Drenched in sunshine

Soggy street scene

Saturday was initially ruled out as a washout, with uninviting prospects of rain throughout the night and during the morning. The wet stuff was certainly in evidence when folks first arrived…

Pausing for reflection, and a little shelter, the regular volunteers loitered in and around Pump House Cottage, and looked out over a dark, wet, and somewhat dank looking site.

Go indoors or go bust

Our intrepid volunteer gardeners donned cagoules, and grabbed their tools to press on with some spade work. Meanwhile others reverted to Plan B – heading inside the winding and pumping engine houses in search of slightly more sheltered activities.

Undaunted and impermeable. Volunteer enthusiasm works wonders at the Pump House Cottage garden

But then… then the sun came out!

Beaming brightly, dazzling sunshine shone down on the pit, with beautiful blue skies.

‘Tis true. Rather amazingly given the water on the ground and dark skies, the sun burst through and slowly burned the clouds away, causing rather glaring reflections from slickened slate rooftops and shiny tarmacadamed road.

Not November surely? Enjoying a sunny autumnal afternoon

Thereonin we were literally drenched, in sunshine…

Chasing the clouds away, presenting a great view, and some autumnal colours, in the trees looking over to Hemingfield
Garden improvements

…a seasonal shift in a matter of minutes which stirred all concerned into action, both indoors and out. Outdoors the garden was looking much better for some new planting, as well as the beginnings of a new path, to improve access to the colliery itself, and to better manage and enjoy the garden which is now receiving some much overdue care and attention. Looking great and transforming the site, realising the vision of our ambitious Hemingfield’s Hidden History National Lottery Heritage Fund project.

Sloshed sweeping

Out-front, on Wath road. The wind and the rain had deposited slushy clumps of leaves on the pavement, covering the surface and proving a bit of an access challenge for passing joggers.

Whole lotta leaves

Brush and bag in hand, the front was swept from the far end across into the road, to shift the bulk of the leaves before they render down into gooey dangers for pedestrians and road traffic alike.

Swept the road in front of the pit

Two big and heavy-when-wet sackfuls later, and things were looking better out there.

A damp harvest, part the first
Bit clearer now. Hopefully less slip and trip-able

Inner peace

Elsewhere on site, building recording work was taking place, with detailed measurements of the winding engine house, working from an established datum course in the stonework…this recording activity will ultimately enable detailed digital reconstructions of the heritage buildings to be prepared, as well as providing data to understand the sizes of certain lumps, bumps, holes and wall scars, all of which may possibly assist in identifying phases of development, and changing machinery as the winding arrangements changed from steam to electrical.

Indoor activities in the winding engine house.

Nearby in the winding engine house, further attention was being paid to the pump shaft winder. Although damaged in the 2000s when the motor and other metalwork thefts occurred, much remains, covered in years of dirt, so there’s always mileage in brushing up and dusting down to get a better look.

Cleaning in progress for pump shaft winder

Back outside, the urge to clean continued with some vigorous sweeping and cleaning of one of the outdoor roofless spaces in the electrical switchgear building, fronting on to Wath Road. A bit of a storage area, cleaning this up now actually gives the space a much more pleasant air, as well as making additional storage room.

Spick and span. Tidying outdoor areas

Finally, in what proved to be quite a busy and multi-tasking day, the last effort outdoors focused on re-hanging, adjusting and repainting the Pump House Cottage gate. The gate was originally mounted as a replacement to the rotten former wooden gate, and had been given a priming coat, though sadly it had also been ‘tagged’ in graffiti. So everyone was pleased to see it given some fresh attention, adjusting the hinges and painting a new undercoat over the worn and marked surface. It certainly looked smart in the bright light at the end of the afternoon.

Looking smarter. Undercoat on gate to Pump House Cottage

A cheap, certain, and expeditious Mode of Communication

Over 180 years ago, on 31st October 1838, a historic event in the annals of South Yorkshire was struck by the opening of the Sheffield and Rotherham Railway.

