The end of the year cometh, but so do the volunteers! On a cold, but beautifully light December morning at Hemingfield, the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery were delighted to welcome the regular volunteers to the pit to mark the last Open day of 2017; to celebrate the Christmas vacation ahead, and reflect on a busy and rewarding year for the Friends and the whole area.
But first, on with the discoveries!
Picking up from where we left off on the last Open Day, there was an air of anticipation on site as the industrial archaeology continued around the back of the winding engine house. Previously the Friends and volunteers had laboured away and unearthed two sets of coal tub (or corf) wheels, still on their axles. This weekend, we displayed them in the open air so we could see the features and alignment.
Side view of corf wheels, showing that the axle boxes are external to the wheel, rather than inside. Very little of the rotten woodwork remains , though the metal pins, two to each wheel, show remains of timber.
Returning to the dig area, Friends Chair Steve, Site Manager Glen, regular volunteers Nigel, Alan, John, Keith, Paul and Chris formed a good team, of core excavators, together with spoil and debris-shifters; all re-usable stone and brick being reclaimed and stacked ready for future reuse, as always.
View of dig activity on lower terrace to the rear of the winding engine house
With the discovery of the tub wheels coming just as the Friends had been intending to close activity at the rear of the site, plan had to be revised, and some of the stone and ironwork previously unearthed needed moved out of the way; equally the trench being dug needed to be extended in order to safely take the digging down to a common level.
Digging in and around the location of the excavated tub axles, everyone was hoping that there might be more remaining elements of the whole tub, enough perhaps for us to be able to determine the use of the tub, its age, and potentially enough features to allow a detailed reconstruction with accurate gauge, height and width.
After carefully removing several layers of spoil, with brick rubble and demolition stonework intermingled, Nigel gently uncovered the base of what looked very much like a coal tub. At the side of the trench, by the foundation stones of the stone engine house, there also emerged a fascinating and bright row of bricks, as though a void or cavity existed under what we previously thought to be the bottom of the Victorian winding engine house.
Continuing the digging throughout the morning, the light held good, and everyone was pleased to see more of what we hoped to find – the remains of a tub base:
The remains of the base of the coal tub show a strong central iron shaft, with iron rods cross-bracing, and at least at one end, what might be a forged ring for coupling the tubs together in a train.
Speaking of trains, Hemingfield Colliery is blessed with prime views of the Elsecar Heritage Railway line, and December saw the EHR crews running their fantastic festive train trips, the mince pie trains and Santa Specials. It was great to see the steam engine pulling carriages full of families and a special passenger at the rear of the train.
After a busy day’s digging, shovelling, barrowing, stacking and tipping, it was time for a mince pie, and refreshments of choice to celebrate the year; to wish everyone a great holiday period, and to look forward to what 2018 might hold. Christine, Friends Director of Volunteering and Community Engagement rolled out a bundle of treats and good cheer as work was winding down for 2017. Everyone agreed the year had gone well, and looked forward to further discoveries in the new year, hopefully without to much of the white stuff when they would be returning in January.
2017 – in Review
Looking back 2017 has been a busy and productive one for the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery, as too for the area in which it finds itself. The joint challenges of conserving the remaining heritage, and progressing our research into the history of the colliery, its landscape, and surrounding area, have both seen significant advances this past year.
The completion of the vital roof repairs and restoration on our historic winding engine house was a fantastic way to launch us into the year and a much needed boost for the physical condition of our Victorian colliery building, thanks to the generosity of the Association for Industrial Archaeology, Subterranea Britannica, and the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership.
Huge thanks to:
Starting from a low-point in 2016, when daylight and downpours were streaming in:
The rotten wood joints and battens were repaired or replaced, the slate roof was carefully removed for reuse, with new-to-us Welsh slate for the broken parts.
All around appropriate materials were used, and the guttering and drain pipework was fixed. You can read more about the roof restoration project here.
New Partnerships – The Elsecar Heritage Railway
The 8th April 2017 was an extraordinary day for the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery. That was the day we joined our friends from the Elsecar Heritage Railway, the amazing volunteers and enthusiasts who manage and maintain the Coalfield Memorial Line, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on working together in partnership to develop the railway line and the colliery together – reflecting their original close working relationship as the means of exporting Elsecar’s coal down the mineral line of the South Yorkshire Coal Railway in March 1850.
The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery were represented by the Chair Steve Grudgings and Director of Volunteering and Community Engagement Christine Cameron, together with Director and Site Manager Glen Sheppard. The Elsecar Heritage Railway were represented by EHR Chairman Andrew Earl.
Partners: FoHC and EHR commit to work together for mutual benefit (Photo credit: Keith Whitaker)
The groups were joined by a great contingent of junior soldiers, from Burma Company of the Army Foundation College. Joining forces with Elsecar Heritage Railway, the junior soldiers have done a great amount of volunteer hours on the railway, especially ballasting and realigning the Cortonwood extension track. They have also erected trackside fences ready for when the railway is ready to run down to Cortonwood.
The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery have also benefitted from the junior soldiers time and hard work as these shots from the summer of 2017 show. The guys and girls from Harrogate AFC have much to be proud of, and the Friends and volunteers were pleased to have the chance to work with motivated young people who care about their surroundings and are keen to get stuck in. our thanks to the AFC and our EHR colleagues.
