The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery got 2019 off to a great start, continuing with a busy programme of volunteer activities on site.
Notching up November
On Saturday morning the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery returned to work on another open day. The approach of winter hardens the ground and turns the air, so working out doors becomes harder and the days slightly shorter as the clocks fell back at the end of October. With the great sleep-in behind us, the Friends and regular volunteers were eager to face the ultimate challenge: shifting the Great Stump.
The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery arrived early on site, swinging the gates wide open and stepping into the pit yard. Expecting rain, but finding mostly dry terrain and pleasant working conditions in the mild autumnal air. Looking over across the valley over to Hemingfield proper, the sky was cloudy but blue, and the farmed fields in the distance contrasted with the dense and beautifully dis-colouring trees nearby. It is a turning point in the year when days shorten, clocks go back and woolly jumpers emerge. American poet Robert Frost put it crisply:
O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
(From ‘October’, published in A Boy’s Will, 1913)
Saturday 15th September 2018
The second and final Heritage Open Day of 2018 began with grey and cloudy skies, though without the unbroken rains that preceded the previous weekend. Friends Chair Steve and regular volunteers Keith and Chris were on site to welcome another series of visitors to the site and provide walking tours of the surviving buildings and machinery.
Milton Gala, Sunday 22nd July 2018
Arriving at the crest of an extraordinary heatwave, the 2018 Milton Gala was a scorcher! Organised and managed by the Mates of Milton community group, and held on the Milton Forge recreation grounds, the day was busy with food, fun, music, rides, displays, dancing, dogs (not dancing) and a great turnout from members of the local community in Hoyland, Elsecar and further afield.
Beneath striking blue sky and the direct sun, the day was glorious; the parched grass like straw, turned yellow-brown, encouraging picnics and sunbathing, as well as gentle conversation as the crowds gathered to join in the fun on the upper field. On the lower field, for the first time, a volunteer cordon for parking ensured no snarl ups, and encouraged everyone to enjoy the whole of the recreation ground.
Young and old, families and friends walked around the Gala grounds, stopping to admire the shops and stalls surrounding the performance and display area. Local community, volunteer and faith groups were out in force, including Holy Trinity Church Elsecar, Wentworth Castle Volunteers and others, as well as a strong presence from the South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue service, with a fire engine on site and a rolling series of demonstrations on the dangers of domestic fires – leading to some spectacular flames!
Amongst the stalls of books, plants, crafts, gifts and sweets, was the great group from Old Martha’s Yard Community Garden, just up Milton Road in Hoyland, tucked away behind the Belmont club, off West Street.
Also present was a joint stall hosted by the Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar team, with Heritage Specialist Megan Clement, together with the Elsecar Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) officer Dr Tegwen Roberts; both are experienced commercial and community archaeologists with a passion for sharing their expertise.
The Great Place WE and Elsecar HAZ teams were on site to share the progress of their Milton Dig project – a two week community archaeology project on the Milton Forge fields to investigate the history of the site and any remains of the former Milton Iron Works which occupied the site from c.1799-1885.
Building on the findings of Historic England’s national Geophysics Team, who used a number of techniques to investigate the Milton Forge playing fields area, including caesium magnetometry and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR).
Linford, N.T., Linford, P.K., Payne, A. W., Elsecar, Barnsley: Report on Geophysical Survey, May 2017 (Report number: 62/2017), Historic England Research Report series ISSN 2059-4453 (Online).
The Milton Dig project, from 16th-28th July 2018 was designed to excavate a number of features identified by the geophysics, together with indications of structures from old Ordnance Survey maps, and some archival plans from Barnsley Archives, to determine what if anything remains of the original iron works and ancillary buildings.
The Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar team worked closely with ElsecarHAZ project officer Dr Tegwen Roberts to design a programme of archaeological and creative activities. The dig itself was delivered by an experienced team from Arc Heritage, supervised by Richard Jackson. It also provided an opportunity for young people in the area to be inspired by their heritage, and the Great Places WE team enlisted local writer and poet Michéle Beck to lead creative writing workshops with local children during the dig period.
The Heritage Action Zone for Elsecar is a 3 year project resourced by Heritage Lottery Fund monies and led by Historic England to undertake new research into the area to reveal its heritage and help develop future plans for its visitor economy. The Great Place WE scheme brings together work by Barnsley and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Councils with the resources and expertise of Arts Council England to engage and inspire young people locally with the creative opportunities of the heritage found at Wentworth and Elsecar, as well as arranging a series of fantastic events to remember in the two villages.
Local schools and members of the community were invited to come and see the dig and learn about the emerging finds as the work progressed. There were daily opportunities to volunteer on site, and many members of the local community, including families were quick to reserve a spot to get down in the trenches to see their history emerge first-hand.
