Open days and open minds in April, 2023

A low-level drone side view of Hemingfield Colliery site, at the top of the photograph a range of buildings fill the shot, the old pumping engine house on the left, the winding engine house in the middle, and roofless surface haulage building to the right. In the foreground the canal basin can be seen through trees, and in the middle across the picture is the line of the railway, currently out of use.
Chimney smoke rises as the Friends seek shelter on Easter Monday, 10th April 2023 (Photo Credit: Simon Hollis)

April 2023 saw a host of activities on site, as the weather tried, time after time, to confound and confuse. For the Friends it was a month of Open Days at Easter; of gardening and tidying, and of preparation for better days to come, or at least better weather on the many working days to come.

No Fools Day

Let’s start at the very beginning. Saturday 1st April 2023. Late-rising Daffodils brought Spring colour to Pump House Cottage Garden, as the Friends and regular volunteers arrived for some green-fingered work ‘up top’ – in the beautiful garden, as well as ‘darn’t’ back’, at the base of the rear retaining wall.

A view of Pump House Cottage Garden 1st April 2023, with Daffodils in the foreground, and Pumphouse Cottage in the background to the right, and the winding engine house in the background to the left.
A view of Pump House Cottage Garden 1st April 2023, with Daffodils in the foreground

Overhead – nature’s routine returns again – our neighbourly buzzards soar overhead; chased and challenged by crows nesting high in the treeline over the old Elsecar Main muck stack. Their fighting silhouettes rush past thick grey clouds hanging over the valley, circling Pit Row, and flying high over the canal, swoop and swerve away.

English coal country gardens

It was a touch grey at the start of the day. Layers advisable, but not too cold as gardening got underway. Volunteers Janet and Jeff worked their magic; weeding, turning the soil, and preparing beds to receive new plants as the seasons begin to stir. From Pump House Cottage emerged our memorial bench. Taking pride of place on the brick path in the centre of the garden it is a comfortable place to sit and ponder. Remember the heavy work and long hours above and below ground over the years. A peaceful place to reflect on the tragic gas explosion in December 1852 when 10 miners were killed.

Pump House Cottage Garden 1st April 2023

Ivy – the evergreen fiend

In the late 1830s, Charles Dickens mused on the wonders of the redoubtable Ivy in chapter VI of his first serialised novel The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. The poem, later put to music in a popular ballad, certainly touches on the power of nature, obscuring past human industry. It is an appropriate cue to the efforts of our regular volunteers John and Paul in removing it from the rear retaining wall in order to repair the same.

Volunteers on ladders removing ivy from the rear retaining wall at Hemingfield, 1st April 2023

Whole ages have fled, and their works decayed,
And nations have scattered been;
But the stout old Ivy shall never fade,
From its hale and hearty green.
The brave old plant, in its lonely days,
Shall fatten on the past;
For the stateliest building man can raise,
Is the Ivy’s food at last.
Creeping on where time has been,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Issue III (May 1836), Ch.VI

Retrieving the extendable ladders from storage, the Friends plucked and cleared the ivy to view the state of the stonework beneath, and prepare the way for repair and repointing work to come later in the year. Of course ivy isn’t all bad, back in Pump House Cottage garden it tops the old cherry trees, and forms a rustic garland around a new bird box set for nesting birds in the weeks ahead.

View of a cut-down cherry tree trunk covered in ivy, with a new bird box nestling on top in Pump House Cottage Garden
Encouraging new life on site. A Friends-produced bird box in the garden at Pump House Cottage, with an ivy garland 1st April 2023

Measured and recorded

As well as site maintenance, the Friends are committed to recording and studying the surviving buildings on site, including surface and subsurface features. Supporting this ongoing and important building recording objective, a number of volunteers have made, and continue to make very detailed measurements of the engine houses. This work continued in April with additional measurements being made around the pumping engine house, where the former condenser pit was sited. Photographic reference was taken to study and confirm the courses of masonry making up this remarkable building. Comparisons were made between the heights of the shaft stonework and the height of the condenser pit mouth. Additional insights were also gained into the phases of modifications made to the buildings as the colliery passed from steam-powered pumping to electrical pumping after 1920.

On the left is a clipboard with several sheets of printed paper visible, including a measured drawn plan view of the pumping engine shaft and engine house.  Underneath there is a photographic plan of the masonry of the engine house, to the right can be glimpsed a volunteer in the process of measuring the site.
Building recording work in action by Pump House Cottage, the former steam pumping engine house. Studying and measuring the surviving features.

Flying high

It’s not just buzzards, kestrels, tits and crows in the air in these parts. On Sunday 2nd April 2023, regular volunteers Mitchell, Janet, and Jeff welcomed members of the Yorkshire Drone Flyers’ Club to Hemingfield Colliery to conduct some drone camera work, a taste of which can be viewed in the video below:

A flight of Drones? Yorkshire Drone Flyers’ Club visit Hemingfield Colliery 2nd April 2023 (Video credit: Mitchell Sutherland)

The visit provided an unusual location to practice flying and imaging, but also helped to support the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery in the preparation of new interpretation being developed for the site as part of our National Lottery Heritage Fund Hemingfield’s Hidden History project work.

Thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Friends have been able to reunite the Pump House Cottage building with the rest of the site, and to start to bring it back into use, with roof repairs and resources to share the stories of the whole colliery

Capturing a visual record of the site over time is in itself an important contribution to monitoring the condition of the buildings over time, as well as enabling the wider context of the colliery to be more easily discerned – the canal basin, the railway and the village of Elsecar itself.

Good Friday and a Great Monday – at Easter

As arranged in January, the Friends began a new series of public Open Days around Easter. Good Friday and Easter Monday. The notices for these events included our new group logo which we are excited to share and begin to use more widely on our web and social media channels, as well as printed publicity materials. Another important legacy from our National Lottery Heritage Fund project.

Advert for Easter Heritage Open Days at Hemingfield Colliery in April 2023
Open Day Advert for Easter at Hemingfield Colliery

Friday 7th April and Monday 10th April

Good Friday was, perhaps predictably, a quiet start to the year, although a bright and promising one for conversations on site and planning for future activities.

View of the Open Day banner outside Hemingfield Colliery
Welcome in! 10th April 2023

Mitchell, Janet, Jeff, Paul and Chris helped to set up the stall for open day visitors, supported by Glen and Andy. The first open day was a nice chance to meet and greet some of neighbours across from Pit Row and review progress and plans for the year ahead.

View of a bright sunny day outside Pump House Cottage, with a gazebo and embroidered tablecloth stall set out with books and information for visitors
Setting up our stall. The Friends gazebo was up and a selection of information and books were available for visitors to view, 7th April 2023

Setting up the gazebo and table outside Pump House Cottage, the Friends also set out a small history exhibition on some of the exhibition boards inside Pump House Cottage.

Exhibition boards with historical exhibition information on the pit and the work of the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery
7th April 2023 – exhibition of materials by the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery, held in Pump House Cottage

On 10th April the site was set up again, and although we started out in sunshine, we definitely had to run for shelter as a deluge struck mid-day. We had 2 further drone flying visitors on this day, and were delighted to share our unique story with passers-by.

View of the pit buildings from across the  way by the side of Pit Row, 10th April 2023
View across the whole site from Wath Road by Pit Row, 10th April 2023

Spring has Sprung…a leak?

The seasonal charms of a Barnsley poet hide a multitude of meteorological sins, and are not an entirely unreliable guide to our experience in late April 2023.

Cheer’d by warm rays and friendly showers, the meads
In robes of fresher, livelier hue are seen;
Fair smile the woods, as Spring her verdure leads, –
In mingled shades of dark, reliev’d with green.

Thomas Lister, ‘Morning contemplations’, The Rustic Wreath. poems moral, descriptive & miscellaneous, A. Pickard, Leeds, 1834, Verse VIII, p.158

‘Friendly showers’ were amicably met, but frustrated some progress on site until later in the month, when things could get moving again in earnest. On Saturday 22nd April, the Friends and regular volunteers greeted a much-needed delivery of sand from local builders’ merchants Allendales, of Hoyland.

View of a hydraulic lifting arm lowering a builder's merchant sack of sand next to the concrete headgear
Delivering the goods – building sand bag number 1

It’s always a joy to see the deliveries, and the hydraulic arm lift and gently place the materials by the side of our brick pile, under the watchful gaze of volunteers John and Jamie and Jeff.

View of 2nd bag of sand being lowered from a hydraulic lifting arm from a builders' merchant delivery van, placing both next to the brick pile at Hemingfield Colliery
Two are better than one. Arrangements being made 22nd April 2023

Recovering Relics

Indoors, as part of our plans to bring a small collection of objects from the site together in the winding engine house, the Friends took one of their excavated finds out of storage and moved it into the winding engine house. The object – parts of a former coal tub (corf) bottom are to be cleaned and placed together with excavated tub axles and wheels to provide a more tangible connection with the working live of the pit, as every tub full of coal was loaded into the cages in the main shaft and wound up from the Barnsley seam up to the surface.

22nd April 2023 – excavated corf base being taken out of storage to add to small display collection

Meanwhile outside, site maintenance work continued. Winter and Spring mark the return of slippery moss covering our concrete yard surfaces. This needs some elbow grease to clear away, as well as keeping the cracks and crevices free from weeds as dandelions flower and seeds fly. Thanks to some hefty shovel and brushwork from our regular volunteers the pit yard is looking neat once more.

View of the concrete surface around the main headgear at Hemingfield - cleared of moss.
Cleaning up – moss free and slip-free surface, 22nd April 2023

Pump House Cottage – a garden of earthly delights

Finishing April on a high, the Friends were joined by regular volunteers and some old friends – with the weather warming, it was a perfect day to catch up, to look ahead to a May of Bank Holidays, of Open Days and Coronation festivities, and to get stuck in on jobs big and little – in the beautiful garden, upstairs indoors and to the roof and rainwater goods of Pump House Cottage.

A photo looking through the open side gate to Pump House cottage garden, with deckchairs set out by the cottage occupied by volunteers. in the background the winding engine house and in the middle ground the pumping shaft headgear can be seen. 29th April 2023
Garden gate ajar – a lovely day at the end of April, the Friends and Volunteers sat outside discussing plans, progress and enjoying the atmosphere and good company 29th April 2023

It was a busy, productive day, and it was certainly a hot and sunny one – water bottles and cold drinks all-round, and hats and regular pauses for thought to keep cool. A good day to see off April and welcome in the joys of Spring.

Height of expectation – minor roof repairs, 29th April 2023

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