A replica of an Edwardian miner’s cottage complete with 1900s furniture, coal fires, and restored period flooring is to open as a new visitor attraction in Astley, after museum trustees enlisted the support of a hire firm that originated in the town.
A traditional style tea rooms will also open alongside the miner’s cottage in time for Easter, in a bid to attract more visitors to the Lancashire Mining Museum, formerly known as the Astley Green Colliery Museum.
The cottage and café have been built with support from Astley Hire, which started out 51 years ago in Astley, and supplied scaffolding equipment, staff and technical advice for free to support the museum project.
It is hoped the new attractions, housed in Lancashire Mining Museum’s former exhibition building, will boost the coffers of a major ongoing project to save the iconic headgear formerly used at the Astley Green Colliery.
Lancashire Mining Museum was used as a filming location for an episode of BBC2 hit series Peaky Blinders last June, and is home to Lancashire’s only surviving headgear and engine room.
The old village pit site has what is believed to be the largest colliery steam winding engine of its type in Europe.
The miner’s cottage will give visitors a taste of how the local miners would have lived in the early 1900s and will be kitted out with genuine furnishings and items from the time, including a settee, bed, table, radio and cutlery.
The building housing the tea room and replica cottage will also have two coal fires and the 100-year-old flooring is currently being restored to its former glory.
Astley Hire, now based in Leigh, was founded in a grocery and hardware shop just a few yards from the pit back in 1966. The company provided a scaffolding tower as well as ongoing advice and expertise for the volunteers carrying out the much-needed revamp.
Other improvements include new toilets and baby changing facilities, a reception area and the restoration of the pit’s old train line in order to offer steam engine rides.
The historic 100ft tall headgear, which is on English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk register, is in need of urgent repair to prevent it from collapsing.
Last year the Red Rose Steam Society, which holds the lease for the old colliery site and is responsible for its upkeep, restructured its committee to increase its manpower and resources.
To secure the funding, it will need for the headgear repair works, the new-look charitable trust needs to prove that the rebranded museum has a viable future and can deliver positive benefits to the community it serves.
Chairman of the Red Rose Steam Society Trust Trevor Barton MBE, said: “We don’t want the museum to be just a place for artefacts and renovated engines.
“We want to broaden the interest and appeal. We want to reach out to the wider community. We want to show them what the life of a miner was like.
“If they dig down the generations the likelihood is they’ll have a family member who worked directly in the mining industry.
“The industry drove everything we did in society. We don’t want that significant part of our past airbrushed away. We must make sure it’s never forgotten.”
He added: “We’ve got thousands of people on social media who are fascinated by what we’re doing.
“We’re expecting to have the miner’s cottage and cafe open by Easter which will help the project immensely.
“It’s a means by which we can look after people, make them feel welcome and earn some money.
“It’s an income stream that will hopefully make the museum sustainable in the long term.”
Mr Barton was full of praise for the significant role played by Astley Hire and the hire firm’s Managing Director Stephen Dorricott, in helping them in their efforts to turn the museum into a major visitor attraction.
Astley Hire has been in business 51 years since it was first established by Stephen and his brother Michael’s parents Cyril and Mildred Dorricott who ran a grocery and hardware shop just a few yards from the pit in Astley Green. Now based in Jury Street in Leigh, the company employs 26 staff across seven divisions.
The industrial equipment hire firm, provides access machines, industrial cleaning machines, heaters and coolers, and general tools. The company also offers equipment safety training courses to customers across the North West.
Stephen Dorricott, Managing Director of Astley Hire, said: “It’s been a pleasure to provide support and advice to such an important project.
“It’s vital for the community and the county that we preserve the museum and headgear for generations to come.
“The revamped museum building with the tea rooms and miner’s cottage is going to be a fantastic asset and I’m proud we’ve been able to play a small part in bringing the plans to fruition.
“Hopefully the campaign to save the headgear will continue to go from strength to strength and Trevor and the rest of the team can secure the funding they require to carry out the necessary repair works.”
Mr Barton said: “It’s not just about providing a scaffolding tower, Astley Hire emanates from Astley and because of its family roots wants to help community projects like this.
“They’ve provided both help and advice – it’s the whole package. Of course the supply of equipment is vital to us but it’s not just that.
“If we’ve got a problem we know we can contact Steve and he will speak to his highly-skilled staff who can provide that expertise. That’s what really counts.
“We’re indebted to them and their attitude of ‘how can we help?’ When you’re trying your best with a nil budget it’s so reassuring to have that support. It’s inspirational.”
Mr Barton, who is a former Greater Manchester Police chief superintendent who went on to run a surveillance and security training business in Atherton, says the ultimate goal is to save the museum and headgear for generations to come.
He said: “The trust approached me about becoming part of the committee 12 months ago. They called me at the right time as I’d just recovered from a bowel cancer operation.
“We simply have to save the headgear, so it wasn’t a difficult decision to get involved and be part of a new team of people.
“The Red Rose Steam Society has done a wonderful job but needed the help and resources to take the museum forward.
“We’re currently working with Historic England to make emergency repairs to the headgear, just to keep it standing.
“We’re in the process of getting a structural engineer in to carry out a condition survey. That will then inform the Big Lottery Fund grant bid.”
Astley Green Colliery closed in 1970 and although the winding house, winding engine and headgear were saved from demolition, it wasn’t until 1983 that the site was leased to the society by Wigan Council.
Work by a small, dedicated team of volunteers saw the winding engine and winding house restored to its former glory.
The engine finally ran for the first time in 2013 – almost 30 years to the day when the Red Rose Steam Society took over the old village pit site.
The headgear, due to difficulty in carrying out maintenance, has unfortunately deteriorated during this period and is now in need of significant investment.