Light and Dark, Saturday 5th June 2021

More like it: bright and blue skies, and more than a little warmth at last

Scorchio is the unofficial word for it. After some ups and down earlier this year, the sun decided to come out and pay a courtesy visit to the volunteer crew at Hemingfield Colliery. After a dull and damp start to the year, it came as some consolation to have a little warmth on site, albeit the sun starts to tell as the light moves around and across the site during the day, so liquids and shade were both much in demand.

Walking cure

Another pleasant walk approaching Hemingfield Colliery from Elsecar, via Wath Road.

Being out and about is good for the soul if not the soles of well-trodden work boots. At the very height of Spring, the roadside and hilltops are crowned with keen green shoots, and bushy canopies provide enviable shady cover for the pedestrian traffic making the most of the weekend. On foot the walk to the pit is a balm in itself: cool, gentle breezes and birdsong all around. It calls to minds the words of an old Barnsley poet:

Pure and refreshing blows the breath of morn,-

So kind, it scarcely stirs the flowers of Spring;

The grass-blades shoot-peeps forth the tender corn,

And budding groves with merry anthems ring.

[…]

Cheer’d by warm rays and friendly showers, the meads

In robes of fresher, livelier hue are seen;

Fair smile the woods, as Spring her verdure leads, –

In mingled shades of dark, reliev’d with green.

Thomas Lister, ‘Morning Contemplations’, from A Rustic Wreath, 1834

Keen and able

Maintaining the keen pace set last week, the Friends and regular volunteers were determined to make up for lost time earlier in the pandemic by having another extra working party slot, socially distanced and outdoors: good clean and healthy work. But first things first: a chat and a catch up, a warm welcome to one another on arrival reminds us all of what the locked down isolation has kept us all from enjoying.

All eyes on the prize, volunteers arrive at the pit gates and look to get on with another day’s work in restoring the pit’s heritage.

Shovel and strokes

The street scene is an important part of the maintenance of the pit, and surrounded by trees and sited on a busy country road, it’s always good to get the broom out and tidy up the outside a little. Yes, the wall has been attacked a bit over time (especially the criminal damage and vandalism over the last three years!). And yet, hopefully, with our new security measures we hope people will respect their heritage a little more.

Pre-sweep: room for improvement
Post-sweep: a bit better

Scene setting

All hands proceeded to the lower terrace, behind the winding engine house. There the necessary kit was gathered; tools, ladders and buckets galore ready for a solid day of wall repair along the retaining wall of the site.

All things bright and beautiful, all ladders short and tall – ready for working on the retaining wall

Height of adventure

Somewhat like a 3D jigsaw the wall repair work relies on safe access to the higher parts of the wall, and so to the scaffold! Clearing out the eroded and degraded mortar, and repointing it with sympathetic materials is slow and steady work, but hugely rewarding as the condition of the wall can visibly be seen to improve.

Repointing work underway along the rear retaining wall at Hemingfield

Many hands do indeed make light work. Up top the mixing of lime mortar goes on. A sympathetic colorant is added to the mix to replicate the black coal-dust mortar mix which has eroded/fallen over time.

Friends and volunteers fully focused on wall restoration work. Seeking shade but enjoying the sunshine.

Hope of Deliveries

Stepping away from the pit and hot working on site, a brief change of tone and tack. In these coronavirus pandemic days the home delivery of products and services has become somewhat second nature. Whether (please not!) single use plastic bags or (better) brown paper bags, we see doorstep delivery of groceries to keep the country ticking over, and not a few billionaires’ bank balances looking even healthier than before the crisis.

The black stuff: detail of lumps of coal from Early Fitzwilliam’s collieries in 1908

Stepping back in time, the delivery of ‘Coals from Hemingfield’ was itself a mainstay of the wider world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Domestic fuel supplies and industrial ones allowed the country to continue working; heating, boiling, baking, steaming, smelting, sailing and generally ticking over. One of the topics of conversation at Hemingfield’s working weekends is whether people remember having coal delivered to their homes, or their parents or grandparents’ homes. What role did fossil fuels play, and how central did the energy source become to people’s working and private lives?

Detail from a railway coal wagon label from 1921 (printed labels for railway coal consignments to large scale customers)

Equally, it raises the issue of brand recognition, or trade names and advertising. How far flung did Elsecar’s coal go? We’d love to find out more about the delivery distances of coal from Hemingfield and one of the research aims for the Friends is to delve into this very subject in more detail.

Detail from 1913 advertisement from Hull shipping company for coal
Elsecar Main colliery c. 1910, detail from postcard – notice ELSECAR on the railway wagons (Courtesy private collection)

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