The Industrial Revolution was built on coal – and on the dangerous, back-breaking toil of its miners. While most deep pits have now closed, a day at the National Coal Mining Museum for England can open your eyes to the challenges of working hundreds of feet below the surface.
A comprehensive exhibition shows the rise and fall of the Yorkshire pits and how mining affected local communities – don’t miss Mrs Parkinson’s yard. Be sure to look out for the impressive steam engines that powered the winding gear and the site’s massive boilers. The stables of the pit ponies, Eric and Ernie, are next door. In the Coal Interface Gallery there is more on the history of mining as well as the recorded voices of miners telling of their lives in the pits.
It repays careful exploration – but for many visitors the underground tour of how 20th-century miners worked is the main attraction. After collecting a hard hat (vital, as many of the tunnels are low) and a battery-pack lamp, and handing over anything with a battery, (including cameras, watches and car keys), you are sardine-packed into the lift cage to descend 450 feet to the bottom of the shaft.
Your guide will then lead you for an hour’s tour though the labyrinth of tunnels of different sizes, mostly lit only with the light from your lamps. It’s a sobering experience – but one that’s enlivened by a sharp and humorous talk from a man who once worked in the mines.
The facts come thick and fast – how women and children worked underground, how thick the coal seams are in the mine, how explosives were laid, and why the box that sets off the explosion is known as ‘Beethoven’. And, though the tour is very safe, there are tales of gas explosions and accidents, as well as of the everyday heat, dust and noise that took their toll on the miners.
It’s a fascinating trip through an industrial past that defined rural life.
HOW TO GET THERE
The museum is at Overton on the A642 between Wakefield and Huddersfield. By bus, take Yorkshire Traction service 232 from Huddersfield and Wakefield; or Arrivabus 128 service from Wakefield to Dewsbury. The nearest railway station is Wakefield Westgate.
FIND OUT MORE
National Coal Mining Museum for England
Caphouse Colliery, New Road,
Overton, Wakefield WF4 4RH
01924 848 806
Open daily (except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day) 10.00am to 5.00pm. Underground tours run regularly until 3.15pm.
at the Museum provides snacks throughout the day and limited hot meals at lunchtime.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park West Bretton WF4 4LG
01924 832631 www.ysp.co.uk
Open-air displays by some of the world’s finest artists, including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Antony Gormley – and a great cafe.