A Warm welcome
The Friends gathered for a surprisingly bright and pleasant day at Hemingfield Colliery, with autumn leaves gathering at the gate. Site Manager Glen was joined by regular volunteers Nigel, Alan, John, Keith and Chris as the first open day and working party in October got underway.
After greeting the squad, and catching up on the last few weeks’ activities on site and off, the crew split into two teams:
i) archaeology: digging deeper down below
ii) chipology: cleaning up and stacking the brick pile up top.
Leading the way on the industrial archaeological front was Nigel, picking up where last month’s open day left off, and continuing to remove spoil around the features previously exposed next to the foundation of the winding engine house.
Throughout the day, the gradual work of peeling back the layers of debris and muck slowly but surely exposed the features.
The level being excavated is by the foot of the winding engine house wall, a part of the building which originally contained the winding drum for the main headgear, and which was framed in timber on three sides. The drum house covered the flat winding ropes which can be seen in this bill engraving from the 1880s:
In 1937 this part of the winding engine house, together with the pumping shaft side was reconstructed in brick. What remains on the stone and brickwork are remnants of pipe mounting blocks, holes, and marks, all ghosts from the pits past. Below the ground surface on the lower level there is a mixture of nineteenth an twentieth century building work, as well as lots of rubbish, or spoil, earth, mixed with clinker, and coal. The different deposits often show up as distinct layers or patches of different colours, as can be glimpsed in the section of the excavation.
The precise function of the brick walled pit inserted into the stone paving is unclear. It has a poured concrete base, suggesting it is a later addition, from the pumping station days, but it is surrounded by apparently older features, odd alignments of bricks. Brushing away the loose soil, and recording the features is a slow process, but really makes everyone pause to marvel just how complicated the different phases of use, re-use, non-use and re-use (again) can be to interpret, and begin to understand.
Light and bright
Meanwhile, ‘up top’, sizing up the collected, but as yet uncleaned piles of bricks, the volunteers gathered suspected the remnants could be cleaned up with one big push. Heavy brick hammers, blunted cold chisels and flashing picks in hand, and with the prospect of a sunny lunch accompanied by dazzling wit on tap,they set to it.
Never let it be said we don’t like a challenge at Hemingfield. If only the bricks were as hardy as the chippers.
At the day’s end, the piles of bricks had been cleaned up and stacked; hundreds of the things, all reclaimed by hand and carefully piled up, a veritable wall in waiting, or waiting room wall, who can say.
At the end of the afternoon, with digging and chipping winding down, the Friends once once rallied to keep the pit looking spick and span inside and out. With a brush, rake, shovel, barrow and big blue bag to hand, the pavement outside the pit entrance was cleared of leaves and rubbish, presenting a clean cheek to the passers by.