Page last updated at 09:04 GMT, Friday, 26 September 2008 10:04 UK

Mining museum 'full steam ahead'

Hayley Jarvis
Lanarkshire reporter, BBC Scotland news website

A museum dedicated to Lanarkshire's mining past is reopening its gates after a 10.5m refit.

The transformation of the Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life in Coatbridge took two years to complete and was designed to make the area's history more accessible to young people.

John Twaddle
John Twaddle worked as a mining engineer in Lanarkshire for 20 years
"Hard work, and not much pay," that is how 79-year-old John Twaddle recalls his days working in Lanarkshire's coal mines.

He started his career as a mining engineer in 1947 and retired in 1996.

He said: "There were very good times and very sad times because we had a lot of very severe incidents like at Auchengeich, almost 50 years ago, when we lost 47 men one Friday morning."

Mr Twaddle left the mining industry as it began to decline during the 1980s. But he remembers Lanarkshire when it was viewed as Scotland's industrial heartland and hopes the newly refurbished Summerlee Museum will help young people appreciate what life was like during that time.

He said: "I look at the exhibitions and they all seem to be showing what it was like in the older days. We can look at it now and say this is what we did 100 years ago, and this what we do today. From that point of view it's interesting."

Based at the site of the former Summerlee Iron Works by the Monklands Canal, the location of the museum could hardly be more appropriate.

The area around the entrance has been excavated and now displays large steam cranes and trains, but it is inside where visitors will see the biggest difference.

'Completely changed'

A mezzanine level has been added with a viewing platform looking out to Coatbridge and the remains of the Summerlee Iron works.

There is also a Discovery Zone where children can play with interactive displays involving water, levers and pulleys. And there is a huge virtual reality blast furnace which will give visitors the chance to try their hand at making iron.

Summerlee Museum and steam engine
The Summerlee Museum is reopening after a 10.5m refit
Carol Ettershank, North Lanarkshire Council's project manager, said she was delighted by the transformation.

She said: "From the minute they walk into the exhibition people will see it's completely changed."

"We were lacking a good internal space for visitors. It was very cold, very unwelcoming and it was difficult for people to engage and understand what the story of Lanarkshire and the industrial West of Scotland was all about.

"The displays are much more engaging, much more interactive. They tell the stories of people's lives in a much more vibrant way."

But traditional machinery remains a major feature of the exhibition. A huge winding wheel from the former Cardowan Colliery at Stepps dominates the main hall and an old-fashioned tram will ferry visitors around the site.

David Adams McGilp, regional director of VisitScotland, said the new Summerlee Museum should benefit the whole area.

He said: "This is a very welcome development for Lanarkshire as it's a unique study and celebration of Scottish industry.

"I visited this place a decade ago and I personally can see a huge change."

Admission to the museum is free and it will be open seven days a week.

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