Sunshine after the rain, Sat 20th July 2019

Another cracking day at Hemingfield. Site Director Glen opened the gates to regular volunteers John, Mike and Chris. The sun was out, the heat was on and all was set for another fun day on site. And off it – but more of that anon…

Game for anything

With baseball and, yes, World Cup winning cricket hats at the ready, the intrepid crew stepped out into the field of play (aka the pit yard) and continued to snip, trim, rake, strip, clip, hack and generally foreshorten any stray blades, strands, creepers or unwanted intrusions.

Having largely tamed the weeds, long grass and unwanted vegetation last time, this Saturday saw some fine polishing, strimming, and further privet removal. There also a notable jollity in the air, with conversations and discussions about the pit, the past and the future…as well as reflections on the wider country at this interesting time of political change.

strimmin’ when your winnin’: keeping the site tidy.

Not hedging our bets

To help prevent deterioration in a small retaining wall by the edge of the pump house cottage, the Friends have been removing overgrown privet hedges. The hedges had become deeply anchored into the stonework, dislodging the stones and causing displacement of the retaining edge – something which will require some minor rebuilding to get the wall back up and solid again.

With what we now lovingly refer to as our traditional tool – the winch – the last few privet stumps were steadily snapped and lifted from their places, allowing us to remove old debris, broken glass and bits of rubbish.

lower side of the pit, by the old engine (pumping) pit, and the damaging privet stumps in the boundary wall

The new strimmer, purchased with the help of the Bags of Help funds from Tesco was again put through its paces, and the whole top site was covered in the morning and early post-prandial tidy up. Previously this would have taken two working sessions to complete.

A cut above – the right tool for the job – thanks to everyone who supported the Bags of Help scheme from Tesco

Park and rec – beautiful day to be out in the open

After pausing for a well-earned lunch break, and some jovial exchanges, the Friends were excited to pack up their tools early – for we had another mission to undertake, another place to visit: the old Newcomen engine down the road in Elsecar.

ElsecarDig

The wonderful folks down at Elsecar Heritage Centre, working with the Heritage Action Zone project team and supported by the Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar project were just completing the first week in a fortnight of community archaeology and related activities at Elsecar, to join in the national programme of events in the Festival of Archaeology.

The archeological excavations at the rear of the Newcomen engine consist of 3 trenches selected based on previous geophysics work by Historic England and only undertaken with their approval as the engine is a scheduled monument.

They were set out to investigate what remains of the boiler house which would have raised the steam to pass into the cylinder of the Newcomen engine. Although modified over the years since it was first constructed (1795), the powerhouse for the newcomen engine is a slightly forgotten but critical part of the whole system, so understanding more about what remains, and how it operated is a challenge, and a great opportunity to get the local community involved in archaeology, heritage-inspired activities, and basically ask questions, get creative and learn!

Some of the Friends had visited the Newcomen boiler house site on Tuesday at the begining of the dig when they were very kindly met by Megan Clement, Heritage Specialist from the Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar Project who explained some of the learning and creative activities they had already hosted, including getting local schools involved – primary and secondary, from Barnsley and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council areas – Elsecar Holy Trinity, Saint Pius school from Wath, Kirk Balk in Hoyland amongst other groups in a busy fortnight of activities.

The location of the boiler house excavation at the rear of the Newcomen engine in Elsecar

You certainly couldn’t miss the site – colourfully waymarked by Artist in Residence Gemma Nemer, housed in the Way Station, part the fromer occasional Fitzwilliam private railway station building at Elsecar.

Hands on history

On Saturday the Friends were warmly received (it was a hot day, but a warm welcome even still) by Heritage Action Zone Project Officer Dr Tegwen Roberts who provided an update on what the excavation had revealed so far, and introduced the Hemingfield crew to ArcHeritage Project Manager Rowan May who was busily excavating Trench 1, reviewing finds and completing recording work.

General view across the two boiler seating slots, filled with demolition rubble

Provided with trowels and kneelers, the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery were very happy to have a go on this very special industrial site. Volunteer Mike quickly disappered from sight in the deepest trench, reminding us just how big the long coal-fired tubular boilers would have been.

The Great Escape! excavation in the old boiler house boiler void.

Volunteers John and Chris cannily headed to the shaded back trench and enjoyed cool runnings in the hot summer sunshine.

The rear trench, in the shade of the reduced chimney at the rear of the Newcomen engine house.

John noticed a nice geological remnant in the trench fill – an example of how an ironstone nodule is emdedded in siltstones, something which would have been a very common sight from Tankersley down to Elsecar as the furnaces were firing; melting down the iron ore with coke and lime, after the ore had first been calcined (basically heated to remove impurities).

Ironstone nodule from the rear trench fill

All the while Friends Director Glen managed to keep the supply of freshly-emptied buckets running all afternoon long.

Back to front – looking towards the ‘front’ of the boiler house excavation

It was hot. The buckets were heavy, but the work was fun, and understanding the layout of the boiler house, its use, alterations and even the fill of the boiler spaces (probably scrapped in the 1930s) proved to be enlightening, with the odd shard of a beer bottle appearing – a Whitworth Brewery of Wath green bottle, just like one we ourselves had found at Hemingfield in our own demolition-rubble filled pit.

Raising the Roof

Now for something completely different. And yet oh-so-closely related. Elsecar, Hemingfield and surroundings are full of heritage activities and attractions. Undoubtedly the biggest of them all is the magnificent Wentworth Woodhouse, which is currently in Phase 2 of a large scale emergency roof repair programme. The scale of the roof demanded a special solution to ensure the safety of the State rooms whilst the slates are removed and roof timbers checked, before everything is made good and watertight for the future.

Scaffolding covers the front of the house, both for essential repairs from roofers and stonework specialists, but also for visitors to walk up and around this amazing building.

Step to it: looks high, but the steps are shallow and easy. There are lifts too!

The solution – a gigantic scaffold wraps around the long East front of the mansion. 2 stairways rise from the ground as visitors can now make a graceful ascent to view the great house from a great height – in truly spectacular Rooftop Tours which will be in a constant state of change over the next 18 months as the repair programme workers continue their huge areas of repair works.

The full scaffold roof over the actual roof was still being completed as we made our first trip up to the top of the building. The views will continue to change as the cover is complete, and as the Cumbrian slates are removed, revealing the secrets of Georgian builders. It is an experience to be whole-heartedly recommended to everyone, and the Friends will no doubt return as progress on repairs continues.

Rooftop views looking out from the stairs

For those who are passionate about the repairs, there’s also still time to contribute to the Make your Mark campaign – by donating to have a new slate engraved (the laser engraving machine is an intriguing device in its own right). The Cumbrian slate engraving project will continue until the end of August, see: https://wentworthwoodhouse.org.uk/campaign/make-your-mark/

Join us next time…

Next Open Day Saturday 3rd August 2019

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