A key period in the history of the Hemingfield Colliery site, indeed the reason why the site itself, its shafts and oldest buildings, have survived to the present day relates to its involvement in the South Yorkshire Pumping Association.
Almost all mines have to deal with the drainage of water, both from the surface and underground as they are sunk and expand their operations, extracting the coal underground. Any water encountered can be dammed back, deliberately channelled to drain away, or else pumped out of areas where its accumulation might eventually flood workings and prevent further mining from taking place. Adjoining collieries were often obliged by their landlords, the mineral owners, to leave solid barriers of coal between their workings in order to avoid such problems.
By the end of the Nineteenth century many of the older collieries – established to work the thick Barnsley coal seam – were gradually being abandoned as their workable coal was exhausted. Private colliery companies either went out of business altogether, or moved eastwards, establishing new concerns working deeper coal seams as yet untouched. At that time little serious thought was given to water management as we might think of it today. Short-term decisions to maximise profits in extracting all of the available coal under lease, and leaving insufficient barriers meant that the mid- to long-term consequences of such actions were largely ignored. As such the flooding of abandoned mines began to pose a real threat to neighbouring parts of the South Yorkshire coalfield.
Although some practical discussions had been held as early at 1894, the real starting point for a long-term solution was the 1918 report from mining engineer Charles Edward Rhodes, addressed to the members of the South Yorkshire Coal Owners’ Association. It read as follows:
To The South Yorkshire Coal Owners’ Association
Rise Water in the Rotherham District from Rawmarsh to Elsecar and Hoyland
Some time ago we were instructed by you to report with reference to the question of the Rise Water which has been dealt with for many years by Earl Fitzwilliam, but which, in consequence of the exhaustion of his Barnsley Seam, will in the immediate future have to be dealt with by some other body, or allowed to flow to the deep to the detriment of collieries lying in that direction.
It is desirable in the first instance to review the position, and a Plan accompanies this Report in order to enable the points we raise to be followed.
For over 130 years the Earls Fitzwilliam have worked their own coal in the Barnsley Seam at various pits between Rawmarsh and Hoyland, as shewn on the Plan, from the outcrop to a depth of approximately 250 yards.
The dip workings have stripped the barriers left to the rise of the following royalties, viz – Messrs Charlesworth’s Warren Vale, Manvers Main, Cortonwood, and in the case of Lundhill and Darfield Main, have worked up to a small fault.
A considerable quantity of water finds its way in at the outcrop, and is intercepted by a series of levels and pumping stations.
On reference to the Plan it will be seen that these levels and pumping stations may be divided into three systems.
Westfield pumping engine c.1918 (image from The Engineer, 27 June 1919)
1. A water level runs from Low Stubbin Colliery to the Newbiggin pumping station at Rawmarsh, a distance of about two miles, and the water thus intercepted is raised to the surface by two 15” bucket lifts, 6 feet stroke, worked by an atmospheric engine erected in the year 1823. This engine can work a maximum of 10 strokes a minute, and the quantity raised per day in winter is 270,000 gallons, and in summer 120,000 gallons, throughout the twenty-four hours, the pump working four to five hours per day in summer and eight to ten hours in winter.
Subsidiary to this water level us a very old level within a very short distance of the outcrop, which runs to the day in the neighbourhood of Mangham, and prevents a certain portion of the outcrop water from getting down to the main Low Stubbin-Newbiggin level. This old outcrop level rises slightly from where it runs to the day to a point somewhere near Hoober Stand, when it dips slightly towards Elsecar, and at the old Elsecar pumping pit the seam is 40 yards from the surface.
Elsecar pumping engine, c. 1918 (image from The Engineer, 27th June 1919)
2. At this pumping pit is installed another atmospheric engine working one bucket lift of 18” diameter and 6 feet stroke. This engine was erected in 1787 [NB: 1795 in fact] and can work 8 strokes a minute. The quantity pumped at this pit, however, is 24,000 gallons per hour for ten hours in the rainy season, and in certain dry seasons the pump is not worked for a week at a time.
1920s view of the Hemingfield pumping engine house (in transition to electrical working)
3. The third engine is at Hemingfield Colliery, and was erected 70 or 80 years ago, and works a 15” bucket lift and 2 rams from a depth of 157 yards. This engine can also work 10 strokes a minute, and the quantity pumped is 500 gallons per minute throughout seven days a week, or 30,000 gallons per hour.
The water from the old Jump, Vizard’s, Blacker, and possibly Worsboro’ Park Pits, is prevented from flowing to the deep into the Wombwell Main Colliery and Cortonwood Colliery by a down-throw fault of about 40 yards to the North-east, which runs from the neighbourhood of Blacker slightly to the deep of Hemingfield Pit until it runs out between that colliery and Stubbin dip workings.
A dip drift from Hemingfield Pit was driven down this fault, but it enters the floor of the seam some distance on the rise of the fault, so that as long as the pump at this pit can keep the water below the level of the top of the drift it will be prevented from running down it along the Cortonwood barrier into the dip workings or old goaf of Hemingfield.
It will be seen, therefore, that as long as Earl Fitzwilliam’s pumps continue to work the only water which will come upon the barriers shewn on the Plan is that made in the dip workings of the various pits, and the pressure on the barriers, therefore, will be limited to that due to the difference in depth between the barriers and the pumping pits.
