Beamish Open Air Museum

1128 Reviews

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Review type

Things to do


Date of travel

August, 2018

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Travelled with

On your own

Reasons for trip

These buildings were once common sights around the North East.

While it is possible to wander round the building by yourself, it is well worth listening to the talk given by an ex winding man. These are held throughout the day. They do get busy, so it is worth arriving early to get a place at the front!

The tall stone built winding house came from Beamish Chophill Quarry, and contains the stationary steam engine. It was in use from 1855 until the colliery closed in 1962.

At the top of the steps is the jack engine which was used to raise and lower heavy equipment while the mine was being developed. Later it was used as a relief engine.

Next to it is the main winding room. The winding engine was used to raise and lower the cages in the adjacent Heapstead building. These were controlled by two large winding wheels which work in opposite directions to raise and lower the cages in the two shafts. The rope was made originally from wrought iron with a hemp core. This was soaked in oil which lubricated the rope allowing it to bend round the winding drums. This had a breaking weight of 18 tons. later, when steel was used instead of wrought iron. this increased the breaking weight to 36 tons.

The stationary steam engine drives a single vertical cylinder which was typical of mines in the Durham coal field.

This was carefully controlled by levers and it was important the cylinder stopped in the centre of the stroke. At the top or bottom, it would be very difficult to restart. It was carefully designed that when the cages stopped at each landing on the way down the pit shaft, the cylinder stopped in mid stroke.

There were two dials for communication between the winding man, the banks man at the top of the shaft and the on setter at the bottom. Coded messages were relayed by a series of bell codes.

The winding man could only move the cages when he had received signals from both men. Speed could be controlled and cages stopped to within quarter of an inch.

The winding man had a very important and responsible job and the position was traditionally handed down from father to son.

The winding man had to work alone. Very few people were allowed in the building and even the colliery manager had to knock and wait until given permission to enter. He was not allowed to leave the winding gear until his colleague arrived for the next shift, hence the toilet facilities provided in their chair.

The winding man was a very well paid job and they also were given a better house than the hewers at the coal face. The job was passed down in families with the father teaching the son. Many winding men were TT and or very moderate drinkers and many families were staunch Methodists.

The Heapstead building is the rust painted wooden next to the stone winding house. This contains the mine shaft weigh bridge and tipplers. It is typical of the small coal mines found in west Durham, and came from Ravensworth Park Mine near Gateshead. It contains two pit shafts. Ten minutes were allowed for shift change, marked by a blower sounded from the winding house. Four men were lowered at a time. By the shaft was a token board which let the colliery authorities know who was underground. Each miner had two tokens; a zinc one which was left on the board and a brass one which they always took down the mine with them.

Loaded coal tubs were raised to the surface and pulled by hand into the Heapstead building. An empty tub was pushed onto the platform and lowered down the shaft. The floor was made of cast iron so tubs could be rolled across it without the need for rails.

Hewers were paid by the number of tubs they filled. Each tub had to contain a minimum weight of 8cwt. They were pushed onto the weigh bridge and if they were underweight, the hewer would be fined.

If the weigh man was suspicious a tub contained too much stone, the contents were tipped out, the stone collected and weighed on a separate set of scales. If there was more than 20lb of stone in a tub, not only would the not receive payment for that tub, he would be fined.

If the weigh man was happy, the tub would be pushed to the top of the tippler and emptied onto the jigging screens below.

These removed the coal dust, leaving the larger lumps of coal. Workers picked out stone, wood or other rubbish. This was done by boys too young to go underground, disabled or elderly miners and women.

The large lumps of coal were tipped off the end into chaldrons waiting below. The waste was collected and taken along a raised tramway for tipping.

This is one of a series of detailed “reviews”: reviews I have written about Beamish.

A full account of my visits with all the pictures can be read “here.”: here.


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