August company, Saturday 7th August 2021

Summertime. The Friends and volunteers returned to site for a brief spell as life continues to return to something akin to a norm. Hybridisation is the spice of life; we will grow and adapt.

Sunshine heating, cloud conditioning. View of the main headgear from the roof beams of the old switchgear building

In the event the sun shone early doors, enough to burn outside although patches of light drizzle were an omen of developments after 3pm.

Subterranean, rain-sick, and alien

Wary of the weather warnings, it was to be a clinical operation. In and out. Up and down, inside and out. But mainly inside, sheltered under the cover of the roof repaired in 2016.

Blue sky with fluffy white clouds over Pump House Cottage

The task du jour, keeping dry and measuring the inside of the winding engine house building, tying together the levels and courses of masonry, from each side inside and externally across the sloping site, and understanding how each stage of development and alteration has influenced the building we see today.

Under the winding engine house, recording and measuring.

This will support historical interpretations of the site, and provide raw data for illustrations for published materials we are preparing as part of the Hemingfield’s Hidden History project supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Underneath the main building is something of an alien environment. A bit of a cut-and-shunted storage space, it originally held the lower portions of the winding steam engine; cylinder, beam columns, and mountings for the wheelwork translating the nodding beam into rotative motion to wind the flat wire rope up and down on a large but narrow drum. The 2 cages used were counterbalanced and passed each other in the shaft via a special widened ‘bottle’ section of the shaft.

Detail of 1921 photograph of the rear of the winding engine house and timber headgear (George Beedan Collection)

Exploring the dark innards today, is quite evocative; working out why iron plates and long bolts protrude; why crow holes lie ripped open where once great vibrating machinery was held fast on mighty, blackened, stone blocks – conjures up the lines of Sheffield poet John Holland’s industrial pastoral Sheffield Park:

“Where yonder gloomy cope of smoke conceals

A huge automaton of ropes and wheels,

The’ untired machine, through day’s protracted length,
Exerts a more than Atlantean strength;
The light, elastic steam, from hour to hour,

(Its source of motion, and its seat of power,)

Pent and remitted, instant through each part

Propels the pulses of its iron heart;

Whirls the swift drum; the rapid cogs combine

To raise each various product of the mine,

Or lower the fearless labourers to their toil,

Far from the light of heaven and nature’s smile.”

John Holland, Sheffield Park: a descriptive poem, Sheffield; Pawson & Brailford, 1859, p.50, verse LVI
Detail of Hemingfield Colliery winding engine from 1880s advertising billhead

Those who trespass against us

UK Coal era sign for Hemingfield Pumping Station

Always saddening and maddening are the signs of ongoing trespass and vandalism in and around Hemingfield. Unfortunately unwanted visitors do seem to be a recurrent pest over recent years, especially ‘double-dippers’ trespassing first on the Elsecar Heritage Railway line, and then trying to climb up the rear retaining wall and trespass on the colliery itself.

Rear of the site. Railway trespass and signs of unwanted visitations and damage at rear of site, August 2021.

Network Rail’s rules and regulations apply to the heritage lines too, so railway trespass is a crime under Section 55(1) of the British Transport Commission Act 1949, with fines up to £1,000 per offence. Ignorance is not an excuse.

Look out below. The railway is not a public footpath, and visiting the pit from the rear is criminal trespass.

Most recently at the pit some wire cutting appears to have been employed. It causes criminal damage to the site, risks injury to the delinquents concerned, and wastes time and resource from our voluntary restoration efforts. We continue to add and improve security around the site as time and resources allow and will pursue legal redress for damage. Heritage crime will not go unchallenged.

In’t nature great?

Seizing the drop-less moments, volunteers also weeded around site, keeping the worst of the growth under control. All the while pausing to admire the beauty of natural life all around. From hidden toads, and myriad spiders in walls, to wingéd seasonal colour and wonder: there’s plenty to see at this time of year. A few examples from the day’s visitors illustrate the point.

Beauty and the brick(s). Peacock butterfly (Aglais io) enjoying the light and warmth of the brickstack
Unknown white moth?
House Martins nesting

Fantastical beasts

Beasts at Elsecar, willow sculpture at the Newcomen engine

Seekers of rather more fantastical wildlife can also satisfy their curiosity down the road at Elsecar.

Up close and fantastical

From Thursday 5th August until Sunday 5th September 2021 Elsecar Heritage Centre plays host to some of Barnsley’s Fantastical Beasts; namely a bear, a big cat, an elephant, a gryphon and a kestrel.

Kestrel sculpture at Elsecar

Meanwhile further beasts abound up at Wentworth Woodhouse. Find them all until 5th September.

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