Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum
The Mining Museum, the first underground mining museum in Great Britain, opened in 1979 and utilised a 240 yard deep section of the Winstanley and Institute shafts (far higher than the current workings at that time) and was constructed in a purpose designed area in the Holly Lane Seam. At the same time an “underground museum” (also known as the Drift Gallery) was created in the reinforced concrete Fan Drift. As mentioned previously, the deep underground section closed in 1986 following the closure of Wolstanton Colliery and a new “Underground Experience” was constructed in the former Railway Cutting, accessed via the Platt Shaft and exited via the existing “underground museum” in the Fan Drift.
The Museum subsequently went into Liquidation on 9th August 1993 and closed the same day. The reason that the site has survived is that just prior to closure the last Museum Director contacted English Heritage who scheduled the site as an Ancient Monument. It was and still is considered the most complete coal mine site in Great Britain (possibly even Western Europe) containing a range of 34 buildings dating from 1883 to the 1960s, most of which are scheduled or listed.
From a gem of an idea it grew and grew! The idea of a museum at Chatterley Whitfield originated from a passing remark made by the NCB Western Area’s Deputy Director of Administration, an Accountant by profession. Initially it was viewed with scepticism but gradually the idea took hold. A presentation was made to the Area Director who approved the setting up of a Working Party to come up with substantive proposals. He also acquainted the NCB’s National Headquarters in London of the proposal. The Working Party comprised senior NCB Mining, Mechanical, Ventilation and Methane Drainage Engineers as well as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Mines & Quarries and was chaired by the Deputy Director (Administration). Eventually resulting in a fully costed comprehensive scheme which met the requirements of all concerned based on utilising the Winstanley and Institute shafts. After being approved by the Western Area Executive Committee the scheme was submitted to National Headquarters. Final approval was eventually given but by this time Chatterley Whitfield Colliery had just closed. As part of the costs of the closure the Board (NCB) agreed to fund the entire cost of setting up the Museum. It was agreed that a Charitable Trust be set up to run the Museum and discussions were held with Stoke-on-Trent City Council who agreed to become actively involved with the proviso that they would not contribute any funds to the project. The Trust was chaired by the Leader of Stoke City Council and the Town Clerk was appointed Secretary with the incumbent Lord Mayors being Honorary Members during their time of office. Other members included Local Councillors, senior NCB officers, H.M. Inspectorate of Mines & Quarries and representatives of all the Mining Industry Unions. The City Council agreed to carry out all the administrative duties associated with the Museum relating to Staff Members but not Volunteers.
The first Director was a retired Colliery Manager but unfortunately he died shortly afterwards and succeeding Directors were recruited generally from the Museum Sector. As the Museum was officially classed as a coal mine a fully qualified Mine Manager was still required in order to comply with The Mines & Quarries Act. Various sections of the NCB such as the Area Laboratory, Geological Services, Shaft Team and Mine Car Repair operations remained on site and the Board agreed to pay 60% of the total running costs. This, however, was to have serious implications much later on. Interviews were subsequently set in motion for the recruitment of Administrative and Canteen Staff following which an appeal was made for volunteers to act as guides as well as carrying out statutory duties. The response was tremendous from retired miners, mechanics and electricians, officials such as Deputies and fully qualified mechanical and electrical engineers, who were paid £5.50 per shift. Work commenced to create the underground part of the Museum in the Holly Lane Seam occupying an area of 40 x 20 yards with two “see through” coal faces representing the 18th and 19th Centuries whilst visitors passed through a fully equipped 20th Century Coal Face. Various items of equipment were placed at strategic points which included a huge electric haulage engine previously used to haul both tubs and mine cars up the Hardmine Dip (Inclined roadway) some 2,400 yards long. I made frequent visits during construction on behalf of the Deputy Director (Administration), having finally conquered my fear of going underground, often accompanying officials from other organisations.
In order to save costs a ventilation fan was installed at the top of the Winstanley headgear which blew air down the shaft. This meant that the fan was switched on between 7.30am and 8.30 am each morning to enable both shafts and underground inspections to be carried out. It also meant that the fan could be switched off between 4pm and 4.30pm after the last party of visitors had ascended the shaft. During its operating period I can only ever remember the Winstanley Shaft being used for visitors. The Institute Shaft was required as a second means of egress (escape) should it have been required.
