QE11 Country Park, Ashington, Northumberland. NE63 9YF
Tel: (01670) 856 968 „
~ History of Ashington and of the Museum ~
Ashington is a town in North-east England. It has a population of approximately 28,000, which grew from a few farms in the early 19th Century to a large Coal mining village once coal was discovered. Ashington was once known as "The largest mining village in the world" but despite this historic claim, Ashington has no remaining deep mines. Woodhorn Colliery lies in South-east Northumberland close to the town of Ashington. It was a working pit for more than 80 years, from 1894 until it closed in 1981.
Woodhorn Colliery Museum, first opened in 1989, is the only coal mining museum in Northumberland. Part of the museum is housed in some of the original colliery buildings. It has been closed to visitors for over two years while developments were taking place but it reopened in October 2006. I used to go regularly before it closed, as it is only a short distance from where I live. I have been twice since it reopened. Woodhorn Colliery Museum is a fun day out for all the family.
Before it closed it was only a small attraction but the £16 million redevelopment has turned it into a major tourist attraction. I think it used to be aimed more at the local people but is now aimed at anyone visiting the area. You could see it all in about an hour before it closed but now it will easily fill in an afternoon if not more!
~ Visiting the Museum ~
Jack Charlton came back to his hometown as Woodhorn's celebrity guest on the opening day. It was a very busy day with lots going on. In fact it was too busy to really get a feel for the place. We were only there for an hour or so. I was actually very disappointed with it on my first visit as I was comparing it to how it had been before and we didn't see everything.
Having been a second time, this time with my nephews and niece, I have a much more positive opinion towards it. We were looking after my sister's children for the weekend and wanted something to entertain them. We decided to take them here and it was an enjoyable afternoon for all of us.
~ What is there to see and do? ~
The main building is called 'The Cutter', this was built during the new developments hence it looks very modern. It is inspired by the coal cutting machines, which were once used, deep under ground. I think it looks a bit out of place surrounding the original colliery buildings but it houses the museum, galleries and a study centre.
I really like the inside of this building, named 'Coal Town'. As you walk through Coal Town you can discover the true story of coal mining in Northumberland, through the eyes of the Ashington community.
There is a coal truck just like those used down the mine, which you can push (it doesn't move anywhere though) and it measures your strength. My seven-year-old nephew, Dominick, pushed this (with his hands) as hard as he could but the pointer didn't move. My dad then had a turn (pushing with his shoulder) and the pointer went straight up to the maximum strength! Dominick, then realising he should have used his shoulder, tried again, this time the pointer moved a fraction of a cm. The disappointment on his face was clearly visible. I also had a turn (the pointer moved - but not much!); I liked this particular exhibit as it started to give a little bit of insight into what it was really like underground.
There was also a small tunnel like feature, which you could crawl through (my nephews did but I passed on this one!) to give further insight to the working conditions underground.
Walking through the exhibitions, the decades fly by. You get to see inside a typical colliery house. There is a door, which looks like an outdoor toilet, when you open it the 'man' inside speaks to you in a typical Geordie accent. My nephew got a fright when he opened the door, as he wasn't expecting anyone to speak! (and to be honest I got a fright too!)
There is a man in a shower, in the part about work as a miner. This was in the old museum also. (When I was in nursery my teacher asked me what I had done at the weekend, I told her I had been to Woodhorn Colliery and seen a man in a 'tower'. I cried because the teacher didn't know what I meant. After this I had to see a Speech Therapist to correct my speech. It was successful though and now every time I see the man in the shower I think of that day in nursery. [I now want to be a Speech and Language Therapist])
Continuing your journey, you get to see picnics, marches and the miner's strike. I felt a lot of different emotions as I walked through the museum. I felt quite moved as I looked at the information about the miner's strike as it something I have heard my parents talk about many times.
You can march your way to the top of the 'ramp of reform'. It's the last resting-place of the pit banners. Walking up this ramp brought back lots of happy of memories of the miner's picnics when I was a child. The miner's and their banners used to march through Ashington, passing my house, finishing at Woodhorn Colliery. This was an enjoyable event that we looked forward too. I marched behind the banners one year with a banner I had made myself at an art workshop. So, for me, it was nice walking up the ramp looking at the Pit Banners. The miner's picnic no longer goes past my house, as it is no longer held at Woodhorn.
At the top of the ramp, there is a gallery, which contains mining related paintings, some of which are from local artists. There is also the room, which contains the facilities for Northumberland County Records and Archives. I haven't been in here but looking at it the facilities look good.
