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.