Saturday, 30 May 2009

Beamish Open Air Museum

Beamish is another place I've heard about a long time, meant to go see, but just never did until this past holiday weekend. I'm glad I waited after all, because what I saw there was so much more interesting after having visited Dalry and buried my head in the lifestyle of miners in Victorian times.

It was the first day I've gone without a sweater or waterproof covering, the weather was really lovely, and a lot of other people also seemed to have realised that it was a good day on which to visit an open air museum. The queue was probably the longest I've stood in for years.

Beamish, in County Durham, has 300 acres on which buildings have been gathered -- as in de- and re- constructed-- to join some that were already located there. We spent nearly 4 hours there and only covered the colliery village, but that's how it goes when you stop and take a picture or 10 every 2 minutes. See how much I think about you guys?

Right. Let's see how much of this stuff I can remember. Those red buildings are the pithead. The steam-powered train does a short run back and forth so you can see where the cars line up underneath. Inside the building is the elevator that takes men down into the mine shaft and brings up the bins full of coal and mining waste. The coal goes into the train cars after it has been picked over by boys or elderly miners. If a tub -- which normally weighed around half a tonne -- contained more than 20 pounds of waste, the miner was fined!

The waste goes along the bridge over to the refuse heap on the far left. I was interested in all this this because one of my ancestors is listed on a Census record in Dalry as a 'pithead labourer'.

On this board, a miner hung his numbered tag to show he was down the mine (I wonder if that's why they always say around here 'down the pub' or 'down the town' omitting the word 'to'). I found it chilling to learn that the miner's payroll number tags went also on his lamp, into the tub of coal he hewed so as to be credited for his work, and one remained with him, in the event of his body needing to be identified.

It was difficult to tell, so much paint was missing from the sign, but Bill reckoned there had been a fore shift (3 - 10.30 AM), a back shift (9:30AM - 5PM), a night shift (4PM - 11.30 PM) and a 10PM shift (10PM - 5.30 AM). I had to make myself get close enough to actually look down the mine shaft. I simply cannot imagine going down into a hole half a mile under the surface at any time, but especially not starting out in the dark of night. For some reason that just makes it seem even more unbearable.

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