The highest heights, 12th June 2021

Keeping up the pace the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery and regular volunteers returned on Saturday 12th June. Just a week since the last session. Clearly they had the bit between their teeth; the wall-pointing bug was evident: a crazed addiction if ever there was one.

Not quite the Eagle’s Nest, more like a Barn Owl box

This week was crowned by gravity-defying high scaffold work, and equally heightened temperatures. Hemingfield may not have enjoyed the global media attention of the G7 summit happening in Corbis Bay, Cornwall, but lacked none of the fabulous weather. Who needs the pabulum and bluster of world leaders when you have the wit and wisdom determined volunteers? Such geopolitical debates aside, what *is* the right way of spreading cream and jam on a scone?

Leaves no litter

Whilst the crew exchanged pleasantries and planning their descent to the retaining wall and ascent of the scaffold for repair work, a brief brush with the pavement out front saw off the few leaves which had fallen since last weekend. No litter thankfully, although we noticed the odd takeaway-thrownaway object scattered on the road to Elsecar.

A quick tidy up on the pavement out front, marking the passing of the seasons.

Sun, Sand and … some water and lime, really

Well-trained now, the regular volunteers gathered the necessary tools and materials and lowered their ladders to start work on the lower terrace and rear retaining wall repairs. Mixer and generator fired up, the materials were soon getting ready, although a trip to the shops was necessary – not for ice-cream on this occasions, but sprinkles of another kind for the mortar colour. A ‘swatch’ of original eroded/detached material was ready to hand to get the shade just right.

Tools and equipment ready for the retaining wall repair work.

Citius, Altius, Fortius (Swifter, Higher, Stronger) may well be the Olympic motto, but the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery are no slouches themselves. Leaving the speed to the Sparrowhawks nesting nearby, and having repointed the lower section of the retaining brick wall in previous weeks, the only way left to go was indeed UP. And so they climbed. The stronger bit definitely got ticked off in the hefty sections of the scaffold required to set things up for the next stage of work further up the wall.

Up to the highest heights yet. Three levels high, setting up the scaffold for safely working on repointing the rear retaining wall.

After brush whacking back the drying mortar from last time, it was on with the day’s work. With plugging chisels, trowels, power tools and brushes to clean up the old stuff, the team steadily worked along and up the wall, repointing with the mortar mix. The higher we went, the more eroded the mortar mix (inferior materials?), so more mortar was needed. As the rear wall reaches the top, it also meets the ‘ground’ level of the lower terrace, so roots and weeds appear more in the wall, just to add to the things to tackle and reset in the repair work.

A hive of industry. Heritage restoration in action and bumble bees on the flowers.

As the day wore on, the sun was really beating down on the site, and as the hours passed by the shade of the lower terrace is slowly consumed by direct sunshine. Hot work for the volunteers, but a cunning plan was in hand. Who needs the giant rainforest Biomes of the Eden Project when you can sweat it out under the shade of a green plastic sheet?

Repointed. Looking smarter and stronger

Much mixing, bucketing, trowel and float-ing and repointing later, the end of the day was fast approaching, so the group disassembled the tower and packed everything away for another week. Pausing for a moment to admire their efforts to date, the wall is definitely looking a heck of a lot better than it did. It’s great to see such a lovely team effort showing progress in the physical condition of the site. We’re all passionate (and patient!) about conserving our heritage and look forward to the next slot to continue the work.

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