This week’s blog will review the progress made at Hemingfield Colliery throughout 2021.
Starting with the group’s first day back on site and reflecting on the jobs completed throughout the year. Recapping on a few important dates before finishing with the group’s final visit on the 18th December.
Well, where do we even start?
Firstly, as a group, we would like to thank each and every person who has continued to show their support by reading the blog with each publication this year. It is always encouraging knowing people take time out of their day to keep up-to-date with the progress of this mammoth project.
Are we in? Are we out?
2021: it was a strange year, spending the first four months confined in our homes and with limits to what we could do or who we could see, it was quite difficult to see when or how the group would ever get back to visiting the colliery to continue with improvements and repairs.
Thankfully, it wasn’t to be a repeat of 2020. At the beginning of April with government guidelines allowing groups of six people to meet outdoors, a select handful of volunteers attended the site for the first time since October 2020.
Care and Maintenance
Thanks to the efforts of Glen during those gloomy times, Mother Nature had been restrained from creating a new wilderness within the grounds of the colliery. Regular visits with his very well trusted strimmer saw the site get a routine check over and kept well maintained given the circumstances. Who knows what the site could have looked like without this continued care and attention.
The 10th April 2021 marked the group’s first visit back to the site for 6 months. Glen, Paul, John and Chris were the first volunteers back on the site; after a socially-distanced catch up it was time to get up-to-date with some of the general maintenance duties that had been so heavily missed.
The first job of any day is to sweep away any debris that has been left along the front wall of the colliery; missing the majority of the Autumn and Winter visits, the front wall had amassed a snowdrift-like mound of litter, both natural and human! A bit of an eyesore, but also a sight for sore eyes of our volunteers, and a good place to start the first job of 2021!
Following the clean-up outside the front wall, a group effort was made towards getting the rest of the site evenly strimmed and weeded. Working under a summer-like sun, a conveyor-like system was established. The two wheelbarrows chased after a steady flow of strimming and raking. The site was starting to take shape once again. Stepping back and admiring the busy scene was delightful, all that was missing was a (socially-distanced) picnic!
Later in the day the group convened to discuss a new COVID-safe plan for the year ahead. Discussion concluded that the group would still try to meet fortnightly, weather-dependent of course, constituting a sort of ‘social bubble’, keeping everybody’s safety a priority.
Preparation of the Rear Retaining Wall
Throughout 2021, a main focal point within the group was the Rear Retaining Wall.
Starting work on the wall on the 24th April the group was faced with a crumbling mess; years worth of neglect followed by the relentlessness of the wind and rain, this once strong wall was in desperate need of some TLC.
Preparation of the Rear Retaining Wall started with removing the fractured, crumbling mortar used when originally constructing the wall. Chisels, hard-wired brushes and plenty of elbow grease later and the wall was ready to receive its first course of repointing.
May 2021 was almost a complete washout – a whole month of bad weather was the last thing the group needed after having already endured such a lengthy hiatus.
After three weeks of miserable weather, the forecasters finally promised us a dry weekend. The group met again 22nd May at 10:00 am, and aimed to make the most of every available minute.
In the event it was a glorious day, with Mediterranean-like weather, seeing the group making further progress on the Rear Retaining Wall. Using chisels, bolsters, pins and trowels. Any excess, loose mortar was removed, allowing for a full clean bond when replacement mortar is added.
Off-site and Out of hours
In a sign of improving times tackling the pandemic, the group took advantage of what seemed to be the last promise of good weather for the foreseeable future(June 22nd). An offsite meet up saw the group go on a local, mining history focused walk to both Sovereign and Old Sovereign collieries.
A pleasant chance to spend time with people, investigating something we all have a passion for. Arriving in Dodworth, we followed the TransPennineTrail (TPT) past the Old Strafford colliery site, now being used to pump contaminated water out of the disused mine workings beneath. This all flows into a Reed bed system where you can see the bright orange water being treated through various stages before being released into a stream flowing along the bottom of the valley.
Continuing along the TPT we arrived at the site of New Sovereign Colliery. Scrambling over an old railway embankment we were greeted by a large stone heapstead, a beautiful structure slowly being overtaken by nature. A steep climb up the side of the heapstead revealed much more of this old industrial site. The engine house foundations and fan drift beds are all that remain. A well-hidden gem for anyone interested in local history.
