Barnsley History Day, Sunday 18th June 2017

Sunday 18th June was a scorcher. As the longest day drew near, the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery gathered their display materials, leaflets, booklets and badges and headed in to Barnsley town centre. The destination, the beautiful 1933 listed town hall building, whose white Portland stone facade was resplendent against the bright blue sky.

On arriving, the Friends headed up to the reception rooms, where they found Darfield artist Iain Nicholls already getting his Virtual Reality kit ready for another day of VR Hemingfield Colliery experiences.

Official opening

Just after 11a.m., the Mayor of Barnsley, Cllr Jeff Ennis welcomed visitors to the day and emphasized the pride local people take in sharing the heritage of their area, and the work of history groups in researching the past.

Representing Hemingfield

The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery were pleased to have a display at the event, with Directors Glen and Christine and regular volunteer Chris on hand to greet visitors and share the history and activities of the Friends group, as well as meeting fellow heritage volunteers and local history groups from around the region.

On such a warm day the Friends were fortunate to have a balcony window position with a gentle breeze and a great view out of the front of the town hall, across to the war memorial and down on the gardens.

The Friends were kept busy during the day from 11am-3pm as visitors attended the public talks in the Council Chamber, and walked across to the reception rooms to discover more about Barnsley’s history. 

Providing a modern twist on our heritage, the Friends directed visitors to the virtual reality experience next to the FoHC table.

Young and old took advantage of the opportunity to don the headset, headphones and controllers and to be taken back to a serene day at the pit in 1902.

Sharing stories

The Friends took time to greet fellow heritage groups and learn more about the great range of voluntary groups dedicated to researching and recording the past. In particular, we were pleased to see our friends from the Barnsley Main Heritage Group who had brought their wonderful new display boards and materials, supported by the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership.

We also took time out to talk to members of the Cawthorne Victoria Jubilee Museum, the South Yorkshire Industrial History Society and the Hunter Archaeological Society, and our near neighbours, the Wombwell Heritage Group, amongst others.

Pride in prose and virtue in verse

At the end of the day, the Friends were delighted to meet Barnsley poet, journalist and playwright Ian McMillan, and thank him for his support for Hemingfield Colliery, both through his poem printed in our booklet on the 1852 Hemingfield Colliery disaster, and also on his wonderful narration on life and work underground as part of our virtual reality experience. 

Ian is a busy writer and regular broadcaster, currently helming BBC Radio 3 show The Verb. Having written and performed many poems relating to Yorkshire. His last prose book Neither Nowt Nor Summat: In Search of the Meaning of Yorkshire is a celebration of our region, from his native village of Darfield, to the county’s great cities of Leeds, Bradford and York. 

As 3pm came around, the time came to pack up and head home. The Friends had an enjoyable day, and were pleased to meet a steady flow of visitors and introduce them to the history of the colliery, but also share the exciting opportunities of the Elsecar Heritage Action Zone, and work with our friends at Elsecar Heritage Railway. We look forward to taking the display and curtail reality experience to other events as the summer progresses.

In and Out: two days of volunteering, Friday 9th and Saturday 10th June 2017

The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery are entering a busy time of year, with a series of events to attend, and planned activities to share and join in with ourselves.

This early weekend, from Friday to Saturday was a celebration of the spirit of volunteering at the colliery and by the colliery in the Elsecar valley which we are proud to call home.

Working with our friends at Elsecar Heritage Railway, on Friday 9th June the pit was delighted to welcome the return of the great group junior soldiers from Burma Company, from the Army Foundation College in Harrogate.

The Burma Company crew arrived by coach, in bright sunshine down the motorway and Dearne Valley Parkway.

After a briefing at Elsecar, the junior soldiers walked the last half mile to reach the colliery where they were greeted by regular volunteers Nigel, John and Chris who had opened the site ready for work.

This being their second visit to us this year, the group of junior soldiers got straight to work, on three different tasks. 

Firstly clearing spoil heaps away from the front wall of the site. This wall had suffered significant damage over the years as vandals remove bricks, reducing the security of the site. The Friends aim to plug the gap shortly.

The second group worked on brick reclamation from the mound of wall demolition on the lower end of the site.

And the third team worked on shifting the large amount of rubble accumulated by the concrete pad, transfering it to provide hardcore for our friends at Elsecar Heritage Railway as they plan for future facilities at Hemingfield, by the railway line and canal basin.

Pulling together

Elsewhere a further contingent of the AFC junior soldiers were helping with EHR works, as we saw when a works run went by below the pit, carrying ballast and sleepers down the line.

It’s great to see activity in the pityard and down by the railway line; to see the area come alive, and voluntary work being done that helps improve the area, as well as sharing conversation, jokes and the odd ice cream!

