British coal mining began during the Middle Ages. Coal output began to grow and the mines had to go deeper. The owners looked for cheaper and more reliable methods of pumping water out of these deep mines. Steam machinery, powered by coal, was developed for this task. Machines were also used for ventilating the mines and for winding and hauling.
The miners established themselves in pit villages around the mines. They began to develop their own language and culture, including games.
Scotland's Black Diamond Exhibition at the Scottish Mining Museum in Midlothian allows visitors to see the danger and experience the blood, toil and sweat that existed in this once hazardous environment through its Magic Helmets Project.
These are unique helmets that are fitted with remote-controlled headphones that describe the scenes that the visitor is looking at.
They can examine the largest winding engine in Scotland, which hauled both men and coal up and down the pit shaft for almost a century and is still in working order, before being conducted around the coal faces by guides who are former miners. These men are able to relate insights and anecdotes from their life-long experience of working in the mining industry.
Visitors are led along the re-created underground roadway and coalface to sample the atmosphere and noise of a working pit. There is the pithead where generations of coalminers descended 500 metres into the blackness of the bowels of the earth in the 'Lady Vic'.
The Scottish Mining Museum has a fully accessible, three-storey visitor centre which features two major exhibitions with interactive displays, reconstructions, sounds and visuals to explain this lost way of life. These are 'The Story of Coal', which tells the history and technology of coal, and 'A Race Apart', which relates the story and the culture of the mining communities
The education facilities at the museum cater for the 5 to 14 curriculum guidelines, and are aimed at teaching science and technology. This is mostly based on problem solving through the use of experiments. One example is building an arch from foam blocks in order to create a bridge that is sufficiently strong for the youngsters to walk over. Occasionally they are giving the task of pedalling fast enough to create the electricity needed to light up an electric light bulb in the hands-on Operations Centre.
An education pack is available on request. Other education amenities include lunch and classroom facilities, teaching support materials, loan boxes and videos, and a research library.
A restaurant and shop is located on the site and the Old Power House, which caters for up to 140 people, is available for hire. It has already been leased for various events, including company seminars and meetings, social events, exhibitions and lunch for over 100 guests. A major feature of the decor is the genuine 18th century beam engine that crosses the room. Details on hiring the Old Power House can be obtained from Maureen Hardiker on 0131 633 7519.
The Scottish Mining Museum is open seven days a week with the exceptions of Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Opening times are 10:00 to 17:00 between March and November (last entry to the Magic Helmets Project is at 15:30) and 10:00 to 16:00 from December until February, with the last admission to the Magic Helmets Project being at 14:30. There is a play area available.
The Museum is nine miles south of Edinburgh and can be reached from the Edinburgh City Bypass by following the signs for the A7 road. Bus services 3, 3A and 29 run at regular intervals from the city centre of Edinburgh to the Scottish Mining Museum.
More details on the Scottish Mining Museum and Black Diamonds, which is based at the 19th Century Lady Victoria Pit in Newtongrange, can be obtained from 0131 663 7519.