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Bringing mining history to life

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Haig Collery Museum, Whitehaven, Cumbria

A major new-build and refurbishment project at to upgrade the Haig Colliery Mining Museum at Kells in Whitehaven, Cumbria is just being completed.

The scheme has comprised the construction of a new visitor centre which opened last July, plus the wide-ranging internal and external refurbishment of existing facilities, with all the works being carried out by main contractors Thomas Armstrong.

Haig Colliery closed as a deep mine in 1986 and many of the original buildings were demolished. The museum is housed in the colliery’s former Whitehaven Brick pit engine house, which still has one example of the original headgear.

The new visitor centre was the first element of the project and was designed by Ian Grice at Hurd Rolland Partnerships in Manchester, who created a modern design which contrasts well with the museum’s former pit engine house.

The visitor centre is a timber frame building, clad externally with aluminium curtain walling and incorporates a host of new facilities including a café, shop, reception area, multi-function room for hire/exhibitions, museum offices, and external decking and play areas.

The museum’s former engine house hosts the new museum experience, developed jointly by the museum staff and volunteers and Richard Fowler Associates Museum Designers.

The exhibition features local stories of coal mining, images, memorabilia and local coal mining characters on the first floor, and further develops the theme of life associated with coal on the second floor.

Pamela Telford, manager of the museum, said:

“We wanted the actual exhibition to be the local stories of coal, mining, people and places. Our overall theme for the museum is Our Work, Our Lives, Our Community, so it has been very important to us in the planning that we look at what was happening here, whilst alluding to the national picture.”

Works within the former engine house building included re-pointing; the restoration of all the original windows; and the installation of a new mezzanine floor with stairs, plus a disabled lift and DDA ramps. A new entrance foyer has also been formed.

Engine Hall Number 4 has also been refurbished and now exhibits the large Bever Dorling Engine, together with interpretation about the Bever Family and factory.

Further works comprised the refurbishment of the large central hall of the building (the powerhouse), including the re-instatement of windows and the laying of a new floor, enabling the space to be used for larger exhibitions, events and functions.

In addition, the colliery’s iconic headgear has been refurbished to ensure its ongoing safety and preservation.

Pamela said:

“We have been very fortunate to raise the amount of money that we have and for this we are very grateful to our funders. We have had to prioritise the work that is carried out to ensure the best results for the museum and the building itself, with the hope of further works in years to come.

Haig Colliery Mining Museum Trustees Chairman Bob Metcalfe said:

“The Haig development will contribute to the development of modern visitor facilities in Whitehaven.

“Whilst the new facility sees the retention and enhancement of the coal mining buildings and collection, the new Haig aspires to be much more of a local community-focused centre able to provide jobs, volunteering opportunities and educational placements.

“Spanning two floors and using the existing museum collection, the new museum experience very much reflects the local stories, landscape, traditions and tragedies of the West Cumberland coalfields.”

The project has been funded by a grant of £1.4m from Heritage Lottery Fund, with the rest made up by Copeland Community Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation, Foyle Foundation, WREN, Charles Hayward Foundation, Britain’s Energy Coast, Guerney Trust, Cumbria County Council, and Paul Getty Junior Foundation.

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