You had better dress up warm here. For you’ll be going 140 metres underground. And below the earth it is cold, damp and dark. The National Coalmining Museum for England, near Overton in West Yorkshire, is located in one of the oldest collieries in the United Kingdom. Here visitors can don a miner’s helmet and lamp before descending into the underworld to find out what everyday conditions were like for the miners who once worked here. Their guides are themselves former miners. On the surface it still looks as if the colliery might spring into action once more at any moment. The showers in the pithead baths seem to be only waiting for the coal-smeared miners to arrive. Even the steam-driven winding wheels which were in operation till 1970 are still working. In addition the museum has an audio-visual exhibition which takes visitors on a journey through more than two centuries of coal-mining history. The four old pit ponies, now enjoying a well-earned retirement, are a special attraction for younger visitors. And if all this is not enough you can climb aboard the pit railway and travel to the next colliery just around the corner. This also forms a part of the museum complex.
For more than a year British coal-miners struggled in vain to prevent the mass closure of their collieries in the 1980s. Their final capitulation also sealed the fate of the Caphouse Colliery near Overton. In 1985 it was closed down because it was deemed to be unprofitable. This also brought centuries of coal-mining history to an abrupt end. The pit was first mentioned in a plan dated from the year 1791 as one of many others in the region. At the time coal-mining in Yorkshire was in full flow. As in most mines women and children made up a considerable part of the workforce. The majority of them worked on the surface. But young lads were often used to help out with the work in the galleries underground; for example, by manning the ventilation doors to regulate the ventilation. Caphouse Colliery was in operation without a break and for most of this time it was in family hands. One expression of this continuity is the extremely long life-span of the buildings, the oldest of which dates back to 1876. In 1917 Caphouse Colliery was taken over by a mining company and in 1947 nationalised. In 1988, just three years after it was closed, it reopened its gates as the National Coal Mining Museum for England. The site still contains most of the surface plants from the wooden headframe to the pithead baths and forge to the engine house with its historic steam-driven drawing winch. The permanent exhibition shows visitors what everyday life in the pits was like and above all tells them about the private lives of miners’ and their families including their activities in sports clubs and brass bands. In May 2005 the museum complex was extended to include the neighbouring Hope Pit. By contrast with Caphouse Colliery the underground galleries are no longer accessible here. But the pump house and compressor house are ideal additions to the collection of buildings. A historic pit railway links the two old mines.
|Recommended duration of visit:
|Duration of a guided tour:
|Access for persons with disabilities:
|For details see website
|Infrastructure for children:
|Visitor centre on site:
|Gift and book shop on site:
except Dec 24-26th and Jan 1st.