Spring was truly upon us this weekend, as the Friends opened up the site. Paul, John and Chris joined Site Manager Glen for a busy Open Day, and a special one to be sure.
Steam returns to Elsecar
April saw the return of regular running to the Coalfield Memorial Line as the Elsecar Heritage Railway continued with its extensive programme of footplate courses.
Returning to steam for the first time since 2018, and the fantastic Return from The Front living history performance conceived and organised Barnsley College Tourism and Performance students, together with the Elsecar Heritage Railway, and being funded by Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar to commemorate the return of local people from the end of the First World War.
The sight of an engine steaming down the line is always stirring, and in the bright sun of springtime, the plumes of steam stand out as the loco’s whistle sounded on its way to Hemingfield Halt, by Tingle Bridge.
Passing by the headgear, between the pit and the canal basin, it reminds all onlookers that this was an industrial area, a busy one carrying coal and coke out of the Elsecar collieries, and feeding the products of the Elsecar and Milton Ironworks of George and William Henry Dawes, out to the wider world. That wider world brought new people to the villages and let villagers journey allover the country.
The Dearne and Dove canal had preceded the railway, of course, and its Elsecar branch served the ironworks and collieries from 1798 until the mid 1920s. The reservoir which kept it topped up is now a fishing and nature reserve.
Down at the railway depot, recent work by Barnsley Council and the Elsecar Heritage Action Zone team has served to reveal some further remains of the Elsecar Ironworks – the furnace hill, with a huge stone-built retaining wall, once hidden by trees, now revealed to indicate the size and scale of the works which employed hundreds of workers, puddlers, moulders, forgemen, and mill hands, mostly sub-contracting groups of working men and boys. The Elsecar Heritage Railway loco shed itself is a remnant of those Ironworks, and we’ll soon learn more about the fascinating stories of the site.
We can see clearly now
Back at Hemingfield, picking up where previous work left off, the Friends and regular volunteers continued the clearance work on the lower terrace, and the improvement was evident:
Regular volunteers Paul, Chris and John made short work of the deeply rooted thorns.
The lower terrace corner, cleared of brambles
More signs of Spring
In the undergrowth, we saw movement, and a frog (or was it a toad?) appeared. Still well-camouflaged amongst the stones, twigs and leaves on the ground.
Can you see me? Hidden Pit Wildlife.
Work on the foot of the wall continued, and we continue to marvel at the steady bubbling of water emitted from a gap in the wall which we release by digging away dumped earth an debris. Looking down from above a small pond has accumulated between the two large concrete retaining buttresses. The Friends are hoping to drain this soggy earth to be able to inspect the bottom of the wall, including the two concrete frames.
Celebrating our history
Alongside all the work and research that the Friends and volunteers put in to conserving and maintaining the colliery site, we are also delighted when we are able to share, publically, something about the history of the site.
Thanks to the generosity of the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery were able to provide photographs and information to enable an interpretation board to be installed on the towpath by the Hemingfield Colliery basin. During the Open Day, the Friends and volunteers went down to the canal side to view the new interpretation board.
The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery by the new interpretation board at the former colliery basin. Colliey headgear in the background.
Time will tell whether our efforts to keep it in one piece survive some of the more thoughtless attempts to litter and damage, but we know we are neighbours to some wonderful people who really care about, and actively maintain the canal. Likewise the Wath, West Melton and Brampton Litter Pickers have been a real inspiration to keeping the Brampton end of the canal an up to Smithy Bridge clean and tidy despite flytipping frustrations. Together with these voluntary groups, the local councils and no small amount of good humour, we hope to continue to share the history and celebrate the heritage of Hemingfield Colliery as we undertake work on our own National Lottery Heritage Fund project Hemingfield’s Hidden Histories.