I first saw Barnsley Main Colliery in (I think) 1994 when I visited Oakwell, the home of Barnsley Football Club for a Division 1 game against my team Bolton Wanderers. It was a wretched, soaking wet day, and the ancient wooden stand we sat in kept us relatively dry compared to the unfortunate souls on the open terrace that had been clumsily converted to an all seat stand by simply bolting seats to the crumbling concrete. The game was forgettable (a 3-0 loss) but it was the site of the colliery on a nearby hillside that stuck in my mind, as by 1994, the wholesale closure of Britain’s coal industry and the almost immediate erasure from the landscape was still quite recent.
Fast forward 26 years and my support for my team remains although attendance is limited to the occasional home game, and my interest in all things industrial also remains. As my photography of colliery headgear is evolving into a mini-project, I thought it was worth a quick drive over the M62 for a look.
I’ll write more about the colliery in the next post, but from a photographic standpoint, taking the picture was easy enough as the adjacent road runs up a hill thus affording a decent, fairly elevated viewpoint. However, as the headgear is built on top of a substantial shaft head building rather than being at ground level, I was still looking more or less straight at the bottom of the steelwork as if we were both at ground level.
Compositionally, this made for a slight incongruence in the framing, when set against my previous photographs from Hatfield and Astley Green. It also faces the other way, which is fine as the final arrangement of the sequence will be decided when I’ve photographed a few more.
While this project is influence by the aesthetic of Bernd and Hilla Becher, my intent is different. Whereas there’s was to group similar designs together, mine is to simply show what’s left and show how dissimilar they all are. I don’t have the luxury of hundreds of photographs of different sites to photograph. I reckon that there are in the vicinity of 20-30 colliery headgears across the entire UK (plus a few others from other mineral mines), and this includes some sites where there are two headgear, e.g. Hatfield, Clipstone, Pleasley, etc, so the number of remaining coliery sites is somewhat less and none are in use. By way of context, in 1970, there were 26 collieries in the Barnsley Coalfield alone, in fact there were still 22 in 1980, but by 1990 only 5 remained and they had all closed by the end of 1992*.
*information from the Northern Mine Research Society website.