Rich seams of knowledge in mining's past
Out in the East Ayrshire countryside, just off the road, a bouquet of pink carnations rests against a black marble monument "in memory of those who worked and lost their lives in the Barony Colliery". The flowers are fresh, the memories still green. "We miss you," says the card from George, Libby, Jean and family.
Deep mining was dangerous. When the shaft at Barony collapsed in 1962, it buried four men. Their bodies are still down there, deep beneath the tall steel structure that stands on the surface. This is the Barony Colliery A Frame, all that remains of a thriving industry that brought employment, prosperity and a strong sense of community to Auchinleck, the rest of East Ayrshire and many other parts of Scotland, for a hundred years and more.
"As far as your eye can see," reads the interpretation panel at the entrance to the historic site, "a large coalfield runs under the landscape in front of you. More than one pit and many mine shafts reached deep into the coal seams. The closure of Barony in 1989 brought deep mining in Ayrshire to an end."
The buildings were demolished and the A Frame left standing for a time. The community rallied around to save it and in 2008 the site opened again, this time as an educational resource and a monument to the miners.
A structured set of texts, images and videos of interviews with the miners and their wives, all freely available online, explores the nature of the work, the hardships, the risks and rewards. It looks at the daily lives of men, women and children in a mining community.
"My first day it was snowing heavily and the buses weren't running to the pit," says Jim Bryden, who started work at the mine when he was 14. "I remember walking behind my father and there were big drifts across the Barony Road and I fell in a big drift."
Curriculum links, suggestions for classroom activities and sources for further study round off a wonderful online resource, which can be used by teachers and pupils who never come to visit.
But they would be missing a stunning stimulus to children's learning. There is a stark and splendid beauty in the landscaped site, dominated by the A Frame. Under the massive structure where rooks now nest, it's easy to let their cawing fade and hear again the thump of the steam-engine as the winding gear lowers the men into the ground and their banter dispels the thought that they might not come up again.