Not quite October. Almost there. September was fast-retreating, but memories of the very successful Heritage Open Days lingered long in the mind as the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery gathered on site bright and early on Saturday 28th September 2019 to open the gates and to welcome the delivery of building materials.
That’s right, as strange as it may sound, there’s nothing quite so exciting as a delivery of something new (or something old being returned) to the site. In this case, Site manager Glen and Friends Chair Steve welcomed local builder’s merchants Allendale’s delivery.
The lorry with its hydraulic grapple arm was quite enthralling to see in action, even if the delivery – a large sack of sharp sand – was rather more mundane. Not quite Elsecar-by-the-Sea weather, perhaps as a steady drizzle peppered the morning’s proceedings, but nevertheless a pleasing site to see as the regular volunteers John, Mike, Paul, Keith and Chris arrived.
With the necessary materials all safely in hand, and fabulous new machinery available thanks to Tesco’s Bags of Help scheme, work continued on repairing the rear retaining wall.
Mixing it up. Concrete and lime mortar to be made.
Despite the rain, lots of useful work was underway – gathering the sandstone blocks to use in the repairs, mixing the materials, and preparing the areas of masonry which need repointing.
Bird’s Eye view of pointing rake and repointing work on the repaired areas of the retaining wall.
Further along the bottom of the wall, with decades of spoil, mulch and vegetaion, the original floor level had disappeared. Volunteer Mike set-to digging back down to find the former ground level, to enable a full assessment of the brickwork and thereby prepare the way for wider lime mortar repointing repairs to take place
As the day wore on, the weather improved, and there was even a little blue sky to be enjoyed.
Luncheon was self-served and partaken with much conversation on the visible progress and tangible improvements the wall repair was really making. Following earlier help and guidance from a heritage building surveyor, the Friends have gained a good understanding of the skills and techniques required to conduct the repairs and are now very motivated to see continued progress on this part of the site.
Oral history: just the ticket!
On Monday 23rd September, several of the Friends and volunteers attended Elsecar Heritage Centre to take part in oral history training from a trainer accredited by the Oral History Society. This training was undertaken as part of the Hemingfield’s Hidden Histories project, funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to National Lottery players. This training is to equip volunteers with the skills and familiarity with recording methods to capture the living history of Hemingfield; this is to try and ensure that some key memories are recorded for the first time as the generation which remembers the coal mining industry (and grew up with working lives in that industry) is rapidly disappearing.
We are eager to hear from anyone in Hemingfield and Elsecar (or indeed anywhere around the world) with memories of the pit, or family connections to mining, who may have stories to tell, or with materials such as photographs and documents they can share to help tell the stories of the local community as part of sharing those narrative histories with a wider audience, now and into the future.
On Friday 27th September the Friends ventured over the Pennines, to Bolton for the 39th Council for British Archaeology North West’s Industrial Archaeology Conference (#NWIAC39) whose theme was Excavating the Steam Engine.
Held in Lecture Theatre 2 of the impressive Bolton Museum, Library, gallery and aquarium building, the conference included work done by members of the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery, including the pit site itself, but also the volunteers who got involved in the Elsecar Newcomen engine boiler house excavation, enabled by the Heritage Action Zone and Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar projects.
Dr Tegwen Roberts, HAZ project officer reported on the Elsecar dig. The creative engagement work done in parallel wth the community archaeology at Elsecar brought together primary and secondary schools, archaeology clubs, university students, local heritage societies and members of the local community in a wonderful programme in August 2019 whilst excavating the boiler house behind the engine.
Friends Chair Steve Grudgings gave a presentation on the challenges of volunteer conservation work and industrial archaeology, and how there ae opportunities for learning from the skills an experience of people from many backgrounds when working on volunteer projects at industrial sites.
The afternoon saw a pleasant visit to the jam-packed Bolton Steam Museum. It was interesting to see how they have restored and how they record and interpret their mechanical collections.
Its exhibits, working for the conference visitors included an “ex-pat” Barnsley-built engine, made by Joseph Barraclough at the Union Foundry in Barnsley.