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Millom Folk Museum's mine cage
Belinda Artingstoll
Belinda Artingstoll
Special Features Producer
BBC Radio Cumbria

The Millom mine cage
The mine at Moorbank had shafts up to 600ft deep

This is the biggest object we are featuring in our History of the World season.

The mine cage is 6ft high and 3ft wide and carried up to ten men (the official maximum was eight!) down the Moorbank pit at the Hodbarrow mines.

Iron ore mining started around 1850 and it was the biggest Haematite deposit on the Furness peninsula.

In the first 50 years the Hodbarrow mines at Millom produced 13 million tonnes of iron ore.

Less daunting

Rocks from the area in the museum
The dust from the mining would colour the men red

Ian Tyler from the Keswick Mining Museum has written many books about mining in Cumbria. He says the Hodbarrow mines created thousands of jobs directly or indirectly. The ready supply of ore also fuelled the West Cumbrian and Furness iron, steel and shipbuilding industries.

There were 20 different shafts at the mines and Moorbank was the deepest at nearly 600ft (182.8m). The cage was used in Moorbank from the 1920s until the mine shut in 1968.

Roland Woodward from Millom Folk Museum says the cage was probably built in Cornwall and when the mines shut it initially went to the Abbot Hall Museum in Kendal. But when the Folk Museum opened in the 1970s the cage was brought back to the town.

Frank Irving worked in the Moorbank pit for around 12 years and rode in the cage every day. The first time he went down in the cage he was 16 and the older miners put him in the middle of all of them to make the ride through the blackness slightly less daunting. The cage was also used to transport bogies of iron ore to the surface.

Mines closed

Frank Irving
It would take two or three minutes to get to the bottom of the shaft
Frank Irving

Frank says it took two to three minutes to get to the bottom of the shaft and the cage went down at a steady speed. He says it did not go as fast as to "leave your brains at the top". The men couldn't stand upright in the cage when they were wearing their helmets and the men used to joke that it was the management's way of making them bow to the bosses. He also remembers when there was a power cut and the cage stopped 40 feet from the top of the shaft at the end of their shift.

It was hard dirty work and the miners have since become known as the Red Men by some because of the colour of the iron ore which coated everything including the machinery and the miners.

Roland Woodward sees the cage as a symbol of the Industrial Revolution, of the growth of Millom as the mining boomed and the end of an era when the mines closed.

Rich mining heritage

The miners were working further and further out under the Duddon Estuary to extract the iron ore and it was getting increasingly difficult to keep water out of the mines. Frank Irving left just before the mines closed and says they will never see its like again.

Ian Tyler says it is vital that objects like the cage should be preserved because it reminds people about the county's rich mining heritage.

Frank Irving is also pleased the cage was kept and thinks it is in such good condition even now that he would still ride on it if it was still in service.




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