February 2018

Events, and more events

February was a very full month for the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery. Events on site and off it filled out the usually short and wintry month, and gave us plenty of news and images to share as we look back on a busy few weeks.

‘Strata: Structures, Transformation and Solidarity’. Experience Barnsley

On 3rd February 2018 Members of the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery were pleased to attend the launch event for ‘Strata’ – a new exhibition at Experience Barnsley: Museum & Discovery Centre in Barnsley town centre.

The exhibition, whose full title is ‘Strata: Structures, Transformation and Solidarity‘, by artists Jacob Cartwright and Nick Jordan, is described ‘an exploration of the social, cultural, industrial and natural histories underpinning the region’s former coal mining landscape and communities’.

Strata exhibition (Photo credit: Christine Cameron)

Combining video, sound, artwork and fabrics reflecting the heritage of mining, community and protest, the exhibition reworked mining banners, displayed old working clothes and presented enigmatic images of the post-industrial landscape, exploring how pride of place still shines through in the absence of the working places which formerly covered the area.

In developing material for the exhibition, the artists Jacob and Nick had visited Hemingfield Colliery some time ago, in May 2017. They carried out filming at Hemingfield and sat down to talk to Friends’ Directors Glen and Christine during their time on site. Glen and Christine had spoken of their memories and personal experiences relating to coal mining in Barnsley, and the past and future plans for Hemingfield Colliery itself.

Visitors admiring artwork at the exhibition (Photo credit: Christine Cameron)

The Friends were delighted to attend the opening events and walk around the exhibition to see the range of work, including catching glimpses of the familiar sight of Hemingfield’s headgear.

The exhibition space, combining physical artworks and video projections – one featuring Hemingfield’s headgear (Photo: Christine Cameron)

Opening event for Strata exhibition at Barnsley (Photo credit: Christine Cameron)

Glen and Christine were proud to have made contributions to the film and the wider exhibition. Strata continues until 11th April 2018.

Elsecar: A village begins to reveal its secrets

On the evening of Thursday 8th February, Barnsley Museums and Historic England opened the doors of the Ironworks at Elsecar Heritage Centre to invite local people and groups to a very special event, A village begins to reveal its secrets.

The event was an official gathering to provide some initial information on the progress of the Heritage Action Zone work which has been happening in and around Elsecar. Alongside representatives from the Council and Historic England, a number of local community, history and heritage groups were invited to attend, including the Friends of Hemingfield. Local enterprises were also in attendance in what made for a great evening to meet lots of local contacts all excited to hear what the Elsecar HAZ work had discovered thus far.

Exploring the stands – guests visit the tables with representatives from local community, heritage and commercial undertakings.

Local people talk to Historic England about the Elsecar Heritage Action Zone and the work of Historic England all across England.

Among the tables was Tegwen Roberts, the Elsecar HAZ Project Officer, and alongside was a fascinating display from Barnsley Archives, with the town’s archivist Paul Stebbing on hand to show some treasures on Elsecar – including an 1839 journal for Elsecar Old Colliery, and a wonderful coloured image of the building details of the chimney of Elsecar Main.

Visiting the displays – Paul Stebbing and Barnsley Archives on the left with Tegwen Roberts and the Elsecar HAZ display on the right

A busy scene in the Ironworks at Elsecar – members of the local community and invited guests exploring a wonderful range of displays and tables from groups

The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery had a display of historic postcards and maps, together with some of the plans for future developments on site, including architect’s images of future uses of the main building.

Visitors discussing the FoHC display. Site Manager Glen sharing the Friends’ plans

Right next to the Friends was our own friends the Elsecar Heritage Railway who provided details of their services – footplate experiences and passenger services, as well as the plans for the further development of the extension of the line to Cortonwood. The Friend of Hemingfield Colliery caught up with the new Marketing Manager Oliver Edwards to celebrate the work going on in and around Elsecar. As part of the partnership signed last year the Friend look forward to working closely with the great group of volunteers and enthusiasts on the Railway.

The busy Elsecar Heritage Railway stand, with Oliver Edwards sharing the success of the line, and the opportunities available for the Coalfield Memorial Line.

Bringing together local heritage and community groups, local craft businesses, history enthusiasts, and authors, the event was a celebration of heritage. Other environmental and regional groups included Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership, the Trans Pennine Trail, and the new Great Place team for Wentworth and Elsecar also in attendance.

The Great Place programe is a joint scheme funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England, to create art and cultural events and activities which engage the local community, particularly young people. The Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar project bring together Barnsley and Rotherham Councils to focus on the unique attractions of the two villages, including their connection with Wentworth Woodhouse, home of the Earls Fitzwilliam, and now owned by the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust.
A small sample of the information, leaflets and promotional materials available on the night shows how much activity is happening in and around Elsecar:

Revealing the past

On to the main event of the evening – the presentations of the discoveries and progress of the Elsecar HAZ to date. Proceedings began with Barnsley Council welcoming everyone to the event and introducing the main Council representatives, officials and Councillors who have championed the work at Elsecar and were equally excited to hear the progress being made on the Elsecar HAZ project in its first year, beginning in March 2017. Lynn Dunning, Arts, Museums and Archives Manager for Barnsley Council began the speeches with a brief welcome and introduction to the programme.

