Monday, April 09, 2007
Driving down the East Lancs Road looking at the redundant mills and spoil heaps you get an indication of how ‘King Cotton’ and mining were the twin pillars of Lancashire’s prosperity.
The last mining museum in the northwest is at Astley Green (opened 1908 – closed 1970) near Leigh. The Lancashire Mining Museum at Buile Hill, Salford was closed in 2000 due to cuts in council spending. Astley Green is run by volunteers from the Red Rose Steam Society so opening times are limited.
You can’t miss the museum because the winding tower stands gaunt, skeletal, black against the flat landscape – the last survivor. There’s an excellent exhibition on mining and the life of the pit. In 1840 due to an Act of Parliament the mine owners had to record accidents at work, some of the first recorded are the deaths of children aged 10 and 11 working as trappers, they opened doors in the mine to circulate air. The worst pit disaster in Lancashire was at the Pretoria Pit, West Houghton in 1910, 344 miners died in an explosion. There are also photographs of the ‘Pit Brow Lasses’, I found this excellent web site by Dave Lane (you will need broadband and be patient because it takes a minute or two to download).
The engine hall is carefully preserved, the giant machines lying idle now. Astley Green was a deep pit and they needed powerful machinery to lift the cages up.
Nearby the Bridgewater Canal winds it way up to Manchester. I wouldn’t recommend the walk the scenery is stark, bare, almost post-apocalyptical. There’s a huge open cast mining site with giant earth moving trucks, fenced off with frequent warning notices.
I can still remember when there was a quarter of a million miners, in one generation the industry has been wiped out. It was dirty, brutal work but most miners would still go back to it.
Astley Green has a collection of railway engines and trucks from all over the country but sadly most of it is under plastic covers. There seems to be millions for stately homes and the National Trust (good luck to them) but very little for our industrial heritage.
English National Mining Museum
Welsh National Mining Museum
Scottish National Mining Museum