Those who were part of the steering committee for the ‘When Yesterday Was Young’ project had an opportunity to visit the National Coal Mining Museum of England on the 22nd of June 2017. One of the key features of this Museum was its Underground Tour, which helped to provide an accurate perspective on the conditions of the mines and gave a first-hand experience of being underground. I am a member of the steering committee and had the good fortune of going on the first trip to the museum.
Before arriving at the museum, I was unsure of what to expect. I had never been before and I could only imagine how the experience would unfold based on information provided on the National Coal Mining Museums website. It was impressive to see the original buildings of the colliery as one drove towards the entrance.
The reception room was bright and welcoming and there were lots of children visiting from local primary schools. The children were calling excitedly to each other as they waited to participate in the workshops.
Soon after our arrival, we were introduced to Jayne Ambrose (Education Officer), who greeted us all and provided us with information about our schedule. After initial introductions, we visited the library. I am an avid reader and couldn’t wait to begin our research in the archives.
My first impression of the library was that it was small. I must admit that I had been expecting a grand and expansive room adorned with shelves full of books and journals, so I was rather surprised to find myself in a quaint little room filled with a few computers, several bookshelves and a small table with books already compiled for us to read. However, I soon learnt that the library was much larger than my original inspection suggested and that unbeknown to the public there was another door at the side of the library which led into The National Coal Mining Museum for England’s archive. The archive was packed full of carefully stored books, journals and literary references. Jill the librarian was extremely helpful and every time I needed some more information she would disappear behind the door and come back armed with more reference material pertaining to the subject matter I was studying.
Armed with my notebook and pen, I peeled open the pages of the books and began to read through.
The first book I had selected was a very simple book plastered from page to page with pictures, and little statements providing information directly linked to the imagery. I was surprised to discover that rescue stations for collieries were not made compulsory until 1911, when the Coal Miners’ Act was introduced. The sheer disregard for human safety disgusts me, as the lack of precautions had put miners lives at risk. One of the first rescue stations was introduced in Crook in 1914. This type of information was too important to ignore and I jotted down as much as I could in my notebook. It made me realise how little the working men in those mines mattered to those who owned the pits and how the pit owners had to be forced to provide extra precautions for their employees.
After jotting down some more facts from the first book, I moved to the second, which had a page bookmarked with “Dean and Chapter”. The Dean and Chapter Colliery is the focus of our project and this book held records of all the collieries open within the year 1937 and it referenced the Dean and Chapter.
I found it fascinating to read information about a local mine. It was clear to see that the Dean and Chapter Mine was very large and played an important role in the local community. The mine employed 3,000 people. It was astounding that so many people were working in three shafts. My mind was racing as I tried to imagine the sheer scope of the mine. In comparison to the Cap House Colliery, which employed on average 223 workers. The Dean and Chapter Colliery was extremely important for The North East of England and Durham and shaped not only the town we know, but the mining industry itself.
Before leaving the library, I read an article by Sid Chaplin. Sid Chaplin was born in Ferryhill, but despite this I must confess that at this stage I know little about his life, or work. I have discovered that Sid Chaplin was a poet. The article gave a basic synopsis of Sid Chaplin’s life, including his time in the colliery and his poetry. Though I didn’t have a chance to read any of his poetry at the time, it was interesting to read about how his life progressed. How he had started work in a bakery before quickly moving to mining and then starting his writing career in the magazine entitled, “Coal”.