Lynn Dunning welcoming guests to the event

Next the Mayor of Barnsley, Councillor Jeff Ennis reflected on the importance of Elsecar, and remembered the work of local councillors in pressing for the village to be conserved and recognised for its unique heritage.

Next Trevor Mitchell, Planning Director for Historic England spoke of the Heritage Action Zone programme from Historic England, formerly known as English Heritage. Elsecar was one of 10 zones in England given this unique designation and bringing Historic England’s expertise to bear in assessing the historic environment, buildings, and history as well as assisting in generating new economic activity in the area.

Trevor Mitchell from Historic England

The importance of the HAZ status for Elsecar was also echoed by the Leader of Barnsley Council, Councillor Sir Steve Houghton CBE, who shared his reflections on the work to date and his confidence in the possibilities of future developments in the village.

Dr John Tanner next stood up to introduce the work of experts from Historic England; architectural historian Dr Lucy Jessop and archaeologist Dave Went. Dr Tanner has been engaged in the work of preserving and developing the heritage at Elsecar for many years now, since working to establish the new Museum at Barnsley Town Hall, and seeing the conservation work on the Newcomen engine at Elsecar.

Dr John Tanner introducing Historic England’s experts on their recent work on Elsecar.

Dr Lucy Jessop from Historic England spoke in detail about her investigations of the architectural history of Elsecar. From Georgian housing designed by John Carr of York, through Elsecar’s Victorian expansion and industrial buildings, and through to pre-War and inter-war building schemes, with post-war prefabricated housing still standing and the new developments in the village. Elsecar contains an interesting array of building styles reflecting the story of this country. Reflecting on the warm welcome they received when walking around the village, Lucy was delighted to be sharing the first fruits of her research, the field work undertaken in the HAZ area, which has been divided into 7 parts each of which can be characterised by the buildings which it contains.

Dr Lucy Jessop, Senior Investigator at Historic England

David Went from Historic England provided a number of maps and aerial images to guide the audience through the archaeological assessment work which had taken place within the Elsecar HAZ area within the first months. The national geophysics team for Historic England, together with other archaeological teams had conducted ground penetrating radar, magnetometry and electrical resistive work to try and identify the subsurface remains of Elsecar and Milton Ironworks.

David Went, Senior Investigator for Historic England, on the archaeological investigations which have been performed and the work to come at Elsecar.

Finally, rounding off the talks for the evening, John Hamshere, Trustee of Barnsley Museums and Heritage Trust gave a personal insight into the importance of Elsecar, especially its hidden treasure, the Newcomen engine. In the HAZ programme, Elsecar has an opportunity to reveal the ways in which Elsecar presents the story of the industrial development of England; a national story seen in microcosm in the bounds of a village. John reviewed the developments since the restoration of the Newcomen engine, and also spoke about actions Barnsley Council now have in train to ensure the successful preservation of the character of the village, whilst fully exploring its history and the remains which are on the ground, and indeed beneath it.

John Hamshere on the Elsecar HAZ and what it means for the village and the whole area.

All in all, with well over a hundred people in attendance, many new connections were made and there was much excitement about the work Historic England and the HAZ project have completed to date. The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery were pleased to play their part and look forward to seeing the fruits of the HAZ work and reports as well as continuing to support it and hopefully achieve success for the area.

Working parties and washouts

Unfortunately, due to the poor weather conditions, we had to cancel the first working party in February. However on the 24th February we were blessed with great weather and blue skies.

Site Manager Glen welcomed regular volunteers Paul, John, Nigel, Alan and Chris to the site. Two main projects were to be completed today. Firstly the dig must go on – the developing excavation behind the winding engine house, where the Friends have removed tonnes of spoil apparently dumped into a void emerging in the ground.

Depth perception: steady progress in removing the spoil to reveal a boundary wall space

The digging, spoil barrow runs and ruble and stone separation workstreams continued once more as we hoped to find some clearer indication of what was going on in this part of the site.

Digging, barrowing, stone and rubble

Reverse angle looking across on the excavation site.

Nigel and Alan uncovered a large timber with metal pins though it. The timber was decayed, so the two used trowels to ease the process.

Careful excavation

The other target for the day was to secure the front wall. Unfortunately some recent vandalism had damaged the front wall, so some fencing and security measures were necessary to protect the integrity of the site. Swift work by the Friends has achieved this.

Newly erected fencing to protect the site

After a dedicated day’s labour, the Friends had removed a lot of spoil from the pit, and the features emerging were measured and recorded.

Careful recording of the excavation work

The star feature which has been revealed in this work is the full sequence of three high stone steps, brick risers with stone steps, nicely shaped, and showing profile of regular wear. These step emerging from the muck being excavated adds some human scale to this work, as well as raising intriguing questions as to the ultimate purpose of this flight of steps.

Three stone capped steps, with a bottom landing step. Neat features of an unknown pit feature around the rear of the winding engine house building.

What the friends are left with after the digging is still a mystery. We are consulting old photographs in our collections to see if we can interpret the features more clearly.

Closing the gates on the February working party, we bid our readers a brief goodbye – there’s lots more to come from Hemingfield!

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