Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Mining Museum

The National Coal Mining Museum
I recently spent an afternoon at the National Coal Mining Museum with a couple of old school friends. A nice day out made even more enjoyable by the fact that, apart from buying things from the cafe or gift shop, everything was free.

The mine provides a good insight into the working lives of miners throughout the years and you have the opportunity to go on one of the guided tours and travel 140 metres underground down one Britain's oldest working mines. I gave that bit a miss and stayed topside. But even without the underground tour there's still plenty to see, both indoors and outdoors. The museum is spread out over a large area and is home to a lot of original colliery buildings. You get to see the pithead and an 1876 steam winder, or you can visit the pithead baths where miners cleaned up after their shifts. There's even a medical centre showing how injuries were treated in days gone by. Plus there's a picnic area and a nature trail for the more energetic.

Dosco Roadheader Mk 2A
As you walk through the grounds you'll see old mining machinery on display. One that caught my eye was the huge Dosco Roadheader. This machine was used to make arched roadways underground. It has a small cutting head mounted on a long boom, which cuts in an arc, moving from side to side.

The apron at the front has a built-in chain conveyor to shovel spoil as the machine crawls forwards on its caterpillar tracks. The conveyor carries the spoil to the back of the machine where it is loaded onto another conveyor for transport to the surface. This machine was still being used as recently as the seventies. The machine in the picture is of a static display but there is a similar machine in another part of the museum which can be driven out for demonstrations on working days.

The Dosco Roadheader
There are loads of these old mining machines scattered about the museum grounds and each one has an information board next to it with photographs and diagrams telling you what they are and what they were used for. I wasn't particularly keen on going down the mine, but I found all the mining machinery interesting.

Another interesting part was Hope Pit, a colliery complex which is totally dedicated to science. Here they have hands-on interactive models with touch screen displays. The kids I saw there were having a great time with them, especially with the air speed and wind pressure monitor and the ventilation game.

We were only there for the afternoon but I don't think that was long enough. My mates took the underground tour and didn't get to see the rest of the site so I think that you'd need to plan an all-day visit to get to see everything, including the underground tour and nature trail.

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