Gulbenkian Prize Readers' Poll - Big Pit: National Mining Museum Of Wales

By Caroline Lewis | 20 January 2005
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Shows a photo of a colliery winding gear.

Wales, birthplace of the modern industrial world. Big Pit pays homage to those who participated in the coal industry. Courtesy Big Pit, NMGW.

**Voting for the readers' poll has now closed**

Between now and March, judges will be visiting the museums shortlisted for the UK’s largest arts prize, the third Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year.

Here at the 24 Hour Museum, we want to know who you think should win the prize. Click here to see the full shortlist and vote for the museum you think should receive the £100,000, or read on to find out how Big Pit: National Mining Museum Of Wales earned a place on the shortlist.

Big Pit at Blaenafon in Wales is one of the six out of 10 shortlisted museums dedicated to Britain’s vanishing heavy industry. The museum has been open for more than 20 years, but underwent a £7.1 million redevelopment and re-opened to the public in February 2004.

shows a photograph of a man in orange overalls handling a museum artefact which appears to be a lamp

Conservators at Big Pit are on hand for visitors. Courtesy Big Pit, NMGW.

Visitors to Big Pit take a journey 300 feet down into the ground, guided by former miners, to experience the dark world of a deep coal mine – one of only three preserved in Europe.

The redevelopment, funded largely by the Heritage Lottery Fund, concentrated on bringing life to the buildings above ground at the colliery: the Pithead Baths, the Winding Engine House, Fan House, Blacksmith’s Forge and Stables.

“Everything on the surface was very ad hoc,” says Big Pit Press Officer Kathryn Stowers, “there wasn’t much for people to do. The major part of the redevelopment was to make Big Pit a national museum, worthy of its status as one of Wales’ National Museums.”

shows a dramatic colour shot of a pit shaft showing the cables and lift cage descending down the shaft

The sights, sounds and smells of the colliery have been brought to life by a recent redevelopment. Courtesy Big Pit, NMGW.

She explains that the colliery buildings, all Grade II or II* listed, have now been taken back to how they were when the pit was working, with lots of sounds and even smells, bringing back the past life of the place. The buildings are now home to multimedia exhibits that tell the story of mining through the ages and of the people who worked in the industry.

One of the most important restorations has been the Pithead Baths, where miners’ shifts began and ended. “Architects rave about this building,” says Kathryn. “It’s a 1939 modernist building which we’ve tried to restore. Now it tells the story of the people who made this industry.”

And in the depths of the mine, things have come to life as well, she says: “It’s all flashes, bangs, crashes – the kids love it.”

“We’ve built a new conservation store for the thousands of pieces in our collection and visitors can watch our conservators at work – they restore one piece of machinery a week.” One of the conservators is an ex-miner, as are all the guides.

shows a museum mannequin dressed in miners wear of the early to mid twentieth century (flat cap and jacket).

Winning the Gulbenkian would be a tribute to those involved in coal mining in Wales. Courtesy Big Pit, NMGW.

So why should Big Pit win the Gulbenkian Prize?

“The major thing about the Gulbenkian is innovation,” says Kathryn, “and Big Pit is not a traditional museum. We are very hands-on and very real – the techniques we use to teach people are quite different. Our uniqueness is being celebrated in the shortlist."

“We commemorate all the men, women and children who have worked and suffered in the industry. We are aware of the disasters and pain, and it would be a tribute to everyone, celebrating what the industry was about, the industrialisation of South Wales and Wales as a whole – it would be a tribute to all this.”

Although the Gulbenkian Prize would come in useful for ongoing developments, Kathryn asserts that “it’s not about the money, it’s about the accolade of the Gulbenkian Prize and bringing that prize to Wales.”

The 24 Hour Museum is conducting a poll to find out who our readers want to win the Gulbenkian Prize 2005.

To vote for Big Pit: National Mining Museum of Wales, Blaenafon, click here.

Between now and March, we will have features on each of the shortlisted museums, so if you haven’t decided who to vote for yet, make sure to read all about it on 24 Hour Museum.

To find out more about the Gulbenkian Prize, click on this link to visit the website.

**Voting for the readers' poll has now closed**

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