Big Pit Mining Museum Shows Off New Face After £7m Makeover

By Doug Devaney | 23 April 2004
Photo of Big Pit museum from the outside. A rust-red pit tower juts up against a clear sky. Further forward, a whitewashed building.

Photo: following a £7.2 million facelift, Big Pit is now hoping to attract over 120,000 visitors each year. © National Museums and Galleries of Wales.

Student journalists have taken over the site... read on to see what they're getting up to.

Past and present combined when members of the Gratton family joined Welsh culture minister Alan Pugh in the relaunching of Wales’ National Mining Museum.

The museum, also known as Big Pit, recently received £7.2 million in grant money to extend its facilities.

This provided for an expanded mining gallery, with a multi-media display on the modern mining industry, as well as the refurbished Pithead Baths, a conservation workshop and a study area for people to undertake research into the Welsh coal industry.

"The coal mining industry is a seminal point. It’s affected Wales more than anything else," explains Peter Walker, keeper of Big Pit. "It’s important to show people where we all come from."

It was in this spirit of heritage that Graham Gratton, who joined the mine in 1955, was accompanied at the launch by his daughter Heather, a front of house member of the museum staff since last year.

Photo of three mannequins in seperate glass cases. The nearest one is a grime-covered colliery worker. He stands by old fashioned equipment, including a hand-held lamp. The two other mannequins are more modern miners.

Photo: a view through three of the cases showing the evolution of the miner. © National Museums and Galleries of Wales.

To add to the family affair, Heather’s grandfather Frank Gratton is among those celebrated among the Pithead Bath’s Locker Stories: tales of ordinary men with extraordinary lives, according to Walker.

"We tell the stories of such men as Lord Hayward. The Hayward Gallery in London was named after him. He was the Ken Livingstone of his day and started in the mines of South Wales."

Despite having taken two years, the refurbishment didn't stop an annual 116,000 visitors passing through the museum gates. Peter Walker puts this continued popularity down to the fact that Big Pit is one of only two coal-mining museums in the country where it is possible to go underground.

The realistic nature of the exhibits is clearly central to Big Pit’s appeal. "There’s a lot of controversy in the history of mining," points out Walker, who has been with Big Pit for the last twelve years. "It’s controversy that we’ve been involved in and we don’t hide it from our visitors. We tell of the extremes."

Among the most popular new exhibits is a multi-media display with a virtual miner greeting visitors from a series of screens, as well as a series of tableaux portraying the development of mining from the bare-handed collier to today’s technician with a million pounds’ worth of equipment at his disposal.

While the refurbishment has yet to be completed – the study facilities are due to be available in about four months’ time - it’s clear that the displays at Big Pit will go a long way towards fulfilling the Heritage Lottery Fund’s aim of bringing about 'preservation, regeneration and pride in community history'.

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