Twenty twenty-three: starting up

Foggy light: Elsecar 21st January 2023

A new year and another chance to make further progress on site, saving and sharing our mining heritage. Weather permitting, of course. The Friends demurred on the 14th as the weather was poor, but by the 21st they were eager to meet up and dive into planning activities for the year ahead.

Misty mine, Jan 2023

It was a frosty, but beautiful start to the year on site. The sun struggled to pierce through the thick mist covering the valley between Wentworth and Hoyland, and down to Elsecar. Gradually the light burned its way through; orange-red brick walls and black-slaty rooftops came into sharper focus as the rays warmed the air, lifting the fuzzy, freezing veil.

Plans People

Pump House Cottage and garden, January 2023

We began the year with a planning session with the Friends and volunteers gathering at Pump House Cottage, now a home from home for the volunteers, thanks to the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and National Lottery players, powering our Hemingfield’s Hidden History project to rescue, repair and runite this lovely, remarkable building with the wider colliery site.

Thanks to National Lottery players.

With the fire burning in the front room, and minds focused on plans for the year ahead, the day made for a nice change of pace; a warming break, with volunteers catching up after the Christmas holidays, and diving into discussions for the new year.

Birdbath cum ice-cube, Pump House Cottage garden.

The challenges and opportunities, the workload to plan and share out; the tools and resources required, and when we could move forward on repairs, ground works, and fundraising, as well as offsite research work, and some very exciting creative and educational outreach work with local schools and the wider community.

Site Manager Glen shared the good news that the site insurance was covered for the year, never a trifling amount, and yet without it we cannot receive visitors or deliver tours and other activities.

Down by the board walk

In the afternoon the group headed down to the canal basin of the colliery, down the old towing path, now the Trans Pennine Trail, to view a new addition to the landscape – a new interpretation board created by Barnsley Museums and using the amazing digital visuals designed by Martin Moss of Dextra Visual.

Basin board – the old, worn Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership interpretation board 2019 to January 2023

The Friends had worked with the creator in providing photographic reference materials and archival information, so it was great to see the new board – a large and very clear addition.

New interpretation board, 21st Jan 2023

Works continue

The next weekend, 28th January saw a return to work, inside and out – although the fire in Pump House Cottage was definitely tempting!

View from Pit Row, 28th January 2023 (Photo credit: Andrew Jones)

A bright and busy morning, with Site Manager Glen and volunteers Paul, John, Janet & Jeff, Paul and Mitchell, joined by Andrew and Chris during the morning.

Busy indoors and out at Pump House Cottage, 28th January 2023

Winter fuel is never far from our thoughts, and so a lighing job was undertaken on the cherry tree branches felled a few years ago. Chopping and logging with a chainsaw and trestle brought back memories of earlier days on site, clearing away years of neglect and self-set tree growth. Now cutting firewood for Pump House Cottage, a space we can use for volunteer activities, and to engage the local community feels much more civilised.

Before: Outdoor store (volunteer hand for scale)

This also led to a tidy-up of the outdoor store. Stacking the logs, preparing us for keeping a warm welcome ready for future open days – which we agreed to offer on Bank Holidays in 2023, as well as continue with weekly volunteer days on site on Saturdays, unless the weather makes it impossible.

After: Chopped and changed, tidied up with winter fuel (Photo credit: Mitchell Sutherland)

Meanwhile inside Pump House Cottage, Janet seized the initiative and started tidying up the blown plaster on the the internal wall by the kitchen. Volunteer Mitchell shared a growing collection of pit checks which we hope will contribute to a map of South Yorkshire collieries as part of our heritage collections and displays.

Making the space cleaner and brighter will be an important part of preparing the rooms for open days, and being able to display exhibition materials to best effect as the year progresses.

Saving South Yorkshire coal…in 1918

105 years ago, on 4th February 1918, Mr Frederick Parker Rhodes, a prominent Rotherham solicitor and secretary of the South Yorkshire Coalowners Association addressed an urgent memorandum to colliery owners in South Yorkshire. With one eye on past mistakes, and the other on preventing future errors, he appealed to the owners of private pits throughout the area.

My object in writing and presenting this memorandum is to draw attention to the fact that, while the pressing need at the moment is to devise some means of dealing at once with the water which finds its way from the outcrop in the Rotherham District, arrangements made with this object must necessarily to some extent be more or less temporary in character, for the problem presented by water in the Rotherham Area forms part only of the whole question of outcrop water in South Yorkshire which calls for attention from one end of the District to the other.

F. Parker Rhodes, Memorandum: South Yorkshire Rise Water, Rotherham Archives and Local Studies 63-B/6/5/2/1

Pumping water from exhausted pits, rather than abandoning them to flood and leak through and threaten new pits working nearby, and at deeper levels, was a clear and present danger, but the same issue had also been apparent more than twenty years earlier.

