One of my current long term projects is photographing the remaining mining headgear / headstocks in the UK, and displaying these in a ‘typlogy’ format à la Bernd and Hilla Becher.
I’d only managed to visit two sites this year – the unusual clad structure at Meadowbank Mine in Winsford, and the two at Snibston in Leicestershire, and as I was running out of year, I headed up to the north-east to see Woodhorn Colliery.
It’s a good 3 hours drive from the sun drenched lowlands of Chorley to Ashington and I’d booked one of my remaining days leave to visit but then Storm Arwen blew in from the north with snow and high winds threatened. Great! But if I called it off then I’d probably not get round to it for ages so I bit the bullet and went anyway, partially because I wanted to see Mik Critchlow’s ‘Coal Town’ exhibition (which is on until March 2022 and I’d highly recommend).
Woodhorn was one of xxxx collieries in the Ashington area, coal and it’s related industries being the dominant source of employment in the area. At the time of nationalisation in 1947, the Ashington area had around 40 pits, indeed the area had seen mining for many years with Woodhorn opening in 1894.
There’s no point in me doing a potted history here when others have done a far better job online. A detailed description of the site can be found in the Historic England listing.
The miners strike of 1984 badly affected the area, but Woodhorn had closed in 1981. It opened as a museum in 1989 with the major structures and buildings restored. A large museum and gallery complex was added in 2006 and displays additional artefacts and a history of mining in the area to add additional context. Of particular visual interest was the permanent collection of paintings by the miners of the Ashington Group (popularised in the play ‘The Pitmen Painters’), as well as a large collection of colliery banners.
Mining in the area ended in 2005 with the closure of nearby Ellington Colliery. Like many areas, there is little evidence of the industry left with the pits and their infrastructure quickly demolished. That said the pit villages are still there.
The two headgears were the main reason I visited. The downcast shaft was far easier to photograph being a largely exposed steel frame although of a slightly different design to those I’ve photographed elsewhere. The area to the west of this is largely open which made for a straightforward photograph. I’d like to have composed the picture with the winding wheel of the upcast shaft better positioned in the brace (like I did at Hatfield), but there was nowhere to get a slightly higher vantage point.
The upcast shaft was a different proposition, with the fan house next door meaning it was virtually impossible to photograph the view I had in mind, and only slightly less difficult from the other side of the fence. That said, the brick built heapstead that is part of the headgear means that, like the headgear at Barnsley Main and Florence Mine, only the top section is visible.