Purbeck Mining Museum in 2023!
Volunteers rally to ensure Dorset’s forgotten industry shares spotlight with the natural world
Volunteers at the Purbeck Mining Museum at Norden in Dorset are applying their skills across increasingly diverse work areas as final preparations are completed for extended opening hours during 2023 as well as the introduction of new trails through the 25 acres of woodland around the museum.
“It has certainly been a hectic winter for everyone connected with the museum,” says the venue’s Chairman, Peter Sills. “It hasn’t just been a case of maintaining buildings, tracks and rolling stock, but also clearing areas of dense undergrowth, wildlife surveys and landscape assessments as well as an intensive curation programme to support our move to secure accreditation from Arts Council England.”
“Mother Nature has now reclaimed the desolate and lunar-like landscape left in the wake of three centuries of intense ball clay mining around Furzebrook and Norden. However, it has always been our intention to not only showcase the area’s largely forgotten industrial heritage but also to show how mining activities have, quite literally shaped, large swathes of the Purbeck landscape we see today.
“As a ‘living museum’ for visitors, we’re keen to provide much more than just a static display of artefacts from yesteryear. That’s why we’re continuing to increase the frequency of our demonstrations of engine and wagon movements on the restored narrow-gauge tracks at Norden and looking to extend our outdoor offering with new woodland walks.”
Having secured funding to open up previously inaccessible woodland around the reinstated clay mine, the Museum will now be able to provide visitors with the opportunity to not only find out more about the area’s industrial past but also to spot local wildlife along the woodland trails adjacent to Purbeck Park. Footpaths and interpretation boards will be installed through the woodland that has remained completely untouched for over half a century. Viewpoints looking towards Corfe Castle and across Blackwater Lake are also being created as well as picnic areas for visitors.
Attracting more and more visitors every year!
Despite the hiatus caused by the pandemic, the Purbeck Mining Museum is continuing to evolve and expand and it is attracting more and more visitors every year. It is now providing a fascinating insight into an industry that was the mainstay for local communities over many generations and, in many respects, is acting as a catalyst for further development of facilities for visitors arriving at Norden and Purbeck Park by train, bus or car. The Museum is run entirely by volunteers and has also received funding for a new welfare building for use by members of the team and to increase the scope for group and educational visits.
“We’re looking to extend our opening times this year and we are always looking for new volunteers who have an interest in local history, engineering and the local ecology and who enjoy meeting people,” adds Peter Sills. “Our volunteers come from far and wide and anyone who joins us for the 2023 season will be joining us at a really interesting time as we have so many exciting plans for continuing to extend and develop the facilities and activities for visitors.”
One of the latest volunteers to join the Purbeck Mining Museum’s team is David Hyde from Binnegar near Wareham, who will be helping with the documentation and development of a comprehensive database of the museum’s extensive collection of artefacts and display materials. David has previous experience driving narrow gauge locomotives and also helped the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway at Porthmadog gain museum accreditation. He originally visited Norden over sixty years ago to try and trace what remained of the narrow-gauge railways and clay works.
“I picked up a book at an exhibition at Olympia in 1958 that referenced the Purbeck mining industry,” he says. “I found it fascinating and was keen to find out what remained of such a once thriving industry. Quite frankly, there wasn’t much to see and, today, nature really has taken over. Little did I realise that I would be returning to the area sixty years later to play my part in helping to support and promote such a significant heritage venue.”
The photo shows David holding a sketch he made when visiting the clay lines at Norden 60 years ago.