In November 2018 the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery were delighted to be informed that, thanks to National Lottery players via the National Lottery Heritage Fund, The Friends of Hemingfield of Hemingfield Colliery had been successful in securing support for a major new project: Hemingfield Colliery Restoration – saving, sharing and celebrating Hemingfield’s hidden history
Hemingfield’s Hidden History
The aims of the ambitious project include:
- Secure the acquisition of the Hemingfield Colliery’s former Pumping Engine House (‘Pump House Cottage’ converted Cornish engine house and associated land).
- Carry out essential repairs to the roof, flashing and rainwater goods.
- Protect the long-term future of the former engine house and create much-needed on-site facilities for volunteers and visitors, enabling the Colliery site to become an accessible community resource.
- Create opportunities to visit the reunified former colliery site and raise awareness for local people to get involved with the project and engage with their local heritage.
- Arrange activities to share and develop new skills amongst the volunteers and local community, engaging creatively with the natural and built environment on site. Explore the theme of Biodiversity on and around the post industrial heritage of the site.
- Expand the volunteer base, increasing the opportunities for local people to become actively involved in understanding and protecting their local heritage, and creating a more sustainable future for the heritage moving forwards.
- Access heritage skills training, including oral history methods and historic building recording, to collect and develop further knowledge on the heritage of the site. Draw on the living history of Hemingfield which is currently at risk as the generation employed in or with memories and experience of the coal mining industry passes away.
- Produce creative artistic responses to the built heritage and stories of Hemingfield Colliery.
- Attend history and community events in the local area to raise awareness of the work undertaken, and to develop stronger links with other local and regional heritage organisations.
- Research and develop new interpretation for the site, including display boards and deliver a published booklet on the history of Hemingfield Colliery, its significance in the development of the village, and the story of its conservation.
Hidden and divided
When the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery first formed and managed to purchase the damaged and forgotten Hemingfield Pumping Station site in 2014, it was in a sense divided – the two shafts and surface buildings were separate to the ‘other side’ of the site, the Pump House Cottage which remained in private hands as rented accommodation.
Hidden behind trees and in private hands, the ‘other side’ of the colliery remained out of sight and seemed out of reach as the volunteers got started on clearing the Friends’ part of the former Hemingfield Colliery.
However the last tenant left Pump House Cottage, and the landlord, the Coal Authority were sympathetic to the work the Friends were doing right next door – the ‘boundary’ being an imaginary line across the wall of the former engine house. The building stood empty for quite some time, and was in need of substantial repair due to water ingress. The time was right for a bold and imaginative proposal to help to unify the old Hemingfield Colliery site, and secure the Pump House Cottage, together with a programme of repair and renewal, including engagement activities with the wider community.
The proposal was considered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund who recognised the significance of this Victorian colliery site as a whole – with two shaft and surviving original winding and pumping engine houses – and also responded positively to the potential plans and ambition of the Friends to deliver real change and new life to the site.
Volunteers and activities
Cleaning up and clearing out
Once the various complexities of securing the purchase of Pump House Cottage from the Coal Authority were settled, it was all hands to the wheel, getting to grips with Pump House Cottage.
And quite a dirty job at times, dealing with damp and water-damaged buildings, removing floor and wall coverings, and cleaning, cleaning cleaning a house which has been cold and empty for several years, with no electricity.
Outdoors, the trees, bushes and overgrown hedge that divided the former colliery, and hid the old pumping engine house from view, were cut back, opening up the site and views across the entire surface buildings of the 1840s colliery.
Addressing some years of neglect, removing rampant and invasive plants has been a mammoth task in itself. Clearing the Russian vine and tidying the site inside and out. Multiple times. No shortage of patience and perseverance, of trimming and chopping back, strimming and raking, and wheelbarrows galore! Many hours of volunteer effort have gone into reclaiming, saving and the ongoing restoration and maintenance of the whole site.