At Milton Gala, a highlight was a series of tours of the ongoing archaeology. Historic England Elsecar HAZ Project Officer, Dr Roberts led groups around the site, explaining the choice of excavation sites, and the emerging discoveries to date. The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery were delighted to visit and learn more about the history of the area, and how interconnected the collieries and ironworks were through the years.
Context is everything
After explaining the progress of the Milton Dig to-date, Dr Roberts led visitors to the project cabin where the cleaned and sorted finds were bagged and tagged with individual labels, giving the trench and context numbers relating to where they were found.
Following the Dig #MiltonDig
In the week following the Gala, the Milton Dig concluded. The recording work will lead to a study of the findings and the results will be shared with the community in a report produced by Arc Heritage in the near future. To learn more about the exciting progress of the dig, and the many local people and professional archaeologists who got down in the trenches, or who visited to see the progress being made, please see the videos presented by Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar:
- Introduction to the Milton Dig project, Megan Clement, Heritage Specialist, Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar.
- Introduction – Richard Jackson (archaeological project supervisor, Arc Heritage)
- Day 1 – Opening trenches, Megan Clement, Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar
- Day 2 – Schools visit (Dr Tegwen Roberts, Elsecar HAZ officer)
- Day 3 – Update (Richard Jackson from Arc Heritage)
- Day 4 – Megan Clement Great PLace Wentworth and Elsecar Heritage Specialist
- Day 5 – Michéle Beck, Freelance Author and Poet – creativity from shared heritage
- Milton Dig and the Gala – For local people and their history, Dr John Tanner, Barnsley Museums
- Day 7 – Richard Jackson, Arc Heritage
- Day 8 – Richard Jackson, Arc Heritage
- Day 10 – Drawing the Milton Dig to a close, Richard Jackson, Arc Heritage
On the Sunny Side
As we continued to bask in the endless heat and light of a positively Indian Summer in 2018, the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery gathered once more to get to wrap up the dig, and to make headway in preparations for repairing the rear wall.
Saturday 30th June
As the June heatwave continued, the Friends headed out to Barnsley. Gleaming under a dazzling cloudless sky, the beautiful Town Hall welcomed visitors to Barnsley History Day, the grand finale to a great week of activities. The impressive 1930s building houses Experience Barnsley – the museum and discovery centre currently celebrating its 5th anniversary in the Experience Barnsley Festival.
The beginning of June 2018 was marked by unrelenting sunshine, blue skies and the reluctant admission that yes, Summer is indeed here.
Site Manager Glen opened the gates to regular volunteers Alan, John, Keith and Chris. Friends chair Steve was also present and catch up with the results of recent working parties.
Far and away in May
Heading to the colliery on foot from the green hills beyond the village of Hemingfield itself, the pit first appears as a wooded hollow.
The huddle of cottages at Pit Row guide the eye to the right level, on the far side of the canal bank, at the foot of a densely wooden hillside – really the landscaped spoil heap of Hemingfield’s younger sibling, Elsecar Main Colliery.
Standing proudly over the canal and railway line is the main headgear, its concrete geometry contrasting with the lush green leaves swaying in the breeze.
Standing in the distinctive lines of its shadow, the Friends and regular volunteers collected tools and headed out around the site to get to work.
Keep it clean
A big part of the Friends’ work is taking pride in looking after the pit; taking care of this remarkable survival of the Victorian age is a privilege, and as a survivor, the site has been no stranger to the effects of neglect and vandalism. Stepping out of the gates, and grabbing a brush, shovel and take, it is good to keep the gateway to the site clean and tidy.
Elsewhere around the yard, Site Manager Glen powered up the strimmer and got to grips with the long grass, whilst regular volunteer Chris raked up the cuttings and cleared the lower level by the pumping shaft.
The sun was fierce on Saturday, but the working party on site were still a little cooler than the firemen on the footplate of the steam engine racing by on the Elsecar Heritage Railway line below.
A Hole New World
Keeping cool in the moderate shade of the winding engine house were ‘the crew’ – regular volunteers Nigel, Alan, John and Keith returned to the fray, excavating the pit feature which is now two metres down from where we once stood a couple of years ago.
As features emerge, trowel work takes the place of the shovels of demolition rubble, as we seek to assess and interpret what the pit was used for, and record it’s features including compacted coal, and the tantalising drainage feature which suggests we have hit the bottom.
Pausing for lunch before rounding off the digging, strumming, raking, sweeping, narrowing and brick chipping. The Friends returned home to a well earned glass of water/pop/juice/beer [delete as applicable]. All pleased with another pleasant day spent on site at Hemingfield under blue skies with hopefully none-too-reddening necks!
Wheelie good times
May 2018 was one to remember. Le Tour de Yorkshire passed through South Yorkshire on 4th May. Barnsley was busy and buzzing with one of the stages starting in the town, before heading out throughout the borough. Hoyland, Wentworth and Elsecar were all eagerly awaiting the arrival of the men’s and women’s races during the day – with crowds of all ages, street decorations and special celebrations arranged all around the route.