After exploring the remaining structures the group headed towards the site of the Old Sovereign colliery. There is less to see at this site, a few large pieces of stonework remain, along with a relatively well-preserved fan bed.
Altogether a good day out enjoying great weather with great company.
Repointing of the Rear Retaining Wall
June and July collectively, saw the group get the generator out after a long cold winter of inactivity; once up and running, with materials in prime position, mixing commenced and continued throughout the summer.
The steady introduction of a new, strong lime mortar; infused with a carbon-based pigment was being added to the previously prepared cavities of this mighty wall.
Scaffolding being assembled and disassembled was a common sight throughout late summer and early autumn, creating gravity defying structures has become somewhat a profession within the group. Allowing no more than two volunteers up on the scaffolding at one time – keeping everybodies safety and wellbeing paramount.
Week by week the once unsafe wall was beginning to look stronger and more magnificent with each application of mortar.
Enduring weeks-worth of heatwaves and endless swarms of midge; the volunteers completed the first section of wall by mid September, with autumn arriving the warmer setting allowing work on the Rear Retaining Wall to continue, dwindled. Hindering work on the wall for the remainder of the year.
Clear progress has been made on the Rear Retaining Wall, both aesthetically and structurally.
We hope to continue restoration work in early spring once the weather and overall conditions begin to improve.
Heritage Open Days
The weekend of the 18th & 19th September saw the return of heritage open days to Hemingfield Colliery. A time within the year the group always looks forward to, an opportunity to share; to learn and also this year in particular, to enjoy what seems to be the first few steps of ‘normality’.
The weather forecast hadn’t held much promise prior to the weekend but with the group determined, the site was open all day Saturday(10:00-16:30) and open for half a day on Sunday (12:30-15:30).
Whatever trepidation lingered was swiftly dispersed when the first visitor appeared on Saturday morning, just as the group were setting up.
Soon enough, with tables set up and a steady stream of visitors in supply, the first tour of Hemingfield Colliery could begin! Large printed images of the site over the past 100 years were used to aid the tour throughout the various stages Hemingfield has witnessed. Quite literally a game of show and tell!
The first groups stood together outside in the sun and listened to the story of the shaft sinking, the coal winning, and the water pumping which saved the site. The connection to the canal, and to the coming of the railway were weaved into the story to explain the scale of activity and indeed the origins of population and economic growth in and around Elsecar from the end of the Eighteenth Century.
Sunday’s weather was as the forecast had predicted; a gloomier, cooler day in comparison to the blissful sun experienced the day before. A pleasant surprise saw a handful of visitors visit the site throughout the day, all experiencing the industrial heritage found within the colliery. The large printed images proving their use in the slight drizzle accompanying the visitors and volunteers alike.
Pump House Cottage
Following the turn of the weather at the beginning of October, and the addition of two new volunteers, Janet and Jeff; the group’s focus turned towards the Eastern side of the site.
Pump House Cottages garden has received endless amounts of love and care in comparison to recent years. Thanks to Janet and Jeff, the once wilderness-like area has become a place of tranquility and quite often is the place of choice for the group’s lunch breaks.
All of this has given a shot in the arm (in the best possible way) to the restoration and landscaping activities originally planned in our ambitious Hemingfield’s Hidden History project, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Thanks to National Lottery Players! The Pandemic has rather rocked and rolled, or delayed and disrupted the PlanA in that regard, but we have more volunteers, more energy and a real passion for the work ahead.
Removal of the overburden was the first job at hand, a couple of Hemingfield treasures found throughout the process: a common lizard and a half penny, dated 1936!
Soon enough the muddy planting beds were being filled with a variety of plants; the garden saw Lavender, Montbretia, Pyracantha, Asters, Phlox, Campanula, Sedum, Miniature Rose bush and variegated hebe all being planted.
Further work implementing a new pathway, along with unveiling an old stone pathway were the main talking points of October and November for the garden. Along with further turning grassy mounds into acceptable planting beds.
The progress made on the garden, in such a short space of time, has been remarkable for the group to witness. Often forgotten about whilst busy around the rest of the site, to see the garden sectioned and planted as it is, is almost a relief.
Finding time to maintain and make progress on everything is an almost impossible task at Hemingfield, having Janet and Jeff join the team and take control of the garden has been of great fortune to the group. Another area of the site being worked on consistently can only mean greater progress across the whole of the site.
