Coming as something of a blessed relief, the sun finally made an appearance on the last Saturday in August, as the Friends, volunteers and a select band of visitors foregathered at Hemingfield Colliery.
In the near distance the sounds of late harvesting echoed across the valley: the constant hum of a combine reaping, threshing, and winnowing the golden fields. A propitious start to the day.
Arriving even earlier, Site Manager Glen had kindly prepared the way for regular volunteers Paul, Mitch and Chris, completing a fair stint of grass strimming around the entrance area, and scything through the relentless greenery used for parking before the gang rolled (and walked) in after 10am.
Another early morning call came in the shape of local builders’ merchants Allendales who dropped off a further hefty bag of grit sand to assist in our repointing and retaining wall repair efforts.
Easy street [cleaning]
It’s pleasing that sweeping the pavement outside the pit is becoming a little bit easier, even if we still find too many plastic takeaway drink lids and straws, and the odd energy drink can. Single-use plastic is not fantastic, but the aluminium cans can be collected and recycled at least.
All cisterns go!
Another task for the day was the clipping and weeding of the unwanted growth in the two large iron plate cisterns on the lower terrace at the rear of the pit. Making rather unusual and unintended planters over the years, they also accumulated a certain amount of rubbish from unwanted visitors and unwary wildlife, so it was high time to clear out the vegetation and rubbish a little to prevent further damage.
Mortar do. Further restoration work
Work continued on the repointing and consolidation of the rear retaining wall with mixing and trowel work up-high and down-low.
The volunteers were joined by a group of family and friends, dropping by from lands afar (Lincolnshire) to tour the site, and see heritage skills in action, consolidating the stonework.
Spurred on by the example, they even joined in with some hands-on reclamation work, stacking some of the bricks originally used in the original terrace walling, retrieved from the bottom of the wall, ready for cleaning and reuse in the rebuilding of the boundary. Thanks for your efforts, and some useful discussion about the Friends’ work and future plans!
Former industrial sites present a constant challenge for heritage groups. Not just in repairing or restoring the buildings, but in finding a balance between the past and the present. This is especially true when it comes to wild and plantlife which presents both a challenge and an opportunity; a responsibility and a great source of pleasure with the changing seasons of the year.
Even in Victorian times this transition from industry to idleness, from man-made to nature-reclaimed was known, understood and romanticised:
“In the centre of the Yorkshire coal-district, that is to say, in the high undulating land round Barnsley, the usual characteristics of a coal-producing country, smoke, blackness, and desolation, are supplemented by the peculiar scenery of the county. The energy and rugged determination of Yorkshiremen prove them true sons of the soil, to judge from the persevering efforts nature makes here on all sides, that her woods and brakes shall retain their dominion. Let a colliery be abandoned, and nothing but barren heaps of slack and scoriae remain to shew where busy tramways once ran, and ‘hands’ clustered round corves of coal; straightaway, juvenile woods rise up in this district as by magic, while bluebells and faintly blushing anemones carpets their feet, and hide the cinders with a thin surface of verdure. The immense beeches and aged trees of all kinds that are found in this county, relics of old Sherwood Forest, everywhere look down with encouragement upon such praiseworthy attempts on the part of their scions.”Chambers Journal, 21 August 1869, p.531
In the Twenty-first century we understand a little more about the impacts of industry, the legacy of pollution, and the fragility of the natural environment. There is a balance to be struck and restored.
Trimming down and pointing up were very much in vogue during the morning, keeping the site clear, with the exception of the striking stretch of flowering red clover (trifolium pratense) in the top yard. We are conscious of the importance of supporting the local ecology, and encouraging biodiversity on site, leaving the flowers for honey bees whose hives are literally just down the road from the colliery. They made a lovely sight (and sound) in the sunshine as the day progressed.
Whilst pointing out the surviving colliery buildings and features in the landscape, visitors eyes were drawn upwards, first towards the imperious Buzzard flying high, and lower down, to the short swoops of a brown kestrel along the border of the trees below.
Lacking the broadcasting prowess of the Discovery Channel, the Friends nonetheless take a keen interest in the local flora and fauna – especially our avian neighbours and guests who we encourage with nesting boxes and many post-industrial perches around the site, including on the main headgear. With the aide of a little technology we managed to capture some footage of a female Kestrel stopping off to enjoy the view and the, erm, facilities: the camera rolled on an unfortunate moment.
We take it as a vote of comfort and confidence rather than a bad review!
More seasons to be cheerful
As we reach the end of the Summer, if not the end if the pandemic, we look forward with hope to planning more open days, public tours and local heritage events to come. The return to school is much on the mind, with young people 16+ eligible for vaccination, and also vulnerable children 12-15; still, the Autumn and Winter are undiscovered countries. With booster programmes and consideration for others we remain cautiously hopeful. Take care everyone.