Amphibian ampitheatre

Perhaps slightly unexpectedly, the soil, bricks and rubble shifting revealed more than its fair share of frogs and toads spread around the site.

The junior soldiers took time out to admire the wildlife, enjoying the sunshine on site.

At the end of the day on Friday, the difference was clear: many hands do indeed make light work. 

Our sincere thanks to the fantastic junior soldiers for sharing their day with us.

Saturday 10tg was a slightly different affair; time for the Friends themselves to get out and about and join in the community litter-pick down the old towpath of the Dearne and Dove Canal. Some of the Friends joined up with representatives of the Barnsley canals group, Elsecar Heritage Railway and Barnsley Council. But first, we had some tidying of our own to complete.

Friends director Glen and regular volunteers Keith and Nigel set to cleaning up the remaining bricks the junior soldiers had unearthed yesterday:

We also swept and shovelled all the leaf-fall, grit and rubbish outside the pit gates:

Before closing the gates and heading down the road to Elsecar.

Once at the Elsecar basin, we met up with the large contingent of guys from Burma company, Army Foundation College, Harrogate, and the Tidy team and were kitted up with bags and pickers, and sent on our merry ways, but not before admiring the Elsecar Heritage Railway yard, and the junior soldiers shovelling ballast.

With groups spread out around the village to collect as much as possible, and the earlier rain giving way to warmth again, the FoHC crew headed up behind the Ironworks to clear the footpaths around the woods between Elsecar and Wentworth.

After another busy afternoon tidying and enjoying the (mostly) warm weather the volunteers and junior soldiers packed up and headed home.

Experiencing Virtual Reality, Elsecar, 4th June 2017

The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery were excited and proud to present a new Virtual Reality experience based on the colliery as it appeared at the turn of the Twentieth century.

A misty morning at the pit welcomes virtual visitors into the relative peace of the pit yard, before the journey descends into the depths of the Barnsley coal seam 150 years below.

Guided by the insightful narration of Bard of Barnsley Ian McMillan, the explorers are instructed in the ways of navigating in the VR world, before being free to roam in the half-light below ground, lit only by your own safety lamp.

Life and Art

It was designed and created by local Darfield artist Iain Nicholls, with financial support from the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership.

Using artistic and  3D modelling skills, photogrammetry, and additional effects, Iain has created an immersive experience which brings the underground life back to you, the lost world back into focus and gives a sense of the difficulties and daily details of mining.

This weekend was the first public outing locally, and the artist himself and the Friends were delighted with the response from young and old alike.

Elsecar Heritage Centre

Arriving at Elsecar Heritage Centre, the VR kit and a collection of display materials related to the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery were set up in the upstairs activity room of the visitors’ centre.

Exhibits and experiences

Visitors to Elsecar were of all ages and many tried their hand at the VR experience, including some former mine workers which was wonderful to observe.

Surrounding the VR kit was an extensive display of mining and local history materials corrected and presented by the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery.

So between diving into the depths of our pit shafts, visitors to Elsecar could also learn more about the history, heritage and community activities the Friends are currently engaged in.

Seeking feedback

A key part of the first local public outing was the opportunity of along members of the public for real feedback, to influence the completion of the original design. This was achieved by asking the VR users to fill in a feedback form and by telling to them about the experience.

Based on this feedback, Iain will make final adjustments before being able to complete his work on Hemingfield Colliery and allow the VR headset, a HTC Vive to be used by the Friends at future events.

Next VR event: Sunday 18th June 2017, Barnsley History Day at Barnsley Town Hall, from 11am to 3pm

Open Day, Saturday 29th May 2017

Shall we compare thee to a Summer’s day?

All was bright and sunny as the Friends and regular volunteers arrived for this weekend’s open day, marking a great start to the long Bank Holiday weekend.

Director and Site Manager Glen opened the gates to regular volunteers, Keith, Alan, and Nigel, later being joined by Chris. The group caught up on developments since the last open day and determined to continue a mixture of activities, including site clean-up and some archaeology on the lower terrace.

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Open Day, Saturday 13th May, 2017

The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery had a very busy time this particular weekend in May as the site was open to visitors on both Friday and Saturday, with a number of groups being given guided tours of the colliery and its history and remaining buildings.

Working day

But first there was work to do. On Saturday Friends Directors Glen and Ian arrived early to complete the fencing of the back of the site. No light task, they closed a gap which had allowed some unwelcome visitors to sneak in previously.

