Wet and windy starts are usually inauspicious signs for an open day, but this Saturday was far from run-of-the-mill (or run-of the-pit for that matter).
Friends Chair Steve and Site Manager Glen welcomed regular volunteers Paul, Chris, John and Keith to Hemingfield, with news aplenty to share, and everyone in good spirits after a peaceful Easter break.
The day before there had even been time for a spot of industrial archaeology, with some of the Friends supporting some geophysics work on a former pumping engine site in Rotherham.
We are keenly looking forward to seeing the results of this work in the coming months. Learning new skills which could help us in our understanding of the built heritage and archaeological possibilities of our own site, supporting the work of our Hemingfield’s Hidden Histories project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Back at Hemingfield, the day’s focus was on more site clearance, continuing the good progress being made in previous months. The familiar sound of Gervase charging along the Elsecar Steam Railway below gave everyone pause to wave and smile as the engine’s whistle sounded.
Out on Wath Road, the continuing battle of sweeping up the windswept tree debris continued, not to mention the endless numbers of road surface stones flung to the kerb from passing traffic. Hopefully resurfacing work will take place very shortly so we may see some improvement to the pitted and tracked surface.
The volunteers were excited to have early permission to start tidying the soon-to-be reunited Pump House Cottage garden. Thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s support for our Hemingfield’s Hidden History project, the Friends are hoping to shortly complete the purchase of Pump House Cottage, formerly the Cornish Engine house of the colliery, where the high pressure pumping beam engine was housed.
The Pump House Cottage building and land were separated from the rest of the pumping station in the Twentieth Century as the families of former NCB staff continued to live in the rented converted cottage, but the remainder of the site was automated and eventually used less and less, before privatisation in the Coal Industry Act 1994.
There is quite a lot to do! View across to Pump House Cottage from the upper pit yard, April 2019
On site a steady stream of wheelbarrows carted dead shrubbery, twigs and branches away as the front yard began to reappear – at least a little bit!
They were carted over to the bonfire pile to mulch down for another day. With the sun breaking through, off came overcoats and jumpers and out came smiles.
Inevitably, no sooner had everyone paused for luncheon, and set out the chairs, than the heavens opened.
Roofless though we may have been in the old switchgear building, the working party squeezed cosily into the tool store and chatted merrily as the cooling air steamed with unscrewed thermos cups and unwrapped sandwiches: full justice was done to some well-earned snap.
Down the line…
Having confirmed arrangements earlier in the day, the Friends and volunteers were honoured to be invited to join The Elsecar Heritage Action Zone (Elsecar HAZ) Project Officer, Dr Tegwen Roberts, for a recce of the site of the boilers and boiler house of the Newcomen engine.
Every time we visit this remarkable and unique survival of our industrial heritage, we learn something new, or find some new and unexpected connection. The pumping engine and shaft themselves are, of course, inextricably linked with the story of mines drainage, of the Earls Fitzwilliam collieries from the Georgian era (Elsecar New Colliery), through the Victorian period (Hemingfield Colliery begun) and into the 20th Century (Elsecar Main).
Discounting the misleading 1787 lintel date, the focus on the engine and its engine house over the past 100 years is natural for what is a scheduled building under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.
Somewhat lost in that fact and focus, however, has been the question of primary mover – of low-pressure steam generation – used to power the atmospheric engine. The boilers, the boiler housing, and chimney stack are perhaps the forgotten details. The Elsecar HAZ team, working together with Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar are aiming to answer some of the gaps in our knowledge here, and are involving the local community in planning the work. The Friends were able to share their knowledge and thoughts to try and help focus on the key questions.
Members of the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery outside the Elsecar Newcomen Engine, with that misleading lintel date (Photo courtesy of T.Roberts)
We are delighted to help whenever our “older sibling” is involved!