Image of commemorative mug (Object C.1129-1928) ©Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, usage under Creative Commons Licence (BY-NC-ND)

Shareholders and selected guests were invited to a public breakfast at the Court House in Rotherham, and later to a dinner at the Tontine Inn in Sheffield. At Rotherham William Vickers, the chairman was joined by the 5th Earl Fitzwilliam, Charles William Wentworth Fitzwilliam, and members of his family, as well as his Steward and Superintendent of collieries, Benjamin Biram. The Earl joined in the toasts celebrating the new railway:

“I have indeed had great pleasure in being present at the opening of an establishment which I entertain no doubt will confer great and ample benefits upon the two towns which it has connected. […]

And I look upon it the more peculiarly with a favourable eye, because it is remarkably conspicuous among enterprises of the same description, as having entirely originated with the inhabitants and interests of this neighbourhood, who felt that it would be beneficial to them, and that there was no good and sufficient reason why it should not be carried into effect.”

Sheffield Independent, 3rd November 1838, p.2

Nationally renowned local poet [and S&R Rly Co. shareholder] Ebenezer Elliott described the arrival of the first train, celebrating the advent of passenger steam trains and the hoped-for end of torturous journeys in horse-drawn carriages:

They come! the shrieking steam ascends,
Slow moves the banner’d train;
They rush! the towering vapour bends-
The kindled wave again
Screams over thousands, thronging all
To witness now the funeral
Of law-created pain.

For Mind shall conquer time and space;

Bid East and West shake hands!

Bring, over Ocean, face to face,

Earth’s ocean-sever’d strands;

And, on his path of iron, bear

Words that shall wither, in despair,

The tyrants of all lands.


But, lo! the train! – On! onward! – still  Loud shrieks the kindled wave; And back fly hamlet, tree, and hill,
White steam, and banners brave;

And thoughts on vapoury wings are hurld,

To shake old thrones and change a world,
And dig Abaddon’s grave.

Selected verses from Ebenezer Elliott’s poem ‘Verses on the Opening of the Sheffield and Rotherham Railway’, The Poetical Works of Ebenezer Elliott, the Corn Law Rhymer, Edinburgh: Wm Tait, 1840, pp.164-165

The new line, some 5 miles in length, officially opened for passenger traffic the following day, 1st November 1838, starting from the Wicker in Sheffield (now a large Tescos site) and arriving at Masborough then a major industrial part of Rotherham. Several bridges survive as listed structures .

Map of the Sheffield & Rotherham Railway from Drake’s Road book of the Sheffield & Rotherham Railway, 1840

A fearful monopoly

In the late Georgian period, the local market for coal in Sheffield was dominated by the Duke of Norfolk’s land holdings, and his colliery interests. In effect the price for local coal to supply the growing industries of the town was maintained artifically high by the lack of affordable alternatives. For many years transportation by river and canal navigation was slow, and constrained, and transport and handling costs by road or water (or both) were simply too expensive for other coal owners, including Earl Fitzwilliam with his Parkgate pits, to compete.

Despite further navigation and canal developments elsewhere in South Yorkshire, Sheffield town centre itself had remained in splendid isolation, 3 miles from the Tinsley Wharf on the Don Navigation. This was finally addressed with the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal Act of 1815 and the eventual opening of the Sheffield basin on 22nd February 1819, itself an occasion of much celebration as captured by poet John Holland in 1820:

Soon as the keel of the first vessel clave

The ample basin’s yet unfreighted wave,

Hope lit exultant twenty thousand eyes,

Thrice twenty thousand voices rent the skies!

John Holland, Sheffield Park. A descriptive poem. [Originally published 1820] New annotated edition, Sheffield: Pawson & Brailsford, 1859, Verse XXIV, p.27

Nevertheless the cut from Tinsley to Sheffield was an engineering and business compromise – containing many locks and requiring water to be pumped to maintain a navigable depth. Equally the Act contained protections for the River Don Navigation Company. These limitations of the route increased freight transport costs as well as leading to delays in operation.

are the Dues upon the Canal so high as to be injurious to the Trade of Sheffield?

They are so high that there are Land Carriers carrying from Sheffield to Rotherham who can carry Goods cheaper than they can be sent by the Canal.”

