Hemingfield Colliery, also known as Low Elsecar Colliery, was developed for Earl Fitzwilliam in the 1840s, under the management of Benjamin Biram (1803-1857), his Steward, mineral agent and general manager. It formed part of the Earl’s Elsecar Collieries, consisting of Elsecar High, Mid and Low pits. Earl Fitzwilliam also owned a further extensive group of pits around Park Gate; both groups were close to the heart of his South Yorkshire estates at Wentworth, as indicated on the map below:
Sinking the Pits
At Hemingfield, the work to dig out the shafts, known as ‘sinking’, took a number of years to complete after starting in earnest in 1842. The work hit a number of problems, with gas and water, before the winding pit finally reached the coal of the Barnsley seam in late 1847, at a depth of 157 yards. This seam, consisting of coal measures 9ft 5in thick was also sometimes referred to as the ‘Elsecar coal’.
When at work the Hemingfield Colliery consisted of several shafts, for pumping water from the pit, for winding coal, and for improved ventilation as the workings expanded further underground. The main working shafts were:
- Two downcast pits, each 468 feet deep:
i) a circular ‘engine’ or pumping pit, served by a 130 Horse Power Cornish engine, fired by three boilers and raising water in three lifts – two rams of 60 yards each, and a bucket lift of 35 yards.
ii) an elliptical winding shaft worked by a 30 HP 22 1/2 inch vertical cylinder, 5ft 6inch stroke engine with flat hemp ropes (later flat wire ropes) over a winding drum 9ft 11inches;
- One upcast shaft (really 2 shafts, but later joined into one at the surface) Sunk c.1852-3 to improve ventilation:
iii) a circular upcast shaft, of 9 ft diameter
iv) a circular upcast shaft of 7 ft diameter.
- An additional downcast, the new Rainborough shaft, 14ft diameter,175 yards deep in total, sunk 1864-5
When first opened the colliery already benefited from a connections to the Elsecar branch of the Dearne and Dove Canal, with its own loading basin, the Hemingfield Basin which survives today.
Later the colliery also gained a connection to the South Yorkshire Railway, as the Elsecar branch was opened in 1850. Though removed in the 1980s, the end mile of track was relaid in the 1990s and still carries passengers as the Elsecar Heritage Railway which also offers footplate experiences for those wishing to fire and drive an engine.
Up to scratch
In 1851 the coal from Hemingfield colliery was sent to the Museum of Practical Geology to be tested for its suitability for fuelling Royal Navy steam ships. It was described as follows:
“The vein has a dip of 1 in 12 towards the north-east, and is usually about 9 feet in thickness. The overlying stratum is “stone bind” and the subjacent, fire-clay. The coal is worked in faces 40 or 50 yards in length. The principal market is Hull, which is about 80 miles away from the colliery, but large quantities are consumed by iron-works in the immediate neighbourhood of the mine. The present price is 5s 9d per ton of 21cwt.
[…] During the experiments it was found to light easily, burn freely, and get up steam rapidly; considerable quantities of ash were, however, produced, and unless the fire was frequently cleared, the draught became choked, and the clearness of the fire impaired.“
Museum of Practical Geology. Third Report on the coals suited to the Steam Navy
by Sir Henry de la Beche and Dr Lyon Playfair, London 1851 London: William Clowes and Sons, p.26
1852 – Disaster strikes
At 1.30 pm on 22nd December 1852 an explosion underground claimed 10 lives and injured a further 12 miners. An inquest followed, led by Coroner Thomas Badger, and the Mines Inspector for Yorkshire, Charles Morton admonished the management and the men, though the effects would have been significantly worse had the ventilation of the workings not been carefully divided in two districts under Biram’s guidance. Printed rules were thereafter required for the safety of the miners.
After 1852 Hemingfield, like all of Earl Fitzwilliam’s pits, enjoyed a relatively good record of operations – though mining was by no means a safe profession as the yearly record of accidents due to roof falls testifies.
1850s-1920 – regular working and gradual exhaustion
The 1850s and 60s saw significant investment in improved ventilation to help cope with the dangers of gas as Hemingfield’s workings expanded. This included two additional ventilation shafts closer to Elsecar village, sunk shortly after the pit began working, and topped by a ventilating fan with boiler plant, engine house and chimney. In the 1860s a further large diameter shaft was sunk over towards Rainborough Grange to increase air flow in the workings.
Superintendence of the mines passed from Benjamin Biram to John Hartop (1815-1902) following Biram’s death in 1857. Railway contracts through the Great Northern and South Yorkshire Railway companies brought prosperity to the collieries, together with new customers in London and the south. Equally the growth of local ironworks at Elsecar and Milton under the Dawes brothers from 1849 guaranteed a steady demand for Elsecar coal. By 1869 Hemingfield was raising 500 of coal tons per day. Ten years later it was still the busiest of the three Elsecar pits then at work (the other two being High Elsecar and Simon Wood).
On 23rd July 1883 the old wooden pit headgear at Hemingfield was taken down. A new set was up by the 4th August, and coal winding recommenced on the 6th. John Hartop retired as General Manager in June 1886, being replaced by Thomas Newbould (1845-1933) on 1st July that year. Newbould had worked for Earl Fitzwilliam since the 1860s, becoming manager of the Low Stubbin pit in 1870 following the death of his uncle Thomas Cooper. He occupied a number of roles prior to his retirement as Agent and General Manager in 1920.
