In and Out of Order

The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery Open Day on Saturday 31st was a spirited, and upbeat gathering as Site Manager Glen open the gates to welcomed all-comers; early on the scene came regular volunteers John, Mike, and Chris who were returning to see not just previous working party efforts, but some special extra work which has been taking place on site over the August Bank Holiday, more of which anon.

Harvest home

Walking down Wath Road from Elsecar towards the pit, a strange golden-yellow trail marked the way along the pavement. What could it be? We certainly weren’t in Kansas, and this particular road lacked the requisite brick paving – it was a straw trail, marking the route of local farmers carrying straw bales from freshly mowed fields around Elsecar and Wentworth.

Follow the yellow stuff down Wath RoadThe seasonal routine of Fitzwilliam Wentworth Estate agricultural tenants reminds us how the working of the earth’s resources – above and below the ground has long been a sight in this area. ‘Ag Lab’ may be a world away from collier in terms of exposure to sunlight, but the people involved often lived side-by-side, and going back to Georgian times, say the 1750s, when mining in Elsecar was itself somewhat seasonal, the same families that dug for coal may well have had to join in with reaping the harvest. Of course that meant the Friends had a little gathering of their own to do, to tidy the pavement!

Out of order

We have previously reported that the Hemingfield Colliery site has long been subject to neglect and aspects of vandalism, even in the days since the volunteers started to reclaim and in many way to save the site, a crucial part of the local heritage of coal mining, canal and railway history.

Areas of damage (broken brickwork, wooden doors and original tiling) caused by criminal damage by young people seen and challenged when trespassing on site in August 2019.Unfortunately incidents of trespass (usually a civil offence) and criminal damage (a crime) continue to occur around the site, most recently substantial damage was done to original wooden doors and the white glazed tiles of the washroom in the top switchgear building which itself was burned out in cable theft activity before the Friends took possession of the site in 2014.It is sad to report we have to have a proactive policy on trespass and combatting vandalism, to avoid senseless and stupid damage. Historic England recently reported on new guidelines published by the Sentencing Council and due to come into effect from 1st October 2019 to consider the full impact of arson or criminal damage such as vandalism to national heritage assets, including listed buildings, historic objects or unique parts of our historic environment.

A person who without lawful
excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another, intending to destroy or damage any such property, or being reckless as to whether any such property would be destroyed or damaged, shall be guilty of an
offence.

Criminal Damage Act 1971, Section 1(1)

The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10 years
old. Those under the age of 14 are referred to as ‘children’ and those between 14 and 17 as ‘young people’.

The principal aim of the youth justice system is to prevent offending, but children and young people can be arrested and taken to court if they commit a crime. Up to 16 years old a parent should also be present in court. In practice an out of court disposals process, or a caution is likely to be used. Where young people are referred to court for the first time, minor offenders may receive Youth Justice Referral Orders. Under the Order, the local Youth Justice Service inform young people of the process to attend a Youth Offender panel.

Given recent experience, it is disappointing to have encountered young people trespassing and causing damage on the colliery site

Why not come on an open day when you can see more anyway!?

It’s also deeply concerning when the damage done could endanger the individuals concerned. This is not ‘kids just being kids’. It is trespass and causing damage to heritage buildings which are being repaired and maintained by volunteers for the enjoyment of the wider community.

The damage caused takes time and thinly-stretched volunteer resources to put right. In this instance it also further damaged (deliberately) an already arson-affected part of a roofless structure.

Secured, reinforced and boarded after criminal damage – setting back our heritage restoration. That’s precious time and often money soaked up (so, lost) in making areas safe and secure which could be put to better use making the site useful available for more people.

The Friends never wish to restrict access to the site, with reasonable safety considerations and responsible behaviour in mind. We do not want to have to put up “Danger, Keep Out” signs; on the contrary we want to open doors!

Opens doors on Open Days – Respecting our heritage and staying safe

On the long road to restoration and with an open invitation to our Open Days we hope to welcome visitors from far and wide – and especially local people young and old to share the stories of this amazing site.

Happily, we know such acts stem from a small minority, and we have been delighted to see children and young people join their families in visiting the site, learning about their local community, its proud history and past way of life; we have welcomed folks of all ages, joining in the efforts to restore, and to research the pit, and its people, as we explore the role of heritage in driving new opportunities, both creative and economic, in the area. We actively look forward to increasing such opportunities. And now for some good news…

Retaining the Wall

The story of Hemingfield Colliery stretches back to the 1840s, and reaches forward to the current day via a series of changing circumstances – the opening of the railway to Elsecar in 1850; the end of coal winning in May 1920; the continued use of the two shafts for a pumping station, connected with Elsecar and onwards to the Parkgate pumping station at Westfield, Rawmarsh; on to the saving of the decaying site in 2014 by the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery.

One feature which has marked out the site in the landscape in Hemingfield and Elsecar is the height of the pithead, situated above the railway line and high above the canal and canal basin.

1880s scene of Hemingfield Colliery at peak operation – seen from the canal side, with retaining wall separating the screens and pithead from the railway sidings below.

The height difference is consolidated by a retaining wall, presumably built up from a natural slope in the 1840s. However the retaining wall itself has had a chequered history, with periods of subsidence due to heavy rainfall and erosion of the soft sandstone masonry.

Around 1928 repairs were carried out, and after the Second World War additional concrete buttressing was added as changes were made to shore up the wall. In the last 40 years however, parts of the rubble fill behind the stone and brick surface have moved, the sandstone facing has degraded, and a few areas have suffered collapse and displacement as trees took over at the base and top of the wall.

26/11/2016 – the wall in 2016 when winding engine house roof restoration in progress

By 2017 the Friends had concerns about the stability of parts of the brick wall sat on top of collapsed masonry, and so reduced the load by removing the bricks and digging out some rubble fill to inspect the damage and assess repairs.

On Bank Holiday Monday, 26th August 2019 a determined start was made to repairing the retaining wall. Led and guided by David, a qualified heritage building conservation and surveying lecturer and practitioner, the Friends, with Directors Steve and Glen, together with regular volunteers Paul, John, Keith and Chris began to make repairs to the wall.

Undertaken with appropriate materials – lime mortar and stone, making good use of resources carefully recovered from the site – over the course of two fantastic days – two scorchers indeed – a great start and very fair progress was made, repairing and repointing one whole section and digging out and building up another to enable further work. A few shots of this first phase follow:

Crucial to enabling this work, the Friends are delighted to acknowledge the Tesco Bags of Help scheme in which the Friends group came second, through the votes of local people to support local groups. The funds awarded have enabled the purchase of small portable petrol generator and a cement mixer. As this scheme has brought power to our work for the first time in its history it has been quite a revelation!

Great aerial drone shot of the wall work (Photo credit: John Irwin)

Celebratory Steam

A rousing sound to accompany the hard labour on site over the Bank Holiday came from the whistle of Gervase pulling a passenger train along the Elsecar Heritage Railway. Waving at our volunteers the passengers enjoyed a busy scene in glorious sunshine, and kept spirits up as we continue to repair the whole site and conserve it for the future.

Join us next time

Our next Open Day – the first Heritage Open Day of 2019 will be Sat 14th September.

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