Baker’s pond has just undergone another face lift, including extending the pegs and paths, many of which are now suitable for disabled access, providing a toilet and landscaping. The story of Baker’s begining at the start of the 20th century is detailed below.
History – The last 100 years and more
The Kilnhurst and District Angling Alliance would like to thank the following for their help in changing what once was a dirty polluted pond into the delightful facility it is today.
- Ben Bailey Homes
- The Environment Agency
- The Coalfield’s Regeneration Trust
- Groundwork Dearne Valley
And last but not least Dennis and Tony.
Baker’s Pond is so called after John Baker, who established a steelworks, John Baker and Co, on the site in 1903. Regrettably John died one year later while the site was being cleared and it was left to his son George, to develop the business of producing railway tyres, wheels and axles. George Baker was an energetic and inventive man and oversaw, in 1906, the development of a steelplant, and the use of steel to replace the previous practice of using iron.
During the First World War however the plant was turned over to munitions and the company, staffed mainly by women, produced over 6 million shells.
But it was after the War that the company made one of its biggest steps forward, when George, together with his nephew Henry who joined the company in 1925, secretly developed the first forging manipulator to be used in the UK. The new equipment revolutionised axle production boosting output, and in 1929 the company expanded and took over Henry Bessemer and became Baker and Bessemer Ltd.
Production was halted again by the Second World War when once again the business turned to producing not only shells but also armour piercing nose caps, anti aircraft rocket bodies, and bogies for Churchill tanks.
In 1963 the company was taken over by the United Steel Companies Ltd and the English Steel Corporation and closed. The picture below shows the site of Baker and Bessemer, with the pond on the left, soon after the works had been closed, and the steel plant which stood on the open space to the right, demolished.
Throughout its life Baker and Bessemer produced hundreds of thousands of tyres, wheels, and axles selling them not only in the UK but also throughout the world as railways expanded.
This period of industrialisation however gave little thought to the environment and the pond was seen simply as a water supply and somewhere to dispose of waste. Throughout the period and since, for it wasn’t until the mid 90’s that the local canals and river Don began to hold fish, anglers at the plant had to travel to go fishing. They usually did this via trains from the local stations, now also closed, travelling to such places as Ulleskelf on the river Wharfe or the Stainforth and Keadby canal, or the Keadby drains. During these trips anglers would often bring fish back with them to stock in the pond. Of course few if any survived and it wasn’t until later that a few small fish started to appear. During the same period youngsters walking to school would look through , or sometimes make holes in the fence in order to seek minnows.
Following the closure of the steelworks smaller engineering businesses began to operate on the site but for the next 25 years angling remained prohibited for all but employees of the companies that superseded Baker’s.
The picture above shows the pond in 2002 with Samuel Strapping in the back-ground. A further picture, below, shows part of the same factory looking from Wharf road where new houses have been built.
During this period the pond had developed an extremely large population of rudd, the golden scaled fish with bright red fins. But all was not as well as might be expected, a result of the fact that water was extracted from the pond and used as cooling water before being returned to the pond hot. As a result the rudd numbered thousands but were small and stunted. Indeed an assessment by the Environment Agency showed a hand sized bream which weighed just ounces was seven years old!
The situation was to change however in the mid 1990’s when Groundwork Dearne Valley was established to carry out significant environmental improvements to three mining villages in the Don and Dearne valleys, and Kilnhurst was chosen as one. Part of their consultation was to seek the views of local people who expressed a wish to have a local angling club providing local facilities for local people. One of main wishes of the villagers was to gain access to Baker’s Pond.
As a result four local angling clubs, including Phoenix and Parkgate AC, joined together in 1997 to form the Kilnhurst and District Angling Alliance, each club pooling it’s interests for the joint benefit of their members and for members of the public.
Soon afterwards the formation of the Alliance, Groundwork persuaded the business which owned Baker’s to agree to the Alliance having access to part of the pond to fish.
This was on the understanding that the pond, which was part of their manufacturing site, was securely fenced by Groundwork and that the Alliance agreed to take on full responsibility for clearing away rubbish, maintaining security, managing the water, and liability insurance.
As a result and over the next few years the Alliance cleared away many skips full of all manner of rubbish, and carried out a number of fishery improvement schemes under professional guidance.
However no sooner had the improvements begun to be effected than more changes began to take place. In 2001 the factory on site ceased production and demolition began.
As the site was cleared rumours abounded about its future until, in 2005, the whole site was put up for sale to a local housing developer and manufacturing on the site ceased for good.
Fearing for the future of the pond the Alliance began a series of discussions with the developer, aided by references from both the previous site owner and Groundwork Dearne Valley. Fortunately, and as a result, it was agreed that the Alliance would purchase the pond securing it’s use for future generations and the transfer of ownership was completed in late 2007.
It was a time of great excitement for the Angling Alliance for the deal brought previously unimagined, additional opportunities. For whereas under the original agreement access was only allowed to approximately 60% of the ponds perimeter, owner-ship of the pond provided full access to the whole water. As a result the Alliance sought help from the Environment Agency in the form of a fishery grant, and this together with club funds was used to landscape the old steelworks rubble alongside the new houses and to establish a series of footpaths and new fishing platforms built from sustainable recycled plastic.
Landscaping and footpath works in progress.
Building disabled anglers platforms was carried out in two stages, initial platforms being built first followed by the construction of footpaths to suit.
In addition further planting of white water lilies, purple loosestrife and yellow iris, was also carried out and an area at the northern end of the pond set aside as a nature reserve.
The whole project which was managed by the club was completed during the year and at last the whole area began to lose its industrial appearance becoming more natural, and ducks, terns, kingfishers and herons began to visit. Grass snakes and newts began to be seen regularly too.
The improvements soon brought about an increase in usage and this together with the presence of houses overlooking the pond brought new demands. Demands which were satisfied by the building of a composting toilet at the south end alongside the car park. But even this was not without difficulties. The plans included digging a 2 x 2.5 x 1m deep hole, which under normal circumstances would not be a problem. However the area’s history again caused problems and no sooner had digging begun than a large block of slag and steel was discovered which had to be broken by hand.
In no time at all however the hole was dug, footings laid and the brickwork commenced.
And soon afterwards the project was completed, including disabled facilities.
Having improved the fabric of the facility the Alliance once again looked to improve the fishery. This was achieved with the help of both the Coalfield’s Regeneration Trust and the Environment Agency who provided funds for tench and crucian carp to be stocked,
….. and a long term programme of adding powdered chalk to be commenced
….. and equipment to help teach youngsters to fish to be purchased.
Looking back much has been achieved in recent years but efforts are still ongoing.
No longer are anglers fishing among steelworks rubble from difficult unsafe banks for small stunted fish. Today wildlife abounds, fish flourish and anglers have safe, comfortable platforms to fish from, in addition youngsters are being taught about fishing and the environment.
And those who now live alongside the pond have a completely new vista to look at.