Frogs & flowers, Saturday 22nd June 2019

A nice prospect: the pit opening up, but tinged with frustration at criminal damage

It was an absolutely cracking day at Hemingfield for the Open Day. Compared to the previous fortnight when rain stopped play. The sun was beating down, baking the ground, drawing all the greenery higher. Set against the bright blue sky it was beautiful; still the crew were eager to get back on site and stuck in once more. Friends Chair Steve, and Site Manager Glen opened up, joined by regular volunteers John, Paul, Chris and Keith during the day which was equal parts glorious sunshine and hard yacker.

Dazzling days and dumb damages

Of course nothing ever runs entirely smoothly and sad to say the last week before this open day the front wall from Wath Road had suffered more criminal damages and the rear of the site had suffered trespass and some damage to metal work from what seems to be univited youthful visitors. Certainly ones enjoying cans of pop. It’s such a shame – indeed a disgrace to the wider local community – that such thoughtless anti-social and criminal behaviour continues on a heritage site. The volunteers make good the dmage and hope to restore the front and rear walls, but these are needlessly expensive damages – if only folks put in an appearace on the open day all that energy could be turned to good, and they could get a free and full tour of the whole site!

As per the last Open Day, the rain and belated summer sun have worked wonders on the vegetation on site; an explosion of long grasses, poppies, fox gloves and myriad weeds making the pit yard look like a modern urban meadow.

Pretty though this was, to admire and see insects flying by, it’s no good for the maintenance of the site – so out come the tools to tidy things up. Working in the hot sun builds up a thirst.

Thankfully the group had plenty of opportunities to pause, seek the shade and look out across the valley – what a sight – the Elsecar Heritage Railway was busily shuttling back and forth with more happy Footplate Experience visits, and the regular whistle kept a bounce in everyone’s step as everyone got stuck in triing the grass, cutting back privet hedges and generally getting the site in shape for the better weather visiting days ahead.

A rake’s progress

Otherwise known as how to avoid spending most of our lives living in a strimmer’s paradise. It has to be done, but crikey it takes time with only a single strimmer! The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery have been extraordinarily lucky to receive the support of lots of groups and visitors since 2014, and recently have been absolutely delighted to have been included in a Tesco Bags for Life Campaign in local supermarkets.

Tesco Bags for Life results. FoHC came second. An amazing result.

Thanks to everyone who voted for the Friends The grant support from this scheme will definitely enable the group to up its game in terms of tools to maintain and improve the site, and we are eager to show people the developments – in terms of physical changes, historical research, creative work, and new collaborations which the group have been engaging in over the past year.

Pump House Prospects

Not the least of these is Hemingfield’s Hidden Histories project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Thanks to National Lottery players we are able to reunite the two halves of the original Hemingfield Colliery site (not quite as epic as German Reunification perhaps, but still important for us!). Having officially agreed the sale, and having permission to access, it was a day to celebrate, and also to step back and find all of the hidden delights we will have to tackle in the months ahead. Not the least Russian Vine, leaky flat rooves, and trees, bushes and weeds aplenty.


Open Door policy – fabulous moment with the Pump House Cottage door eased open, and tidying up underway. June 2019.

Still, we didn’t get to where we were today without a little bit of hard manual labour, and today was no different – winching out the privet head stumps using one of the Cherry Trees has a primal beauty – as well as a delightful result:


Winching away – privet removals a speciality, May 2019

Meadows of our minds

Surveying the domain: many folk went to mow the meadow…

Starting at the far top end of the site, Glen and Paul cracked on with ‘Old Faithful’, the strimmer – a survivor of many scything campaigns. Raking a small market garden’s worth of compostable grass clippings, they had the technique down to an art form – strim, rake, bag and repeat – metres of strimmer cord later and the long grass slowly gave way to the clear lines of a more manicured lawn.

Not that a pit is a public park, but the Friends take pride in keeping Hemingfield neat and tidy. We’re not sure if the judges of best kept former colliery are still out for judgement, but hope we would be in with a fighting chance.

