For the last open day weekend in September, the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery gathered in numbers. Site Manager Glen was joined by Friends Chair Steve, and regular volunteers Nigel, Alan, John, together with John, Phil, Chris, Mike and another Phil – a very full crew.
Neat and Tidy
The first order of the day was catching up on the huge amount of clearance work carried out over the last month with the help of our regular volunteers and the fantastic junior soldiers from Army Foundation College in Harrogate.
First had been the clearing of the pit top area under the headgear. Opening up this space widens out the view over the lower terrace and down over the Elsecar Heritage Railway line, across the basin to the canal. It also provides a bigger area for us to host events and gather visitors and volunteers on site.
Of course, to make the space, the team had had to move the old faithful – the caravan of courage, the mobile miners’ welfare, the erm, you get the idea.
Looking across the top yard, apart from the last few tree stumps, the majority of the spoil, the demolished boundary wall, has been cleared and is almost leveled off again.
Nowhere is more clearly the case than on the old ramp, leading down from the top to the old pumping shaft. Here the full width of the ramp is now visible and, more importantly, more usable to the Friends.
It’s taken a huge amount of volunteer work over the last three years to reclaim this much of the site, but it is wonderful to see, and to give thanks to all those who have turned up on open days, given their time to dig, shovel, barrow, chat, share stories and support the work of the Friends.
Stacking the odds in our favour
As ever, some of the volunteers decided to make a dent in the piles of bricks which had been removed from the demolition rubble over the last month and were in need of a little TLC (truly learnéd chipping) before they could join the ranks of the reclaimed neatly stacked and ready for reuse. The chipping and stacking went on throughout the day and it can clearly be seen that we have stacks of bricks. Literally.
Building on the industrial archaeological work on site from previous weekends, one team of volunteers on site descended to the lower terrace, behind the winding engine house to continue the excavation of the features there.
The crew got to work removing earth from inside the brick feature, and peeling back the layers at the base of the sandstone winding engine house.
The excavation here started to reveal a number of interesting features during the day. A further piece of flat wire winding rope was among the finds, but the physical features were the most exciting thing to emerge.
When the excavation of the brick-lined pit was completed, a small hole was uncovered – whether a fixing point, or perhaps a pipe drainage hole remains to be seen, but it certainly drains down around 8 feet at least.
More intriguing still, by the side of the winding engine house wall, the line of the original foundation stones, a sandstone lip, emerged and with it an opening in the wall. Removing a further layer of soil revealed an iron pipe, with a four-holed flange plate. The pipe disappears into a hole in the foundation wall. Its precise purpose is not yet known, but it does not appear to connect to any existing modern features within the building itself, form the electrification of the winding engine, and suggests it belongs to the coal working period of the colliery’s operation.
Other features further explored include a strange curving wall, built without a foundation, below the level of the large paving stones which are absent next to the winding engine house and clearly disturbed/removed at the brick pit feature.
A modern feature, a drain made of several pipe sections and capped with a earthenware gutter was more clearly revealed. At first this seems confusing since it disappears beneath what was at first thought to be the old stone paving, but comparing the stonework between the drain and the retaining wall, it is clear that this has been raised and relaid in the region of the drain.
Recording these features, and trying to explain their date and possible function was the source of much discussion during the day. With reference to our archives and discussions with mining historians and archaeologists, the Friends hope to be able to describe and explain the development of the colliery site.
Finally facing our Waterloo
As the day wore on, and excavations concluded on the lower level, further clearance took place on the rubble mound by the ramp. Extracting full bricks to add to the chipping pile, this hillock of debris is now looking much more manageable, and is starting to reveal features of its own.
This time they are ones for which we have photographic evidence from the last thirty years or so, thanks to the foresight of one of our regular volunteers, Alan.
A brick structure is clearly visible in a shot of the site from c.1980:
And, as you may have guessed, dear readers, it was indeed a brick water closet:
Full of surprises
Even at the end of the day, new discoveries were being made. As we reached the end of the working party and open day, we have more questions to answer and can see real progress reclaiming the site.