Securing the Site
As well as the discovery and excitement of archaeology, plenty of more mundane, but essential work has also been done on site. Some of the most important work this past year has been in securing the site’s boundaries, in order to prevent theft or vandalism. This is relatively rare, thankfully, but the damage of the years of abandonment need to be made good, and erecting secure fencing around the site has been a big job.
The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery are conscious that there is life beyond our own own wonderful little site. The local area is full of natural and industrial wonders. However, like many area, it does have its share of litter and careless people. Because of this, and as part of helping to improve the local environment, the Friends have been pleased to join others from the local community, working closely with the Tidy Team from Barnsley Council, in getting out in Elsecar and down to the canalside to collect discarded litter and junk.
Remembering our Mining Heritage
For mining historians and local families 2017 was an important year, commemorating England’s worst colliery disaster, the Oaks Colliery Disaster which occurred in 1866 commemorating at least 383 men and boys killed in a series of gas explosions underground. The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery attended the unveiling of the compelling new statue at Church Street in Barnsley town centre. Sculpted and cast under the supervision of artist Graham Ibbeson the new statue records the loss of the working men and its impact on the families. For further details of the memorial, the disaster and the impressive fundraising campaign conducted to make it possible, please see the Oaks 1866 website.
Researching the past
We could not leave this year without acknowledging the academic achievement of our friend and volunteer, Nigel Cavanagh who completed his PhD thesis on the history and development of the industrial community in and around Elsecar. His thesis, entitled Industrialising Communities: A Case Study of Elsecar Circa 1750-1870 was completed at the University of Sheffield and the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery congratulate Dr Cavanagh on his achievement!
His thesis can be viewed online from the White Rose Etheses Online service here, and we look forward to his forthcoming paper Cottages and the Country House: Power, Paternalism and Protest in Elsecarbeing published in the Review of Industrial Archaeology.
A completely new and fascinating aspect of the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery’s work has been in the creative arts, and in particular the appliance of the new technology of Virtual Reality, with improved headsets to be able to recreate an immersive recreation of the pit at the turn of the Twentieth Century.
Led by artist and designer Iain Nicholls, the VR experience of Hemingfield pit, used photographic and documentary references to replicate details of the headgear, pit-tip buildings, and the experience of being dropped into the darkness of the pit shaft, with nothing more than a miner’s lamp to guide you. Funded by the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership, the artist was able to add an underground tour environment where people can interact with the coal and objects underground, with an educational journey narrated by Barnsley’s very own Bard, Ian McMillan.
Stepping into the past is quite an experience, and we were delighted to be able to share the VR tour with the wider public on a number of occasions during the year.
One such occasion was at the Visitors’ Centre of the Elsecar Heritage centre. Alongside a collection of mining memorabilia and materials depicting the development of mining at Hemingfield and Elsecar, visitors could take the opportunity of meeting the artist, Iain Nicholls and trying out the virtual visit to Hemingfield as it appeared c. 1900.
Sharing the Stories
Meeting people beyond our own site is a critical part of the public engagement and fundraising work of the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery. Thoughout 2017 the FoHC attended a number of public and local community events, to meet visitors and share with them the history and opportunities available in Hemingfield, as well as making new connections with other local history, community and volunteering groups – events include Barnsley History Day, Milton Gala, Elsecar by the Sea, and the Heritage Open Days, alongside our regular open day visits.
The Friends are extremely fortunate to have a wide range of skills and interests among their current and growing volunteer base. Technical skills and physical work are much appreciated on site, but the creative talents of friends and supporters are also amazing to behold and share. Launching the artistic exploration of the colliery, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to artist Amanda Willoughby whose beautifully detailed illustrations have brought a new eye to the often forgotten wild plant life inhabiting our former colliery site.
Learn more about Amanda’s beautiful artwork and her Coal, Collapse and Colonisation project on her website here.
Another artistic eye has cast new light on the pit yard, coming from Iain Nicholls‘s vivid colours. His smart and large paintings on canvas and aluminium strike the eye and cause us to look once more at the odd corners and forgotten buildings of the site.
2017 HAZ been good
March 2017 saw the anouncement of Elsecar as being designated as one of of Historic England’s Heritage Action Zones, or ‘HAZ’s. Drawing on the skills, experience and connections of Historic England, the HAZ’s goals are very much in tune with the aims of the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery, i.e.
- Improve understanding of the village’s heritage, which is largely hidden, extending the visitor experience to include important archaeological sites.
- Bring historic buildings back into use, providing offices and retail units.
- Encourage local people and community groups to get involved in the village’s development – to help them forge new skills, provide rewarding experiences and raise awareness and pride in Elsecar’s heritage.
taken from Historic England’s HAZ webpage for Elsecar
The HAZ scheme, comes together well with the saving of Wentworth Woodhouse by the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust, and the award of monies for emergency repairs, especially to the roof and drainage, which were underway at the end of 2017. Added to this both Elsecar and Wentworth have been awarded funds from Arts Council England as part of their Great Places Scheme. This brings Barnsley and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Councils together to increase levels of engagement in culture, to tackle social issues using powerful heritage stories to reignite local pride and ambition especially among local young people.
Taken together, the end of 2017 sees the heritage of our area, and its connections to the wider community stronger than ever before. Our site, our friends, partners and the wider local population have a lot to be excited about!
Thanks to everyone who made 2017 fun, funny and fascinating to behold! Here’s to a wonderful 2018.