Hatfield Colliery
Plan to replace headgear announced

Depicted on banners, badges and printed material, the pit wheels, headgear or stocks, call it what you will, are often used to represent the miners' struggles and the dangers they face every day. Other icons bring to mind the image of men toiling in the dusty depths, such as the Davey safety lamp, the pick and shovel, and the miner's cap and battery lamp, but no other icon says more about the industry as a whole than the symbolic image of the pit wheels used to wind men, materials and of course coal, up and down the shafts.
Before the mass pit closures it was possible to drive anywhere in the country and recognise each mine by its skyline signature. Each pit possessed headgear that made it instantly recognisable by its uniqueness or simply by its shape and colour. For some of us the headgear of the local colliery was a totem that could be seen from miles away, one that gently whispered “Almost home” to the returning traveller. The headgear is an emotive thing to most miners. It represents the struggles, the unity, and the drama of disasters forgotten by those who should never forget the true price of coal.
Hatfield Main 1986
Hatfield Main Colliery 1986
Beneath the shadows of the pit wheels, men blackened with coal dust have posed for photographs to record their record breaking achievements, boys have taken their last look at daylight before plunging to the depths below and becoming men, and women have gathered to quietly cry for husbands and sons who will never be coming home. For hundreds of years the turning pit wheels have sent the message, “All is well” to the mining communities huddled around them. Nowhere else have the wheels of industry being so prominent an icon to the working class as those at the colliery pit head.
Hatfield headgear c1917
One of the earliest photographs of Hatfield showing the headstocks used during sinking the shafts

Such were my thoughts when I heard that plans had been made to tear down the headgear at Hatfield Colliery and replace it with a featureless and soulless concrete tower. When I asked others for their opinions most were flabbergasted that such a notion could even be considered, but as I thought more about the reasoning behind the idea I understood why, in some cases, we have to let the past go and look to the future.

Five years ago, in 2004, Hatfield Colliery went through one of the bleakest periods of its history. The fans and pumps were switched off and the mine was left to fill with gas and water. With the future uncertain it seemed to be only a matter of time before the shafts would be filled and the colliery buildings, including the headgear, flattened to clear the land for reclamation.

Then in 2006 Richard Budge returned with his audacious plan to resurrect the mine and use its coal to power an on site electricity generating plant, despite the failure of a similar plan made two years earlier. This time the backing was in place from Russian mining company Kuzbassrazrezugol (KRU) and oil giants Shell. Since then the colliery has resumed coal production, new underground roadways are being constructed to access untouched areas of coal, and investment has been made in preparing to increase the mine's output to levels never before achieved at Hatfield.

New design, new specifications.

The only stumbling block to this plan is that no matter how fast coal is produced underground, it can only be brought to the surface as fast as the present skip winding system will allow. In September 1969 the old method of winding coal out of the mine in tubs was replaced by an automated hydraulically operated skip winding system. An automated conveyor system was installed and the coal produced from different parts of the mine was then delivered by conveyor to a large underground bunker, where it was held until it could be drawn up the shafts..

No.1 old headstock
No1 headgear prior to construction of present day head stock

This system, which is still in use today, means that if the shaft is closed for safety inspections or any other reason, production can continue on all operating faces and headings while there is still room to temporarily store the output in the underground bunker. It also means that the skip system is forever playing catch-up to deliver the stored output to the surface where it is washed and screened.

The present skip system has a capacity of 11 tonnes, capable of winding almost 2 million tonnes of saleable output per year from the mine. Powerfuel intend to increase Hatfield's saleable output to more than double this, hence the need for a larger capacity

Harworth Colliery 2009
Harworth near Doncaster - used to have similar headgear to Hatfield

skip system and a new and larger headstock to carry it.

The planned system will have a capacity of 32 tonnes and be capable of hoisting 1,150 tonnes per hour. This will increase the possible saleable output level to 5 million tonnes at a cost of around £30 million.

Unfortunately this isn't as simple as putting a bigger bucket on the end of a rope. Complicated calculations will have proved that the existing headgear would be incapable of standing up to the forces generated by hoisting 32 tonnes of coal and rock, along with the weight of the skip itself AND the weight of over 800 meters of steel rope at the start of the ascent.

In the 1970s I worked in the surveyors department at Hatfield Colliery. There had been some concern about the stress that was being placed on the headgear during coal winding operations and I was given the dubious honour of being the person who had to climb the headgear and hang over the edge whilst holding a pointer on a marker placed near the top. Measurements taken with a theodolite placed over a survey point in the colliery yard proved that the headgear was being pulled towards the winding house every time a full skip was drawn up the shaft. The legs of the winding stock were reinforced with concrete and winding operations continued. The original head stock had been designed for winding men, materials and coal from hand filled stalls working at the beginning of the last century. Whilst it proved to be more than adequate for the task and even the change from steam power to electrically driven skip winding forty years ago, it would be expecting it to perform well beyond its original design specifications with the loads required to keep Hatfield operating as a profitable concern in today's energy market.

So, for the sake of Hatfield's future this icon of the past must be discarded. No doubt there will be many who don't agree and who would wish to keep the symbolic memories of mining's' glorious past forever, but if preserving the past means condemning the future, there can be no argument.

Work has already started on clearing away the last vestiges of the old colliery coal washers and prep plant. When this has been completed by early this summer (2009), the legs of the head stock will be cut at the bottom and the whole structure will be pulled over into the pit yard. Then work will commence on constructing a new headgear, similar to that used at UK Coal's revamped mines, such as Harworth.

This picure shows the cleaning up work in progress. The skip which carries the coal to the surface can be seen on the left side of the headgear.(Click the image to enlarge it)

This change to the skyline of Stainforth's eastern boundary will be the first of many over the coming years, creating not just a new dawn panorama, but what we can only hope will be the vista of a new and prosperous future for Stainforth.


Work begins on clearing the shaft side area (Click to enlarge)

Many thanks to Powerfuel for supplying the facts and figures for this article.



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