Open Day and working party weekend, 28th October 2017

Busy by Nature

The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery gathered at the pit on Saturday 28th October to continue work in tidying the site. Opening the gates was Director and Site Manager Glen, together with Friends Chair Steve.

They were joined by regular volunteers John, Mike and Chris on what was a steady day’s exertion in pursuit of stump removal.

War on two fronts

Hawthorn and Ash, Cherry and Elder, Willow and Birch – the names are legion of the self-setting trees, mostly broad-leafed, which had taken over the site from the 1980s onwards. With excellent progress in opening out the top yard between the old winding engine house and the switchgear building, three years on from first entering the yard, the remaining stumps may be few in number, but remain formidable in their resistance.

Tasked with removing some of the trickiest leftovers, the crew collected their tools, and split into two groups to remove a Hawthorn stump near the fence, and a couple of large trunks right by the Wath Road boundary wall.

1  stump to the left and 2 stumps to the right

Glen and Steve took on the hydra-hawthorn, with John and Mike prospecting the two boundary-hugging stumps. Chris shuttled between the two camps and willfully tickled the roots from time to time. The mattock, pick, spades and shovels were in evidence and morale was high as the lines were drawn.

Haw-thorn Ridge: battle commenced

It was not long into the fray that the trusty winch was called into action – the thickest stump of all being the anchor to lift the lighter loads. Success in lifting a smaller stump followed swiftly thereafter and so the troops moved on to the next objective by the wall.

Digging for victory is one thing, successfully locating tap roots quite another, and so the tussle continued, digging and winching, until resistance began to give way. The tug of war tested nerves and sinews, as well as leading to repeated tactical discussions, further reconnaissance and sallies to weaken the resolve of the enemy.


Winch: what is it good for? Quite a lot, actually.

A long campaign

Back on the, let’s say Eastern front,  Glen and Steve had to dig deeper still. The Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is a hardy tree, to be sure, and the campaign called in extra support as the day drew on.

Given the entrenched opposition, a little light winching was brought into play to ease the advance. Being rooted by the retaining concrete wall made it difficult to get at the roots so progress was inching forward, though conditions remained fair to good throughout as the weather belied its autumn colours.

Haw-lift: Special Ops at Hemingfield

Pausing for a break, and to give an ad hoc tour of the site to a group of most welcome visitors, the winch was swapped back to the other wall. Combat being underway simultaneously on both fronts, and prosecuted with vigour.

The battle raged on for some time during the early afternoon. The volunteers’ dauntless esprit de corps undiminished throughout, and reinforced by the lunchtime rations. Although the Hawthorn stumps, minus some tap roots, survived to fight another day, the largest stump by the wall was eventually lifted clear, to cheers and general rejoicing.

Success! the Wath Road Boundary wall last-bastion had fallen

After concluding operations for the day, the Friends, gathered their tools and departed the field of battle.

…And now for something almost completely different.

Tale of the Century

The end of October 2017 is a good time to pause for some historical reflection. The time was one of crisis for the nation – a country and whole world at war. The effects and impact of that conflict, including the involvement of Barnsley miners in general is a theme to which we shall return over the next year as we commemorate the 1914-18 conflict.

Nevertheless, more mundane events also bring about changes, and in this respect 100 years ago, on the 31st October 1917, an apparently innocuous report was prepared, being addressed to the South Yorkshire Coal Owners Association.

Entitled ‘Rise water in the Rotherham District: from Rawmarsh to Elsecar and Hoyland’, it was hardly a bestseller,  but it was an important analysis of the economic and engineering challenges facing the contemporary coal industry in South Yorkshire, and a milestone in beginning an organised approach to managing the flooding of abandoned mine workings which could threaten future operations.

Prepared by local mining engineers C. E. Rhodes & Sons, it was written by Charles Edward Rhodes, of Rotherham.


Charles Edward Rhodes (1849-1920) Consulting Mining and Civil Engineer

Setting the scene, the report began:

Some time ago we were instructed by you to report with reference to the question of the Rise Water which has been dealt with for many years by Earl Fitzwilliam. but which, in consequence pf the exhaustion of his Barnsley Seam, will in the immediate future have to be dealt with by some other body, or be allowed to flow to the deep to the detriment of collieries lying in that direction.

C.E.Rhodes copy report book, March 1917-Dec 1918, p.143 (Courtesy, Private collection)

Giving historical context to the issue, the report also provides crucial technical information about Hemingfield Colliery and its operations at that time:

For over 130 years the Earls Fitzwilliam have worked their own coal in the Barnsley Seam at various pits between Rawmarsh and Hoyland[…] from the outcrop to a depth of approximately 350 yards. […]

A considerable quantity of water find its way in at the outcrop, and is intercepted by a series of levels and pumping stations. […]

3. The third engine is at Hemingfield Colliery, and was erected 70 or 80 years ago, and works a 15″ bucket lift and 3 rams from a depth of 157 yards. This engine can also work 10 strokes a minute, and the quantity pumped is 500 gallons per minute throughout seven days per week, or 30,000 gallons per hour.

The water from the Old Jump, Vizard’s, Blacker, and possibly Worsboro’ Park Pits, is prevented from flowing to the deep into the Wombwell Main Colliery and Cortonwood Colliery by a down-throw fault of about 40 yards to the North-east, which runs from the neighbourhood of Blacker slightly to the deep of Hemingfield Pit until it runs out between that colliery and Stubbin dip workings.

C.E.Rhodes copy report book, March 1917-Dec 1918, pp.143-145

Alluding to the stoppage of Barnsley seam workings, and the cessation of pumping in these pits which would follow on, the conclusion warned:

…eventually the whole of the water would find its way to still further to the dip against Darfield Main, Wath Main, Houghton Main, Hickleton Main Denaby Main, and Dalton Main, and so forth, in fact it is not putting the case too strongly to say that practically every colliery in South Yorkshire will ultimately be affected.

C.E.Rhodes copy report book, March 1917-Dec 1918, p.147

This report then marked the start of a managed approach to preventing loss of old workings filling with rise water; the report led to the creation a year later of the South Yorkshire Pumping Association of 15 collieries, and led to the purchase of three pumping stations from Earl Fitzwilliam:

  1. Westfield – in Rawmarsh
  2. Elsecar
  3. Hemingfield

– together with the water courses which sustained them, preventing rise water threatening active coal workings below the level of the abandoned Barnsley coal seam. 

Without this report, the future of Hemingfield Colliery and its surviving buildings would have been very different indeed, and it is debatable whether the Elsecar Newcomen engine we now all admire and celebrate would have been secured for the future.

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