Friends getting to grips with the perimeter fencing (Photo credit: Christine Cameron)

On the record

Amidst the work, the Friends were pleased to welcome two filmmakers to the site. Nick Jordan and Jacob Cartwright arrived from Manchester and toured the site, interested in the history, industrial function, social stories and place of the pit in the community and local landscape. 

Speaking to the Friends, the crew recorded insights into the progress and future plans for the site, including the historical research and creative work of our volunteers, such as Amanda Willoughby’s beautiful artwork project, and the amazing Virtual Reality materials created by Iain Nicholls.

Site Manager Glen discussing the work of the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery (Photo credit: Keith Whitaker)

Friends Director of Community Engagement & Volunteering, Christine, talking to the crew

Friends Chair Steve, and Site Manager Glen taking to the documentary team (Photo credit: Keith Whitaker)

Clear and Pheasant Danger

Elsewhere on site, another regular visitor graced the Friends with her presence: the somewhat carefree pheasant wandered freely around the site and almost into oncoming traffic on Wath Road, until one of the volunteers shooed her back into the pityard and safety.

International Early Engines Conference at Elsecar

During the week, from Thursday 11th until Saturday 13th May, The Ironworks at Elsecar Heritage Centre hosted delegates from the International Early Engines Conference – IEEC – the first event of its type – dedicated to exploring the history, engineering and archaeology of early engines, that is the atmospheric and steam engines developed before 1812.

Hemingfield volunteer Chris giving a brief site tour to IEEC delegates on Saturday (Photo credit: Keith Whitaker)

During two visits on Friday evening, and a further tour on Saturday afternoon, the Friends were delighted to extend a warm welcome to visitors from as far afield as China, New Zealand, Germany and The Netherlands.

Working closely with the Conference organisers, Barnsley Museums and our friends at Elsecar Heritage Railway, the conference delegates had a rich variety of places to visit on the doorstep of the main conference venue, as well as enjoying trips to Rockley furnace and engine house, and to Wortley Top Forge.

Extending a warm welcome to visitors to Elsecar

Remembering the Oaks Colliery Disaster – unveiling the memorial

On Sunday 7th May, the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery were present at the ceremony to mark the public unveiling of the memorial statue you the victims of the Oaks Colliery Disaster. The Oaks Colliery Disaster Memorial which was installed at Church Street in Barnsley was designed and sculpted by Graham Ibbeson (RCA).

Friends Directors Christine and Glen were proud to attend the event, and form part of the public parade, which assembled at Regent Street South and Mandela Gardens at noon. There, the Dodworth Colliery Miners Welfare Band and the City of Sheffield Pipe Band formed a procession, with banners being carried by Trades Unions groups.  Members of the public swelled the numbers as they marched up Church St to the unveiling.

Video by Barnsley and Surrounding Areas


The moment of unveiling the memorial statue (Photo credit: Christine Cameron)

Close up view of the statue by Graham Ibbeson (Photo credit: Christine Cameron)

Coming together: Open day and community activities, 15th April 2017

The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery had a busy and varied day this weekend. In addition to an Open Day at the colliery, Friends Director of Volunteering and Community Engagement, Christine, went to join in the exciting Elsecar Making History event held from 10 to 1pm at the Heritage Centre. The event brought together examples of local history materials from Barnsley Archives, together with an open invitation to visitors to bring their own records, letters, pictures and stories to share.

Back on site, Site Manager Glen opened the gates and was joined by regular volunteers Keith and Frank followed by newcomer Neil. Later volunteer Chris served to lend a hand, and later still we welcomed Andy and Luke.

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An Extraordinary Day, 8th April 2017

Junior Soldiers from the Army Foundation College Harrogate with representatives from Elsecar Heritage Railway and The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery (Photo credit: Keith Whitaker)

Saturday 8th April 2017 was an extraordinary open day and working party at Hemingfield Colliery, as the Friends were honoured to be joined by our neighbours from Elsecar Heritage Railway, working together with the great junior soldiers from the Army Foundation College, Harrogate, giving their time to make a real difference here in Hemingfield.

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Open Day and Working Party Weekend, 1st April 2017

Despite the forecast, we’re no fools. Sunshine and laughter filled the air as the Friends and crew returned to the colliery on a lively and productive day at the pit.

Site director Glen and Friends Chair Steve opened up the site, welcoming John, Ian, Chris, Phil, Frank, and Keith during the day.

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Open Day and Working Party Weekend, Saturday 18th March

Another busy weekend on site, with the Friends and regular volunteers arriving bright and early to continue work on tidying the site and clearing the rubble.

Friends Chair Steve and site manager Glen opened the gates as the crew returned to their tools and continued the noble tousle twixt mankind and tree. They were joined by regular volunteers John, Alan, Nigel, and Chris.

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