Black Country Living Museum's popular mining experience finally reopens after four years

It has been the highlight of many a school trip for years and now the Black Country Living Museum’s popular mine has reopened once again.

Carole Davies is one of those helping to run the tours
Carole Davies is one of those helping to run the tours

It had been closed for four years due to works taking place around the museum in Tipton Road, Dudley, and then the coronavirus pandemic.

But today members of the public and school groups will once again be able to journey underground and see what life was like for miners in Victorian times.

A popular attraction highlighting life mining in Victorian times has officially reopened to the public after years closed.

The Into the Thick exhibition at the Black Country Living Museum (BCLM) is an immersive experience taking visitors deep underground into a recreated small 19th century Black Country coal pit, full of the sounds of a 19th century pit.

Slim checks on one of the mine workers

Members of the public will be able to experience the darkness a miner endured, explore a maze of roadways and working areas, and hear what ‘Elija Wedge’ has to say about the world of an 1850s Black Country coal miner.

They will learn how the mines were run and how timber props were used to support the roofs, as well as facing the harsh reality of a coal miner’s life in the mid-19th century, especially for ‘little Billy’ who started working down the mine at just 10 years old. Audio-visual techniques bring to life the sounds and feelings that would have accompanied a miner’s day, from the tapping of pickaxes to the whinnying of a pit pony and the rumble of a nearby collapse.

Adrian Rake ducks to take in the full tour

The exhibition had been closed for nearly four years due to work developing the Forging Ahead area and the Covid-19 pandemic, but is ready to welcome visitors again.

Before today’s official reopening to the public, a group of museum members and staff had the opportunity on Friday to be the first down the mine on a private guided tour yesterday. Among those getting ready to take the tour were husband and wife Geoff and Wendy Packer from Stourbridge, both having been members for a year and keen to see the exhibition for different reasons.

Slim and Darren look over some of the coal

Wendy said she had seen the mine years before, but was excited about reviving memories and helping her see more of the museum.

She said: “I’m really looking forward to going inside somewhere that has been shut up for so long, but is such an important exhibition which a lot of visitors always make a beeline towards.

“I have done it before, but so long ago in the dim and distant memory, so it’s hard to visualise, but I do remember there being a big bang at some point, so it’s been great to go and see something that helps make this museum special.”

Geoff and Wendy Packer were among the members taking in the tour

For Geoff, the experience was more tense one as he said he suffered slightly from claustrophobia, but was prepared to take the tour to see if he could cope with it and see what was down in the mine.

He said: “I’m hopeful of an interesting experience and I do want to see what is down there as I’ve heard about it being refurbished with new mannequins and sound effects.

“I know it’s not a real mine, more of an exhibition, but it’s supposed to give the feel of it and I think that’s the immersive experience it should give and complements this museum.”

Steve Grainger demonstrates a "Mad Mick", a way of checking for Methane

The tour was led by a member of staff who asked people to call him Slim and who was full of facts and figures about the mine, saying that under the 26 acres of the museum, there had been 41 mines.

He said: “It’s been fantastic to get people back down into the mine as it’s a big part of Black Country history and I like to share it with visitors as there’s lots of stories from the miners who worked on top and below the ground.

"It’s a special experience showing off the mine and the history of it in this area, with 41 mines in this area and so much coal being taken out that it was like Swiss cheese, so it’s great to get people down there and really experience what it was like in those days.”

The group of members and staff file down into the mine for the tour

BCLM chief operating officer Paul Crofts said: “A lot of work has gone into refurbishing the experience and I’m looking forward to seeing people either remembering the experience from when they were last here or getting to see it for the first time and getting the sheer scale of it.”

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