The Trust also took over responsibility for the Lamphouse, Canteen & associated offices, top floor of the Pithead Baths (for storage purposes), the Hesketh Power House which contained Bells & Morcom Electric Compressors from both Norton Colliery and the Michelin Tyre Company. In addition, following the closure of Cronton Colliery in Lancashire, a Walkers Reciprocating Steam Compressor with a 25ft diameter flywheel was installed to full working order, operated by an electric motor (still in situ), by two volunteer mechanics. At the southern end of the complex is the Winding Engine House which contains the original 1914 3500 HP Worsley Mesnes Steam Winding Engine which was kept in pristine condition (though not in working order). Also the Platt Winding Engine House containing the fully restored ancient Steam Winding Engine ex Silverdale Colliery, operated by compressed air (see “Bits and Pieces”, Silverdale Colliery) and in later years the former colliery offices, Building 30, ex-Colliery Stores and the newly constructed Middle Pit Engine House.
The “underground museum” in the Fan Drift was co- ordinated by the Manpower Services Commission who took on redundant and unemployed persons and taught them new skills such as painting & decorating and bricklaying etc. In some cases people were sent to the Museum at no cost, each person, in addition to their unemployment pay also, I believe, had his/her bus fare paid and an additional £10.00 per week. In later years this function was taken over by the Laing Employment Training Organisation who relinquished the site just before closure.
The Museum was an immediate success with visitors coming from far and wide reaching 70,000 - 80,000 per year. Many were from schools from many parts of the country and were shown around by volunteers who had spent a lifetime in the Industry and were now able to pass on their knowledge and skills to future generations. In addition the Museum also visited schools taking with them, amongst other items, a pit pony and trailer which was very popular. The Museum was also used by Television & Film companies and it had an excellent Education Department which showed visitors around the surface either before or after going down the mine and commissioned plays such as the 1842 Commission into Women & Children in the Mines and the 1881 Explosion at Chatterley Whitfield in which both teachers and pupils took part. Initially it was intended to collect material specifically relating to North Staffordshire but the policy soon changed and items were taken from any coalfield. A large amount of books, documents, photographs, the NCB Film Archive and mine plans were included in the collection and were catalogued and archived creating a resource centre for study purposes. In later years many plans were donated by the NCB after the information on them had been incorporated in the official Abandoned Mine Plans. Pit ponies and Shire horses came to the Museum and were very popular at events such as the Annual Steam, Bus & Car Festivals where visitors were given rides around the complex. The Museum also had a large collection of narrow and standard gauge rolling stock, steam and diesel locomotives, not only giving rides in Brake Vans but also hauling coal wagons painted in the liveries of various local collieries. This was undertaken by the very active Chatterley Whitfield Locomotive Society who also held very successful open days.
All in all the Museum was a very successful enterprise which fundamentally changed following the closure of Wolstanton Colliery in 1986, particularly as far as the underground section of the Museum was concerned. It had little effect, however, on the surface operations which continued as normal. As part of the closure of Wolstanton the NCB entirely funded the “New Underground Experience” which was constructed in the former colliery railway sidings alongside the Platt Shaft and incorporated the former Fan Drift “underground museum”. Visitors at the start of the tour entered the Platt Shaft cage and descended some 30ft, the walls were revolving giving the perception of continuing to descend in the shaft simulating a much greater descent, then exited the cage into the “New Pit”. Unfortunately, the way out to the exit up 29 steps in the Fan Drift somewhat spoiled this perception. This new experience was officially opened by HRH The Princess Royal in October 1987 who named the small Drift the Princess Royal Drift in the Holly Lane Seam. Although it radically altered the Museum it nevertheless remained quite successful, but with reduced numbers of visitors.
In 1989 the NCB announced the closure of its National Mining museum at Lound Hall adjacent to Bevercotes Colliery in Nottinghamshire. The Museum successfully bid for it to be transferred to Chatterley Whitfield on a permanent basis. It was a massive collection of objects, books, plans & photographs and as Curator of the Museum I spent many months either physically moving items or arranging to transport the larger items. Building 30 was converted to house many of the artefacts along with those from the Chatterley Whitfield Collection whilst many smaller items went into storage on the top floor of the pithead baths. A horse operated gin (winch) was erected in full working order close to the Institute Shaft and two steam locomotives were housed (not in working order) in the Loco Shed. Around this time the NCB withdrew from all the activities on site which meant that the Museum was now responsible for 100% of the site costs.
