2020! The first Open Day in the new year and what a beautiful day. Bright blue skies above, clear views all around, and a quickening coldness which suggested frost, but was soon chased away by getting to work as the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery and the regular volunteers returned to the pit for another year of activity, in a new decade of life for the colliery.
New Year, Old problems
First things first, we’re not ones to moan – indeed we have a lot of good news and events planned for 2020, but we would be remiss not to mention that – sadly – the Wath Road wall of the pit site continues to have bricks removed from it; criminal damage pure and simple. What a pity some people have nothing better to do; literally nothing constructive to contribute, only destructive. We will be addressing this, and continue to hope that the culprits fine something better to do with their time!
Opening up the gates for 2020 was Friends Chair Steve, joined by regular volunteers John, Chris and Paul, and Site Manager Glen, checking how the pit has fared over the festive break, and assessing the jobs to be taken in hand for the first Open Day this year.
Moet, red wine, a bottle of beer? ‘Fling and forget’ was possibly the thought in mind of some festive folks over the Christmas break. Whatever the motive, the resultant votive offerings to the pit included Champagne and wine bottle, beer, a bag of rubbish and the odd bag of dog poo. Folks can be so thoughtful when wanging unwanted rubbish and waste ‘out of sight and out of mind’. The volunteers tidied the tossed debris and checked the site before making a start checking tools, and state of the retaining wall ready to get started on new tasks for the day.
Despite the rubbish and damage, the site is always a source of inspiration from the beautiful natural environment we find ourselves inhabiting. From the sounds of birdsong and sight of buzzards flying high overhead, to the markers of nature’s onward march – the bared trees revealing the green water of the Hemingfield Basin. You can image the basin holding a barge waiting to be loaded with Barnsley bed coal served from the pit head via a ramp to the canal gantry.
Closer to home, in the pit yard, the gradual advance of life is all around – shrubs budding already and the bracket fungus taking over old tree stumps; nature reclaiming the site, part of the biodiversity that even a post-industrial landscape affords. Something we hope to investigate further in the years ahead.
Picking up from where they left off in December, further tree chopping work continued in the front garden of Pump House Cottage.
The focus of our Hemingfield’s Hidden History project, thanks to National Lottery players via the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we have been able to secure the formerly private converted pumping engine house cottage and grounds, reuniting the two halves of the old colliery site.
However there is a huge amount of clearing to be done – inside and out before repairs and activities planned for the project can take place.
Gathering sticks in…January?
The volunteers gathered their tools and set about tiding up the site, collecting ivy and branches and preparing a pile for a future bonfire, as well as seeing where they can start to make the site more easily accessible for transporting materials and escorting visitors around the colliery yard and between the buildings.
One job related to this was the ramp. Between the upper pit yard by the winding engine house and the lower part by the pumping shaft, there is a long ramp which was built from reused stone from demolished boiler house buildings, together with brick and concrete to provide a hefty ramp to transport materials up and down. At the top of the ramp was a pit which was long buried under spoil until about 18 months ago when the volunteers found what appeared to be an uncovered drain.
This drain pit has been a bit of a niggle for a while, but as there are other steps on site and there’s been much to do, it was not really a priority. Today, however, was the day. Tidying up the top, and sizing up the hole to cap, the volunteers selected a choice iron plate and laid it flat over the hole before securing it in place and levelling off both the top of the ramp, and also the ground just above the top of the ramp.
Someone, somewhere, called out ‘Snap time’! and the custom must always be observed on site. Gathering chairs around, the Friends and volunteers recapped their festive adventures and misadventures; the highs and low; the thoughts and hopes for the Friends group for this remarkable year 2020. Post-election and on the cusp of Brexit, there were a mixture of views expressed, but lots of potential to be explored for the Friends and volunteers.
Some tantalising discussion took place of the results of some recent archives research in support of our Hemingfield’s Hidden History project, which has revealed some new sources of information on what life, and, sadly, injury and death could look like underground from the 19th into the 20th Centuries. Others present had been conducting oral history research with former workers connected with the site and mining in South Yorkshire which provide both sobering and fascinating insights into the realities of work in the mining industry. This is an example of employing heritage skills to capture people’s living histories before they are lost forever, and a way of life grows more obscure.
2020 will see much more of this kind of work taking place and the Friends and volunteers are very excited about the prospect of what further we could all learn.
As ever, we look forward to sharing more of the site with the wider public this year, as well as reaching out to make contact with other local voluntary and heritage groups to reveal our story and to learn from others on how to develop the site and its heritage. The Friends were very pleased therefore to be featured in the recent January Newsletter (no.4) of Barnsley Heritage Connects).
Thanks to bodies like Barnsley Heritage Connects and social media sites, whether Facebook, Twitter or otherwise, we are always pleased to welcome visitors on Open Days. This weekend was no different, and we were delighted to greet a new traveller from Wakefield and provide a site tour as well as learn about their shared passion for the rapidly vanishing remnants of the British coal industry.
After partaking of an excellent repast, washed down with various beverages flowing from steaming thermoses, the Friends and regukar volunteers continued work for a little longer in the afternoon, before concluding efforts for the day. A lovely first day back on site.