Alluding to opportunities missed in the past, Parker Rhodes described the efforts of 2 previous government Inspectors of Mines to take preventative action, as old pits were being worked out, pumping stopped, and shafts and underground workings left to fill up with water. First up had been Mr Frank Newby Wardell, who was based nearby, in Wath upon Dearne:

Frank Wardell (1844-1901), Her Majesty’s Inspector of Mines for Yorkshire & Lincolnshire (1867-1901) from Colliery Guardian 22/11/1901, p.1114

In 1894 the late Mr. Wardell, who had grown up with modern South Yorkshire and knew how and where the older pits had created and were creating difficulties for the newer Collieries to the deep, thought that the then circumstances required immediate attention, and asked me to assist him in calling attention to the question with a view to action. […]

Mr. Wardell’s efforts were futile. Everyone thought it was someone else’s business. Swaithe Main stopped. Mr. Mitchell proceeded to put pumps down for his own protection, and the water that could have been cheaply dealt with at Swaithe Main will now be felt far to the deep.

F. Parker Rhodes, Memorandum: South Yorkshire Rise Water, Rotherham Archives and Local Studies 63-B/6/5/2/1

Next came William Henry Pickering, an inspector of wide experience having established government mines inspection in India, as well as tackling Yorkshire. Pickering was awarded the Edward medal for bravery in saving lives, but sadly lost his own in 1912, at Cadeby Main Colliery, just as King George V was visiting Yorkshire:

William Henry Pickering (1858-1912), Chief Inspector for Yorkshire & Lincolnshire 1901-4. Divisional Inspector for Yorkshire & North Midland District (1907-12) from Colliery Guardian 12/7/1912, p.73

In 1909 the late Mr. Pickering became alive to the trouble that would certainly be caused by the outcrop water, and he called attention again to the whole subject and requested that it should be considered by the Coalowners with a view to action. […]

If Mr. Pickering had lived he would would have compelled action, and his view was that nothing could be done effectively unless some authority was created armed with Parliamentart powers to make works and assess cost. He preferred that this should be done by the Coalowners, but if they again delayed he proposed to call the attention of the Home Office to the subject with a view to Government action. He unfortunately lost his life at Cadeby, and once more the subject was shelved and put on one side.

F. Parker Rhodes, Memorandum: South Yorkshire Rise Water, Rotherham Archives and Local Studies 63-B/6/5/2/1

With the Barnsley coal seam nearing exhaustion at Earl Fitzwilliam’s pits, the threat of the end of pumping, and danger of flooded workings disrupting deeper working throughout the still-growing South Yorkshire coalfield was all too pressing:

Now again it has made itself felt. This time it cannot be shelved, and for the moment there is only one way of dealing with it. The Collieries which are now, or may be hereafter affected by the water at present dealt with by Earl Fitzwilliam’s pumps and levels must secure those levels and pumps, and all needful facilities for dealing with that water. Let them agree on the basis on which they will contribute to the cost. Appoint someone whom they can trust to apportion cost in case they cannot agree, and do this before they disagree and not after. […]

Some of the Collieries concerned in this area will sooner or later begin also to feel the effect of the water in the Northern or Barnsley Area if nothing is done, and in some cases the day when that water will become unpleasantly manifest [is] getting very near. […]

An agreement can deal with the state of things as it exists to-day, but no agreement can deal with the future with pits dying out and others being sunk. Agreement is essential for the moment, for there is time for nothing else, but if nothing more is done agreement alone will eventually result in the last surviving pit that is party to it incurring the whole cost for the benefit of others to the deep.

F. Parker Rhodes, Memorandum: South Yorkshire Rise Water, Rotherham Archives and Local Studies 63-B/6/5/2/1

This time the collective appeal for mutual salvation was heeded: instead of abandoning the Barnsley seam workings at Elsecar and Rawmarsh, Earl Fitzwilliam’s pumping pits and drainage levels were saved. The pumps were electrified and maintained to prevent water flooding out newer, deeper working from collieries throughout the region.

15 colliery companies agreed to share the burden, and the South Yorkshire Pumping Association was established, which led to the continued maintenance of Elsecar, Hemingfield and Westfield pumping pits and stations – the three Fitzwilliam heritage mining sites which survive to the current day, all now themselves protected by scheduling or listing.

3 thoughts on “Twenty twenty-three: starting up

  1. Thank you for your very interesting newsletter.
    I want to visit sometime but, unfortunately, my mobility is very limited at present.
    I would like to support you because you are doing great work – my great grandfather worked here before Elsecar Main. How may I become a Friend? I wouldn’t be able to do much but am interested to know your progress and what events you plan.
    Thanks Jane (Ainsworth)
    45 Victoria Road, Barnsley


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