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This article is taken from PN Review 177, Volume 34 Number 1, September - October 2007.

The Ashington Group R.K.R. Thornton

Woodhorn Museum (Northumberland Museum, Archives and Country Park) has just had a £16 million redevelopment, and is well worth a visit. Entry is free, except for £2 for the car park. It is based on the old Woodhorn Colliery and many of the old buildings are there - the old pit head and its now silent winding gear, and a variety of sheds. But the old slag heaps have gone, and the lawns and the tidiness have a rather surreal look in contrast to the picture of bustle and dirt conjured up by a magnificent photograph of the site enlarged ceiling high behind the reception desk.

The car park is presided over by a monument and, with my usual curiosity about what memory has been turned into stone, I studied it. What is set up to greet the visitor turns out to be not a war memorial, which it intriguingly resembles, but a monument to pit workers killed in a colliery explosion at Woodhorn on 13 August 1916 - a Sunday. That seemed odd, but one of the exhibits explains why so many of the supervisors and safety officers were there, and explores the causes of the disaster and why that day only two of the four extractor fans were working to clear any gas. The thirteen dead are listed in three groups: Putters, Stonemen, and Deputies. It reminds you that mining is as dangerous as war. And it is also a neat warning that those unacquainted ...

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