The end of March 2018 was a wonderfully busy day on site with Friends Chair Steve, and Directors Glen and Christine welcoming regular volunteers Alan, Nigel, Paul, Keith and Chris during the morning.
The focus of the day was to finishing up excavation work at the rear of the winding engine house, continuing recording work on progress to date, and also permitting the working party to move on to other tasks on site as the Friends (and the country at large!) embrace warmer weather and the coming season of public events.
Spades of enthusiasm
Pick-ing up where previous open days left off, work at the rear of the winding engine house saw further amounts of demolition rubble being removed. From the modern surface level, the dumped material fill has largely consisted of several feet of earth, ash, and coal in amongst discarded bricks and stone. The bricks include unmarked and named material representing bricks found elsewhere on site – examples including EFW, Skiers Spring and Kilnhurst.
The sandstone masonry retrieved has been blocks with horizontal tooling characteristic of the Fitzwilliam estate’s own buildings, and matching other stonework extent in the oldest parts (c. 1843 onwards) of the winding engine house. Similar tooling is seen in the pit row cottages and many other buildings in and around Elsecar.
Prominent in the fill has been a large number of small corroded metal finds – mostly indistinct heavily oxidized ironwork, but also including broken small iron plate and rods as well as a number of cut-down pieces of flat winding rope. Several larger finds have also been encountered – including the pit tub axles and several larger pieces of timber, mostly badly decayed.
Continuing work recording the excavation area, volunteer Nigel helped direct the crew. Initial assessment suggests the excavated materials were dumped to fill in an inspection pit, complete with stone steps.
All hands were on deck to draw work on the area to a close. Equally the volunteers were keen to discuss different interpretations of the phases of development of this feature of the colliery site.
Rounding off this work, the fill in the corner was also excavated; troweling and shoveling the muck into buckets revealed more clearly the rougher work seen in likely late adjustments to site buildings, for instance the small areas with roughly mortared half bricks used to narrow an older opening in the stonework used for pipework.
As excavation proceeded reference to archive materials helped us understand more about the context of what we now find on the ground. Comparing details from a rare site demolition photograph from 1921 (part of the Beedan Collection) with our findings suggests the area of interest coincided with a tall vertical cylinder.
From this and other photographic and documentary sources, we know that the upper part of the winding engine was of significantly different construction than the dark red pressed bricks we see now – consisting of a timber-walled housing covering the winding rope drum for the main winding rope and coal winding headgear. The ropes in use at that period were still flat ropes, small pieces of which appeared in the fill of the inspection pit.
Further documentary evidence tells us that the timber drum house was indeed rebuilt in brick in 1937 during the time of the South Yorkshire Mines Drainage Committee (SYMDC Annual Report for 1937, dated 22/3/1938, Sheffield Archives, NCB1297/13/9). Taken together with other surface building repairs, an expenditure of £638, 12s 7s was made at Hemingfield that year (SYMDC Notes on the accounts, Sheffield Archives NCB1297/13/5). Recording the current state of the building is an important part of the current work of the Friends, and beyond photographs, measured drawings help us interpret the construction and development of the site.
A bird’s eye view of the area gives a sense of the level of the pit beneath the higher stone block surface which characterises this lower terrace area. The stone blocks paving the level have been disrupted by later cuts as changes were made. Work to fit water drainage pipes (seen at bottom left of image, where bright earthenware drainage pipes disappear underground. Here the disrupted stone blocks were in-filled with smaller stones to make good the floor surface.
It contrasts with the larger and later trench which was dug out but simply filled with earth, i.e. the black earthen strip on the left of the above image, going bottom to top. The purpose of this intrusion has not yet been ascertained.
Bottles of fun
The only non-rubble or noteable non-metal find from the day was the emergence of two parts of a broken Victorian/Edwardian glass bottle which was evocatively lettered with the identity of the contents, mineral water, and the name of the glassware maker Barron of Mexborough.
For more on the history of Barron’s manufactures we direct readers to an excellent piece on Barron’s from Mexborough and District Heritage Society.
Changing tack at the end of the afternoon, the team put their minds to fixing up the remaining fencing at the edge of the site, continuing the challenging work of securing the site, thereby helping to preserve it.
At the end of a long and busy day everyone headed home pleased with progress on site and enjoying the combined effort of the Friends working party groups.