Friday, 10 July 2009

The Coal Fields.

First off, thanks to Adam Nb Debdale and Martin from Pennine Waterways website for correcting me over the Barton Swing aqueduct which does operate full. The stop planks must be just to stop the canal draining while the aqueduct is open.

Astley Green colliery 016This used to be a busy coal mine until closure in 1970. The pit head winch house in the background.

This afternoon we visited the Astley Green Colliery Museum. This is run entirely by Red Rose Society volunteers of which there were 3 present today. Two were busy grass cutting while the third was painting a mine loco which came from Yorkshire and had laid rotting in a field since 1930 when the mine was closed. The museum has up to 20 of these mine loco’s of one sort or another on site but majority of them are privately owned by 2 men who don’t do much about restoring them. The museum’s 6 loco’s are all operable. The biggest problem with mine railways is that they were never a standard gauge, anything from 15” to 3’ so it is hard to build a track work for them all.

Astley Green colliery 015 Steam powered crane which was used to load bins of coal into awaiting barges.

The pit head winch was a real eye opener as we have seen steam powered Beam engines which are huge but this four cylinder monster was something else. This 3300 HP was the biggest in Britain and the only survivor capable of lifting 9 tons every 2 minutes. Housed in a building equal to a 3 storey warehouse or 10 miners cottages of the 2 up and 2 down variety, it is still in working condition. Just for demonstration purposes they run it and other displays on compressed air which is cheaper to produce than steam. On the work bench were a display of tools needed to service the winch, 3” and 4” spanners which were heavy enough just to lift let alone use.

Astley Green colliery 017 Inside the winding house. This 4 cylinder steam monster lifted men and coal in and out of the Astley Green coal mine.

Astley Green colliery 014This mine loco came from Yorkshire which had stood in a field since becoming redundant in 1930.

Going through the main exhibition hall Dot found it so depressing as to how the mining families of the 17 & 1800’s all had a job to do in the mine, even babies and toddlers left in wet dark conditions to chase rats away from the miners food supply for up to 10 hours a day. Eventually this practice was outlawed but families of miners still had a hard life with so many men and boys being killed or injured in the mines. Open cast mining is obviously a lot safer but so much coal is so deep underground this method is just not practical. If the need to re-open the pits ever eventuates perhaps robot technology will be the answer without having to put men down the pits again.

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