There is an exhibition called Arty Arty Castles. This is a "unique three dimensional experience that challenges kids of all ages to 'let off steam'". It is aimed at children under-12 but adults are allowed in the room to supervise. There is a ball pool for under-2's, which Toni, my 1-year-old niece, really enjoyed. The boys also had fun running around and playing on the other inflatable items, including an inflatable slide.
Outside, the Pit buildings still remain to tell their extraordinary tales. The stables are open for you to go in and have a look. Not only will you see that they are stables but you'll smell them too! There is also a small building which you can go in and see a working fan. This is another part of the museum, which gives an interesting insight into the working life of a miner.
Part of the museum is where the shaft leading down to the mine used to be. This wasn't accessible to the public before the redevelopment. I felt there was atmosphere here of what it must have been like waiting in the shaft to go deep underground.
Outside there are lots of standing plaques with photos and information about what once stood there, as some of the buildings have gone. One of these has a photograph of my granddad when he was young and working in the Medical Centre at Woodhorn Colliery, as a Physiotherapist. When you stand and read the plaque the car park in front you is where the medical centre once stood. My granddad had his photograph in the museum before it closed and I am really proud that there is still a photograph of my granddad there now. My granddad, who is now 82, was also pleased to see his photograph.
I really enjoyed going to Woodhorn Colliery (and I always have) as there are lots of personal links to my background (my dad used to work down the mines at Ellington Colliery when he was younger and he still worked there as a heating engineer right up until it closed in 2005.) It is also nice to learn about the history of mining in Northumberland, after all coal mining was the initial reason that my hometown grew so much.
~ Extra's ~
There is a café and a gift shop. The café is large and bright but I haven't been in. The shop, located in one of the old buildings, sells lots of nice gifts, some of which are mining related. I bought a silver miner's lamp charm for my charm bracelet, and a (pink!) pen, which says Woodhorn.
Admission to this wonderful source of historical knowledge is free, though they do charge £2 to park your car and they ask for donations (suggested £2) inside the building.
The museum can be reached by foot by walking through the Queen Elizabeth II country park, where the Museum is situated. This is a nice walk in the summer but, when it's cold or has been raining it is not so pleasant!
The Queen Elizabeth II Park was once part of the largest colliery spoil heap in Europe. It has been beautifully landscaped to include a lake and woodland walks. The lake is a popular place for fishing, canoeing and wind surfing. There is also a cycle path that runs right round the lake. So if you have seen enough of the museum you can take a walk around the park. At the other side of the lake there is a pub, so if you like walking you can walk around the lake and have a drink or a bite to eat. (This can also be reached by road)
You can see the pulley wheels from the back lane where I live. I've always liked this because it reminds me of the history of Ashington. However, since the redevelopment, the top of the pulley wheels light up and I think they look a bit like UFO's! This now means that when it is dark you can see them really clearly from quite a distance away. If you didn't know Woodhorn Museum was there I'm not sure you would know what the lights were.
~ How do I get there? ~
It is just off the A189 Spine Road and the C1 and Coast and Castles Cycle Route. This makes it very easy to reach and ideal for either a day out or just a break when travelling up or down the stunning coastline.
~ Conclusion. What did we think? ~
My Parents - they both enjoyed the afternoon out. When I asked them what they liked best (for the purpose of this review) my dad said he liked the working fan and my mam said she liked seeing where the shaft was as it she's never seen one before.
My Nephews - they enjoyed trying to push the cart of coal and they enjoyed the Arty Arty Castle exhibition. They also like seeing the tracks where the trains used to run.
My Niece - Toni enjoyed being pushed around in her pushchair and playing in the ball pool! I'm sure she'll appreciate it more when she's older.
Me - I enjoyed learning about the history of the mines in Ashington and seeing my granddads photograph.
If you are in the area and/or are interested in the history of mining, you should take a look here, and I'm sure yee'll hev a really canny day oot!