Throughout late Autumn the group gave Pump House Cottage the attention she really deserved, starting with a face-lift, the group removed an old TV satellite from the stone face along with cleaning, priming and repainting her drainpipes, lintels and the wooden gate within the garden. Over the space of a fortnight in late October and early November, the once cluttered and dull face of Pump House Cottage was now gleaming from every angle.
The latter stages of November and early December saw attention turn to the Western side of the site. During excavation of the site in 2015, a mighty heap of overburden was situated next to the main gates. There were areas around the car park on site that were uneven and posed a risk to both people and vehicle’s alike. Using spoil from the heap, the group decided to level out the car park, creating safer access and more parking space at the same time.
On the 20th November a collective effort within the group to level the ground out before the New Years break had begun. Concentrating on the area around the concrete pad found within the car park, with shovels, wheelbarrows and pickaxe to hand, the first few swings commenced. A conveyor-like system in place, barrow-loads of dirt were being dispersed around the concrete pad. Following some swift raking the numerous mounds of dirt were levelled evenly, allowing full access to the concrete pad.
After a week of being snowed off of the site in late November, December greeted the group with torrential downpours. The 11th December’s weather forecast held no promise but the group decided to brave the elements and hope the rain gods would be kind.
Pickaxe and shovel ready, the first few swings of the day were under way. After filling in the cavity next to the concrete pad last visit, this week’s duty was to disperse more of the heap across the uneven car park.
December 18th 2021 marked the last group meeting of the year.
Previously discussed with regular visitors, an agreement was made in which the colliery would host a ‘Christmas fire’. An opportunity for both visitors and volunteers to sit in the warmth of an opencast coal fire within the Pump House Cottage, specifically burning pieces of coal found within Hemingfield Colliery over the previous 8 months. Job number one of the day was getting the fire started and burning ready for the expected guests.
As usual, the weekly duty of sweeping the pavement running along the front of the colliery was carried out with the help of a sweeping brush, shovel and wheelbarrow. A much easier job at this time of year thanks to the majority of the trees having already bared their leaves.
As with the two most recent visits at the colliery the continuation of levelling out the area used as a car park was the main job of today. A wheelbarrow suffered a puncture last week so the group were left short-barrowed this week, awaiting the front pavement to be brushed, pickaxe swings were soon to be seen, preparing the ground for the shovelling to come. Soon enough several mounds of dirt were beginning to appear amongst the remaining areas of grass, using a rake these molehill like mounds could then be used to gradient the ground as precisely as possible.
Soon after, at roughly 11:00 am our expected guests had arrived, keen to head to the warmth of the fire the visitors could soon be found within the Pump House Cottage tending to the fire, the once ash covered fireplace had been cleaned, along with the ashtray emptied allowing the fire to truly roar.
Roughly an hour later, a further two familiar faces arrived to visit the colliery as the year drew to a close. A rare occurrence there were double the amount of hands as usual, with the newest addition of people for the day got stuck in with levelling off ground to the western end of the site.
In true christmas spirit both Janet and Jeff attended wearing santa hats, probably an opportunity missed to get a funny group photo if it had been arranged throughout the group!
Continuing their work within the Pump House garden, the final quarter of the garden had started to be prepared. Removing the last few pieces of brick smashed out of the old concrete wall previously, the use of a shovel made for easy work removing the sections of grass left to remove from this planting bed.
As expected in late December, the weather wasn’t the brightest on this cool winter’s day but the option to get warm by the blazing fire within Pump House Cottage, seemed to have called more people to the site than expected.
As the group intervened for Lunch another regular visitor arrived upon the site. Only passing-by the visitor wished all of the group well and a Happy New Year.
The random discussions that unveil during lunch never seem to surprise us, sometimes reminiscing about past times or bickering about modern issues, the group used this week to discuss plans everybody had for Christmas before looking back on the previous year and the progress made.
Following lunch an accumulative effort was made to level out of the car park before calling the day finished around 15:00. Before leaving well wishes were made between everybody and the gates were then closed for the last time of 2021.
This year, on a rough average, each volunteer has given 144 hours of their time throughout the year to continue restoration efforts within the grounds of this former colliery. An accumulation of over 800 hours between the group.
We would like to wish you all a Happy New Year! Once again, thank you for your continued support, we hope to see many of you throughout 2022!