DRIVE IT DAY - 2008
National Coal Mining Museum Caphouse Colliery Wakefield
Unfortunately as with all the events that have started our new calendar year for getting out and about in the Minors it was WET!
We were really looking forward to Drive it Day this year as the location had been changed from The National Railway Museum at York to The National Coal Mining Museum Wakefield.
The problem with lousy weather is that if it starts off badly it puts people off getting out their cars attending events………..
Doris the Pick-Up had been washed and polished the day before in anticipation – but when we opened the curtains we knew that she wasn’t going to stay clean for long. We had arranged to meet Norman and Jean there and as you all know Norm hates getting Chester wet!
We eventually got to the Museum after getting lost, as Chris who never takes any notice of my directions as a rule decided to follow what I said – so we ended up in Wakefield City Centre on some sort of ring road that we couldn’t get off! You can imagine the sinario I’m sure……….I had to cover Pebbles ears! Eventually when a little calm had been restored we stopped and rung Norman to guide us in. Luckily for once he had his mobile turned on or we may still have been in Wakefield Centre!!!!!!
There were at least twelve cars that had braved the weather. Even Sue, Dave, Joe and Brian had come down from the North East Branch – hardy souls these North Easteners!
We booked our tour underground and then went and had some lunch, I must say it was very nice, not fancy but really tasty. Pebbles had to be babysat as dogs aren’t really allowed in the buildings, Chris was able to carry her round the souvenir shop though while Jean and I managed to find something to buy. Keith said he would look after her when we went underground.
Going underground was a real experience, we had to leave handbags and pocket contents at the surface as anything that may cause any sort of spark – cameras, mobile phones, cigarette lighters etc were not allowed because of the chance of gas down the mine. We all donned hard hats and battery operated light packs, we were also given a brass disc with a number on it and told to keep it safe. This was so that when we got back to the surface they could count us and make sure no one was missing.
Crammed into the lift like sardines (if you don’t like bodily contact with strangers or are claustrophobic please do not go)! We started our descent, this was a journey of about two miles which took about five minutes – it was quite dark and water was steadily running down all the walls.
At the bottom of the lift shaft there is what is a form of air lock – really heavy doors to stop the circulated air escaping up the pit shaft so it was opened for us to go through and then firmly shut behind us – we were now in the mine………..
Our guide gave us a health and safety lecture and told us to keep up with the rest as it is quite easy to get lost in the disused shafts if you wander off!
It was quite a strange sensation as we were taken back in time to the mid 1800’s when children as young as four were working alongside their parents and the rest of their siblings in this insular underground environment. We were told that many of today’s common sayings originated down the pit.
‘Put wood in’toil’ and ‘Shut the trap’– both meaning ofcourse shut the door. A small child would be the door keeper on a seam of coal, he was attached to the door by a piece of rope because he was totally in the dark and couldn’t see anything. In the tunnel beyond the door the rest of his family would be mining coal. Dad would be working at the ‘coal face’ the coal was then dragged up the tunnel by the mother and other children, they would shout to the child sat on the other side of the door to open it to allow the coal to be passed out. If the door was open too long it sucked all the air out of the working tunnel and people would begin to choke, it was then the cries of what we know today as slang would be heard to get the child to shut the door quickly again. Because of working in the dark blindness was common as was lung disease. People who worked down the mines usually did not make ‘old bones’.
Gases were also a major problem (and still are today) these depending on what sort of gas was detected was done by a flame that was incased in what looks like a candle holder, depending on the colour and size of the flame will give an indication of what gas was present. It is much the same today.
Mine owners in these days provided everything for their workers – whole villages were created, housing, pubs the lot, but ofcourse if and when people were no longer of any use they were thrown out.
The pit ponies also lived all their lives down the mines in those days and they also went blind…………it wasn’t until the 1940’s that the ponies were given two weeks holiday every year this allowed them to come to the surface and be turned out to grass and enjoy themselves…………..what must the poor things have thought when they had to go back………….
‘Big gob’ ‘Shut the gob’ are also mining expressions – a gob is the big gap that gets dug into the mine wall to find a coal seam, to shut it is to fill it in.
Our guide brought us forward in time showing us the various stages of machinery that were developed over the years to make mining easier, the machines are massive now but there is still a lot of manual work for miners. There is still the intense heat and gases to contend with and blindness and lung disease is still a factor. Most of the pits are closed but there are still some working mines open. Apparently there is talk of reopening some more of our mines as importing coal from Russia is proving too expensive.
I must admit I came out of that mine with a totally different outlook on mining as an industry. I now have a great respect for anyone who works ‘down t’ pit’!
Including the story of The Bevin Boys and their fantastic war effort – without them England would have come to a shuddering halt in the 2nd World War.
When we came back to the surface half the MM’s had set off for home and who could blame them the rain just never let up. We had another tour around the souvenir shop, and a stroll around the information room which was full of interesting memorabilia and reading and a cup of hot coffee before we headed for home as well.
Again, I have no hesitation in recommending this really interesting venue. If you have the chance to go please do, the kids will also find it a fascinating experience.Thanks to Chris and Keith Haigh for organising it.