Mist over the meadow

Saturday 10th July 2021 was almost a dot day. Not because of the mounting excitement ahead of the Euro 2020 final and the hopes (ultimately dashed) for England men’s football team, but rather because the weather forecast looked wet and miserable. Nevertheless the Friends and regular volunteers braved the elements.

Emerging from the mist, the approach to Hemingfield Colliery, Sat 10th July 2021

In the event, ‘Plan B’ of indoor building recording work, followed by a swift exit proved unnecessary, and it was a very active and incredibly hot-and-humid day to be working outdoors, mostly bringing the growth of green stuff back into order.

Eerie mist hung over the pit. A wet start – the glories of an English summer

Arriving on site the mist was quite eerie. Atmospheric special effects certainly added to the scene as two nesting Sparrowhawks flew off the winding enginehouse roof at the rear of the site, out over the Dearne and Dove Canal.

Out there…in the mist, a Sparrowhawk (or is it a Kestrel?) swoops through the damp air.

But down to work. Gates open, shutters up, tools assembled. The wet pavement by the gates glistened, not much tidying needed there, thankfully.

Not too bad. Pavement outside the pit gates, by the bus stop.

On to the slightly hairier prospect of weeding the front of the old pumping station switchgear building (the 1897 surface haulage enginehouse). Standing straight out onto the busy road from Elsecar to West Melton, muck and salt build up along the front, leading to a profusion of weeds. A stiff brush and some sharp spade work later, and it looked a bit more presentable.

Looking sharp to sweep the weeds away on the Wath Road frontage

Perspiring in the Pasture

Before and after. Strimming to maintain the site is a big job in itself but keeps things tidy.

Meanwhile, inside the pit, the straggly weeds and grass had to be faced. Although wild flower meadows and roadside rewilding projects are something we would support, it only takes a few weeks of hot and wet weather for the site to start to return to nature.

Busy days and humid conditions. Strimming and equipment movements by the pumping shaft.

What were mere hints of green stuff not so long ago, quickly become knee-high obstacles needing some attention to keep the site looking tidy and preparing the way for future visitors. Strimmers in chief Glen and Paul made fantastic progress around the site.

Short back and sides. Strimmed area at the rear of the winding engine house on the lower terrace.

A rake’s progress

Once felled the grass and weeds need gathering and disposal. Raking, barrowing, and dumping under the midday summer sun is no mean feat.

Super grass gathering in progress by the pumping shaft. Strimmed, raked and binned.

Drink stops and a shady lunch provided a welcome respite as well as a chance to hold the world to rights over a sandwich sat looking out over the railway and canalside. Some eventful weeks were explored, from the pandemic and public behaviour, to cricket scores, football fandom and future plans for the pump house cottage garden which we hope to bring back to life, with soft and hard landscaping, and careful planting to encourage wildlife and increased biodiversity on site.

This work will support the delivery of our ambitious National Lottery Heritage Fund Hemingfield’s Hidden History project, securing the former pumping engine house and grounds, reuniting the two halves of the site and making the colliery more easily accessible for visitors, for tours and onsite activities. Thanks to Lottery Players, without whose support via the Heritage Fund, Hemingfield Colliery would not be where it is today.

Final strips of strimming finished off at the top of the colliery.

Measure for measure

Wall repair was paused this week for lighter duties. As strimming had started at the rear of the site, up top John and Mitch were busily taking measurements of the winding engine house to assist in compiling a more detailed and internal and external record of the masonry.

This detailed work will also contribute to the Hemingfield’s Hidden History project as we work to develop new interpretation materials, illustrate the development of the buildings throughout their working past. This will build on previous research with Historic England when much of the site was given Scheduled Monument status, and Pump House Cottage was listed Grade II* in October 2020. Our volunteers hope to learn how to produce historic building records which could be contributed to the South Yorkshire Archaeology Service.

In practice this looked a little like a game of ‘tapes and ladders’ as measuring tape was taken high and wide, and details of sizes and heights, widths and depths were noted for later compilation. After a long and tiring day, sweating under the misty sunshine, everyone went home and no doubt slept well after a cool shower!

Cadeby Main pit disaster 9th July 1912

This weekend in July gives us cause to remember another July in 1912, just as King George V and Queen Mary were visiting South Yorkshire (even stopping off in Elsecar, a story for another time). On Monday 8th July 1912, the monarch passed through Conisborough, visiting the famous castle and many local people were off work to see the festivies.

Map detail from Reid’s Handy Colliery Guide, 1917 showing Barnsley and Doncaster area pits including Cadeby

However on Tuesday 9th July there were two tragic explosions underground at Cadeby Main Colliery which claimed the lives of 88 people on the day and had repercussions for safety in mines and colliery management.

