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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May, 2005, 18:33 GMT 19:33 UK
Mining museum clinches arts prize
Former miners act as guides at Big Pit (Picture courtesy of National Museums and Galleries of Wales)
Former miners act as guides for visitors to the attraction
A disused Welsh coal mine which reopened as a working museum has won a prestigious UK arts award.

Big Pit, in Blaenavon, south Wales, beat three other shortlisted attractions to scoop the 100,000 Gulbenkian Prize.

The museum, also known as the National Mining Museum of Wales, opened in 1983 - three years after closing as a working coal mine.

Ex-miners work as guides, taking visitors on tours underground.

Big Pit was nominated for the Gulbenkian Prize following a 7.1m refurbishment programme, completed in February 2004.

Big Pit offers an exceptional emotional and intellectual experience
Sir Richard Sykes, chairman of the judges

That year, it pulled in a record 141,000 visitors, up from 112,000 in 2003.

Staff at the attraction were told it had reached the final four in March this year.

Big Pit is set in the former coal and iron town of Blaenavon, which was made a World Heritage Site in 2000 in recognition of the role it played in the industrial revolution.

The museum attempts to recreate the authentic experience of a south Wales coal mine.

All the colliery buildings, including the pithead baths, the winding engine house and blacksmith's workshop, have been restored and brought back to life with the sounds of the miners at work echoing from the past.

The pithead baths house the main exhibition. The museum tells the story not only of the coal mining industry, but also of the communities that grew as a result.

Picture of children at Big Pit (Picture courtesy of National Museums and Galleries of Wales)
The pithead baths are among the areas preserved at Big Pit

One of the Gulbenkian Prize judges, journalist and novelist Victoria Hislop, said Big Pit was a "totally authentic" underground experience.

"To be shown round 300ft below ground by somebody who was a miner was one of the top 20 experiences of my life," she said.

Keeper and mine manager Peter Walker said: "We've wanted Big Pit to win this prize for so many reasons.

"It proves that we've finally come of age as a national museum, and that we're offering a fantastic experience for our visitors - many of whom return time after time.

"Big Pit is a special place to visit and I'm delighted that the judges in this year's competition feel the same way as we do about the museum."

The Gulbenkian Prize aims to promote public appreciation of museums and galleries by highlighting the best work in the sector.

Sir Richard Sykes, chairman of the judges, said : "Any one of our four finalists would have been a worthy winner of this year's Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year but Big Pit offers an exceptional emotional and intellectual experience.

"It tells the individual stories of its community better than any museum I have visited and makes you contemplate the scale, and even the cruelty, of an industrial past that inspired a spirit of camaraderie and pride."

The three shortlisted nominees which lost out were the Coventry Transport Museum, Time and Tide: The Museum of Great Yarmouth Life, and Locomotion: The National Railway Museum in County Durham.

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16 Feb 04 |  South East Wales
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11 May 04 |  Entertainment
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11 May 04 |  South West Wales


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