe Drift extension, that is the part stretching from Hoyland towards Tankersley. The quest was for any surface remains of the water drift – that is the site of the air shafts which were sunk as the drift was being sunk, and maintained as a means to clear the drift of blockages. The group also kept their eyes peeled for any other investing features. Taking GPS readings as we went, we should eventually have some very accurate mapping of the features explored.
The group proceeded through Skiers Spring Wood to a clearing, where Stead Lane cuts down from Hoyland Common down to Broadcarr Road. Skiers Spring wood is designated as an ancient woodland having existed continuously since 1600, though the wood has been the scene of coal and ironstone mines, and of brickworks. Stead Lane has two sets of railway bridge abutments, only one of which still has a bridge -technically an underbridge – carrying the railway between Barnsley and Sheffield. Opened in 1897 by the Midland Railway, the Chapeltown Branch Extension brought many coal concerns into direct connection with goods and passenger transport links and created a series of bridges, tunnels and new stations which are still in use today.
While out and about, the group met local resident and author John Moorhouse who took time out to explain the history of the area, and make the Friends aware of a colourful local tale – the Cheerio Trail – being the true story of the 7th Earl Fitzwilliam’s mysterious voyage to Cocos Island in search of treasures unknown. The story, which has the epic scale of a film, can be found described with many evocative photographs of the expedition, in John Moorhouse and Stephen Cooper’s book Earl Fitzwilliam’s Treasure Island: The Mystery of the Cheerio Trail.
It was an icy scene down at Skiers, and the morning light falling across the frosty ground silhouetted the unpoetic form of a newly-erected bridge. The bridge framed a lovely view across the fields to the spire of Wentworth Church.
It’s easy to think that railway engineering was a purely Victorian preserve; in fact the work continues to this day, such as the bridge replacement at Stead Lane. It was completed by contractors AMCO Rail, using a steel deck fabricated by Carver Engineering, from Harworth in Doncaster: South Yorkshire engineers solving local challenges. The new bridge replaced the battered 1897 original, seen here in March 2013:
Moving on the walk took the group through the remains of Skiers Spring Colliery, now a rather confused series of demolished buildings and dumped mounds which have become overgrown runs for off-road bikers and the odd dog-walker.
In amongst the rubble and spoil were a couple of intriguing fenced in capped shafts.
Moving through the remains of Skiers Spring colliery, the group passed the Lidgett garage building, the much-altered survivor of Lidgett Colliery which operated from around 1883-1911, taking over from earlier ironstone mining and re-using the same shafts.
A Bird of Prey by the Motorway: a tale of Tankersley
Moving on across Sheffield Road, the footpath crosses from Hoyland into Tankersley parish. The group passed further concrete-capped shafts. Here the landscape changes again – into a mixture of lumpy woodlands surrounded by open agricultural fields – themselves hiding the mixed history of this land, which includes post-war opencast coal mining. Walking on the remains of the Tankersley Hall come into view:
The ruins are a powerful reminder of former glories – a mansion house in the centre of a medieval deer park, one which was encroached upon by ironstone working and coal mining. The ruins themselves live longest perhaps in the world of cinema – the 1969 film Kes, directed by Ken Loach and based on the 1968 novel A Kestrel for a Knave by the late Barry Hines. Ironically, though fictional, the film has become something of a historical document in itself – capturing several industrial scenes which have now vanished from the landscape – such as shots of the Skiers Spring Colliery at work.
Writing in 1856 Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth (1817-1890) described the area:
From Park Gate, near Rotherham, over Lord Fitzwilliam’s fine property of Wentworth, to Tankersley, and on to the west of Barnsley, may be traced in succession many of the more important bassets of ironstone, the value of which, added to a particular method of working, has imparted a strange aspect to the surface, which is reflected in the well-executed shading of the Ordnance map.[…]
The result of the belling, and the open work which not uncommonly accompanies it, is to leave long lines of irregular holes and pits, often so considerable as to unfit the land to agriculture, and to induce the planting of belts of trees. The ironstone bind or shale appears not to be prejudicial to their growth, and the strips of plantation thus offer to the eye, even from a distance, a clue to the arrangement of the strata beneath the surface.
Smyth, W.W., ‘Iron ores of the Northern and North-Midland Counties of England’, in Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, London: 1856, pp.33-34
Remains of the ironstone workings are still to be found all around us in Tankersley. From the golf course, around to the Church and on towards Skiers Spring, there are distinctive mounds which betray the workings. The mounds general consist of large amounts of spoil, in this case the tiny gray shale which was mined with the ironstone nodules. The shale gives way from time to time, and long-veiled mounds reveal the stone rubbish beneath:
Something which certainly has not vanished from the landscape, and very much defines it to this day, is the M1 – specifically the Tankersley section around Junction 36. Built between 1966-1968, the engineers encountered hundreds of bell pits from ironstone working, as well as shallow coal workings. The motorway obliterated much industrial history from the map, and divided Hoyland from Tankersley in a way which is hard to appreciate given the flow of miners back and forth during the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries.
Rounding off the tour, as the group turned up Black Lane, under the M1, and approached St Peter’s, Tankersley, the parish church. Here, perhaps appropriately, can be found the gravestones of many individuals connected to ironstone and coal mining, as well as the iron trades in the Nineteenth century.
Sunset in Wakefield: In Memory of John Goodchild
As this post was being finished, the sad news reached us of the death, aged 81, of Mr John Goodchild, of Wakefield. Mr Goodchild (1935-2017)was a significant local historian and local studies archivist, gathering and annotating a vast collection of material over more than 40 years. To mining history enthusiasts his name was familiar as a regular contributor to British Mining, though his knowledge and writings touched on all aspects, religious, social and industrial, of life in the West Riding of Yorkshire and beyond. He will be missed by a wide circle of friends and colleagues, and not least by the Unitarian congregation of his beloved Westgate Chapel.
The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery themselves have benefited from Mr Goodchild’s knowledge and irreplaceable collections which he kindly made available when we began work on the history of Hemingfield pit, Elsecar and the industrial undertakings on Earl Fitzwilliam’s estate.