Refueling in February

11th February 2023

The restless efforts of the Friends and regular volunteers at Hemingfield Colliery continued in February 2023, with significant progress on small jobs and starts being made on some of the bigger tasks to maintain the site and prepare the way for repairs to take place as the weather improves.

Treemendous progress

11 Feb 2023 Volunteer work is afoot. Clearing scrub and ivy, and digging away the debris blocking the bottom of the rear retaining wall.

Over several busy Saturdays from 11th to 25th February our eager volunteers John, Paul, Jamie, Paul, Mitchell and Chris returned to the big task of clearing the bottom of the retaining wall at the rear of the site.

Making progress on ‘the mound’ 11 Feb 2023

This work is necessary in order to be able to assess the repairs required to the wall itself and to clear a space for the scaffold platform to be erected to safely carry out those repairs, mostly a mixture of stone replacements and repointing which can only really get started in warmer weather later in Spring.

Starting to get to the root of the problem, 11 Feb 2023

John, Jamie and Paul certainly got stuck in on 11th and 18th Feb, fighting back brambles and undergrowth and tackling the rampant ivy as well as clearing a way through years of debris, reclaiming bricks and stonework which had fallen from the wall in years past. The main obstacle to progress was a large mound of fairly loose soil and ash, on top of which sat a large tree stump; a giant crown of roots atop the mass of dirt.

The ‘Floating’ tree stump, with huge roots and a large amount of loose soil removed beneath the stump, 25 Feb 2023

After some serious pick and saw action worthy of a collier and lumberjack combined, plus much digging on the 18th February, the crew had extracted most of the loose earth from beneath the giant stump.

Underground lair? The excavated void beneath the tree stump on the mound 25th Feb 2023

With saws galore the roots had been taken out bit-by-bit, and the mound reduced significantly, although the tree stump was still pressing hard against the retaining wall.

By hook or by crook, or by iron rods, lossening the grip of the giant stump on top of the mound, 25th Feb 2023

Relieving this pressure and removing the thick ivy covering much of the retaining wall should enable the group to see the condition of the wall much more clearly than has been the case for very many years, as well as perhaps allowing a clearer view of the scale of the original pit heapstead, with the drop from the main winding shaft, down across the railway to the canal basin.

View down across the rear retaining wall behind the winding engine house, from the lower terrace across to the mound and mighty tree stump, 25th February 2023

Hopefully the first giant stump-athon of 2023 will be conquerable by March, as we plan to make a start on lime mortar mixing and repairs to other parts of the retaining wall. The passing seasons and groundwater certainly take their toll on older and weaker sections of the wall, so these will be priority repairs as the weather allows.

Detail of section of retaining wall to be repaired, following deterioration over Winter 2022-23, 11th February 2023

Gathering momentum

High view across the top yard of the colliery, towards Pump House Cottage and the water shaft headgear, 11th Feb 2023

Elsewhere on site there is further activity, with renewed attention being given to the interior of Pump House Cottage, to remove blown plaster and old, poor cement repairs, as well as to address the life-expired wall decorations in some areas.

External view of Pump House Cottage, and its lovely garden, coming back to life as Spring draws nearer, February 2023

Thanks to the efforts of our volunteers, like Janet and Jeff, years of decay and damp when the house was left unheated before the Friends were able to secure it, are now being addressed, as we continue to deliver on the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s support for our Hemingfield’s Hidden History project to unify the site, restore it, and share its stories with the wider community.

Thanks to National Lottery Players

Meanwhile, over in the winding engine house, regular volunteer Mitchell has also been cleaning up the space and bringing together the site’s collection of objects and memorabilia to form a new museum display which will add to the visitor experience on site and support the improved interpretation being developed by the group.

Cleaned up, restoring woodwork in the winding engine house (Photo credit: Mitchell Sutherland)

Related to this, the care and maintenance of woodwork inside the enginehouse is receiving attention, and the original green colour finishes are being restored.

Active travels in Elsecar

Away from the site, further developments are underway around Elsecar to improve safe walking and cycling routes between the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) and Elsecar Railway Station. The Elsecar Station Access Scheme, as it is known, has received funding from South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA)’s Transforming Cities Fund to widen existing pavement footpaths, improve crossing facilities for cyclists and the visually impaired, and, most significantly, install a new surfaced path across Elsecar Green to help pedestrians and cyclists access the railway station away from the busy road.

Work in progress on Elsecar Green, February 2023

View of the new path across Elsecar Green from Wath Road, opposite the former Dawsons site and access to the Elsecar branch of the Dearne and Dove Canal, 10th February 2023
View across the park showing work in progress on the new wide path across Elsecar Green, 10th February 2023
Reverse view of the new path making progress from Wath Road towards the Fitzwilliam Street side of Elsecar Green, by the Cottage Kitchen, 24th February 2023
Close up of mechanical digger in shallow excavation trench for new path across Elsecar Green, looking towards Fitzwilliam Street/Hill Street (B6097), 24th February 2023
View of digger and dumper truck engaged in construction of new path across Elsecar Green, looking towards Wath Road, with the rear Church Street housing on the left, 24th February 2023

This work should make it easier to safely and more speedily travel from Elsecar Railway Station down to the Trans Penine Trail (TPT) that runs along the canal past Hemingfield Colliery, and may aupport duture active travel initiatives and bike hire schemes which may develop from the Heritage Centre to explore the wider TPT.

A Yorkshire Miner on the world stage

A hundred years ago, in 1923, a former Yorkshire miner, and colliery manager spoke on the subject of fuel (and especially coal) on global affairs, specifically the post-war politics of Europe.

