Underground at Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum

A cup of steaming coffee brought our body temperatures back to something approaching normal after our Runswick Bay bracing walk and we drove the short distance to the Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum. A popular spot on this miserable July day, tours had been booked up all day long. There were a couple of spaces left for the very last one of the day at 3.25, we snapped them up.


Husband had spotted this place the previous day, his suggestion to visit was not met with wild excitement from me. However driving rain, howling winds and wintery temperatures helped me come round. I have to admit that I was wrong by the way. This place is great, the tour was completely fascinating, I loved it and am so glad we didn’t miss out on it.

The museum is in the tiny village of Skinningrove, right on the coast and it is based inside the original mine buildings. The entrance fee was very reasonable, we got a guided tour of the site including their museum and a great demonstration of ironstone mining in Victorian times.

We arrived just in time for the last tour, joined about a dozen other people, put on safety helmets and watched a video about the mine and its history.

A former miner now turned tour guide met us and took us into the little museum. He was great, full of knowledge and anecdotes as he explained all about ironstone and what the life of a miner was like here down the years. He pointed out old photos on the wall and remarked how every miner on every picture had a moustache – apparently it worked as a filter for the air they inhaled. We saw miners’ helmets and lamps and loads of other interesting things which may have been a bit dry had we just been left to wander, but with our guide’s stories and passion for his subject it was all brought to life.

A second guide and also a former miner then gave everyone a tally and led us into the now disused North Drift where ironstone was extracted for over 90 years. We heard all about the mining process, saw equipment used and once more heard a series of interesting stories and tales.

The next part was not so much fun for me. We went into a dark room (pitch black) where you could literally see nothing. A recording played of a miner talking about his first impressions working in  this black darkness. I felt more than a tad claustrophobic and uncomfortable, had to focus on the story extra hard to stop myself freaking out and was more than a bit relieved when it was done.

The darkness served another purpose – it helped adjust our eyes for the next part of the tour – the Experience which was about mining in Victorian times. We saw how this was done and the whole ambiance of the mine was recreated with candlelight. The tour ended with a bang – literally. Using special effects and an eager little girl on the tour, the guide got her to “light” a fuse and create a mini blast, just like the miners used to do. It was impressive.

We saw an ambulance which was used to take miners who had been killed or injured away from the mine. It travelled through the village and depending on whether the feet faced in or outwards was a sign to onlookers whether the miner was killed or injured. The guide showed us a photo of his father, also a miner who started work here when he was 14 years old. A poignant way to end the 1.5 hour tour.

We couldn’t leave without taking a quick look at Skinningrove, once a thriving mining town, now quiet again.

36 thoughts on “Underground at Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum

  1. What an interesting museum. I like visiting places where you need to wear a hard hat like caves and mines – it signals adventure ahead. A good place to visit in heavy rain. So good to that you were keeping yourself busy whilst your son was away, that’s what I always tried to do but I expect he was having a great time with his school friends.

    • It was fascinating and especially so with the former miners telling their stories. I loved that we saw the mine as it was in fairly recent times but also got to experience what it was like in Victorian times too. We missed our son a lot, I don’t think he missed us one bit!! He loved being away with his friends and trying loads of new things and is already talking about going back next year!

    • Listening to some of the stories from many years ago and reading about their working conditions really makes you realise what a difficult job it was. We also heard that when a miner died, his family had to leave their home in the village (owned by the mine) the next week, often with nowhere else to go. Hard times indeed.

  2. Sounds like a good tour. We went to the Big Pit mining museum in Blaenavon a couple of years back and I think it really adds authenticity when your guide actually used to work in the mine.

    • It definitely does and adds to the experience we’ve been to an old coal mine as well and had the tour done by a former miner which was fantastic. My in laws have been to the museum you mentioned and raved about it.

  3. I’m glad you found it exceeded your expectations. I had a similar experience last year in West Virginia. I expected to be bored on a mine tour but instead it became one of my highlights from the entire vacation. I think that personal touch of having former miners operating as the guides makes such a difference to how engaging the mine and mining community is as a subject.

    • We’ve been to some different mines – coal, bluestone and various others but never to an ironstone mine before, it exceeded my expectations for sure and the social history side of it all here was fascinating.

  4. Great post! I particularly liked your description of the dark room and your need to focus on not freaking out. I feel the same way in those situations and I try to be braver for the sake of my children.

    My father is so lucky that my grandfather’s coal mine in Derbyshire was closed down, otherwise he would have had to crawl into a dark, dirty pit (that’s how they ended up moving to Australia). The field site for my PhD project was an underground coal mine and I never did get over the knee wobbling that you mentioned. There’s something deeply unnerving about standing under 800m of rock.

  5. Really enjoyed this. I went down a now disused mine quite a while ago & I understand the feeling you must’ve had when you’re down there & you’re realising how utterly difficult it must’ve been for the men then to be told that children were used. I was also struck by the poor ponies who also lived & worked down there. You brought it all back to me. Great post!

  6. Joy, I know this was fascinating. I felt my heart beat faster as you were talking about the room that was totally dark! I am terribly claustrophobic and I would have been terrified! I cannot imagine the life of a miner or their family!

    • Some of stories and tales of miners’ lives down the ages were so sad Pam, a difficult way to earn a paltry living. That dark room too, bad enough for me to spend 5 minutes or so in there, I can’t imagine being way underground for hours on end in the dark – makes me hyperventilate just thinking about it.

  7. What a fascinating piece of social history Joy! I would have freaked out in that darkened room too – makes you realise how grim their lives must have been. Monsieur’s father came from a long line of miners (though he wasn’t one of them). He took us back to the south welsh valleys before he died (always wonder if he knew somehow as it was so important for him to show our girls where he had come from). He said you either got really religious or blind drunk to cope with it all – never thought of it like that before. They were all so poor too – really hard and difficult lives they must have had. Great that places like this museum are keeping the history alive 🙂

    • I think that makes sense Rosemary, religion or in a stupor would probably be the only way you could cope with a life like that! So great too that your girls got to see where their grandfather came from and hear his story, I think that’s such an important thing to do. I loved this trip down the mine, especially with the former miners as guides, it made all the difference to have that personal touch.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s