Step-Up and Stick to the Plan. Returning to a new normal?

This is a recuperative post, covering a range of time from March into April 2021, as the UK’s lockdown began to ease, following a 4 step plan: a roadmap enabled by the extensive targeted vaccination programme proceeding since the new year. As the nation recovers normal activities, so hopefully will we!

Step 1 began on the 8th March 2021 with schools returning to face-to-face teaching. Some further easing happened on 29th March with outdoor meetings of 2 households or 6 people.

Clear-up, 10th April 2021, before the delayed Spring cleaning, the pavement outside the pit covered in soggy leaves.

Ever cautious, the Friends decided on a small volunteer group return to the site on the 10th April. Working safely-distanced and outdoors behind closed gates, it was a positive first step, and a careful but welcome return to site  After a Winter into Spring pause, there was lots to do!

After the Spring clean, 10th April 2021, the pavement outside the gates looking much smarter.
Spring cleaning continued. 19th April 2021 – the volunteers carefully swept up the leaves and pulled up weeds along the road opposite Pit Row

Step 2, not before 12th April, saw non-essential retail, hairdressers and some public buildings as well as most outdoor attractions reopening, and hospitality venues opening for outdoor service only.

Bramah Lecture 2021, 19th April 2021

Steve Grudgings Bramah Lecture on Restoring Hemingfield Colliery covered the extensive site clearance and fund and awareness raising from 2014 to date. As well as thanking supporters for their assistance over the years.

Remaining cautious, the Friends resumed a virtual programme of a activities at this juncture, with Friends Chair Steve Grudgings delivering the postponed Bramah Lecture at 7pm on Monday 19th April 2021.

The annual lecture, before the South Yorkshire Industrial History Society was delivered online via Zoom and covered the ‘story to date’ of the Friends. Entitled “Restoring Hemingfield Colliery – Trials, Tribulations & Triumphs“, it was a well illustrated tour of the site, its context, history and significance, together with insights into some of the challenges which have been overcome so far, the surprises since 2014, the great volunteers, as well as the long road ahead.

We acknowledge and make special reference to the huge leap forward the Friends have been enabled to make thanks to National Lottery players via the National Lottery Heritage Fund which continues to drive our Hemingfield’s Hidden History project forward, focusing on securing Pump House Cottage, the former pumping engine house, and sharing and celebrating of the wider history and heritage of the site.

Covid has certainly made planning activities more difficult, but virtual opportunities to engage with new audiences and connect with local heritage groups are always welcome.

Getting back into the swing of things

The main winding shaft. This concrete headgear has been standing guard over the site throughout the last 80 years.

The Friends assembled onsite once more on 24th April 2021, with the tools to continue seasonal maintenance, and also to pick up where the working parties had left off. It was really beginning to feel a little more like the old normal, even if the new one was still taking shape. We could also look up and see the roof repairs which had been undertaken by a contractor in the open air (the very cold open air!) whilst other activities were restricted. Huge thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting this aspect of the project to bring the Pump House Cottage back into use, and especially making progress at such a difficult time.

Bright and beautiful: the older concrete headgear over the pumping shaft. The bright sunshine casting an exact and complex shadow on the bob wall of the former engine house.

The roof repairs were delayed and disrupted by the pandemic’s ups and down, but it was positive to see scaffolding up back in February 2021:

Flashback: Works paused, but in progress – scaffolding for roof repairs to Pump House Cottage February 2021

Short back and sides

Back to the present, strimming and digging were the orders of the day. Catching up with friends old and new under bright blue and sunny skies made for a delightful day.

Strimming back the longer grass on Sat 24th April 2021
Looking good. Strimmed back the even grass at the top of the pit and winding engine house looked picnic-worthy in the warm sunlight.
Down below. Volunteers digging out the base of the retaining wall to prepare for future repointing of the masonry and brickwork. Got to reclaim all those bricks!

Next steps…

Reviewing the impact of each loosening, we now await Step 3, no sooner than 17th May, for many indoor leisure and entertainment venues and Step 4, no earlier than 21st June, when legal limits on social contact may be lifted. For heritage site, like ourselves, we hope to review our activities and look forward to being able to safely provide open days and tours later in the year – with the national vaccination programme aiming to cover all adults by July, there is reason to hope that Heritage Open Days in September will see a welcome return to exploring our past.