Eventually up went the roofer’s scaffolding to start the flat roof replacement, the plastic reinforced and to try and address longstanding issues with water ingress between the Victorian building and the twentieth Century brick extension to the cottage.
And working together, progress has been made, and the front cleaned up and repaired. Brushing down the rainwater good and external surfaces and repairing small areas of the door and window lintels, before priming and painting the front to breathe new life into the distressed Pump House Cottage frontage.
The Friends and volunteers threw themselves into the various aspects of the project plan. New volunteers have visited the site and decided to join the efforts to work on this pieces of South Yorkshire’s mining heritage.
Away from the pit, volunteers have undertaken significant original archival research at local libraries and archives at Barnsley, Sheffield, Rotherham, Wakefield and with collections further afield, including the Coal Authority Mining Records Office, The North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers, Durham Records Office, The National Mining Museum for England, Durham and elsewhere.
Following mining memories in the local community, family connections, and new historical materials have come to light which have brought the history investigations to life, through the names, faces and working lives of Hemingfield’s miners and their families.
The Friends shared their knowledge and research with local partners during the Elsecar Heritage Action Zone project, and discussions with Historic England stimulated further research into the phases of the site’s development, and the surviving buildings, which supported the case for the scheduling of the colliery site and listing Grade II* of the Pump House Cottage. This research is being applied in updated site tours, group presentations and promotional materials, as well as the development of new interpretation boards on site as well as detailed guide to the site.
Out and About
Despite the pandemic disruption, the Friends and volunteers have been getting out to engage new audiences, clubs, societies etc and attending events to share the stories of Hemingfield Colliery, work which will be built on as new activities are arranged.
We were pleased to host Masters students from Sheffield on a Conservation and Regeneration studio course, focusing on Elsecar’s industrial heritage and coal mining legacy – exploring how fossil fuel based industrialisation took hold globally and how new sustainable uses can emerge.
We have also been delighted to finally be able to get and join members of the local community attending galas and heritage-related events in Hemingfield and Elsecar.
Tours of the colliery site have recommenced and open days offer the chance to roam and explore, as well as be guided by volunteers passionate about the story of the site and its wider connection to Hemingfield and Elsecar.
A global pandemic and other challenges
Not everything can be expected to go precisely as planned, but the Global COVID19 pandemic 2020-2022 was certainly more than a minor challenge to continuing work on the project on Pump House Cottage, and being unable to arrange activities on site (or anywhere!) during the lockdown periods. The safety of all volunteers and visitors has always been foremost in our minds throughout a terribly difficult period.
The small matter of having to rebuild the whole rear retaining wall also didn’t help, although it provided volunteers a chance to learn some heritage building skills from a qualified heritage building specialist, with stonework and lime mortar. It certainly spurred everyone on during the working from home and limited socially-distanced restrictions.
Unfortunately antisocial behaviour was also a recurring problem, with the site subject to repeated vandalism and criminal damage to the external wall, and also the rear of the site and winding engine house, even during lockdown. Increased vigilance, and additional costs for enhanced security also proved challenging! Nevertheless we are now hopeful the site is secure and being looked after.
In particular, we were pleased to be able to secure and protect the site with the addition of new secure barrier gate with removable post for access for larger vehicles. Tidying the outside of the site as well as inside the walls and buildings is a priority.
But the group has weathered the storm, through 2021 and by 2022 things were moving once again, with renewed energy and passion, more volunteer hours (over 13,000) were added to the site than in any previous year.
Volunteers worked together to clear all around Pump House cottage, to level out the ground, improving access to the site, opening up the area around the Pumping shaft, revealing more of the heritage of the wider colliery site. Here is one day’s joint effort.
And in landscaping to make the site more accessible and easier to maintain, we have also created spaces to encourage greater biodiversity, and managed our regular ground maintenance to support local pollinators. In addition to bees, lizards and toads, Barn owls and kestrels have roosted on site.