Coal, Canaries and (30th Birthday) Cake

One of Scotland’s best loved visitor attractions celebrated its 30th birthday on the 21st November with a special free exhibition guaranteed to fascinate and delight all its diversity of visitors.

The 30th anniversary celebrations of National Mining Museum Scotland look back on three successful decades, during which it has both preserved some of Scotland’s most precious and fragile industrial heritage and turned itself into a thriving visitor attraction that Scots voted their most cherished place.

The centrepiece of the celebration is a special exhibition:  “Coal, Canaries and Cake: 30 Years of National Mining Museum Scotland”.  The exhibition opened to the public on Saturday 21 November and is free to enter.

Housed in the stunningly-restored Lady Victoria Colliery, the museum was opened on a modest scale in 1984 and has been lovingly transformed by staff and volunteers into one of Scotland’s top visitor attractions, with a 5-Star rating from VisitScotland and plaudits as winner of the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions Best Visitor Experience in both 2009 and 2013.

Built in the 1890s by the Lothian Coal Company, and served by one of Europe’s biggest purpose-built mining villages, the ‘Lady’ was Scotland’s first “super pit” and regarded as a showpiece of engineering.  It was an active working colliery until 1981 and remained a central site of the Lothians coalfield , even as newer, bigger and more technically advanced pits opened around it. Across nearly a century of operation it consistently produced a high output of coal.

In the process, it became a much-loved Midlothian landmark, prized for its elegant industrial architecture and the lively history it encapsulated.  Since its closure, the  National Mining Museum of Scotland Trust has cared for the buildings and progressively brought them back into use as a home for both permanent and temporary exhibits showcasing the priceless heritage of Scotland’s mining industry and communities.

Among the highlights of the past 30 years were:  a £5.3m Heritage Lottery and European Regional Funded project which led to the restoration of buildings providing a new visitor centre, gift shop and café in 1999; .  a new multi-media guide,  introduced in 2011;  the Energy Lab, Mini Miners Soft Play centre, Interactive Zone and Special Exhibition Gallery,  opened in 2012; and the unveiling, in 2013,  of Scotland’s first National Mining Memorial Centre in Lady Victoria’s former Rewasher building.

Ellie Swinbank, Keeper said: “The exhibition focuses on the museum’s community, including its own staff, volunteers, visitors etc.  Sections of the text have been written by different members of our team and the objects on display have been chosen by them too.  Rather than a curatorial selection of what we feel is important to tell and show people, the exhibition really represents what the museum means to those who have been involved with it, and hopefully what it means to the wider community as well. There will also be a small selection of objects on display in Newtongrange library and in the Post Office, so remember to have a look at those too!”

Former First Minister of Scotland and NMMS Trust chairman Henry McLeish said:  “Almost every family in Scotland has had some contact with the mining industry over the generations.  To preserve that heritage so that future generations can understand what made Scotland and the Scots the way they are is both an important duty and a happy privilege.

“It is a role that we approach with immense enthusiasm at the Lady Vic, and I am glad of the opportunity to place on record the Trust’s warm appreciation of all the funders, volunteers, employees and visitors who have shared in that enthusiasm and thereby enabled the Trust to keep this fabulous place in business.  The National Mining Museum is an asset of which all of Scotland is proud.”

The wonderfully restored Lady Victoria Colliery is a Five Star visitor attraction, a recognised collection of national significance and recipient of the 2009 & 2013 Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions Best Visitor Experience awards.  In 2007 it was voted “Scotland’s Most Treasured Place in a BBC-televised competition organised  by the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland.

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Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

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