On yer bike – back to the Bicycle Pit (safely)

Returning to a new normal: a view of the colliery on Saturday 4th July 2020

Back. Working behind closed gates, and observing social distancing and regular hand sanitising, the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery made a careful return to site.

View of the closed pit gates from inside the pit. Keeping volunteers safe as they tentatively start to return to site.
Volunteers working behind closed gates. Trying out the new requirements and taking steps towards more activity back on site.

Safety first: a thank you

Big thanks go to Friends Director and Site Manager Glen for close attention to the site during lockdown, and keeping the top yard well strimmed, ensuring the maintenance of the largest open area during the extended closure period.

Trimmed. Some mushrooms emerging from the strimmed top yard, with the pumping engine house in the background.

Cautious return

Regular volunteers Keith, Paul and Chris joined him to take a first careful step back towards maintaining this Victorian survivor.

The ‘weedy wilderness’ beyond the hardstanding at the topside of the colliery yard.

They got stuck into the weedy wilderness at the topside of the yard, and also tackled the lower terrace behind the winding engine house which had become more of a post-industrial meadow in the meantime.

Hemingfield Colliery ‘meadow’: 4 months of growth at the lower terrace.


Away from site, other Hemingfield volunteers and Friends are staying safe at home, but have continued to work on historical research and also some important heritage development planning, connected with our Hemingfield’s Hidden History project, a National Lottery Heritage Fund project which we are getting quite excited about, and hope to be able to share more details on future planned activites before too long.

Wheely good fun

At least one volunteer raised a smile, inspired by the COVID-19 push towards ‘active travel’, they arrived at the pit on a bicycle which gives us an excuse to segue into some history; an old nickname of Hemingfield Colliery: the “Bicycle Pit”.

The unusual ‘Bicycle pit’ winding wheels on the old timber headgear (early Twentieth Century)

The winding wheels stacked one atop the other and rotating in opposite directions to wind both corves of coal from the Barnsley seam, and also the miners up and down, to and from their working places underground.

Penny Farthing type racing bicycle, (Fig.29, Plate II, Lacy Hillier, G. ‘Cycles Past and Present’, Trans. Royal Scottish Society of Arts, Vol.XIII, 1894)

Some bicycle! you might say, but then the Victorians really took the new wheeled vehicle to heart, replacing horse power with person-power and liberating a whole generation with some spectacular machines. 2020 could be rivalling the 1880s with April this year showing a 50% increase in bike sales according the Bicycle Association.

The formidable Mrs Smith a pioneer female cyclist on a tricycle (fig.33, plate II, Lacy Hillier, G. ‘Cycles Past and Present’, Trans. Royal Scottish Society of Arts, Vol.XIII, 1894)

We should also pause to remember the pit ponies who lived and worked underground for long periods as they provided the indispensable haulage of the corves from the main roads nearest the working faces right to the pit bottom reading for winding. The last pit ponies at Hemingfield were raised from the pit bottom on 17th May 1920.

Short shrift

Pausing only for a short lunch during a brief downpour, the Friends and Volunteers worked up quite a sweat on the close and humid day at Hemingfield. Dark clouds threatened all day, but mostly held off so the strimmer could make great progress whilst the volunteers pulled weeds and sang merrily when handling thistles, brambles and nettles throughout the day.

Nice and neat. The meadow mown on the lower terrace of the colliery
You can see clearly now the weeds have gone. Lower terrace shot looking up at the main headgear.

Snails and bright yellow and black caterpillars abounded on site, as the local buzzard floated merrily on high overhead. We also enountered a number of toads, including a large beauty.

Not quite Toad of Toad Hall. Beautiful specimen lifting the spirits on a great volunteer day.

Lifting lockdown: ‘Super Saturday’

In other news: Aftershave. The smell of the lifting of ‘lockdown’ on Saturday. Aftershave and perfume dominated the air, as local South Yorkshire folk donned their Saturday best and headed out in Elsecar, Hemingfield and Wombwell for some socially-distant beer garden and al fresco refreshments and dining.

Dubbed ‘Super Saturday’, from the 4th of July 2020, the Westminster government urged folks to embrace the opening up of hospitality businesses and to enjoy their Summer safely. Whether at The Fitzwilliam Arms at Elsecar, the Elephant and Castle at Tingle Bridge, or the Tavern at Lundhill, people were gathering on a humid Saturday and a renewed chatter (and cologne) filled the air. Cautious optimism, and hopefully not overexuberance as people keep their distance and enjoy new outdoor seating, table service indoors and have the added traceability of giving name and address to the staff. What a world. With the City of Leicester in lockdown and some surprise at the level of infection in Barnsley (when Pillar 2 testing in drive-throughs etc was added and announced this week) this is no time to grow complacent. And so, currently working safely behind closed doors, the Friends are picking up where everything was left off in March, and we hope that, working together, all of us will stay safe and cherish our local heritage as we make progress in fighting this virus.

Weeds galore. Another barr[ow] of laughs for volunteers excited to be back on site, observing precautions.

Stay safe everyone!

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