Samuel Jackson, Manufacturer of Spear and Jackson, 7th July 1835, Minutes of evidence taken before the Lords committees to whom the bill, intituled “An act for making a railway from Sheffield to Rotherham, both in the West Riding of the county of York”, p.36

A cheap Means of conveyance for a better Supply of Coal

From the turn of the Nineteeth Century endeavours were increasingly made to introduce competition into the closed market for coal in Sheffield, as well as promoting a greater passenger service between the two towns. Approaches were made to the navigation and canal owners to liberalise the tolls for goods, but proved unsuccessful:

“I am directed by the Committee of the Sheffield Canal Company respectfully to answer the Communication made by you to them respecting the Reduction of the Tonnage charged on Coal, by stating to you that upon mature Consideration and Inquiry it does not appear to them that the Reduction would have the Effect you mention, of securing to the Proprietors of the Canal as great a beneficial Interest as at present enjoyed; on which account they cannot comply with your Request.”

Letter from Bernard Wake, Law Clerk, to Earl Fitzwilliam & Messrs Chambers & Son, 10th October 1833 reproduced in Minutes of evidence taken before the Lords committees to whom the bill, intituled “An act for making a railway from Sheffield to Rotherham, both in the West Riding of the county of York”, p.114

This initiative failing, a prospectus for a Sheffield and Rotherham Railway was issued on 3 October 1834, with a Bill being presented to Parliament in 1835. Opposition was strong, with Sheffield landed and navigation interests lobbying and listing reasons for Parliament to reject the proposal.


Reasons against the Bill.

The Rail Road is a mere private speculation, connecting itself only with a single colliery, worked by one individual. The line is not five miles and a half in length, and there is not any direct traffic between Sheffield and Rotherham.

Whatsoever would pass over the line, would at both termini require land carriage, as well before arriving at the rail road as before reaching the place of delivery, but it enters neither Rotherham nor Sheffield, and parallel therewith is a canal and navigable river, and an excellent public road.


There is no monopoly of coal at Sheffield, for such is profusely supplied, and at a very low price, from a great number of collieries near to the town…”

Wake, Sheffield

Few, Hamilton, & Few, Covent Garden

Quoted in Guest, John, ‘Sheffield and Rotherham Railway” part of ‘ Notable persons, places, and import events.’ in Guest, John, Historic Notices of Rotherham: Ecclesiastical, Collegiate, and Civil. Worksop: Robert White, 1879, p.547

In 1835 the House of Lords Committee rejected the Bill, despite taking extensive evidence from Sheffield industrialists. The Sheffield Canal Co. and the River Don Navigation were, understandably, against it, as was the Duke of Norfolk and his coal lessees the Sheffield Coal Company.

Neverthless, when resubmitted a year later, the Bill was successful, receiving Royal Assent on 4th July 1836 as An Act for making a Railway from Sheffield to Rotherham, with a Branch therefrom to the Greasbrough Canal, all in the West Riding of the County of York (6&7 William IV, c. CIV).

The survey and engineering was overseen by George Stephenson, more particularly his pupil Frederick Swanick who worked on several projected northern and midland railway lines at the same time, and gave evidence in Bill committees.

Photograph of Frederick Swanick from c. 1861-4, reproduced in Smith. J.F., Frederick Swanwick : a sketch (privately published)
1888, xiii

The line itself had a short independent life before being taken over by the more extensive Midland Railway company in 1844. In its early days it had greater impact for passenger traffic with 222,286 passengers travelling from Sheffield to Rotherham in the first 12 months, and 218,321 in the opposite direction. The promised branch to the Greasbrough Canal, connecting to Earl Fitzwilliam’s colliery tramways at Park Gate through Masborough to the Holmes was finally opened in August 1839, initially being built at the expense of the North Midland and leased back to the Sheffield and Rotherham.

Detail showing line of Sheffield and Rotherham Railway, as well as the Midland and the later Manchester and Sheffield lines. from 1 inch to the mile Old Series Ordnance Survey map, surveyed c.1838, first published 1841. sheet 87, [state 3 c. 1851] with hand colouring and manual additions for railways. (Private Collection)

The North Midland Railway (which had also been authorised by an Act of 1836) finally connected Rotherham, specifically Masborough, with lines from Derby through to Leeds, by the Summer of 1840. The Railway Age had arrived, although the Sheffield and Rotherham line had highlighted the geographic difficulties attendant in running directly into Sheffield proper, with engineers seeking to avoid the engineering costs of the hilly approaches, prefering the low gradients of Rotherham and the Don Valley.

One thought on “Drenched in sunshine

  1. Pingback: Don Valley: ‘…wither, in despair, the tyrants of all lands’ – Places and Cultural Traces

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