Garden days and birdsong

How lucky we are to be out in the countryside! The post-industrial semi-rural greenery abounding around Hemingfield and Elsecar.

The green green grass of home, Hemingfield 7th May 2022

From 29th April to the 21st May our regular volunteers arrived early and bright, eager to get stuck into maintaining and regenerating the site.

Mower-try and lotion

Dandelion forest: time to trim, 7th May 2022

On Saturday 7th May, the Friends borrowed a petrol mower, aiming to test out how far the year’s levelling efforts permitted an easier run at keeping the grass mown and clear as the green stuff shot up all around.

Growing up: the seeded ground rapidly covering and ready for a trim, 7th May 2022

Site Manager Glen got stuck in, mowing back and forth – the mower rolling the blades of grass as it went adding an air of sophistication to the old pit yard.

In the thick of it. Mowing the top yard, 7th May 2022
Looking good. Picnic picture grass, 7th May 2022
Strimming the uneven edges, 7th May 2022

Of course there was still the ‘rough stuff’ to tidy up. The strimmer still gets where the rolling mower can’t (but needs a rake up after).

Levelling up transformations: end of day 7th May 2022

The verdict on the mower was clear: a sound investment, time saver, holds its own cuttings, and the end result looks better…cue two weeks later: we have invested in a mower of our own. And the results are well worth it.

Mown to perfection. Hemingfield 21st May 2022

On the rocks

Tidying up the upper yard 7th May 2022

On Saturday 7th May, as the first roller mowing was underway, the volunteers took it upon themselves to move mountains to make the future mowing easier.

Shifting stones ain’t light work, 7th May 2022

In an admittedly sisyphusean task, they moved a pile of stone rubble (gathered in previous clearance activities) up to the side of switchgear building, and generally tidied the top corner of the upper yard.

Getting there. Tidy pile of stone, but lumpy ground remains making it hard to mow, 7th May 2022

Many hands (and bars-as fulcrums) make light work. But pausing for a breather amidst the greenery also assists.

Regular volunteers even out the ground to make mowing simple in future, 7th May 2022.

On the slope and ramping up

Elsewhere the tidying continued. Indoors and out. The slope adjoining the top yard is a fairly steep ramp, composed of bricks, stone and concrete, and covered with clumps of grass and remnants of stumps past, such that it took quite a bit of sweat and tears, if not actual blood, to extract.

As the grass was being trimmed and dandelions and weeds clipped back, so too this ramp was subject to some attention.

Work begins at the lower end of ramp (right hand side) removing muck and weeds, 7th May 2022.

While perhaps not the most accessible of inclines, this wide ramp is a working feature of the site. Part of the history of the transition from coal winning to pumping station, as the old boiler houses were removed from this area and the access levels around the site were adjusted.

Better. The ramp cleaned back and ready for use. A wheelbarrow’s delight. 7th May 2022

Never knowingly understumped

If there is one trait characteristic of Hemingfield Colliery’s volunteers, it is their dogged determination in the face of immoveable forces. Specifically tree stumps. 2022 has seen something of a ‘mopping up’ operation across the site on many of the ‘last redoubts’; stumps which could not be moved, by hand, axe, spade or strap.

Admitting our admiration of Nature’s strength and ingenuity at how tightly or perilously trees have grown in and over walls and along buildings, there remained at least one which was very much part of the site, as a 2018 image shows:

View of tree in the wall on the lower terrace 2nd July 2018

Growing in, and out from, the upper terrace retaining wall, next to the two iron plate cisterns, this beastie has shifted and stained the brickwork, but has proven extremely resistant to drilling, cutting, rotting, or assorted verbal persuasion. However Saturday 21st May 2022 was a turning point.

Solid tree trunk, sawn clean off the stump in the wall, 21st May 2022

With a new sharp handsaw, and no little grit and determination, the chunky trunk was sliced off and much weight relieved from the face of the wall. It also made for a dramatic moment as the trunk was hauled into view from behind the rear winding engine house, surprising other volunteers working at the front of the site.

