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Mining Museums Face Rock Bottom

Helen Davidson on how mining history is in jeopardy.

No mining has taken place at Caphouse Colliery in Yorkshire, or the Big Pit in South Wales for many years. Where sooty miners once hacked away at the coal face, camera-wielding tourists now amble gently. Pit ponies which carried baskets of coal down long dark tunnels now graze happily in green fields hundreds of feet above their former work place.

Yet in the eyes of the law, or more particularly the Coal Inspectorate, the museums at both Caphouse and the Big Pit are working collieries and must comply with all the complicated and expensive safety checks expected of any other mine: measures willingly satisfied up to now by British Coal. Now the museums, the only in the country to run trips underground to former mines, are facing cutbacks and possible closure as a result of British Coal’s imminent privatisation.

‘Some time last year when the Coal Industry Bill was going through Parliament for the first time we realised that it was going to be bad for us’, recalled Dr Margaret Faull, Director of the Yorkshire Mining Museum, which runs trips 140 metres underground to the former Caphouse colliery.

In alarm, Dr Faull, together with the directors of other mining museums, began lobbying Michael Heseltine at the Department of Trade and Industry, explaining to him that without valuable service from British Coal, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, they would be out of business.

The result was an all-parties amendment to the bill, tabled this summer, which will give both the Big Pit and Caphouse a life-line of £100,000 a year for the next three years in compensation for the loss of services incurred as a result of British Coal’s privatisation.

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