Saturday, 30 June 2012

The National Coal Mining Museum for England

Whenever I plan on taking a trip somewhere I always check the map to see if I can find a place to visit which is on the way. A good source of information on tourist attractions is the library, with a good supply of books and leaflets. I have the Lonely Planet guide to England out at the moment, and found details of the National Coal Mining Museum at Wakefield, a perfect location to break my journey. I have always been interested in how people coped with working in such inhospitable conditions, sometimes miles underground. I also have a fascination with big man made holes in the ground, as I have mentioned before, especially quarries. So the coal mining story ticks the boxes for me.
So on Tuesday morning I arrived here. It's just outside Wakefield at Overton, the brown tourist signs point the way. There is a vast parking area which is free, and luckily it wasn't too busy, just a couple of prebooked school parties. Entry is completely free which is what caught my eye in the book, ha ha.

Here are some random pics.

There are two parts to the 17 hectare site, the Caphouse Colliery and the Hope Pit, with a nature trail between the two. There is a train which runs between them but it is not always open, not to wory though because it isn't far to walk.

The coal comes up the conveyor belt and is loaded into these big hoppers, which in turn loads the rail wagons below them as they are shunted into place.

Here is an old engine, I'm not sure when that stopped work.

This is the Steam Winder, dated 1876. A marvelous piece of engineering.

Inside the halls there are lots of exhibitions, this is a replica of the hydraulic pit props they used. There is plenty to see, which tells the story of coal mining through the ages. Lots of video films and photographs.

At this point I joined an underground tour which took us down in a cage 140 meters. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take anything down with us, and definately nothing which had a battery in it. Thank goodness I was allowed to keep my hearing aid in, ha ha. We were issued with a hard hat and a lamp. There was only five of us which was better because we felt we had the personal attention of our own ex miner guide. He was excellent and brought the whole story alive for us. The tour lasted 1 hour 15 mins. When you book it you pay £2 for a metal token, similar to the type issued to real miners to keep account of how many people were down there. You can give the token back when the tour is finished and get a refund, but I kept mine and left the money as a donation. It was well worth it.

This is the entrance to the showers and miners welfare building. There is a window where they collected their wages, and down the corridor a medical centre they could go for advice and treatment.

There are rows and rows of lockers, there must have been several hundred working at the time when the colliery was at it's most productive.

Soap and towels for sale or hire.

This reminds me of the showers we had at school, I hated them. I wonder if they washed each others back, can't see how else they could have removed all that black stuff from every inch of their bodies.

Any dental work needed was attended to here.

This model horse is outside. They also have two real ponies called Eric and Ernie, and a Clydesdale called Finn, which you can visit in the stable block. The horses are put out to the field when the centre is not open.

I love this model of the back door of a typical workers terrace house. The coal house, the pet rabbit in the hutch, and the washing draped about ready to slap you on the face when you stepped out the door.

Oh, and the outside privvy, we had one of these when I was a teenager, complete with sheets of newspaper hanging up on a nail. Not for reading mind you, ha ha. And the tin bath, we had one of those as well.

I really enjoyed my visit, there's a lot to see, and if you are planning to go and want to save cash you can take a picnic and do the nature trail.Of course if you are feeling flush you can always treat yourself in the modern cafeteria.

Here is a link to the web site

There was still a bit of time to spare so I thought I might visit the Hepworth Art Gallery while I was in Wakefield. I found it alright and went into the car park, but was disappointed to see that there was a charge of £4.50 to park. As there was only an hour and a bit before it closed, I didn't think it was worth paying this. If I am going that way at a later date I will make sure I go earlier and find a free parking space further away and walk in. Another on the 'places to see', list. I carried on to Earby and arrived at the hostel about 6pm. I seemed to hit the rush hour traffic, I had forgotten what all that was about, living in the sticks of North Lincolnshire. We don't get traffic jams here. Toodle pip, catch you soon with another report. 


  1. What a great museum! My great grandfather was a miner in Ashington....tough life in those days. I often wonder what happened to the miners after the pit closures.
    Jane x

  2. Belonging to a coal (and iron ore) mining area, that brought back some memories, particularly the back yard with tin bath and clothes line.

  3. It brought back memories for me too, my Father was a Coal Hewer in a Welsh coal mine and I am pretty sure that there were no such luxuries as showers and dentists. I would not be happy going underground...

  4. Fascinating insight on mining times! Thanks for sharing.

  5. And I forgot about the showers, they were communal in a big room, lots of shower heads just like a shower of rain, with gullies every so often and a board running down the middle about 4' high for soap.
    Soap was carbolic, dark red / brown colour, came in 3' long bars about 3" x 4" and cut up into 1" sections. You could smell the men who'd just come off shift as they walked into the pub.
    Lockers there were 2 sets, clean end and dirty end, take the dirty off, leave them in the dirty end and walk through the shower room to come out clean and get dressed in the clean end.

  6. Another place to have visited is Bretton, not far from Overton, with a sculpture park, plenty of parking and I believe free entry as its all outside and is part of Bretton College.
    I used to live in Overton (now NE Scotland) and remember the mining museum opening. It has become a lot bigger. Glad you enjoyed it. Wonder what they will do for guides when the ex miners pass on as there are few left now.

  7. You should have popped in for a cuppa, I live 5 mins from the museum. The Hepworth is worth a visit, but park in Wakefield and walk down it's cheaper.
    The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is 10 mins from us and really lovely but parking is now a criminal £6.50 - regardless of whether you stay for 30 minutes or all day, so make a day of it !!

  8. Oh fiddlesticks!!! I could have had a free cuppa with Twiggy. Maybe I ought to ask where everybody lives, then I could stop off at someone's house on all my journeys, ha ha.

    I have already been to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, as reported in a previous post, and I didn't pay for the parking.

    Thanks Cumbrian for that additional information. Most interesting.

  9. So, the bathroom was on the outside, attached to the house? My aunt had one of those. Before that, we had to traipse through chickens and cows to get to the outhouse that sat a ways from the back door. Now, i want to visit your mine.

  10. My Grandad worked in a mine when he came out of the army. He had been training to be an engineer, then was called up and then there were no jobs so he went down the mine. He lost a finger down there (sorry I don't mean mislaid it, ha), but it used to fascinate me when he held his hand up and there was a space. Later he became an instructor and once showed Prince Philip around the pit where he was. Somewhere along the line the photo was lost.


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