~ Opening Times ~
Wednesday - Sunday (and Bank Holidays but not Christmas Day)
April to October: 10am - 5pm
November to March: 10am - 4pm
~ Advantages ~
* Free Admission
*History of the local mines
*Enjoyable day out
*Get an insight into what it was like working down the mines
*Disabled Access and parking
~ Disadvantages ~
*Difficult to get to by foot (especially after it's been raining)
*Parking costs £2
*Car park is poor (made of stones)
*Lights on Pulley Wheels look like UFO's
If you made it this far - Thank you for reading! xx
Ashington, The Largest Pit Village in the World. For many years this was the proud boast of this North East community. This is the place where you could shout down a mine, and a world-class footballer would emerge. Who has not heard of Jack and Bobbie Charlton? Ask any Newcastle United supporter who was the best player they ever had, and the vast majority of the older supporters will answer with one voice. Jackie Milburn from Ashington. He led the toon on their unstoppable crusade in the early 1950s and his statue now takes pride of place outside the Newcastle United ground at St. James Park and in the centre of Ashington shopping centre. Within a radius of 5 miles from the centre of Ashington, there used to be 30 collieries or pits. Ashington was the largest, employing nearly 4,000 men in the years following the Second World War. As the seams became unworkable, this number was reduced, and with the advance of modern opencast procedures, we are today left with only one pit at Ellington. This is hanging on by its fingertips and will probably follow the rest into glorious oblivion in the near future. What then of the proud tradition of the mining community? Where will it be possible to see the conditions under which the men, boys and even women toiled in the good old bad old days. As a rule, the remains of the collieries and pits are nowhere to be found as the land was immediately reclaimed for other purposes, indeed in the latter years it was almost with indecent haste that the shafts were filled and the headgear removed for scrap. It was as if the authorities were ashamed of what they had asked men to do and wanted all evidence removed from the face of the earth. There was however one exception. In 1984 a small colliery near Ashington called Woodhorn, brought its last load of miners to the surface and the place was prepared for demolition. The silent headgear was a reminder of past glories, or possibly a gravestone to the tho
usands of men women and children that lost their lives needlessly in the mines of yesteryear. The winding engines and shafts remained in use until 1985, as they were required to pump water from Ashington Colliery, until it too closed on 1st October 1986. A few of Woodhorn Colliery's buildings were demolished i.e. the pithead baths and lamp cabin, but it was decided to preserve the remaining buildings as a mining museum. Woodhorn Colliery Museum opened in 1989 and is currently attracting 40,000-50,000 visitors per year. This is not a Museum with the pulling power of say Beamish, but is nonetheless an excellent setting for this growing enterprise. As it continues to expand, it is bringing pleasure and memories to many people. When you first enter the museum, every effort is made to give the impression of entering the workings of the mine, as it was prior to closure. There are plenty of tools and machinery along with the every day sounds of a working colliery. Listen carefully and you will hear the deputy speaking on the internal phone to the surface. The voice is that of my wife?s uncle Jack, so this is my claim to fame. On display at the museum is a collection of paintings by the Pitmen Painters. They were a group of Northumberland miners, who in the 1930.s founded a local art group. In those days there was no spare money for oil paints and canvas and if the choice was between bread on the table or some watercolours, then food took priority. Not to be beaten, they used materials that were at hand such as plywood instead of canvas, and household paint, which was plentiful and cheap when bought and shared round the group. Their work is displayed at the Museum, and it is really quite excellent. It is not described as ?oil on canvas but Walpamur on hardboard. The majority of these unique paintings depicts everyday life in the community and as such is invaluable as a historical record. Clippie and
proggie mats were only to be found in the North East of England as far as I am aware, and were a method of recycling woollens by cutting them into strips and making mats from them. The art has all but disappeared but at the museum is a group who meet and make these mats every Thursday and Sunday. You are more than welcome to watch them at work and will even be invited to try your hand at this fast disappearing craft. Apart from the exhibits relating to mining in the area, Woodhorn Museum regularly hosts exhibitions from other museums. Recently, to co-incide with the Laing gallery, the museum used computers to give an interactive view of the Lindisfarne Gospels, which were on display at Newcastle. You can take a trip on Black Diamond, a genuine colliery loco, which runs on narrow gauge on a circular track. The round trip takes about 20 minutes at a leisurely 5 mph through the Queen Elizabeth Country Park giving excellent views of the wildlife on the lake. On a clear day, it is possible to see the Simonside and Cheviot Hills. There is an excellent 70-seater cafeteria, (try the all day breakfast) and a comprehensive gift shop. As the museum is partly funded by the local council, the Coal Board and the E.C. possibly the best news is that a visit to the Museum is absolutely free, although donations are gratefully accepted. It is open all year round. Times of opening are: Wednesday to Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays: 10.00 am - 5.00 pm (close 4.00 pm September - April) Woodhorn Colliery museum is well signposted from Ashington, and if you cant find Ashington then ask the first person you meet North of the Tyne. Tel: (01670) 856 968