It might seem like an unusual choice to visit the National Coal Mining Museum on a pretty sunny Bank Holiday, but that is exactly what we did. We visit Yorkshire Sculpture Park fairly often and always comment on the National Coal Museum signs, only to never get around to visiting. (we do a similar thing with Reddish Vale Country park, so that’s on the list for the weekend!)
Having the extra time over the bank holiday we thought it was a great opportunity to go exploring and to take a drive up to Wakefield, Yorkshire, to finally check out the National Coal Mining Museum.
Judging the book by the cover
The entrance and first impressions aren’t so great. It looks a bit tired but the car park was very busy which suggested that there was a lot more to it than the front of the building. I am always one to remember not to judge the book by the cover (unless it has cats on, that is!) so we reserved judgement for after we explored and experienced the place for ourselves.
In the car park, it was a bi disorganised meaning that you had to go back on yourself and around and around the overflow to find a space. We did find one, but one with less of an enjoyable view for our picnic. Not that it really mattered, but it would have been fun to be facing the woods and the miniature train.
Unfortunately, our later arrival and the bank holiday meant that we were too late to be able to participate in the underground tour. They were fully booked and the lady at the till advised that we should arrive very early if we want to do that part of the museum. I can understand why, especially when you see how many excited children there are wanting to experience the cold dark mine. The museum turned out to be a lot bigger than we had expected as we wandered through into the free exhibition space.
A whole lot to see
As you walk through to the exhibition space you are faced with a kind of introductory timeline. It was a good start to the exhibition as you had the opportunity to see how things flowed, the political influence on the mines and the decisions around Nationalisation. I also enjoyed the illustrations and objects that accompanied this part of the exhibition.
A little bit confusing
Although the exhibition began with a good flow, it seemed to become a bit more confusing as you wandered around with no clear direction to go in. In exception to that was the new section (that you can see to the left in the picture above, that goes into a small annex) which was wonderfully laid out and easy to follow. The illustrations, cutouts and design was beautiful too. It was clear that it was a newer addition to the museum.
Back in the main exhibition space, it was fun to see the large coal wagon, but again it seemed to be plopped into the middle with no real explanation.
One of the most fascinating parts of the exhibition was earning that coal was also used for making furniture and home ware, would you believe. It’s not your regular old coal though, it is a harder and more compact version (I can’t for the life of me remember the proper name, but will add it as soon as I do. Please let me know what it is in the comments, if you know though!)
The section of the exhibition about more modern-day mining, to me, was a bit disappointing. Being that the North West and Yorkshire had such a large coal mining industry and the effect that it had on the families and communities of the area, I felt that more could have been covered. There were snippets of information that I didn’t know, so enjoyed that, and I got to do a brass rubbing, but would have swapped both of those for a wealth of information.
Into the yard
After working our way around the museum we decided to explore the yard and surrounding buildings. If only to grab a bit of that glorious sunshine!
To our surprise there were Morris dancers and a whole lot more to explore. It was clear that the museum holds events at half term to encourage families to visit, which is excellent for a free visitor attraction. We paused to enjoy the dancers for a while before following our noses over to explore the out buildings, see the budgies and find out what else the yard held.
Even though I have visited mines in the past, it never fails to surprise me with the scale of the equipment and machinery used. To think that the miners would manually handle all these pieces and get them into the mine is absolutely mind-blowing.
Pit Head Baths
Pit Head Baths is the name given to the wash houses that enabled the miners to clean themselves up after a shift down the mines. It was to help prevent discrimination from the people in the local area. They would have two lockers one for their clean clothes and one for their mine gear, so that they could keep them separate. It was really interesting to see that some mines were deemed big enough to warrant building a bath house as the coal seam wouldn’t last forever.
To be honest, the whole building was a favourite of mine because I took rather a fancy to the showers and the lockers.
Although the mine is no longer being worked, they still have to pump out the water from inside the mine. This piece of machinery has been used since the mill was in use and still remains in use today. it really goes to show how long a lot of machinery can last when used and looked after. The water from the mine is pumped into a processing tank which is located up the hill.
The National Coal Museum certainly seems to have something for everyone and that included having a lovely small woodland walk for us to enjoy. Not only is it there for enjoyment, but for a practical reason for diverting the water from the pump and processing plant. You’ll notice the rusty colour of the water in the photographs.
Unfortunately,having taken some time to peer out from the bird hide, to listen to the bird calls and to explore (and photograph) the walk, we missed out on seeing inside the equipment house as it closed. We did get to see the pieces that were outside. Remember how I mentioned scale of the things…
So with that we headed back to the main centre to pop to the loo, browse the shop and grab some leaflets of more local attractions. It was a pleasant walk back to the shop and was clearing up nicely. Not enough to provide us with a cancellation for the mine though, unfortunately. However, it is definitely on our list for another visit. Perhaps en route to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Overall we had a lovely time at the National Mining Museum. Yes, there could have been a bit better flow in the exhibition space and it would have been great to go down in the mine, but they are pretty small things in the grand scheme of things. Although, saying that, I do feel that more on the mining strikes during the last decade would be a bit more relatable for the younger visitors I think.
We are definitely going to visit again to catch the bits that we missed on this visit and I would recommend a visit if you haven’t been. The kids that we saw seemed to thoroughly enjoy it – especially coming out of the mine with grubby faces! (parents did too, but it was optional)
Now to find some more offbeat museums in the area.
Have you visited the National Mining Museum? What did you think? If not, is it somewhere you would add to the list?
Let me know in the comments below.
The National Mining Museum for England
Features: Free parking, free entry to exhibition and yard, cheap entry to mine, Cafe, toilets, woodland walk, shop