Well, well, well, what a curious time …

March-ing on, May-be?

Coronavirus is contracting space and dilating time, it seems. For their part, the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery continue their efforts, remotely: researching, planning and staying safe. We hope you and yours are safe and well. Our thoughts and best wishes go out to all those affected by this epidemic, all those lost to it, and all of those caring and keeping the rest of the country, if not the whole world, running as normal as possible.

But more anon: this blog has a little bit of catching up to do…

Down the Rabbit Hole

Before the world turned upside down, following the Prime Minister’s address to the nation on 23rd March 2020, right back at the beginning of the month – the 7th March to be exact – the Friends held the first Open Day and working party.  It was a jolly affair, with regular volunteers, Paul, John, Keith and Chris arriving for a bright and breezy, but busy day working with Site Manager Glen on a range of tasks, tidying up the site. At the time, Spring was sprung and everyone’s thoughts were drifting to the warmer weather, more public open days and some exciting new projects to share with the local community and wider region.

Hemingfield Colliery main headgear

March Open Day 2020

READ ME

A short interlude. Two days earlier, 5th March 2020 was World Book Day. The Friends have books aplenty between them; and not just fascinating antiquarian tomes like Green’s 1878 Geology of the Yorkshire Coalfield (free to download from the BGS), or Twigg’s 1879 Village Rambles (digitised Google Books), but also topical delights like Rimmer, Went and Jessop’s The Village of Elsecar, South Yorkshire: Historic Area Assessment, but we digress. The Friends also have a publication of their own which is available for a suggested donation of £2 (plus postage and packing) – it relates to the the backstory of the 1852 disaster at the pit when ten men were killed in an explosion of gas. A recommended read, but then again we are perhaps a little biased.

World Book Day 5th March 2020 – book available now – please enquire!

EAT ME

Breaking for snap; dinner or lunch as you will, the friends and regular volunteers reviewed the work of the year to date, as well as reflecting on the history of the site around them. What was happening a hundred years ago?

view from lower terrace of pit, pumping shaft headgear and winding engine house in view

View from lower terrace, pumping shaft headgear and winding engine house in view

A hundred years ago, that is in March 1920, the pit was still working and winning coal. In terms of appearances, it would have resembled this 1880s billhead depiction of the pit, with two tall chimneys for the two boiler plants for pumping and winding.
An 1880s billhead engravinf of Hemingfield Colliery viewed form the canal, scross the canal basin and sidings 2 smoking chimneys can be seen.

1880s billhead engraving of Hemingfield Colliery

Jumping back to the present day, the team returned to work, and set to securing the rear of the site. The old wooden gates have largely rotted and collapsed, although not without a certain amount of vandalism in the past few years – people really should learn to contain their excitement and visit the site when it’s officially open. You can see much more and you might, just *might* learn something to boot.

Clearing away old debris, the crew tidied up the gate and secured it with a fence panel, until such time as it can be more fully restored. The clearance work continued back up in the main pit yard, where an immovable object finally met with an irresistible force: us lot. For several years a huge tree stump had remained in situ as we could not winch it or manoeuvre it with gentle persuasion.

view of the top of the pit yard, with prominent tree stump in the centre.

But is it art?

Although making for an interesting natural art installation it was rather in the way. After some additional chipping away and removal of weight from the bottom, the beast finally moved!

clear hole in the ground where the stump once was

All clear – finally

And finally shifted over to the bonfire pile, we have made progress! With time moving on, the group tided up, gathered up their tools and headed home, still largely unaware of what was to come…

DRINK ME

Rather a lot was to happen in the coming weeks. Before the lock-down proper began, with social distancing beginning, a small band of volunteers continued work on site on 21st March, but behind closed door (no more public open days for a while). Just time to make a little more progress on the epic work of rebuilding the rear retaining wall. No new images for now, but the previous work on this area clearly shows the scale of the task. The weather was good, the sun was shining, and really, all that was wanting was a barbecue and a refreshing drink, but that was the end of the carefree days; staying safe, keeping social distance and shielding the most vulnerable have kept the volunteers safely away. 

Repair work on rear retaining wall (image from 2019)

Drone high view of modern day Hemingfield Colliery site, with Elsecar branch of the Dearne and Dove Canal seen below the pit

View of the Colliery nestled in the wider landscape

Regular checks are made on the site, and unfortunately, there has been a further example of criminal damage, with additional bricks being removed from the external wall. Sad really. But the Friends are undeterred, back at home new record transcription, historical research and future plans are being made and although public open days will be unlikely to resume for quite some time, care and maintenance will continue.

shot of the outside wall of the colliery, with some bricks on the pavement due to criminal damage

Unfortunately, some petty criminal damage continues, even in lockdown

That sinking feeling

Today Hemingfield Colliery has 2 open shafts; that is two shafts which filled with rise water from flooded workings after pumping ceased, but not capped or backfilled. However it was not always so, at one point it could claim 5 shafts:

1 pumping, 1 winding, and 3 ventilation shafts, reflecting the growing demands on the safe working of a very busy colliery from its origins in the 1840s.

– “Sinking” you say?

Yes, sinking: shafts are sunk, those who sink are sinkers. They are usually contractors, tendering for work for employers, in what was a dangerous job. We now know a little bit about quite a few of the sinkers involved in different stages of Hemingfield Colliery’s development, here’s one example:

CONTRACTS.

To Sinkers. – To be Let, the Sinking of a 14ft shaft, at the Earl Fitzwilliam’s Elsecar Colliery. Specifications, &c., to be seen at the Mineral Office, Elsecar, on and after the 1st September, 1864.

                                                                                                 JOHN HARTOP

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, Monday August 15, 1864, Vol.XLV, No.3073, page 

John Hartop was Earl Fitzwilliam’s General Manager for the ironstone and colliery undertakings between 1857 and 1884. He took over the collieries at a time of expansion, as the railway arrived at Elsecar, and with it the prospect of a larger national market by rail; a metropolitan market too, with London’s domestic coal demand being a lucrative opening via the Great Northern Railway’s Coal Depot at King’s Cross, not to mention the vast scope for coal for the steam engines which not only carried but themselves consumed Elsecar’s produce.

The growing demand led to increased production across Elsecar’s collieries, and increased production meant more extensive underground workings at Low Elsecar, Simon Wood and High Elsecar pits, as well as the Park Gate collieries near Rotherham. The demand and dangers meant more provision for ventilation was required, and in June 1864 Hartop set out a new ventilation, or ‘downcast’ shaft for Hemingfield. Sited between Rainborough Park and Rainborough Grange (now buried under the landscaped spoil of Elsecar Main), the new shaft was known as ‘Rainborough pit’ or ‘Rainbro New Pit’.

The successful contractors were Messrs Cadman and Steel, who engaged to sink a 14 feet diameter shaft 166 yards, to meet the workings. It took them just over a year, until October 1865.  As the life of the colliery waned, so did the use of the shaft; by 1910 it was being filled in again.