Open Day and Working Party Weekend, 4th March 2017

Springtime?

Ominous clouds hung over the valley as the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery arrived to open up the gates at the start of another Open Day. 

Undaunted by the heavy rain of the day before, Site Manager Glen was joined by regular volunteers Alan, Nigel and John, followed by Chris as work got underway on the working party activities.

Nature’s reserve

Barrow, shovel and spade; mattock, pit and bar. Honest toil and choice phrases were the tools of the trade in removing the overburden around the sycamore stump whose hydra-esque remains continue to challenge the crew as they clear the rubble by the boundary wall on Wath Road. Digging out the base of this feisty acer pseudoplatanus is certainly steady work, but many hands make heavy barrows, so progress is being made. 

Radical solutions: digging the roots

Though certainly not from farming stock the gang also wrought a fair harvest of bricks, the rich seam of demolition from the old boundary wall, glimpsed here in better days thirty years ago.

Hemingfield pumping station around thirty years ago (Photo credit: Alan Hill)

Measure, record, repeat

Meanwhile on the lower terrace of the colliery, where the winding enginehouse looks down over the Elsecar Heritage Railway and the hidden beauty of the canal basin, volunteer Nigel continues the work of recording features of the buildings, measuring lengths, widths, heights and details of the stonework. 

Fieldwork, recording features

Reviewing progress with the stone blocks revealed beneath layers of esrth, the stone have been cleaned up and recorded, helping piece together indications of the phasing of the building on site.

Measured drawing

‘Til the clouds roll by

 By noon, the gray skies gave way to a beautiful blue sky, and as the sunshine shone down everyone on site was reminded that Spring was indeed in the air, and what better place to enjoy it than outdoors, here in the green and pretty valley from Hemingfield to Elsecar. 

The slate of the newly restored roof of the winding engine house was shining and the golden tones of the weathered sandstone masonry lifted the spirits on a warm, nay, balmy afternoon in this semi-rural spot. Lyrical reflections aside, it was a good time for a spot of lunch.

Beautiful sunny days at Hemingfield

After partaking of refreshments, a familiar sound was heard approaching: the march of a Sentinel. Elsecar Heritage Railway’s steam locomotive Gervase was in steam, the distinctive blue engine proceeding down the track from the Rockingham station at Elsecar Heritage Centre.

Sentinel steam loco Gervase in Elsecar Heritage Railway

On 26th March the Coalfield Memorial Line will be hosting a Sentinel Gala, celebrating road and rail Sentinel engines, produced by the eponymous firm, established in Glasgow in the 1870s, before settling in Shewsbury where road waggons and later steam locos would make them justly famous.

Voices from the Pit

With the prospect of the March budget statement, Brexit fallout, and demise of coal, discussion passed to the cost of living. Wages, earnings and rates.

Part of the ongoing historical research on the colliery and its employees is looking at the nature of the work done here, above and below ground. One insight into this can be found in the price lists agreed by employers and miners’ representatives. The Yorkshire Miners Association agreed standard rates in the late 1880s, in accordance with the variety of tasks the workforce was expected to perform. One such pricelist, amended to 1896, is seen below:

Yorkshire Miners Association, Price List for Elsecar collieries late 1890s (Courtesy Private Collection)

The rates and descriptions of different jobs sound almost poetic, having an earthy rhythm:

  • Getting
  • Tramming
  • Heading
  • Cutting
  • Ripping 
  • Putting
  • Dinting
  • Packing

 Mining coal, transporting it, creating new headings for more coal, packing the old waste materials in the mined areas, and fighting off nature’s preference to close up old roadways, these were all essential tasks, and the number of prices shows a perceived value to the operation, a reflection of skill and talent required, if not of toil expended.

We aim to research and learn more about many of these jobs, and the people who fulfilled them here at Hemingfield Colliery. Too often we focus solely on death and disaster; the sacrifices were all too often great, but thousands passed through the pit and had long and active lives, being sporty, artistic, political or musical. 

We are looking into how the group of workers worked as a team, how they were managed, and what kind of life the people led: part and parcel of the story of Elsecar, as well as much of the wider coalfield region.

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