Detail from advertisement for Cadeby and Denaby Collieries, 1913

The Denaby and Cadeby Main Collieries are situate in the Don Valley, in South Yorkshire, and are about 2,000 yards apart from each other, being nearly midway between the towns of Doncaster and Rotherham. The area of the mineral tract being worked by the Colliery Co. comprises about ten thousand acres. The two shafts of the Cadeby Main Mine, which is situate close to Conisborough Railway Station, are sunk to the Barnsley Bed – the only seam worked at this mine – at a depth from the surface of 763 yards…

R.A.S Redmayne, Chief Inspector of Mines, description of Cadeby in the Report on the Causes of and circumstances attending the Explosions which occurred at the Cadeby Main Colliery, on Tuesday, July 9th, 1912, Cd. 6716., p.3

35 died in the first explosion at 1.30am and 53 in the second at around 11.30 am. A further 3 people died in the recovery of the mine or as a result of the physical and psychological toll of the incident.

In 2012 the Cadeby Main Colliery Memorial Group conducted a programme of activities to remember the event and its lasting impact and to provide a memorial monument to the 91 lives lost due to the disaster.

The disaster was investigated thoroughly by the Government Inspectors of mines, and details explored through witness testimony and scientific evidence at inquest. It was concluded to have been caused by a previously uncontained underground fire in the waste workings (gob) of the Barnsley seam, permitting a build up of an explosive mixture of gases, coal dust and heat, as well as highlighting apparent management mistakes in carrying out of stopping up the fire, and in the rush to recover the pit from the first explosion.

“This accident at the Cadeby Mine occurred in July of last year. There was a gob stink discovered in the mine four days before the accident itself. That is a condition which every person in the mine knows is indicative of serious danger. It appears upon the evidence that the managing director of the mines, when the gob stink was discovered, gave orders that all passages to the locus on fire, the existence of which the gob stink indicated, should be built up. That was the evidence at the inquiry. […] It is undoubted that the examination of the mine showed that one of the passages to the locus of the fire had not been built up. The result of that was that the air could penetrate into the region which my hon. Friend has properly described as a live gasometer. Two explosions took place, and eighty-eight lives were lost. “

Home Secretary Reginald McKenna, responding to adjournment debate, Weds 2nd July 1913, Hansard, vol.54

Labour and capital, safety and sacrifice?

The disaster also became a source of political confrontation between mineworkers unions and colliery owners, and the role of the State was criticised.

“Every year, broadly, the number of lives that are destroyed are equal to the number of lives which went down with the “Titanic” when she was wrecked in the Atlantic. We therefore say that anything which adds to the danger of so dangerous an industry demands that the Home Office, the administrative authority of the mining laws, should use all their resources to make mining life less dangerous than it is at the present time. In moving the Motion, I do so on behalf of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, who feel themselves very aggrieved at the circumstances involved in connection with the Cadeby Main Colliery explosion, which took place on 9th July, 1912. This colliery gives employment to nearly a thousand men on the day shift—938 are employed on the shift which works from 8 am. to 2 p.m.; and 505 are employed on the shift which works from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.”

Mr William Brace, Liberal-Labour MP for South Glamorgan and President of the South Wales Miners Federation speaking during an adjournment debate, Weds 2nd July 1913, Hansard Vol.54
William Henry Chambers (1853-1930), Managing Director of the Denaby and Cadeby Main Collieries, Ltd. (From The West Riding of Yorkshire at the Opening of the Twentieth  Century, Brighton: W.T. Pike, 1902 p.385)

The Managing Director of the Denaby and Cadeby Main Collieries was William Henry Chambers, an early proponent of colliery ambulance and rescue work who was very active in the engineering and safety work at the mine despite having under managers for each pit. His creative response to the disaster included trying new fire suppression techniques such as inert and fire-suppressive gas being injected into the sealed off firey districts (stoppings).

His own nephew, a manager, was one of the victims of the disaster, but this did not save him from some criticism from miners leaders. The main pit manager at Cadeby, Charles Bury, who participated in the rescue and retrieval work after the first explosion was killed in the 2nd explosion and was subject to criticism, albeit a very difficult situation.

I do not think, however, that the management of a colliery is justified in allowing persons to risk their lives in order to recover and bring out dead bodies, for that such a procedure is always attended by the great risk of a second explosion when a fire is known to exist underground after an explosion is evidenced by case after case.

R.A.S. Redmayne, Report on the Causes of and circumstances attending the Explosions which occurred at the Cadeby Main Colliery, on Tuesday, July 9th, 1912, Cd. 6716., p.28

We remember the Cadeby disaster and commemorate those who perished.

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