Happy Birthday to the Friends!
On Saturday 24th June, The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery gathered at the pit to celebrate the 3rd anniversary of the date that the Friends finally received the keys to the site and could begin the journey which has brought us all to where we are today.
To be sure there’s a long journey still ahead of us, but this weekend was a great opportunity to get together, do a little work, share some updates, but mostly to celebrate the results of the hours of volunteering, the physical work on site, the tireless historical research, and the great community engagement events we’ve been delighted to share in.
First things first… Hands on work
The celebrations began by continuing our usual hard graft on site. The regular volunteers Alan, John and Chris had been bolstered early doors by the Peak adventurers John, Chris and Phil.
The former group concentrated on brick reclamation, whilst the latter took their tools and keen digging eyes down to the lower terrace to continue the industrial archaeology of the intriguing brick and stone features at the rear of the 1840s winding engine house.
Digging into the past; planning for the future
Up on top level, by the headgear, the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery Directors, Glen, Christine, Ian and Chair Steve held a catch up meeting and discussed the group’s plans for the rest of the year, and feedback received from attending local events such as the Barnsley History Day, and the stakeholders meeting for the Elsecar Heritage Action Zone, before joining the other volunteers in the work on site. They were joined by Iain Nicholls, local artist and creator of the Hemingfield Colliery virtual reality experience.
Pausing for a cuppa, the Peak adventurers and brick-squad gathered by the headgear and sat in the summer sun, discussing progress and reflecting on 3 years of change at the site.
Reporting back from the digging, it is clear that a significant amount of the stove work floor of the lower level remains under the top layer of soil and debris. In the centre a strange brick-lined hope was emerging. When partly excavated by the end of the day, the bottom of the pit appeared to be lined to prevent water ingress, though reference to a photograph from 1920 doesn’t yet seen to shed much light on what this could be…an ash pit?
As is now traditional, the Friends prepared a barbecue to celebrate the anniversary of first taking possession of the site. This year was no different, but first the lighting of the coals!
As the charcoals warmed through, more volunteers and supporters arrived, including Glenda and Ivy. Glenda has taken a lead in investigating the social history of the colliery and surrounding community, together with Phil, she has personally transcribed Census data for Hemingfield from 1841-1911, and the results of this work are leading to a number of new insights into the diversity of the local populations, both in terms of occupations, but also origins. Undoubtedly the canal trade and later the coming of the railway have much to do with this as the iron and ironstone industries of the area generated and sustained huge demand for Elsecar coal. Hemingfield pit, as Elsecar Low Colliery played an important role in feeding the demands both local and distant.
With the barbecue up to temperature, and victuals, including skewers, sausages and burgers ready and waiting, the celebrations began by the winding engine house.
Surrounding us, the sights and sounds of the now post-industrial valley; summer sun shining down, the barbecue sizzling away, and the regular rhythm of a steam engine from Elsecar Heritage Railway carrying footplate experience participants back and forth up and down the Elsecar Heritage Railway.
All things considered, as the Friends raised a glass to the progress to date, they had a lot to be thankful for, and the group are excited about the future of the area, and the opportunities the HAZ and Great Places schemes can bring to Elsecar and Wentworth. We look forward to playing our full part in those developments, and encourage anyone interested to join us in helping to bring that about.