Humid of Hemingfield, seeks shade

Bit warm again. Seeking to keep up the momentum from the last week’s efforts, the Friends and careful band of regular volunteers returned to Hemingfield Colliery once again for another early start to a day of repairs to the rear retaining wall behind the winding engine house. Still gently returning to the site and following COVID-19 secure guidance, the pit was working behind closed gates again for now.

View of the winding engine house and pay off the pumping shaft and headgear next to it.
Sunny view of the pumping shaft and winding engine house


View of Hemingfield Colliery from Wath Road
Wath Road view of the colliery site with both headgears visible

Thankfully the sun was slightly hidden; just a few clouds in the sky first thing so the crew were not being lightly sauteed while they gathered tools and equipment for the day ahead. It was also pleasant to note that no further criminal damage had taken place to the boundary wall. It’s almost as if even vandals need a holiday from time to time.

Stone in the Lime-light

View of lower terrace behind winding engine house at Hemingfield Colliery
Patience and application: early morning view of the lower terrace behind the winding engine shed at Hemingfield Colliery  Saturday 8th August 2020

Something of a passion project for the group, the rear retaining wall represents at once a substantial logistical and physical challenge to which the Friends have most certainly risen over the past few years, with materials reclaimed, safely stacked and stored ready for when the means were available to begin to make good the collapse of a significant chunk of the retaining wall.

Mixing it up. Preparing lime mortar for the facing stone.

With mortar mixer and generator on standby, sand and lime galore, as well as cement for strengthening the rubble fill, the scaffold tower and ladders were brought out and work started preparing to continue the restoration of the wall.

A story of sand and lime
View of the repairs to the retaining wall showing a string love, new stone blocks and lime mortar
View of the wall repairs in action. String line to keep straight (as straight as the original!) And water spray for wetting lime mortar in the hot conditions.

Mercifully the early start also combined with a slightly cloudy morning, and the shade of the winding engine house itself, so the direct sunlight was diffused, and kept away from the wall-workers, although the heat and the humid were very real as the morning toil of mixing and laying courses of blocks got into a steady rhythm.

In the mix. Lime mortar in the mixer. Some rubble cement mix on the board behind

Thanks to Tesco shoppers!

Almost none of this work would have been possible without the support from the Tesco Bags of Help scheme which provided the Friends with resources to acquire essential equipment, enabling volunteers to safely access and repair the wall with heritage methods firmly in mind.

Lovely days, and early afternoons

After an al fresco luncheon on the lower terrace, with updates on cricket and the current state of the nation under a pandemic, work continued for a shorter afternoon as the sun beat down with greater vigour.

Strimmer by the main headgear

Multi-tasking comes naturally to the volunteers, so after mixing, it was on to strimming, as the grass doesn’t stop growing when wall-repair becomes a focus for our efforts, and keeping the pit neat is also key to ensuring it will be as ready as possible for visitors when it is safe to hold open days once more.

Strimmed again. Neat pit yard once more.

After pointing up the new courses of stone and brush tapping the mortar, the tools and equipment were removed and the wall top protected from the elements, as August brings with it promises of stormy weather.

Wall progress, protected from the elements, with additional stones ready for next time.

Safety first? Man-made and natural disasters

Historical connections abound. The recent tragic explosion in the port of Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon, on 4th August 2020, was caused, it seems, by a fire which then led to a catastrophic explosion of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a quayside warehouse for six years.

Ammonium Nitrate

“The chemical is widely used around the world, as a fertiliser or for explosives in mining.”

Giles, C., Menin, S., And Ali, Z. ‘Beirut explosion: Where else is ammonium nitrate being stored?’, BBC Reality Check, BBC News, 11 August 2020.

The mention of mining immediately gives us a point of connection, and for reference  – a glance at the statute book over a century ago, to The Coal Mines Regulation Acts 1887 to 1896, gives us some chilling insights into the dangers of explosives, specifically those used in breaking down coal and stone, or blasting through rock when sinking shafts in the first instance. Mines and quarries have a long history with explosives.

Advert for mining explosive, Iron & Coal Trades Review, 7th Jan 1898.

Under Section 6 of the 1896 Act, The Explosives in Coal Mines Order of 24th July 1899 (S.R & O. 1899, No.569) issued a schedule with a List of Permitted Explosives, including many products with some now sadly familiar ingredients:

Ammonite, consisting in every 100 parts by weight of the finished explosive of no more than 89 parts and not less than 87 parts of nitrate of ammonium…”

List of Permitted Explosives, Explosives in Coal Mines Order of the 24th July 1899

The 1887 C.M.R.A. Act (50 & 51 Vict. Ch.58), Part II – Rules, General rules, Rule 12 was clear on the careful storage of this material:

“It shall not be taken into the mine, except in cartridges in a secure case or canister containing not more than five pounds”

Rule 12. Use of explosives below ground, C.M.R.A. 1887, Part II General Rules

Five pounds is 2 kilogrammes, 268 grammes, or 0.002 metric tonnes. The Beirut explosion involved a reported 2,750 metric tonnes of ammonium nitrate. It has tragically led to the deaths of over 200 people, injuring over 5,000 and leaving an estimated 300,000 people displaced, effectively homeless in a city with a population of over 2 million in the wider Beirut metropolitan area.

And yet it was by no means the worst disaster involving such an accidental detonation of ammonium nitrate. In 1947 at Galveston Bay, the Port of Texas City, Texas, USA, the worst industrial accident in American history also involved over 2000 metric tonnes of ammonium nitrate. Accidentally detonated when a fire aboard the ship SS Grandcamp got out of control, it lead to further explosions at local oil storage facilities in the port claiming over 580 lives. Eternal vigilance is necessary to ensure lethal substances are handled carefully. Man-made substances, man-made circumstances, for a very human tragedy. Our thoughts are with those affected and providing support.

A fatal hill

From man-made dangers, to natural ones, we must also never forget the power of nature, especially in a season of hot weather, with the mercury rising and the barometers indicating high humidity which could lead to thunderstorms and lightning.

Over a hundred years ago, in 1906,  local miners near to Hemingfield experienced first hand the lethal effect of lightning strikes. In a story that was sent around the world, in newspapers from the UK to Australia, local men Mark Kaye, of Lundhill and Joseph Beaumont, of The Green Hemingfield were killed by lightning whilst sheltering under a tree in Wombwell Woods:


At an inquest held a few days ago at Hemingfield, near Barnsley (England), on the bodies of two miners who were killed by lightning whilst sheltering under a beech tree,  the coroner remarked that he had been to examine the tree, as the accident raised a very peculiar question. […]

In this case the lightning had not injured the tree to the extent of damaging a leaf, but it was also an accepted fact at that inquest that six men were sheltering under a beech, and that two of then were killed whilst they stood there.

Geelong Advertiser, Saturday 27th October 1906, page 6

The other four men were Edward Parks, Samuel Garfield and Alfred Bell from Hemingfield, and Samuel Thomas from Wombwell. We remember the two men killed, buried at Wombwell, and at Hemingfield & Jump cemeteries, respectively.

Wherever you are, and whatever you do, please take care and stay safe!

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