Cooler, but no less humid. Cloudy with no chance of downpours. But who trusts the forecasts? The Friends and volunteeers arrived for another COVID-catch-up session; safely-spaced and behind closed-gates to try and make good some of the lost weekends over the past few months that have cast such a long shadow over the country, and worldwide.
Humanity & Heritage in focus
Saturday 15th August 2020 was also the 75th Anniversary of VJ day or Victory in Japan Day, recalling both the surrender of Japan and marking the end of the Second World War itself, with the conclusion of hostilities in the Far East. At the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas in Staffordshire, a 2 minutes’ silence was observed at 11am in a commemorative service led by the Prince of Wales.
With such sobering, sombre thoughts in mind, we are truly grateful to be able to get out and enjoy working with others to preserve our local heritage.
Although the country has had something of a heatwave, the end of summer is fast approaching, and the passage of time leaves less to complete repairs and ensure the restoration of the rear retaining wall is consolidated this year, before the arrival of the cold, rain and wintry limitations as to what work can safely be undertaken.
With this in mind the Friends and Regular volunteers gathered early doors, or early gates as the case may be at Hemingfield, and got everything set up early, both to maximise the productive time, but also to avoid as much high sunshine exposure as possible!
Unveiling the protective cover from the top of last week’s work on the top course of stones, the gang were pleased to see the curing of the lime well under way. Setting up the scaffold platform, it was also great to see just how far the rebuilding of the collapsed retaining wall has risen, from the ground, basically to a couple of steps down from the rear terrace.
Reflecting back on how far the retaining wall has come, and what a significant task and challenge to the skills and resources of the group it has proven to be, it is really marvellous to see the solid progress being made. Not just in terms of the rebuilding, but also the security of the rear of the site; the longer-term safety of which will be ensured, and also in terms of the improved skills and confidence which the volunteers have developed, supported by heritage building repair advisors, and enabled through the tools and equipment funded from the Tesco Bags of Help scheme. As further progress is made on this work, we will of course chronicle the whole story of the repair, the history of the wall (as far as is known), and future plans.
With an early start, and minds focused on getting the job closer to conclusion, the group worked steadily throughout the morning, mixing mortar, spotting and sizing stones (an underappreciated skill in itself), laying the new courses, and perhaps the largest task, filling and building back the rubble void behind the stone face.
Even with the clouds overhead, this heavy work was thirst-inducing and humid, but the crew continued on, working well together and ensuring that the materials were ready to continue the repairs. By early afternoon, the next couple of courses were up, and the ‘new’ rebuilt section was now tied into and supported the highest point of the previous collapse. This section of the retaining wall has not been this complete in a generation, so stands as a testament to the commitment of the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery.
Tidying tools away, the new courses were covered over in expectation of a heavy rain arriving later that day or the next (Editor: it arrived on Sunday, raining most of the day!)
Subsidence and subsidies: making good the damage of mining
All this talk of repairs and rebuilding puts one in mind of one of the darker legacies of mining activity, and of the excavation of coal seams at varying depths throughout the South Yorkshire coalfield: subsidence. The history of subsidence and provision of reapirs is a long one and not one for today (although please report any such problems to the Coal Authority!), however a couple of examples from the end of the nineteenth centruy may suffice to illustrate the extent of the problem even then, not just in the late twentieth cetury as the seams being worked become closer to the surface and settlement occurred as mining came to an end.
Example 1: 1896. A pub, aptly named the Rock Tavern, at Highthorn, Kilnhurst near Swinton, not too far away from Hemingfield. In this case the owners of the public house in question were the brewers, Tennant Brothers, of Exchange Brewery Sheffield. As the letter sent below describes, their inn and adjoining cottages had suffered quite considerable damage due, they claimed, to the workings of the seams below, by the J.&J. Charlesworth firm, a longstanding and well-known company which employed considerable numbers of local men.
In March 1896 the brewery contacted local Mining and Civil Engineer Charles Edward Rhodes to investigate and help them address the damages. They passed on details of damage and repairs from their builder in 1895 and 1896.
After investigating the damages, and inspecting the plans of the workings held by Messrs Charlesworth, by November 1896, Rhodes received a cheque for fifty pounds to be passed to Tennants as recompense, and no further legal action or formal agreement was needed, or taken as there were to be no further workings under or adjacent to the area concerned.
As a simple example, it is an interesting exchange. The pub is still standing, and the Tennant’s glass can be seen in the windows, even though the firm has long since disappeared itself and its brewery site in Sheffield transformed into office and residential developments. For more on the history of the area, see the Kilnhurst pages of the Swinton Heritage Society website.
Example 2: 1899. At the other end of the scale from a single building claim, and small reparations, were examples like that between Charles Cammell Ltd of the Old and New Oaks collieries, at Stairfoot, Barnsley, and their near neighbour, the large glassworks company, The Rylands Glass & Engineering Company Ltd.
For further details on the Rylands businesses, the extensive glassworks and worldwide bottle history associated with the firm and its predecessors, please see the informative article on the Stairfoot Station Heritage Park website.
Suffice it to say that when the subsidence from the Cammell Co’s collieries hit the glass works, a much greater scale of damage was done to large scale industrial premises, including kilns, furnaces, offices, workshops etc. The list of costs of taking down, reinforcing and rebuilding parts of the factory site make for interesting reading (totalling well over nine hundred and fifty pounds of materials and labour), and the list of charges also gives some insight into the nature of the concern, as well as the hourly rate of skilled labour at the time.
Reflecting on the scale of the task of rebuilding the retaining wall at Hemingfield, the volunteers perhaps face a slightly easier task, but the value of their voluntary work certainly is priceless!