Ah, this is the life. The Great Outdoors. Hemingfield Pit life. A sun-drenched, hazily blue-skied morning with the Friends and regular volunteers arriving at Hemingfield; a cool breeze and whispy clouds drifting by as the gates opened wide in welcome for another busy working day.
And what a sight! They speak of ‘greening the grey’; of bringing the green shoots of nature back into the choked up, worn out post-industrial cities of England, but the explosion of greenery at the pit was something to behold.
Meadow view, Hemingfield Colliery
You don’t tend to think of pits as bucolic. Nevertheless in front of the winding engine house, a veritable meadow had emerged since our last open day a couple of weeks ago. Grass and wild flowers were now bending in the breeze. Away from Wath Road’s morning traffic, there was only a low gentle hum of bumble bees. The peaceful industry of a myriad tiny insects busying themselves on the lush undergrowth. It is a genuine pleasure to be on site on days like this. Warm, relaxing, pleasant.
The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery surveying the site in high Spring
Of course a gentle mowing of the nascent meadow would soon be in order, but there was just time enough to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of springtime in Yorkshire.
Brexit political tensions seem far away when you’re getting hands-on with heritage; working with others to support the preservation of this site, the sharing of its stories – an important link to our national story of development and decline, of years of struggle and new hopes of growth.
After some breezy catching-up with Friends Chair Steve and Site Director Glen, and a dose of undeniably sharp wordplay [podcast gold, I told them, Ed.], it was back to business.
Looking over the daisies, buttercups, dandelions and long grass beyond the pumping shaft, we saw a neighbour in need: the garden of Pump house cottage has suffered from the slings and arrows of outrageous neglect for quite some time. Its old sturdy gate has endured a few too many hefty boots too, kicking its rotten panels in. So, time for some tidying.
After spring cleaning the damage and clipping back overgrown privet, russian vines, brambles and weeds, it was time for some snap. Sat in the sun, sharing stories and laughing as the Elsecar Heritage Railway engine steams by makes for a very pleasant Saturday in May.
Away from the madding crowd. Or at least the cheery chatter of the working party, great things are afoot.
Just up and over the hill in Wentworth, a transformation is underway at the Big House. The first phase of emergency roof repairs to the Bedlam wing and parts of the riding school have now been completed, and the massive works of Phase II are underway, as architects Donald Insall Associates work with roofing contractors the Woodhead Group and specialist scaffolders Lyndon SGB to erect 7,000 tonnes of scaffolding to envelop 10,000 square metres of the the grand East front and surrounding parts ready for a £5M programme of essential repairs to the Grade I listed structure. The whole prgramme of works to date being financed by a government grant of £7.6M being delivered via Historic England Yorkshire.
Rising up to 30 metres high when complete, the veil of steel will provide a temporary roof and include 2 special lifts to allow for visitors to tour the building during the extensive restoration programme to prevent water ingress and further damage to the state rooms, and jewels such as the Long Gallery, the staircases of the East front and the North end Pavillion. The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust have recently improved the Tea Room facilities at the house, and are adding exciting new tours to their programme, as well as working with the National Trust to deliver tour services in the medium term.