His period of service spanned the closure of High Elsecar (1889), Simon Wood (1903), Hemingfield (1920) and Low Stubbin (1920) collieries as well as the new sinkings at Elsecar Main and New Stubbin at the beginning of the 20th century. Newbould was also present when the King and Queen visited Elsecar in 1912, and guided the King in a visit to the underground workings at Elsecar Main.
Hemingfield Colliery ceased drawing coal for Earl Fitzwilliam on May 15th 1920 after which time the South Yorkshire Pumping Association took over the pumping at this pit, as well as further pumping stations at Elsecar and Westfield. The Association had been established by 15 local collieries who became alarmed at the flooding of old abandoned mine workings in the Barnsley seam – the Association was formed to tackle and prevent the impact of rising water on active and future working elsewhere in the district.
The initial group of 15 companies in the Association consisted of:
- Brodsworth Main Colliery Company Ltd (reg.1905)
- John Brown & Company Ltd (Aldwarke Main, Car House and Rotherham Main collieries)
- Bullcroft Main Colliery Company Ltd (reg. 1908)
- Carlton Main Colliery Company Ltd (est.1872; name changed 1900)
- Cortonwood Collieries Company Ltd (reg.1883)
- Dalton Main Collieries Ltd (reg.1899)
- Denaby and Cadeby Main Collieries Ltd (reg.1893)
- Hickleton Main Colliery Company Ltd (reg.1892)
- Houghton Main Colliery Company Ltd (est.1875; new company reg.1900)
- Manvers Main Collieries Ltd (reg.1899 taking over earlier company)
- Mitchell Main
- New Monckton Collieries Ltd (est.1874; reg.1901)
- Stewarts and Lloyds Ltd
- Wath Main Colliery Company Ltd (est.1876; reg.1901)
- Wombwell Main Company Ltd (reg.1865)
The three Fitzwilliam water drainage sites were finally conveyed to the Association on 4th October 1920. Prior to the Association’s installation of electric pumping equipment, the old Hemingfield Cornish pumping engine was able to pump ten strokes a minute, working 7 days a week, the total quantity being pumped was 30,000 gallons per hour.
The first electric pumps installed at the pit bottom by the Association were a double set of 145 HP Rees Roturbo centrifugal pumps each capable of dealing with 600 gallons per minute which were later modified and supplemented by pumping equipment at the Kent’s seam.
In August 1929 the Pumping Association was put on a more formal statutory basis as the ‘South Yorkshire Mines Drainage Committee’ under section 18 of the Mining Industry Act, 1920 (Statutory Rules and Orders No.803 of 1929).
The scheme’s boundaries were amended in October 1936, and ten year later the Committee’s property and powers were absorbed by the National Coal Board under Schedule 3, Part II of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act of 1946, described as “An Act to establish public ownership and control of the coal-mining industry and certain allied activities; and for purposes connected therewith.” it saw the nationalisation of the industry from 1 January 1947.
Functioning as a pumping station, under the South Yorkshire Mines Drainage Unit, Hemingfield would survive the next forty years quietly working away, a mute witness to the changing political landscape, and to the decline and fall of an industry it had once been spared to help preserve.
The remains of Hemingfield Colliery outlive its younger sibling, Elsecar Main Colliery which was just down the road. The first sod of the upcast shaft at the ‘new’ pit had been dug in July 1905, but the whole pit was finally closed in 1983, and demolished by 1987.
1920-1989 – Pumping station
In 1987 the NCB was rebranded as the British Coal Corporation (commonly ‘British Coal’) as the pattern of pit closures continued. The South Yorkshire Mines Drainage Unit closed and Hemingfield was managed directly from Silverwood Colliery. Pumping was finally discontinued in October 1989, though the site was retained as a pumping station by the South Yorkshire Group of British Coal.
1994 – Privatisation and the beginning of the end
The passing of the Coal Industry Act 1994 marked the end of nationalisation and the creation of a new, part privatised system – mineral assets and subsidence liabilities being assigned to the new Coal Authority, while the remaining commercial interests of British Coal Corporation were sold to a number of private companies. Hemingfield itself became the property of Central and Northern Mining Limited (est. November 1994). In December 1994 the new company which had taken on much of the UK’s deep mining changed its name to RJB Mining (UK) Ltd, and later still, in May 2001, it became known as UK Coal Mining Ltd.
Meanwhile the site itself was becoming overgrown and neglected. Around 2008, it suffered from cable theft and vandalism, including significant fire damage to the switchgear building. In December 2012 the UK Coal Group companies were restructured into Harworth Estates (dealing with property) and UK Coal Mining Holdings Limited, of which UK Coal Mining Ltd was a subsidiary.
2014 – FoHC take over
In 2013, after a period of very public difficulties following a fire at Daw Mill Colliery, UK Coal Mining Ltd, a division of the UK Coal Group, went into administration. This led to the establishment of the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery (FoHC), and in December 2013 the group made an offer to purchase the site to safeguard it for the future. Subsequently the UK Coal administrators BDO undertook the winding up (a Creditors’ Voluntary Liquidation) of the company which had been renamed Juniper (No3) Ltd.
Hemingfield pit with its two remaining shafts and headgears was part of the property to be liquidated. The Friends offer was accepted, but the transaction was not completed until 27th June 2014. The group is now eager to press forward with its own plans to repair and refurbish the buildings and to redevelop the site as a visitor centre, with community and social enterprise initiatives to attract visitors and help fund further improvements.