Into the long grass: never put off until tomorrow what you can do today

Pausing for light refreshments, cord-replenishment and general catch-ups, the conversation on site sparkled, as it usually does – the whole gamut of comic, insightful and delightful exchanges was run through as snap time brought on discussions of mining history, the mineralogical origins of gold and platinum, Northern Soul, the nature of youth, holiday plans and how many days of sunshine are needed for it to really qualify as a proper Summer.

Tooled up. Did we mention it was quite mild. Mostly warm. Overly hot?

Suitably refreshed, regaled and amused, the afternoon shift got underway. The sun shone through what little cloud there was, calling for some creative baseball cap alignment. The crew possibly exhausted the ways innumerable of remarking upon the notably warm temperatures. It was hot. But the work had to continue. There were also some treats in store – but details of that are for another day.

Perfection is a process, so they say… keeping up the slow and steady strimming to keep the pit yard by the winding engine house looking sharp

Filling the nth sackful of strimmed greenery, it began to feel like a decent weekend’s worth of work had been squeezed into a few short Open Day hours.

Once more unto the fray – well, the green frontline with the the strimmer at Hemingfield

Neat and tidy. Strimmed ground by the main concrete headgear at Hemingfield

Ribbiting and Priveting

Elsewhere on the fringes of the site, as the privet hedges were tamed, Steve, John and Chris wisely sought the shaded solace of two large cherry trees in the rampant garden of Pump House Cottage. Removing those stumps helps to prevent further root damage to the stonework at the small retaining wall by the side of the garden and pumping shaft buildings.

Amongst the undergrowth the Friends were not the only ones seeking a cool spot – a couple of ribbiting friends also appeared and were carefully steered to safety. It’s always a marvel to see frogs and toads on the edges of the site, seemingly somewhat removed from the nearest major body of water down by the canal 10 feet below.

Talking of heights, ladders were also the order of the day, as the Friends looked to check on the guttering installed in the Winter of 2016 when we were extremely fortunate to receive funding support to undertake urgent repairs to the Winding engine house roof. A quick survey of the state of the lowest collecting gutter prompted some brush and scooping to keep the rainwater goods nice and clean, and so good to protect the building for another season.

Time really does fly when you are working together with others, getting stuck into a task you take pride in, and enjoying some excellent weather to boot. The last few runs of the Railway reminded the Friends that it was getting on towards the end of play, and even if there was no rain this time, and no rollers to neaten up the work, everyone agreed enough was as good as a feast.

Heading for the hills, the Friends no doubt headed straight for a shower and tall glasses of their preferred liquids to rest up from what was a very rewarding and busy day on site (going until 5pm).

Locked in: the canal and colliery

When the sun beats down on the volunteers on site, our thoughts always go back to what the whole wider colliery area must have been like up to a hundred years ago, with the railway and the canal adding to the hive of activity, the sights and sounds and lives engaged at the pit , the basin and the canal. This is a good opportunity to share some of the information and memories which local people have contributed.

Walking down under the green shade of the TransPennine Trail, the Hemingfield Colliery interpretation board marks the point at which the canal connected into the basin for the use of the colliery.

Obscured views: the interpretation board by the basin (photo credit: Andrew Jones)

Bridge to the past

Amongst the research and local history outreach work the Friends have done lately, we were delighted to receive some sketches of the canal basin provided by Mr Ostcliffe. Based on his memories and some old photographic reference materials, we can perhaps garner a sense of what barges arriving and departing might have looked like in the past.

Sketch from memory of humpback towpath bridge into Hemingfield Basin, by Mr C. Ostcliffe

The distinctive ‘humpback’ bridge carrying the towpath over the opening into the basin.

Modified photograph showing part of Hemingfield Colliery during transition from Colliery to pumping station in early 1920s, by Mr C. Ostcliffe

The full context of a colliery at work:

Detail of Hemingfield Colliery from 1880s Fitzwilliam Collieries billhead

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