The Last Open Day of 2019 was upbeat and busy as the Friends arrived on site, Christmas cards at the ready, and Winter blues – if not close – at least held at bay by some jolly conversations and getting hands-on with work on site.
Christmas is coming
The approach to the pit showed the state of the seasons, a relatively mild, if still-damp autumnal air, with leaves leading the way down Wath Road. Leaves mean only one thing – time to get the brush and bag out, Firends Chair Steve and Site Manager Glen set the tone with brisk sweeping of the soggy leaves outside the front gates.
That’s not a brush…THIS is a brush
Through the years of austerity, the wisdom of investing to save has definitely come to the fore. Thanks to the support of our local community and Tesco’s Bags of Help scheme, the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery bought a number of tools to help keep the site tidy and to enable us to extend the scope of the work that can be done on site in future. Undoubtedly a gem in these new tools has been the new brush. You know what they say about a new broom…well this is one heck of a brush, and time and motion wise it helps clear the pavement in no time.
Buzzard’s Eye view
Meanwhile, elsewhere on site, a visitor with a drone allowed us to capture the state of the site in 2019. The clearance of vegetation and the renewed roof really make the colliery site looks so much better in this image compared to previous ‘sky shots’ we have seen. Also remarkable is the open water sections of the Dearne and Dove canal – as well as the ‘green water’ areas of the canal branch and the basin just below the colliery,
These elements link the colliery site on the hill with the busy trafficking and transport of coal in and out of Elsecar – the canal came first of course, but it was not long after the opening out of the pit in Hemingfield in the late 1840s that the first railway line to Elsecar arrived in 1850.
Protecting our heritage
After the optimism of the season, there was some real frustration and sadness on site when we realised that significant damage had been done to the fencing at the rear of the pit’s lower terrace. Evidently a small number of individuals had decided to trespass on the site and whilst trespassing, they also vandalised and damaged the fence, kicking sections of it away.
Dealing with this kind of pathetic criminality is tiresome and saddening. When it is done by people who clearly have no understanding of the difficulties of maintaining heritage sites on volunteer effort and goodwill it is especially frustrating. However, the good will of the Friends and volunteers, and their shared determination not to allow the ignorance of others, or petty vandalism to destroy our shared heritage means that there was a very keen sense on site that we will repair.
Of course, trespass and criminal damage are crimes. We will continue to work to secure the site and work with the local authority, neighbours and the Police to ensure that any such crime is dealt with appropriately. As progress is made on site we hope to be able to continually improve the security of the site.
The core principle at all times is ensuring the safety of volunteers and visitors, and the monies spent on repairing damage such as this are, unfortunately, resources lost to restoring other parts of the site, including the major programme of work on Pump House Cottage – a key element of our Hemingfield’s hidden history project, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. But we are committed to ensuring that the heritage of our site will not be further lost to the selfish acts of a minority of people. If their energies and effort could be spent in constructive endeavours we would be the first to support them.
As it is, the fence has been repaired and strengthened and the security of the rear of the site has been further increased. Trespassers are not welcome, but visitors on open days most certainly are welcome – AND they’ll see and learn more anyway, so it’s rather a pity for the vandals.
After those delays and distractions, the Friends did still have time to make a little more progress on Pump House Cottage garden – this time lopping back the overgrown Cherry Trees to open up the view of Pump House Cottage – the former pumping engine house – from Wath Road.
Site Manager Glen cracked on and the progress was clear as the light faded, but the branches piled up.
Whilst tidying things up on site, the Friends were pleased to have a regular passing audience of families enjoying the Santa Special services of the Elsecar Heritage Railway. The Festive Carriage loads of parents and children, Santa’s elves and Santa himself ran up and down the line and the train crew sounded a whistle in response to which the Friends downed tools and waved at the passengers as they ran up and down the line back and forth from Elsecar to Tingle Bridge and back again.
As the day wore on, we could tell the light was getting lower as the bright lights of the railway carriages cast shadows on the lineside, still families waved at the volunteers at Hemingfield beavering away in the gathering gloom.
The highlight of the day, and a marker of the end of the year was a bonfire – clearing away all of the clippings and rubbish chopped down around site. Happily this cleared down quickly whilst providing some welcome warmth as the day wore on. Soon it was time to gather tools and lock the front gate before the light went completely.
Many many thanks to everyone for a great year of volunteer effort and a significant amount of progress both on and offsite.
2019 – Reasons to be Cheerful
Reflecting back on the year, the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery wanted to thank all volunteers, visitors and supporters for their help and efforts on behalf of the colliery in 2019. A very brief run-through of some of the highlights was felt to be in order, and so without further ado:
Hemingfield’s Hidden Histories – National Lottery Heritage Fund Project update
From an excited start at the end of 2018, our new major National Lottery Heritage Fund project Hemingfield’s Hidden Histories, has begun to gather pace this year. The main focus of the project to date has been in securing the ‘other half’ of the former Hemingfield Colliery site – Pump House Cottage, the former Cornish Engine House where a 74inch cylinder high pressure steam engine sat to pump water out of the pit.
Thanks to National Lottery players, the former private owners the Coal Authority completed the sale, although there were some unexpected challenges along the way! In addition to all of the other work described here, perusing old deeds, handling some tricky boundary discussions, and obtaining estimates for various works have taken the Friends a few more months than originally anticipated, but hopefully now real progress can be made inside and out of this gem of a survival of a Cornish engine house. There’s an awful lot to do – which we will explore in 2020!
The Friends and volunteers have been doing a lot of archival research and secondary reading to support investigations of the building and the wider site, and these have also fed into the wider HAZ work from Historic England so there has been a lot of maps, account books, vouchers and interpretation underway in the background. Oral history training has given volunteers confidence in recording stories from the local community and mining memories from former working miners, near and far connected with Elsecar and Hemingfield.
Heritage at large
As well as being fortunate to looking after the Hemingfield Colliery site, the Friends and regular volunteers are extremely lucky to be surrounded by a wealth of heritage sites and attractions, all of which have had a bumper year in 2019.
First and foremost undoubtedly has been the programme of activities taking place under the aegis of the Elsecar Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) – covering an area which includes Hemingfield Colliery, the focus of activities this year has been on events at Elsecar Heritage Centre, and especially the eciting new archaeological work undertaken on the boiler engine remains at the rear of the Newcomen Engine.
Led by Dr Tegwen Roberts the Heritage Action Zone officer, and supported by the Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar group, resources were allocated to enable permission to be sought to carry our archaeological investigations on the site of the boiler house for the Newcomen Engine.
The Newcomen Engine is a Scheduled Monument, so permission to carry out any such work has to be carefully considered and very carefully executed, and this year that was done in the summer as part of a programme of community archaeology work under the name of ‘Newcomen Dig’.
A few highlights of this work included the bringing together of local schools, members of the local community and volunteer groups, including the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery in the excavation of parts of the boiler pits of the boiler house.
Under the professional guidance of Wessex Archaeology and supported by Dr Roberts, and members of the Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar team, a celebratory tone was set to digging and discovery; and to art and creativity as visitors of all ages to get crafty in telling the stories of Elsecar, its Newcomen engine and the boiler house that powered it.
We are eager to learn more about the results of this dig, and what it tells us about the development of power at the Newcomen Engine. Roll on 2020!