Down, Down, Deeper and Down

After visiting the Sculpture Park on Tuesday, I also popped over to the National Mining Museum which is only a few miles away.

I have been there several times before, but I regard it as something of a pilgrimage into my family’s past.

The museum is based at the old Caphouse Colliery which is near Flockton, the village I’ve traced my family back to in the early 1700s.

Not only that, but they were coal miners too, although not of the more modern deep pit variety celebrated by the museum.

They worked the more shallow mines in the area until the death of my great-great-great-great-grandfather in 1835 when his widow and her children crossed the Pennines to Cheshire.

But enough about me and mine. The museum is an ongoing project to preserve a mine that is now a relic of an all but defunct industry in England.

It was an incredibly dangerous profession and this was underlined on the day of my visit with the news of a miner’s death after a roof collapse at Kellingley Colliery, the last working mine in the country.

The highlight of a trip to the museum is the underground tour, riding the cage 140 metres below ground, complete with miner’s helmet and lamp, but I gave it a miss this time to enjoy the sunshine on the surface.

Much of the colliery is kept as it was to give you an idea of what life as a miner meant, like the showers at the pit head above or the control room on the right.

But the thing that impresses me most about both the museum and the sculpture park is that they are both free to enter.

This isn’t some lingering genetic parsimony from my Yorkshire roots. I believe it is important to do all that we can to encourage people to explore their cultural heritage.

I wonder how long this will last in the present economic turmoil.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

8 comments… Add yours
  • john gray 30th September 2011

    I have never been to the mining museum… but we always went to the sculpture park every sunday when we lived in sheffield….
    It was a lovely walk…..I miss it

  • Roger Green 30th September 2011

    It sounds like something I would…dig (sorry)

  • Mr Parrot 30th September 2011

    That’s okay Roger. I don’t mined. (Groan)

  • Denise 7th October 2011

    This must be West Yorkshire??? I have seen the signposts when we are out and about!

  • Trevor Rowley 6th December 2011

    I too, have coalmining ancestors. From my family history research, it was painfully obvious to me that hardly any of the men were able to break free from a work career which began and, inevitably, ended, “darn’t pit”. This wasn’t just a couple of generations back but went back over one hundred and fifty years for both my father’s family and my mother’s also. Two of my forebears, father and son, both died in the Victorian period in horrific coalmining accidents in County Durham, separated by about thirty years and no doubt leaving behind grieving widows and their inconsolable children. Given that this (in the United Kingdom at least) is now largely an industry almost totally consigned to the old wooden chest of history, it has perhaps become too easy to forget the sacrifices that families such as these and numerous others have made down the years as they helped us to “Keep the Home Fires Burning.” God Bless them all – not just my relatives but no doubt many of yours as well. Life for them produced few rewards and we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.

  • Mr Parrot 6th December 2011

    Interesting that you should mention County Durham, although my family moved from Flockton to Mottram, one brother, Richard, went north instead and worked as a miner in Byers Green. As far as I am aware, there are descendants of his living there still.

  • Trevor Rowley 6th December 2011

    When tracing your coal mining ancestors, you will always be at some form of disadvantage as they would move constantly and it was not uncommon for each child in a family (for example, six or seven children in a typical, large working class family) to be born in a different location – throwing up repeated problems for the researcher. As new seams were opened, whole tribes of families would move to the next location – usually for the same employer but two or three miles further away. However, sometimes the move was a big one (by Victorian British standards) and the move could be into a different county (eg to Durham from Northumberland, North Riding of Yorkshire into Durham etc). I gather there was also some form of “ownership” system whereby some coalminers, at the start of a new term of employment, were obliged to sign an agreement which virtually gave away their rights to work for another employer – easy to accomplish by a wealthy employer who controls all the coalmining in one part of the county and was seen almost as a lord of the manor. When the miner wanted to break this agreement but clearly hadn’t got the financial means to defend his case it was often simpler to “do a runner”. Consequently, these families would become almost impossible to track down as they went into some form of seclusion several miles away from the employer they had fled from. I think it was the forerunner of the miners’ trades union movement that was eventually able to overturn this arrangement which became unlawful. Hard times indeed.

  • Mr Parrot 7th December 2011

    I was fortunate, if that’s the right word, that my family gave up mining after they moved to Mottram. The pit there was shallow and eventually worked out and my forebears took up other occupations, mostly running pubs and beerhouses!


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