A few shots from a visit last year to The National Mining Museum near Wakefield. It’s on the site of the old Caphouse Colliery, which began producing in the late 1700s and closed, empty of economic coal, in 1985. It’s got the lot – pit ponies, winding gear, steam boilers. And it costs nowt to get in. Much as I am in favour of museums being free – this is one that deserves a cough up for the donations box. It ranks with a trip to HMS Victory as one of the most educational days of my life. There’s an astounding amount to see, though the highlight is a trip down the actual mine in a small group accompanied by a genuine miner, complete with a music hall Yorkshire thee-and-thou accent. No pictures from this, alas – anything that risks producing a spark has to be left on the surface.
These days the cage (“Nivver a lift – allus a cage”) trundles down the original shaft at a sedate pace, though in its working life it plummeted at 45ft per second, which according to our guide “Felt like skydiving”. The mine itself is a network of ancient and modern galleries shooting off in all directions, and of a darkness so complete that it swallows your torchlight. It’s considered a ‘wet’ pit – a million gallons of water are pumped out each day. There’s lots of brutal and massive equipment down there, but it surprised us that in some parts the coal had been dug out by hand, the seams being too thin for machinery. An hour down there left us all with the opinion that miners deserve every penny that they earn, such are the many and extravagant ways to lose your life or be permanently disabled. Indeed, a miner was killed at the museum this january, while extending an underground classroom.