Stumptastic: removing the ‘elbow’ of the stump, revealing gnarled, brick-shaped curls of trunk, 21st May 2022. Note significant wall repair will be required.

In the outer bark and edge wood, natures amazing power was revealed through the wood worm (beetle larvae) gnawing their way through the vast hard wood trunk for 2-5 years, weakening the structure and producing the ‘dust’ in the tunnels, known as frass, or larvae poo.

Wood worm, beetle larvae, showing tunnelling into tree and frass deposits.

Down the garden path

Pump House Cottage garden, 7th May 2022

With Spring all around, the ongoing transformation of the Pump House Cottage garden is a source of joy to everyone. Every week shows new work; new planting, new pathways, a real regeneration happening before our eyes, and a key enabler for making the site more accessible, attractive and inviting to all visitors.

Future plans, considering new path options 7th May 2022

Turning over the soil, new planting, and path-laying are creating a welcoming and attractive space. Making use of stored reclaimed materials from spoil and rubble elsewhere on site, the garden is also a great example of sustainable heritage improvements using original materials – just as the conversion of the colliery to a pumping station with a cottage from 1920 onwards also so reused materials from the demolished boiler houses and surface buildings.

Springtime Gardening, 21st May 2022

On 21st May this work continued, and picked up pace as a rubble base for a new path across the garden was collected, and old bricks reclaimed from the site were reused in a new sawtooth edging for the new route, giving a cottage garden aspect to the space, as well as visually connecting the Pump House Cottage grounds together with the rest of the former colliery site.

Starting work (top) and end of day (bottom) 21st May 2022 on new path

Green Gates

Finally, this update must also cover the further work on maintaining and adjusting the gates by the Pump House Cottage side of the site. Firstly, the BIF one – a large steel frame gate securing the side entrance to the pit, but allowing vehicles access to the underground septic tank connected to Pump House Cottage and the other houses along Pit Row. This had been set out in April, and balanced and finally cemented in at the end of that month.

Safe and secure – gate secured 29th April 2022 (Mitchell Sutherland)

This gate is an important element in securing the Pump House Cottage side of the Colliery site, and has only been made possible through the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund‘s support for our Hemingfield’s Hidden History project, aiming to secure the cottage (completed pre-pandemic in 2019), reunite the two halves of the site, start repairs to failed flat roof coverings, and through learning new heritage skills develop new interpretation for the site.

Then there was the smaller wooden side gate to access the site – and the beautiful garden to Pump House Cottage. Having first been hanged and fixed in May 2019, some expansion and settlement had occurred which required minor adjustment. At the same time, the opportunity was taken of repainting the large gate (see above) the same holly bush green colour, echoing the pit’s surviving door and window frame colours back to the time of Earl Fitzwilliam. It is a distinctive ‘Fitzwilliam’ green colour still seen all around Wentworth and Elsecar on current and some former Fitzwilliam Wentworth Estate buildings.

Adjustments: repainting the big and little gates, and adjusting the side gate, 21st May 2022

Bumps along the way

The Pandemic has rather disrupted and delayed elements of the Hemingfield’s Hidden History programme, and there have been many unexpected challenges along the way, including the minor added distraction of tackling the potential collapse of the rear retaining wall of the site! But hopefully things are moving again, and people will feel more able to visit, and to volunteer safely as we can hopefully start to see some light at the end of a long tunnel.

Under the project, the Friends are looking to deliver new uses for Pump House Cottage, turning the previously dilapidated domestic residential building into more of a community resource, and a home for exploring the history and natural ecology of the local area. This requires finding new and creative ways to engage different audiences with our shared heritage, including local community groups, schools, creative partners, and others.

Huge thanks to our regular volunteers, Jamie, Janet, Jeff, John, and the other, non-Js, Paul, Mitchell and Chris. We welcome volunteers from all parts of the alphabet!

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