Uncovering the Past

A short update from a busy weekend on site with visits and volunteers coming and going throughout the day. Sunshine casts more light than heat now, as autumn sheds the trees’ summer coat, and we all begin to wrap up ever more. Plenty of work in hand, at Pump House Cottage and around the site supporting our National Lottery Heritage Fund Hemingfield’s Hidden Heritage project. Thanks to National Lottery players for saving and sustaining our heritage.

Mining history

Approaching Hemingfield Colliery from Elsecar, down Wath Road, the tunnel of trees and planted hedges direct all comers straight down to pit row, past the colliery site.

Wath road looking back to Elsecar (and the site of Elsecar Main Colliery)

Proceeding down the road, we are almost travelling through time, as well as the landscape. From the twentieth century Elsecar pit – the now-razed site of Elsecar Main Colliery, a workplace for hundreds of local people up until 1983 – we approach a mid-Nineteenth century one – Elsecar Low pit at Hemingfield.

Left hand side the flat top of the Elsecar Main spoil railway embankment is visible again after recent tree felling

As we go along, the right hand bank, now reveals a trace of the past – the daylight streams through from the flat top of the old Elsecar Main railway siding embankment. The Fitzwilliam Wentworth Estates have recently felled many trees in the plantation on the hillside – the former pit spoil heap, made of muck and tailings from the coal washery, in fact.

Down the line

The old red brick and blue metal railway bridge which took the pit railway over Royds Lane/Linthwaite Lane was demolished in the 1990s, but traces of the sidings rails can still be seen, buried, here and there.

Remnant of old Elsecar Main sidings in spoil.

The colossal spoil heap, estimated to consist of 6 Million cubic metres and 50 hectares in extent, was built up over a long period of time, standing on a ridge between Knoll Beck and a stream at Rainborough Grange, behind Rainborough Lodge (known locally as Lion’s Lodge). Rising to a height of 45 metres behind Pit Row it remains a striking reminder of mining’s impact, just as with the spoil heaps at Cortonwood and around South Yorkshire.

Corner of the 45m spoil heap behind Pit Row, reprofiled in the 1980s, now cleared of trees in 2021

Beginning with shovels from railway wagons, then tipping trucks, and from the 1950s, bulldozers spread the mining waste. In the 1960s coal washery changes at Elsecar meant wet tailings were pumped over to purpose built lagoons to settle. Spoil heap stability and safety standards improved over the years, but in the 1980s it was acknowlegded that ongoing working of seams under the hill demanded reprofiling work, shifting some 100,000 cubic metres of spoil to stabilise the slopes and ensure an incline of 1 in 2.5, separated by wide berms, or terraced tracks.

Illustration of a reprofiled spoil heap, with a berm between 2 stabilised and graded slopes

Remembrance: Aberfan 21 October 1966

In 2021 we remember the 55th Anniversary of the Aberfan Disaster in south Wales. On 21st October 1966 150,000 tonnes of colliery spoil on the hill above the village collapsed and slid down the hillside burying the local school and surroundung houses, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

Natural poetry

The changing seasons may chase people indoors to inspect their thermostats (and wonder at the inflated gas prices); nevertheless they always draw the eye to the beauty of nature too. The comings and goings; the falling and flying of flora and fauna all around.

Thomas Lister, Post Office Master, Naturalist, Writer, of Barnsley (The Coronation History of the Barnsley British Co-operative Society Limited, 1862-1902, 1903, p.189)

Observing and admiring all this is inspirational at times, whether in a hide down at the RSPB’s Old Moor Reserve, or just glancing out across the valley towards Hemingfield. Connecting with nature is not a new pursuit. Local naturalists from a century ago can transmit the same passion and transform prose to almost a poetry of wildlife. As Mr Thomas Lister of Barnsley reported in 1885:

Natural History Notes from Yorkshire. – I had few opportunities of field observation in this county last autumn, but I have since collected a few notes from competent observers, adding my own limited experience. The Grey Wagtail, which visits these lowland districts in late autumn, retires to the N. W. moorland streams in spring; it rarely breeds in South Yorkshire. On November 26th Hooded Crows were in the low-flooded grounds about Wath-on-Dearne, and Fieldfares, Redwings, Jack Snipes, and Woodcocks had arrived from northern countries. The Woodcock has bred rarely near Cannon Hall and Stainborougb parks. On December 2nd Golden Plover, Lapwing, and Common Snipe were observed. These breed on the west moors, rarely on our low lands. “

The Zoologist, Third Series  Vol.IX, No.101, May 1885, p.184

Scenes from a working party

The pit, October 2021

From wildlife to working volunteers, this weekend on site was busy with gardening, tidying, some exciting repairs to Pump House Cottage, and some mucky but nifty work cleaning up the main winding engine machinery.

Clean wheel (Photo credit: Mitch Sutherland)

Weather permitting, we’re eager for the next weekend!

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