“The desire to possess supplies of fuel has been the cause of international disputes, has influenced post-war settlements, and in recent times has imperilled the friendly relations existing between allied countries.”

R.W. Clarke, The influence of fuel on international relation, Journal of the British Institute of International Affairs, Vol.2(3) May 1923, pp.107-118

Major Robert William Clarke (1872-1933) was born in Wentworth, Rotherham, son of Dr William Clarke, private physician to Earl Fitzwilliam and his family. He trained at Wharncliffe Silkstone Colliery before serving as Under Manager at Lidgett Colliery in 1889 and going overseas to serve as a civil and mining engineer in Sydney in Australia, then in the Punjab, Warora and Bikaner in India. He later worked in North Borneo exploring and reporting on minerals, and also in the Donetz Basin, or what we in 2023 will recognise as the ‘Donbas’ in Ukraine which is heavily contested and currently (February 2023) largely under Russian occupation, but remains an important industrial area.

Clarke served as manager to Thurcroft Main Colliery from 1912 before the First World War. He joined the 5th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment in September 1914 and served in France in 1915, being transferred to the Royal Engineers and promoted. to Captain and later acting Major. By 1919 he took on engineering and economic advisory roles in the post-war settlements in Europe, including acting as Chief Controller of Mines for the Inter-Allied Plebiscite Commission on Upper Silesia, a role which gave him some close insights into the tensions of war and peace; rising and reactionary nationalism in Poland and Germany, and the awkward realities of economic geography as the borders of Europe were redrawn post-war and industrial areas unhappily separated out, as the League of Nations attempted to navigate and support a peaceful future.

“If the uses of coal had been limited to ordinary commercial enterprises its influence on international politics in recent times might not have been so great. Powerful nations, however, must possess powerful armaments, and coal is essential to the manufacture of armaments. Without coal the manufacture of iron and steel on a large scale is impracticable, and the by-products of coal distillation are necessary for the production of high explosives.”

R.W. Clarke, The influence of fuel on international relation, Journal of the British Institute of International Affairs, Vol.2(3) May 1923, pp.107-118

All at sea? Fuel and War

‘The King of the Sea’, portrayal of ‘King Coal’ at sea in a coal scuttle, indicating the critical role of fuel in war, here coal in Victorian naval warfare. Illustration by Edward Linley Sambourne (1844-1910) published in Punch, 7 May 1898, p.208

Winston Churchill was fully alive to the role of fuel in political and military life as First Lord of the Admiralty from October 1911–May 1915. His time in charge of the Navy saw the move from peace into war, from a steam coal Navy fuelled by British coal which peaked in 1913 with 292 million tonnes produced, through to the development of a Fast Division of smaller, lighter and faster battleships powered by imported oil, rather than traditional domestic coal supplies.

"You have got to find the oil: to show how it can be stored cheaply: how it can be purchased regularly and cheaply in peace; and with absolute certainty in war." 
Winston Churchill writing to Lord John Fisher, 11 June 1912 to inviting establish a Royal Commission on Fuel and Engines, quoted in Churchill, W.S., The World Crisis: 1911-1914, published 1923, p.137

Fossil fuels in a new cold war?

Energy security and national and international security are once again to the forefront of people’s minds, albeit we are now perhaps more aware of the environmental impacts and inherent sustainability challenges of our consumption; the wider costs as well as the monetary price we are having to pay.

February 2023 marks a year since the start of large scale war in Europe, with the further invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, following the earlier illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. The suffering of the people of Ukraine is unmistakeable, as is the dramatic shift in European geopolitics and economic relations, exemplified by the urgent diversification of energy supply throughout Europe, particularly Germany and Italy which, together with Turkey, were the largest importers of natural gas from Russia before this latest invasion began.

By the end of 2022 Germany in particular had largely replaced Russian gas imports with increased supplies from Norway, the Netherlands and other states, as well as rapidly bringing onstream a liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal at Wilhelmshaven, near Bremen in Lower Saxony.

Consuming powers

Added to that natural gas consumption across the whole European Union has dropped by some 19.3% between August 2022 and January 2023 compared with the average between 2017-2022, following on the European Commission’s REPOwerEU plan to reduce dependence on Russian fossil fuels by 2027, through saving energy, supplier changes and the adoption of renewable energy. As the German Economics Minister Robert Habeck put it last year:

“Every kilometre not driven is a contribution to making it easier to get away from Russian energy supplies. We are also protecting the climate.”

Robert Habeck, German Economy and Climate Change Minister, 6 April 2022, quoted in The Business Standard, 15 April 2022

According to figures from the International Energy Agency, the need to move away from Russian supplies of natural gas (representing 40% of European Union demand in 2021) and oil (14% of the World’s Crude and condensate production in 2021) led to a global energy supply crisis, with acute price rises and knock-on inflationary pressures on the production of many goods as well as their transport costs.

In the UK the Office for National Statistics notes that gas prices increased by 129.4% in the year to January 2023, and electricity prices rose by 66.7% contibuting to a ‘cost of living crisis’ and inflationary pressures. Energy security and the impact of global markets on process have been clear to everyone.

According to a House of Commons research paper in 2021 UK gas, oil and coal imports from Russia were worth £4.5 billion: 27% of the coal used in the UK came from Russia, with 9% of the oil and 4% of the gas. However, following the further invasion of Ukraine the UK Government pledged to end imports of oil and coal by the end of 2022, with gas imports to end as soon as possible thereafter. Since then the import of liquified natural gas in particular has been prohibited from 1st January 2023. Fuel and international relations continue to be a challenge at home and abroad.

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