I really enjoyed the educational visit to the National Coal Mining Museum for England in Wakefield because it shone a new light, for me, on the Coal Mining Industry.
Being part of The Wind Road Boys cast has helped me to understand the conditions of the mines and the different job roles available to boys, girls, women and men. The National Coal Mining Museum’s mine adventure ensured that I could expand my experiential knowledge of the Mining Industry. When I was going down the shaft I was told by our tour guide, ex-miner Paul Grace, that the cage would be travelling 5 times faster with men inside and 7 times faster with coal. We were going fast enough for me, already!
Once I was down the mine, I learnt that the miners worked 11-12 hours a day, 6 days a week and could retire at 65. I was surprised to learn that some of the Wind Road Boys (also known as trappers) would only be around six or seven and working in pitch black. I was also shocked to learn that if a disaster occurred due to ventilation the young boys and girls would be blamed and punished. I then experienced the conditions in which the young trappers would work when ex-miner Paul Grace asked us to turn off our lights. I only experienced pitch black for 20 seconds, while the young trappers would sit there for 12 hours in darkness. In those conditions, I learnt that the only candle light would be with the miners in the seam.
It was such a powerful experience and one which gave me great respect for the children who carried out work under these conditions many years ago. The song, The Wind Road Boys makes so much more sense to me now as it is an example of the children’s young, but intense imaginations taking over in the pitch darkness, to protect them from the awful, and dangerous, experience.
When I was underground I learned about the different gases and how they used canaries to alert the miners to the presence of ‘Firedamp’ (Methane) or ‘Black Damp’ (Carbon Dioxide).
I also learnt that the miners would build supports (also known as props) up into 6 diagonally-facing supports and two upright supports either side. Our tour guide used Beethoven’s 5th Symphony to demonstrate the destroying of the supports, in order to mine large lumps of coal.
I also then learned about the new legislation that Queen Victoria put into place which said no children under 10 or ladies allowed to work in the mine. This is featured in The Wind Road Boys and a commission set up in response to Queen Victoria’s concerns about working children, ultimately, became The Mine’s Act of 1842. The Queen herself was only 18 or 19 when she originally addressed the issue.
When I was learning about Pit ponies I found out that in 1913 there were 70,000 pit ponies in British mines.
Throughout the day I learned many valuable facts that will help me to form an opinion on certain aspects of the Coal Mining industry.
I enjoyed this trip because it put my knowledge from The Wind Road Boys into context and will inform my own performance going forward.