When I first found out that we were going to visit the National Coal Mining Museum of England, I was really excited; mainly because of the prospect of being able to have a tour of a mine with an ex-miner. I did love the experience of going down a mine, and having an ex-miner as our tour guide did make it a once in a lifetime experience. Our trip to the National Coal Mining Museum gave me my first experience of an archive and it’s fair to say that it wasn’t quite how I expected it to be.
To access the archives, we went to the library. The library was a small room with one wall of books, one table in the middle and a few computers around the outsides. I was surprised when I first walked into the room at how small it was. When I think of an archive I think of piles of papers in numerous filing cabinets and written on each piece of paper is a random string of letters and numbers that somehow relate both to where the paper is stored and what the information relates to. There was none of this in the library, on view.
We had been in contact with the museum prior to our visit to let them know which areas of mining in which we were particularly interested. Jill, the librarian, already had several piles of books ready for us to look through upon our arrival. The books were not just spread out on the table, specific pages were bookmarked to make it easy for us to find relevant information. It made me realise the passion for history that archivists must have and the knowledge that they could gain through their work as a archivist.
After looking through some of the archived material, it was time for our mine tour, so we all headed off for the tour. We were greeted by an ex-miner, Paul Grace, who would be our tour guide for the underground mine experience. The first thing that struck me about Paul was his personality and the personalities of those around him. The camaraderie of the miners was something that I never really thought of beyond the facts and stories written in books, but seeing it around me and being part of the conversation between miners really made an impression on me. To me, a miner was always deeply passionate and hardworking, but to experience three ex-miners talking to each other, and to us, I realised that it was more than passion, it was love.
ON first impression, a miner’s job seems horrible; some would say a living nightmare and there are even stories of miners first exciting, but nervous days working down the pit. It is the community, the people who make a job, and a miner would literally give his life if he thought he could save his marra. So it seems to me that the life of a miner is very similar to the life of a soldier with one major difference, a soldier often talks of how they separate their lives, even have two different personalities for work and home life, I feel that this couldn’t be more different for a miner.
Throughout the mine tour, Paul was a fountain of information and through everything that he said, you could hear the passion, the love and that was the main thing that I took away from my trip to the National Coal Mining Museum; the humanity of the miner. Without Paul and the other ex-miners, I wouldn’t have a clue about the life of a miner, not due to lack of knowledge, but lack of understanding. I am truly grateful to Paul, Jill and the rest of the staff and volunteers at the National Coal Mining Museum for giving me an experience of a lifetime.
I’m due to revisit the museum on 8th July 2017 and I’m really looking forward to my second visit; there’s so much to take in.