So long as his Lordship continues to work his Barnsley Seam he is bound to work his pumps, but his collieries working the Parkgate Seam, which are shewn in Blue on the Plan, are sunk within a very short distance of the Barnsley Bed outcrop, so that the pressure in these shafts can never become great, and can easily be withheld by the cement walling which has been inserted where they pass through the old Barnsley wastes, and the continuance of the pumping so far as this seam is concerned will therefore be unnecessary.
The Hemingfield Pit has only a life of about twelve months, and Stubbin possibly three or four years, so that the stoppage of the pumps is a matter of the very near future. The water intercepted by the pumping scheme outlined above is not great, amounting to a maximum of 620 gallons per minute, and at many collieries a larger quantity than this is raised for colliery purposes, but this volume, small as it is, if allowed to run into the level at which it found its way to the surface, would inevitably cause trouble to the pits on the deep.
The first effect of the stoppage of the Newbiggin pump would be that the water would run through the insufficient barrier between the water level and Messrs Charlesworth’s Warren Vale workings, would fill up the dip workings of Swinton Common Pit until it rose up to the drift in Thrybergh Hall, where it would in the first place find its way against the barrier between that colliery and the Dalton Main royalty, and insomuch as there is no barrier between Thrybergh Hall and Denaby, the coal all having been swept out, the dip workings of Denaby would be affected. A certain pressure would also be put upon the barrier between Charlesworths and Manvers.
The water made in the shaft at Low Stubbin Pit would flow down the barrier between it and Warren Vale, and would immediately come upon the barrier between Stubbin and the Manvesrs and Cortonwood royalties.
The stoppage of the Hemingfield and Elsecar pumps would entail very similar consequences, as a reference to the plan will shew, and eventually the whole of the water would find its way still further to the deep against Darfield Main, Wath Main, Houghton Main, Hickleton Main, Denaby Main, and Dalton Main, and so forth, in fact it is not putting the case too strongly to say that practically every colliery in South Yorkshire will ultimately be affected.
We have been in communication with Earl Fitzwiliam as to what his views are upon the subject, and whether he would be willing to come to some arrangement for the continuance of these pumps, and for the leaving of the necessary pillars of coal to support the present water levels, which alone prevent the water flowing to the deep.
The amount of Barnsley Bed left as a barrier is roughly 4 acres, which at £250 per acre would represent £10,000, and it is possible that an arrangement might be made to pay for this at an annual rate of, say, 2500 per annum. We put forward these views to his Lordship and he writes Mr C.E. Rhodes as follows, viz:-
“Dear Mr Rhodes,
I have read your letter on the water question in the old Barnsley Collieries with great interest, and I think you have arrived at a proper solution of the whole question, viz:- that coal must be left to support the old water levels and that pumping must continue. As regards the former I shall be quite content if the Owners concerned will carry out any arrangements or discussions with Mr Newbould and Sir Edward Ward during my absence in France. As regards pumping, I think this should be done electrically in future so as to save smoke, which is a great consideration here as you know. I have seen Mr Newbould and he and I are quite agreed that the policy that would suit us best would be that of selling the levels, pumping plant, etc to the owners and companies concerned.”
“If you would care for an interview I could see you on any date after 11th inst up to 18th, on which latter date I am afraid I shall have to go back to France.
Please believe me,
yours very sincerely
From the foregoing it will be seen that the matter is ripe for negotiation, assuming the necessary number of interested parties will join in a scheme for dealing with this rise water.
It is obvious that in the long run to allow it to flow to the deep will have disastrous effects first upon one colliery and then upon another, and when the annual cost of pumping this water, plus any payment which may be arranged for the coal which we have just enumerated is spread amongst the parties affected it would amount to a very small annual charge.
We have not yet gone into the figures with regard to the cost of pumping, but we should propose to do it electrically, and if a scheme for carrying cable through the district in question is carried out the cost per unit would be very low, and consequently the question of dealing with the water on the most economical basis would be solved.
We shall be glad to be of any assistance that we can in connection with the matter, and we may say that a number of collieries that we represent have already indicated their willingness to join in a scheme for dealing with this water.
C.E. Rhodes & Sons
In order to prevent the loss of potentially workable (and profitable) coal in the area, interested members of the South Yorkshire Coal Owners’ Association agreed to take over the pumping and water drainage system which Earl Fitzwilliam had previously managed for his own collieries around Elsecar and Rawmarsh, but which were due to be abandoned. To this end from the 31st December 1918, they agreed to form a new body – the South Yorkshire Pumping Association, consisting of 15 colliery companies, all directly affected by the problem of rise water.
The new association purchased the network of pumping stations and drainage channels from Earl Fitzwilliam, including the old Hemingfield Colliery, the Elsecar Newcomen-type engine, and the Westfield pumping station site at Rawmarsh. The conveyance took place on 4th October 1920.
In 1929, after several years of resistance from local authorities, the Association became the South Yorkshire Mines Drainage Committee, empowered as an official scheme under the Mining Industry Act 1920.
This arrangement endured until Nationalisation in 1947 when the assets, including the pumping stations, came under the control of the National Coal Board, a situation which lasted until denationalisation in 1994.