Yesterday morning I was sitting on a wall outside the big tent at the Keswick Convention drinking a cup of Tearfund tea when I got into conversation with the man sitting next to me, a visitor from Switzerland. He was interested in knowing what there was in the area that would interest his young sons. Without any hesitation I could recommend the Keswick Mining Museum. The museum is conveniently located on Otley Road, opposite the large car park in the centre of town.
Ian Tyler has run the museum in Keswick for many years and, as could be expected from someone who has written so extensively on the mining history of Lakeland, he has packed it with an enormous amount of fascinating information on how for hundreds of years men extracted a living from deep inside the Lakeland mountains.
This is no glass and plastic display with abbreviated commentary produced by professional script writers. This is the product of decades of enthusiastic personal research, including many years of mine exploration. Ian’s own collections of minerals, old mining equipment, historical photographs, newspaper cuttings and more are supplemented by other collections such as the mineral samples assembled by the late Bill Shaw (see photo at the end of this article). Many of the photographs are his own and a large proportion of the labels and descriptive panels are handwritten by Ian’s late wife Jean. The combination of enthusiasm and deep expertise shows in every room of the museum.
Follow the route through and you’ll learn about mining for copper, zinc, lead, barytes, iron, graphite, coal, slate and more. Cumbria was once an important source of all these in the centuries before its landscape became devoted to a romantic concept of rural beauty to be undisturbed by human hand. It was in the first Queen Elizabeth’s day that German miners were brought in to provide specialist skills; some of their descendants still live in the area. Today, of course, such enterprise would not be allowed and visitors on the whole have no idea that a lot of the scenery is not “natural” and that many of our much admired mountains are “rabbit warrens” of miners’ tunnels – by the way, not to be explored other than by those with both permissions and expertise.
Don’t miss a visit to Keswick Mining Museum while you’re in the area, or you’ll miss an eye-opening experience that will help you understand more of how the English Lake District came to be what it is today.
The museum shop is also a very special place. Not only does it carry an extensive range of current books on Lake District mining history but there is a large second-hand collection.
The Keswick Mining Museum is “For Sale”
The photo above shows Ian Tyler exchange a joke with two visitors from the South in July last year. However, he doesn’t expect to be there much longer. Time to retire has arrived, and the museum is currently up for sale. An era will have passed, but hopefully someone will come forward to ensure the continuance of this important repository and display of Lake District history.