From Pit to Pump: 100 years ago today, 15th May 1920

View of Hemingfield Colliery in May 2020: the 2 concrete headgears over the old winding pit and the pumping pit and the 2 engine houses can be seen
View of Hemingfield Colliery, May 2020

100 years ago…

A hundred years ago today, on the 15th May 1920, the last corf load of coal was raised from Earl Fitzwilliam’s Hemingfield Colliery. It marked the end of an era for the pit, as silence fell, albeit temporarily, at the main winding shaft.

View of original winding wheels of Hemingfield Colliery taken in 1930s

The pit had been working the mighty 9ft Barnsley coal seam (amongst others) over 150 yards (c. 140 metres or 450 feet) below the surface since 1848.

Coal worked at Earl Fitzwilliam’s collieries at Elsecar and Park Gate 1850s-1870s (based on General Manager John Hartop’s mineral accounts – [Rotherham Archives 291-B Newbould papers])

But now the seams were exhausted, and the pit might have been closed forever and disappeared like its near neighbours High Elsecar (closed 1889) or Simon Wood (closed 1903) before it.

A 1920 wagon label for Earl Fitzwilliam’s Elsecar Collieries, used for delivering coal by rail to a regular bulk purchaser (this consignment dated after the closure of Hemingfield when Elsecar Main came into its own)

Coal and Water

But rather than abandon the miles of underground workings, and drainage levels, letting them flood and threaten other collieries still working nearby, a group of 15 local colliery companies had banded together to take on and maintain Earl Fitzwilliam’s vast pumping and drainage system.

  1. Brodsworth Main Colliery Company Ltd
  2. John Brown & Company Ltd (incl. Aldwarke Main, Car House and Rotherham Main collieries)
  3. Bullcroft Main Colliery Company Ltd
  4. Carlton Main Colliery Company Ltd
  5. Cortonwood Collieries Company Ltd
  6. Dalton Main Collieries Ltd
  7. Denaby and Cadeby Main Collieries Ltd
  8. Hickleton Main Colliery Company Ltd
  9. Houghton Main Colliery Company Ltd
  10. Manvers Main Collieries Ltd
  11. Mitchell Main
  12. New Monckton Collieries Ltd
  13. Stewarts and Lloyds Ltd
  14. Wath Main Colliery Company Ltd
  15. Wombwell Main Company Ltd

Joining together as the South Yorkshire Pumping Association, they had approached Earl Fitzwilliam’s colleries manager, Mr Thomas Newbould on the possibility of buying the drainage levels and pumping equipment at Hemingfield, Elsecar and at Westfield near Parkgate.

Thomas Newbould, General Manager of Earl Fitzwilliam’s Collieries from 1884-1920

Newbould investigated the matter, working with mining engineer Charles E. Rhodes for the South Yorkshire Coal Owners, taking the request to Earl Fitzwilliam himself.

7th Earl Fitzwilliam, Charles de Meuron Wentworth-Fitzwilliam

“I think you have arrived at a proper solution of the whole question, viz:- that coal must be left to support the old water levels and that pumping must continue. As regards the former I shall be quite content if the Owners concerned will carry out any arrangements or discussions with Mr Newbould […]”

Earl Fitzwilliam to Charles Rhodes (1918)

And so it was that, after working through the First World War, through the Spanish Flu, and into peacetime, in May 1920 the day finally came for the Pumping Association to take over the pit from the coal working years under Earl Fitzwilliam.

The Hemingfield Pumping Station (October 1920)

The last manager at Hemingfield, Mr Asher Hollings, continued under the aegises of the SYPA and the pit was maintained as the coal winning materials were removed and the heavy plant now surplus to requirements was removed.

Electric pumps suplplied by Rees Roturbo Manufacturing Company from Wolverhampton were installed in a new underground ‘pump house’ in the following year, and equipment renewed for the new purpose of pumping and drainage for the benefit of the wider South Yorkshire mining industry.

Friends of Hemingfield Colliery

Jumping forward to the present day. 100 years have passed since that last wooden corf of coal was chalked up ready for winding up to the surface. The same shaft is still in existence and the same winding and pumping engine house can still be seen at Hemingfield. Since 2014 the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery have strived to save the site, restore and share the stories if its long working life.

Thanks to the players of the National Lottery, in 2019 we were able to secure the purchase of the Pump House Cottage (former Cornish pumping enginehouse) as part of our Hemingfield’s Hidden Histories project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. In 2020 we remember the end of one shift for coal, and the beginning of another for pumping water to keep other pits safe.

We hope you will join us as we take the story of Hemingfield Colliery into the future.

Friends of Hemingfield Colliery with partners from Elsecar Heritage Railway and Army cadets from AFC Harrogate working together to restore and sustain our coalfield heritage.

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