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ROCKS BY RAIL: the living ironstone museum
SUNDAY 16th SEPTEMBER 2012
After a long and protracted redevelopment, the Museum is now working hard to launch its operational passenger services on 16th September. We will then be running operationally, with steam where available, every third Sunday in the month with additional special events.
In the meantime, the Museum is now open for viewing, for tours of our quarry and nature trails and to see the exhibits on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. You will see progress as we complete the remaining development work to allow us to open.
The development work at the Museum was required to replace worn out infrastructure and to bring the visitor experience to an attractive standard and to allow us to tell the story of the local ironstone quarrying industry in a logical and interesting way.
The work already completed included creation of a new DDA compliant passenger platform, a brand new look to our Quarry & Digger trail, operational rail extensions to allow full working from exchange sidings to quarry, as well as ongoing improvements to the section of Oakham Canal lying within our boundaries.
Ongoing work includes the current complete rebuilding of the central area to allow for new track layout into the platform, with a link under our quarry loading dock to a connection to our new quarry railway. Long overdue facilities are under construction including locomotive coaling stages, water tower and installation of an operational locomotive sand dryer donated to the Museum by a founder member.
The Museum particularly thanks the sponsors who have inspired the improvement works and looks forward to giving them full credit at our relaunch. We have worked with the Northamptonshire Ironstone Railway Trust and a number of other Charities, Associations and groups and trust that these links will continue to flourish. Recently we have worked with the Melton & Oakham Waterway Society to reveal and explore the Oakham Canal as it passes through the Museum site.
We have run a number of Preview events in the lead up to our relaunch. These have allowed us to gather useful feedback and our plans have tried to incorporate as many of these ideas as possible.
We are an open-air Museum based in the heart of the rural East Midlands where the now extinct industry of home iron ore production is preserved for visitors.
The industrial revolution and the subsequent development of the British economy relied on the presence of a number of basic raw materials, notably coal and iron ore.
The history of coal production in Britain is now widely recorded and recreated in a number of dedicated industrial museums located across England, Wales and Scotland, often located in the heartlands of the former coalfields.
Given that interest, it is therefore surprising that so little is recorded and that there are so few ways of investigating the story of the other great industrial mineral resource, iron ore.
As recently as 1957, home production of iron ore was around 16 million tons per annum and the industry employed up to 5,500 people. This activity took place in otherwise rural areas of the East Midlands for generations of workers and where industrial scale production operated in relative harmony with the surrounding agricultural activity, the other major local employer.
Our Museum sets out to preserve and recreate the essential elements of a typical East Midlands ironstone quarrying operation as it may have been seen in its heyday during the 1950’s or 1960’s but with some additional artefacts and exhibits. As well as our central theme, we have also been able to preserve items from the other mineral industries located in the area, namely limestone, granite and the locally important industrial processes of cement and brick production.
This is a living museum in which the social history, working practices and skills are as much valued as the use of original equipment in an authentic working environment. Our central aim is to provide our visitors and volunteers with the opportunity to witness these historic activities “first-hand”. We hope that you will enjoy these interesting and thought provoking experiences while you are visiting our Museum. Our ambition is to offer you authentic sights, sounds and images to give you a far more valuable insight into these historic industrial endeavours. It is after all, a valuable heritage that we all share.
One of the most exciting projects in recent years has been the recreation of a rail connected ironstone quarry within the Museum where we now offer “experience tours” led by knowledgeable guides on operating days and where our collection of operational quarry machinery can often be seen in action.
Our development plans include completion of our rural mineral railway, from quarry to exchange sidings, and to include engineering workshops and other specific and unique features found throughout the industry. Our intension is to recreate a typical and operational east midlands mineral “system” as it would have appeared in the mid to late 20th Century but with plenty of Victorian (and earlier) references!
In the current “post-industrial age”, our Charity believes that it is important that the endeavours of our predecessors are recorded and that the opportunity to understand their economic and social contribution to history is available to a wide community. Our Museum has been established to allow this specific area of history to be discovered by visitors.
Volunteers run the Museum as a not-for-profit Charity. All our proceeds are reinvested into running and developing the Museum, a process that is continually being pursued. We hope that if you have further questions you will ask one of our staff who will be pleased to assist, if they can!