The Mining Gallery tells a little of our industrial story. You will find rare and unique objects that were found in abandoned mines, learn of the dangers of mining and the legacies that remain.
About 12,000 years ago the last great ice sheet melted away from the Black Country landscape. People moved from Europe and settled in the area. They dug into the ground over many centuries. In digging into the rock layers they uncovered evidence of a great history.
Mining became the life blood of what was to become the 'Black Country'. Key minerals were extracted in vast quantities to feed the intense industrial region that emerged here.
Geological columns show major mineral seams that were worked. There are 12 coal seams, 11 ironstone seams, 4 limestone pure seams and 14 fireclay seams, stacked on top of the other - in less than 150m of strata. Virtually everywhere you looked, there was a valuable mineral right beneath your feet that was easy to get at.
This massive concentration of mineral seams and its location made this area one of the earliest coal and ironstone mining areas. Our earliest record (held at Dudley Archives) indicate that ironstone was being mined underground in the Woodsetton area in Roman times, that coal was being mined underground in the Halesowen area by 1271 and clay has been worked here since the days of the earliest peoples.
Sir Roderick Murchinson
Discoveries in the darkness
The men who mined in the darkness also uncovered some of the world's most important and beautiful fossils in the rock layers; making Dudley internationally famous in scientific and geologic circles. This was noticed by 'learned men' like Sir Roderick Murchinson. In 1839, he published his book, 'The Silurian System'. This book defined a new geological time period - The Silurian Period'.
65% of all the fossils he used to define and illustrate this period were found within one mile of the Museum.
The 'King of Siluria'
In 1849, 10 years after Murchinson had defined the Silurian period, he returned to Dudley. This time he was followed, by a crowd of 15,000, into Dark Cavern to hear him speak about the amazing geology of the area. When he was finished he was carried out of the cavern on the shoulders of the miners and hailed as 'King of Siluria'.
Mining in the Black Country
Mining began as a simple process of digging a hole where the mineral seams came to the surface. As these holes or quarries got deeper the mineral seams had to be chased deeper into the ground. This was done by sinking a shaft and working around the bottom in the mineral until it became unsafe and then moving on and sinking anther one (these were known as 'bell pits' and were very poor at getting all the minerals out).
As time went by mining was done by digging out large blocks of mineral from a seam and leaving pillars of mineral in place to hold up the roof (this was known as 'Pillar-and-Stall' or 'Pillar-and-Room' working and also left a lot of mineral in place)
Finally, a system of mining began which took all the mineral out between two roadways driven into the seam. This was called ‘Longwall mining’ and allowed the roof to collapse behind a large working face as it moved forward in the mine.
Last Days of the Black Country Coalfield
The minerals that Mother Nature placed in the ground of the Black Country could not last forever. Eventually they were worked out and the mines closed. The last underground coal mine in the area was Baggeridge Colliery which closed in March 1968 and with it closed the industry which had created all the other industries of the Black Country.
Miners throughout the ages have faced mines closing and were forced to move on, or to stay and learn new trades to survive. Many Black Country miners went to other mining areas of the world to mine gold and metals in Canada and South Africa, or other coalfields in Australia and America.
Their legacy of mining can still be found all over the Black Country and is the reason for the creation of The Black Country Global Geopark.