Saturday successes, 5th Sept 2020

View of lower terrace and top of retaining wall with repairs reaching the top.

Seizing another weekend of good weather and maintaining the momentum of recent weeks, the Friends and regular volunteers started early and quickly got shovelling, mixing and delivering lime mortar ready to continue rebuilding the collapsed rear retaining wall. Working safely outdoors and with focus to get the job done, the global pandemic seemed a little further away for a short while.

Mural musings

A glance from the top level, down over the lower terrace, showed the green polythene sheet protecting last week’s pointing from the elements as the lime mortar cured.

Smooth operation: mixing the mortar and sizing stones on the lower terrace

With the trusty site-safe ladders out, and with stiff-bristled brushes at the ready, last week’s pointing was whacked back to remove the excess mortar and tidy the finish, showing the texture, before work began on filling in the remaining open section of this elevation of the retaining wall.

Brushes with the past. Tidying up the pointing. The open section of facing wall showing, ready for filling during the day.

At the bottom left-hand side, where the last concrete buttress leaves off, a low section of stonework remained to be filled in. The old collapsed rubble fill behind the stone had previously been reinforced with concrete to prevent the recurrence of the structural failures of the past. The facing stone just needed to be built up to complete this elevation of unbuttressed retaining wall.

A good fit

Like completing a 3D jigsaw puzzle, the masonry has proved quite a challenge, but one to which the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery have surely risen. Aided by a string line, spirit level and measuring tape, appropriate sandstone blocks were located and lowered to the working area.

There, with bolsters and hammers in hand, the final shaping of the blocks took place to fill in the holes and build up the last three or so courses of stonework. All of this using materials reclaimed on site by volunteer efforts over the last six years, and all the while supplied with freshly prepared lime mortar to keep the work moving.

Stark contrasts

Further criminal damage to a front brick wall. Coal dust mortar may be weak, but breaking the law is weaker still.

While the rear wall is looking better than ever, the front boundary wall onto Wath Road continued to fall prey to criminal damage. All petty and pointless in the long run. The Friends will continue to protect, repair and maintain this special site. Although it certainly also goes to show how weak some old mortars are, made up as they were with coal dust.

Complete success – the retaining wall has been rebuilt.

Returning to the rear retaining wall after lunch, work continued; the last few blocks to be slotted into place drew everyone (safely) together on site to watch. There was something frankly uplifting about seeing this huge piece of work – a task that at times seemed impossible – safely completed by the regular volunteers.

Old and new: the bottom left and whole right-hand sections of the rear retaining wall rebuilt with volunteer efforts, guided by heritage building expertise.

In the context of catching up on lost open day weekends and working parties due to Coronavirus, the weekly sessions chartered through these blogposts have proven how a group working together with focus on and common purpose can really make huge progress.

An essential part of this success was the support from members of the local community through schemes like Tesco’s Bags of Help which enabled essential tools to be procured, like the cement mixer and generator and the scaffolding platform, not to mention the new wheel barrows to get things moving faster on site, quite literally.

There’s still plenty to do – repointing, rebuilding other walls, but this was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on progress. Everyone slept well after a good day’s work!

Protected: covering the newly mortared stonework to allow it to cure with too much bad weather causing trouble.

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