Back. Working behind closed gates, and observing social distancing and regular hand sanitising, the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery made a careful return to 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.
Regular volunteers Keith, Paul and Chris joined him to take a first careful step back towards maintaining this Victorian survivor.
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.
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 which we are getting quite excited about, and hope to be able to share 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stay safe everyone!