Sunday 18th June was a scorcher. As the longest day drew near, the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery gathered their display materials, leaflets, booklets and badges and headed in to Barnsley town centre. The destination, the beautiful 1933 listed town hall building, whose white Portland stone facade was resplendent against the bright blue sky.
On arriving, the Friends headed up to the reception rooms, where they found Darfield artist Iain Nicholls already getting his Virtual Reality kit ready for another day of VR Hemingfield Colliery experiences.
Just after 11a.m., the Mayor of Barnsley, Cllr Jeff Ennis welcomed visitors to the day and emphasized the pride local people take in sharing the heritage of their area, and the work of history groups in researching the past.
The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery were pleased to have a display at the event, with Directors Glen and Christine and regular volunteer Chris on hand to greet visitors and share the history and activities of the Friends group, as well as meeting fellow heritage volunteers and local history groups from around the region.
On such a warm day the Friends were fortunate to have a balcony window position with a gentle breeze and a great view out of the front of the town hall, across to the war memorial and down on the gardens.
The Friends were kept busy during the day from 11am-3pm as visitors attended the public talks in the Council Chamber, and walked across to the reception rooms to discover more about Barnsley’s history.
Providing a modern twist on our heritage, the Friends directed visitors to the virtual reality experience next to the FoHC table.
Young and old took advantage of the opportunity to don the headset, headphones and controllers and to be taken back to a serene day at the pit in 1902.
The Friends took time to greet fellow heritage groups and learn more about the great range of voluntary groups dedicated to researching and recording the past. In particular, we were pleased to see our friends from the Barnsley Main Heritage Group who had brought their wonderful new display boards and materials, supported by the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership.
We also took time out to talk to members of the Cawthorne Victoria Jubilee Museum, the South Yorkshire Industrial History Society and the Hunter Archaeological Society, and our near neighbours, the Wombwell Heritage Group, amongst others.
Pride in prose and virtue in verse
At the end of the day, the Friends were delighted to meet Barnsley poet, journalist and playwright Ian McMillan, and thank him for his support for Hemingfield Colliery, both through his poem printed in our booklet on the 1852 Hemingfield Colliery disaster, and also on his wonderful narration on life and work underground as part of our virtual reality experience.
Ian is a busy writer and regular broadcaster, currently helming BBC Radio 3 show The Verb. Having written and performed many poems relating to Yorkshire. His last prose book Neither Nowt Nor Summat: In Search of the Meaning of Yorkshire is a celebration of our region, from his native village of Darfield, to the county’s great cities of Leeds, Bradford and York.
As 3pm came around, the time came to pack up and head home. The Friends had an enjoyable day, and were pleased to meet a steady flow of visitors and introduce them to the history of the colliery, but also share the exciting opportunities of the Elsecar Heritage Action Zone, and work with our friends at Elsecar Heritage Railway. We look forward to taking the display and curtail reality experience to other events as the summer progresses.