Today I was delighted to attend the official opening of the new Furnace Shaft at the National Coal Mining Museum, in Wakefield and to take a trip deep underground, down the main shaft, along with the other visitors, including the Secretary of State for Culture, Jeremy Hunt MP.
Originally sunk during the 1790s, the shaft was used to ventilate the tunnels underground, ensuring breathable air for the miners working at the coalface. The restoration has been performed for both practical and historical purposes, as it is located only 27 metres from the main shaft, used to transport museum visitors underground. As it collapsed, it posed a serious risk to the stability of the main shaft, so to preserve this incredible visitor attraction and enable underground tours to remain part of the offer at the NCM, repairs to the furnace shaft were essential.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, under the last Labour Government, contributed vital funds to the repair scheme when it was discovered necessary in 2007; DCMS also persuaded the Department of Trade and Industry (as it was then) to co-fund the work with the support of the Coal Authority.
Today, the shaft is illuminated and topped off with a specially created glass lid, that enables visitors, well those with a head for heights, to stand above and look down the full 140 metre depth!
Jeremy Hunt MP, as Culture Secretary performed the official "opening" of the shaft - although I am sure the irony of a Tory Cabinet Minister, opening an exhibit at the National Coal Mining Museum, will not be lost on anyone in this part of the world...