Our volunteers bring new life, ideas and energy to Hemingfield Colliery. Here we feature a few details of some of our regular volunteers, their interests, and what drew them to getting involved here at Hemingfield.
My interest in Hemingfield Colliery stems from my having been brought up a few miles away and have known and visited the area over many years. I also have a particular interest in the development of ventilation technology, a subject in which Hemingfield and the surrounding area is particularly rich, due to the connections with Biram and Nasmyth.
My interest in the Industrial Revolution and engineering history goes back about 40 years to when my involvement in industrial archaeology first took off. I was born and brought up in the North of England, living first in a shipbuilding and iron making town in south Cumbria and later on the South Yorkshire Coalfield. Surrounded by heavy industry and the remains of the industrial revolution, I began visiting and photographing industrial sites. This “general” interest in industrial archaeology developed into a more specific interest in the history of the coal industry and development of related mining technology. To this end I wrote my first book, which was published in 1985. Over the years this was followed by three further coal mining related books.
My interest in Hemingfield stems from passing by the site every week when I was younger. Being from West Melton, heading to Hoyland, I’d go by Pit Row and wonder what the mysterious headgears were all about, and who or what was to be found behind the spooky open window of the stone engine house, with its old curtain billowing in wind. Did anyone visit the site? How come it survived when Elsecar Main was razed to the ground?
I was also fascinated by the local and industrial history of Elsecar and the Fitzwilliam Estate. I’d read and researched all I could about the development of the area, and my own family have a history of being miners, so when I heard the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery as being set up, I was delighted to be able to chip in and help conserve and repair this intriguing gem of a site, bringing it back from the brink, and opening it to the local community it has employed and watched over since the 1840s. The Friends and volunteers I’ve met have a been great – all committed to bringing life back to the site and sharing the stories, as well as finding new uses.
It might seem strange that someone from a Lincolnshire farming family, with no previous interest in the South Yorkshire coal mining industry, should be concerned with the restoration of Hemingfield Colliery and the preservation of its mining heritage.
My involvement began after meeting FoHC Directors Glen and Christine at the Elsecar Newcomen Engine Unveiling Evening in 2014. I mentioned that I was researching and illustrating metallophyte flora of abandoned lead mines for the Royal Horticultural Society London Botanical Art Show, which prompted Christine to suggest – “You could come and study coal mine plants!”
I’m interested in how the colliery’s physical decline has created favourable conditions for colonisation by many plant species and how the industrial features are emulating their natural habitats. The pumping shaft, for example, has the damp, shady conditions of a cave or gorge and has attracted several species of fern, while the lofty concrete headgear has been utilised by hawkweeds, which also grow on limestone cliffs. I am creating work for various national and local art shows, to help raise awareness of the FoHC and its work.
I’ve also enjoyed learning about industrial archaeology, as we excavate and record the lost features on the site and attempt to explain how they all once fitted together. In the process, I have realised the importance of understanding and preserving our industrial heritage and honouring the lives of the people involved.
I hope that my case shows that, even if you have no previous interest in the mining industry, you can learn a lot and find something to inspire you at Hemingfield Colliery.
Although I am from London, my family roots lie in Yorkshire and I first came to the area in 1993 to study history and archaeology at the University of Sheffield. In my subsequent career as a professional archaeologist, I ended up specialising in the excavation of industrial sites of various types throughout the country – tin mines, lead mills, glass works, brickworks and railway yards. All these sites were united by the fact that they had long ceased being working sites and were in fact often the remains of industries that were either defunct or in serious decline.
I became aware of Hemingfield Colliery through my PhD work on Elsecar, and I met FOHC Director Christine in 2013 when we both worked together, researching the local history of Elsecar for the new Barnsley Museums interpretation boards at Elsecar’s industrial complex and Newcomen engine. Like the Newcomen engine, Hemingfield Colliery is one of the few places left where you can see above-ground remains of the rich industrial heritage and legacy of the local area.
For me, it’s vital to conserve and understand these sites, not only as remains of the great industrial enterprises of the past, but also as places where the stories of generations of local families who worked in the mines, iron works and other industrial sites can be shared and preserved.