Viral reflections

As of late April 2021 (60 weeks into the pandemic in the UK), ONS roundup data showed the total number of deaths involving COVID-19 in England and Wales was 138,911 up to 16 April 2021, using death registration data. In 2015, in a prescient historical study, Martin Knight wrote of the unprecedented scale of what became known as the ‘Spanish Flu’, spreading in three waves from June 1918-May 1919:

“Deaths attributed directly to influenza in the civilian population of England and Wales during the 46 weeks of the epidemic numbered 140,989 equivalent to a death rate of 4774 per million (Registrar-General, 1920a). No other epidemic since records began, whether of influenza or any other disease, had such mortality: the closest was the cholera epidemic of 1849, with a death rate of 3033 per million.”

Knight, Martin, The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919 in the towns of the West Riding and York, PLACE (People, Landscape & Cultural Environmental Education and Research Centre) York, 2015, p.2

At the time, it was felt that there were not many known effective measures, as the Medical Officer for Barnsley County Borough summarised the unprecedented scale of the pandemic:

“The Pandemics of Influenza which swept over the whole world in the summer and later in the winter of 1918, only to re-appear in the spring of 1919, have been, as far as is known, without precedent. Epidemics causing serious mortality have, of course, occurred in previous years, the last serious outbreak being in 1891-1892. Owing to the shortness of the incubation period, the extreme infectivity of all cases whether confined to bed or able to go to work, and the lack of knowledge as to the causative agent, sanitary measures as now practised seem to have effected no beneficial influence on the progress of the epidemic.”

Sharpe, F.A., County Borough of Barnsley. Report on the Sanitary Condition of Barnsley and the work of the isolation hospital in 1918, Barnsley, 1919, p.16

Although the resources and national coordination of a public health response would develop slowly, wider basic housing and sanitation challenges remained, some preventative precautions were put in place, albeit with unknown effectiveness until many years later as the nature of viruses began to be uncovered by medical science:

“Information was distributed in the form of handbills and posters to every house throughout the district. Ventilation was efficiently inspected at the various Picture Houses and other places of entertainment, the managers being evidently desirous of doing their best to co-operate with the Sanitary staff by excluding children under twelve and providing a free circulation of fresh air during and between the performances. The various schools were closed for short periods mainly owing to the depletion of staff.”

Atkins, George E., Wombwell Urban District Council, Report of the Medical Officer of Health for the year 1919, Wombwell, 1919, p.14

Come fill up my Census

One important historic event snuck by during the easing of lockdown restrictions: on Sunday 21st March 2021 the United Kingdom held its decennial Census, with most respondents able to answer questions about themselves and their households online. Filled out by individuals under lockdown visiting, the picture captured is meant to reflect ‘usual place of work’, although it will be interesting to see whether things do return to normal in the coming months and years, or whether new ways of working, and a ‘hybrid’ working pattern develops, supporting greater working from home.

Working from home?

Ironically, the first census to ask the question “If Working at Home” was the 1901 census, held on 31 March 1901. Looking at Hemingfield Colliery at that time, we see the denizens of Pit Row:

  • No.1 – The Kay family, with Thomas Kay, the 34 year old colliery pumping engine man, his wife Mary (36), 2 children, his sister and niece all living there.
  • No.2 – The Jacques family, with the 67 year old Leonard, a railway platelayer, wife Eliza (61), and their 28 year old daughter Annie E., she being the only inhabitant in the row actually working at home as a milliner.
  • No.3 – The Bamforth family, with the 54 year old widowed Annie and her three sons.
  • No.4 – The Widdison family, 34 year old Joseph and his wife and 2 children.
  • No.5 – The Guest family, Luke (33) and his wife and 3 young children.
  • No.6 – The Robinson family, with Sam (48) and Sophia (46) and their son and 3 daughters.
  • No.7 – The Salkeld family, Frank (35) the colliery blacksmith, his wife Laura (33), their 2 sons and Laura’s younger brother.
  • No.8 – The Firth and Clifton household with widow Eleanor (73), her married daughter Hannah (36), son-in-law Henry (42) and 7 grandchildren.

The Friends are fortunate to count an active body of volunteers who have been researching the local census records and look forward to sharing stories from their work in the future, contributing to the Hemingfield’s Hidden History project outcomes.

Back to the Future

In early 2022 we will be able to see the original personal household schedule forms from the Census of 1921, 100 years after it took place on 19th June 1921. It was conducted under the terms of the Census Act 1920 which together with later legislation which made it an offence to disclose personal information for 100 years. The records will be made available by the National Archives working with It will be interesting to see what new details we can learn.

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