The beginning of June 2018 was marked by unrelenting sunshine, blue skies and the reluctant admission that yes, Summer is indeed here.
Site Manager Glen opened the gates to regular volunteers Alan, John, Keith and Chris. Friends chair Steve was also present and catch up with the results of recent working parties.
Deeper and Down
Work picked up where it left off last time, with some archaeological assessment and recording taking place around the rear of the winding engine house; the inspection pit, with its stone steps down into a brick and stone retaining wall amid the foundations of the winding engine house.
From above, the run of the inspection pit, with retaining wall on the left, top to bottom; access steps at top-left (see kneeling pad), and later brick pillars cutting across the pit
Digging for bricks, or kiln me softly with sunshine
Meanwhile, John, Steve and Chris chipped in digging out the demolition rubble mound by the pumping engine shaft. The back of the mound, by the ramp to the top level, is a poured concrete bank, over which earth, rubbish and the remains of the old Wath Road boundary wall were demolished. When the Friends first arrived on site in 2014, a leaning cherry tree was growing out of the top of the rubble, and over the following four years we have made constant efforts to get back to the original bank and sides of the slope.
The amount of material still buried in here is certainly substantial, probably hundreds more bricks lie beneath; equally working in the full glare of the sunshine was no mean feat.
This brick extraction also generates its own ‘refinery’ step: piles of bricks to be cleaned up for reuse, and there is a modicum of screening going on, separating out full bricks, brokens for rubble pile, and a separate stack of reclaimed stones.
It is something of a source of mirth for the working party crews that, despite coal winning ending at Hemingfield in 1920, there remains a seemingly inexhaustible supply of bricks; a rich seam of baked clay nuggets, just waiting to be mined.
Breaking for lunch, the volunteers and Friends, shared some recent documentary and research findings regarding the Yorkshire Coalfield, local iron foundries, and the geology of the area. These discussions and ‘show and tells’ are often an enjoyable and rewarding benefit of the open days; we learn from one another.
The heat of the afternoon was somewhat oppressive, so the birds flying overhead and the passing puffs and chugs of Elsecar Heritage Railway‘s loco William, certainly helped to lift the mood as it headed up and down the Coalfield Memorial Line, before long it was time to pack up tools and draw proceedings to a close.
Summer offers the light, flora and fauna to make memorable images, but the sight of the day, was definitely the return trip of William steaming past the pit headgear, with a robin chirping loudly in the background.
Whatever an open day’s activities may bring on site, the Friends are always mindful that the pit holds hundreds of stories from the past; of lives passing through the colliery in daily work, but also of accidents and danger, of life and, sadly of death.
A hundred years ago, on 10th June 1918, as Hemingfield Colliery approached the end of its coal winning years in 1920, Arthur Utley, from Street in Wentworth was working underground at the face when a fall of roof took his life. Visiting the grave at Brampton Bierlow Parish Church in West Melton reminds us that coal mining was a dangerous profession. Rest in Peace.