Thursday, 15 July 2010

And more history I'm afraid

Next door to the Museum is the Dudley Canal Tunnel – or more correctly tunnels, for there are many more than merely one of them.
Here another soul gripping grim tale of 18th and 19th century poverty is played out for the tunnels are what remains of Lord Dudley's limestone mines. In the late 18th century the first tunnel was built to give access to the canal network from the mine workings.
The miners worked in atrocious conditions - there were numerous accidents and life expectancy was no more than 30 years.
Over the course of the next hundred years a whole maze of tunnels and caverns was opened up. Eventually an unbelievable 40,000 boats a year were using the main tunnel – all of them 'legged' through by the crew walking the boats along the tunnel walls.
As mining faded, the tunnels and huge caverns became a Victorian tourist attraction and thousand of visitors came through them, listening to talks and concerts underground.
But by the 1950s the whole lot was pretty much in disrepair with closures and collapses. British Waterways planned its closure - but in stepped the Dudley Canal Trust (more here) to fight the closures and bring the tunnels back to life.
It's been a huge success - two new tunnels have been built into old caverns (the first canal tunnels in a hundred years) and the Trust's trip boats ply a terrific 45 minute circular trip through them throughout every day.
And there are more caverns and more underground wharves still to be exlored and opened up again.
But, yet again, one is forced to remember that the appalling conditions we wince at while listening to the commentary are still endured by miners elsewhere in the developing world.

Photo: tunnels lead off from what was once an underground cavern with mining wharves, later opened up to make mining easier

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