Visitor numbers began to decline in the early 1990s and concern began to be expressed about the viability of the Museum. It all came to a head on the 9th August 1993 when it was placed into Liquidation with debts of £83,000, despite receiving grants from various organisations, and it closed the same day. Some members of staff had to stay on to let proposed visitors (and much more importantly the volunteers who had given their time over some 15 years) to know of the closure. The Chairman at the time, who was no longer the Leader of the Council, stood by both staff and volunteers to the very end even when Trustees were resigning before closure. He also made sure that Stoke City Council’s Administrative Department interviewed every member of staff to acquaint them of their redundancy payments and other benefits. The Liquidators subsequently held an auction of many artefacts on site which caused, I believe, considerable disquiet amongst some of those who had donated items to the Museum. The National Collection, along with quite a number of Chatterley Whitfield items were transferred to the National Coal Mining Museum at Caphouse Colliery in Yorkshire. As the last Curator at the Museum the Liquidators hardly ever consulted me and when people rang me and asked me what had happened to their donated items, I could only refer them back to the Liquidator. It was a sudden end to a brilliant concept and after the Liquidators had added their costs the Museum closed,I believe, with debts approaching £1⁄4 million and as part of a written agreement the site then reverted back to the ownership of the City Council. Following closure the Liquidators decided to preserve the pristine Hesketh Steam Winding Engine by coating it with oil. Unfortunately vegetable oil was used with the result that rusting was accelerated.
After closure a consortium of local businessmen and mining enthusiasts approached the City Council with a Business Plan to re-open the Museum as a going concern, but it came to nothing. I seem to recall that around this time the City Council purchased the loss making Gladstone Pottery Museum which still maintains today.
The fact that the Chatterley Whitfield Colliery site was scheduled as an Ancient Monument has resulted in its survival but total estimated repair costs in 2004 were estimated at £54 million. (see English Heritage Site Plan). The buildings are still standing but obviously in worse condition than when the Museum closed and what about the “Underground Museum” in the Fan Drift. It is still there with most of the original artefacts in situ?
Chatterley Whitfield Regeneration Project
Chatterley Whitfield Colliery is the largest historic coal mine site in England. It is situated on the north-eastern outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent and comprises a cluster of 34 buildings surrounded by the open land of its waste tips and coal stocking areas. The landscape is now mostly green but still recognisable for its industrial past. This was the first pit in England to produce a million tons of saleable coal in a year, a feat it accomplished in 1937 when it employed nearly 4,000 people. The mine itself is now flooded and three of the four shafts are filled. The surface buildings and structures include four sets of headgears that is everyone’s mental picture of a coal mine together with the impressive winding machinery. Other buildings portraying the large scale and advanced technology of the operation include two power houses, the ruins of the boiler house with its ten boilers, the lamphouse, ventilation fans, extensive workshops, stores, laboratories and offices. The growing concern for workers’ welfare is portrayed here by the 1930s Art Deco pithead baths, canteen and health centre.
The mine closed in 1976, then re-opened as a major museum operated by a Trust. However, this failed financially in 1993, most of the museum collection was dispersed and the site reverted to the ownership of Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
By 1999 the future of the site was still in doubt so the Chatterley Whitfield Partnership was formed by Stoke City Council, Joan Walley MP, English Heritage and Advantage West Midlands.
The primary aims of the Partnership were:-
To create a sustainable basis for the long term future of the site.
To achieve economic and social regeneration to benefit the local community through an appropriate mix of activities.
To conserve, interpret and develop the potential of the site to the highest international standards as a beacon of best practice in heritage led regeneration
To involve the local and specialist communities in the development and outcome of the project
The first phase of the Project was to gather the information necessary for decisions on the future, then produce and agree a master plan. This would include a business plan and identify uses, funding and arrangements for executing the plan. Meanwhile a programme of emergency repairs and other works was in progress to slow decay and safeguard the site. The Partnership secured a grant of £463,000 to develop the Master Plan from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The site itself has an area of 7.36 hectares and lies within the City’s Green Belt. Most of the buildings are adaptable and suitable for a variety of new uses – there is at least 15,000m2 of floor space of buildings. The whole site area and some of the less adaptable buildings are scheduled as an Ancient Monument whilst others are Listed Historic Buildings.
Although not mentioned above, the Partnership included the Friends of Chatterley Whitfield as a Substantive Member. Jim Worgan was the Friend’s representative on the Partnership and attended every meeting, the last one of which took place in June 2004. No minutes were ever produced and as far as Jim can remember we were never notified as to why the Partnership was eventually dissolved. As part of the Partnership the City Council set up the Chatterley Whitfield Community Group which met on the first Monday of every month alternating between Ball Green and Fegg Hayes Workingmens’ Clubs. Its prime aim was to keep local residents fully informed of proposals for the site with particular reference to the two major schemes i.e. the Enterprise Centre and Heritage Country Park. The meetings ceased, as far as I can remember, around 2010-2012 (see Bits & Pieces – Chatterley Whitfield). As part of the initiative Members of the Friends of Chatterley Whitfield visited various locations, both in Great Britain and Europe such as Chatham Dockyard and a complex in Lanark in Scotland.