The coal mine in Nowa Ruda (literally ‘new ore’) operated from 1868 until closure in 1995. Producing high grade anthracite (highly efficient, although difficult to light), mining stopped when the cost to extract a tonne exceeded its market value. A key attraction is that although the production mine, with its main shaft of 550 metres, is no longer accessible due to flooding and lack of ventilation, another mine is. This is the training mine, built in the early 1960s to train new recruits. It contains a microcosm of a working mine in a small area just below surface level and it offered an authentic visit without relying on the ‘sham’ mines that many other museums now offer.
We started by donning helmets, the colour of which determined the role and experience of the wearer – green for trainee, brown for miner, white for supervisor etc. Yellow designated ‘honey man’, of which more anon. We entered a miners’ cage but didn’t descend and instead went through a number of twisting passages which were used to simulate mine rescue. Entering the training mine proper, we then embarked along a series of working exhibits which showed all aspects of coal extraction. The mine is equipped with a 43 cm railway, all in working order and we followed the tracks to see an example of an ‘overthrow’ coal loader operated, like much underground machinery, by pneumatic pressure. Next came a working conveyor belt which was used to transport miners as well as coal from the working face. We finally arrived at the coal face, complete with hydraulic jacks and coal ripper, both of which we saw in operation and provided a safe(r) environment but an authentic recreation of life underground.
Honey Honey Our next stop was an ambulance carriage, then a young girl on the same tour showed the power of the ventilation system by standing in front of an extractor inlet; her hair literally standing on end! Nearby was a small area where we could use pneumatic picks and drills ‘hands on’. There was also a pneumatic light, something I have seen before in France but never the UK. To reduce the risk of sparking and to use a power source already on hand, this uses a small turbine to power a dynamo, all integrated with the light itself; very neat and impressive. Finally in this section were a couple of miners’ toilets, the responsibility of the ‘honey man’. Never stand in the way of a miner in Poland wearing a yellow helmet!
Different sorts of wooden tunnel support were shown alongside each other – German, Swedish and Polish. The Polish design was arched and hence stronger but took more skill to assemble. The passage led to a recreated underground stable – of particular interest to me as my Grandfather was an underground horse keeper in the Barnsley coalfield. Our guide told us that the mine had 647 horses during its working life. A passage from the fascinating ‘training mine’ led to one of the working shafts – the water table was now around 15 metres below us but around 45 metres of shaft stretched above us. Adjacent to this shaft is the last load of coal to be mined along with a memorial to the many miners who died whilst working here.
A final touch was a ride back to daylight on an original mine carriage – a cramped and uneven ride but preferable to walking. This left us with 30 minutes or so to view the small surface museum dedicated to the site. Included in the exhibits were the ceremonial feather-trimmed hats traditionally worn on St Barbara’s Day (4 December). St Barbara is the patron saint of miners and the colour of the feathers indicated the miner’s role – an early precursor to today’s safety helmets. There was also an exhibit on mining disasters including the worst to strike the mine in 1941 when 187 died, including one British prisoner-of war. For those with a thirst the bar here was constructed of tunnel and face supports with mine wagons forming the bar proper.