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Learn the language of the miners at National Coal Mining Museum exhibit

Wakefield museum project looks at language now in danger of being lost

Was your grandad a keeker? Or maybe your uncle was an onsetter?

It is a language now in danger of being lost following the closure of the country’s final deep-coal mine.

But the National Coal Mining Museum for England is hoping its newest exhibition will help the words of the miners live on.

In Our Own Words – the language of coal mining is an exploration of the words used by miners to describe their working world, and looks at how these words and phrases differ around the British coalfields.

Inspired by the work of Huddersfield historian George Redmonds, it utilises his intriguing mining glossary of words from the medieval period in West Yorkshire. The museum has explored the part that words have played in the British coalfields through the ages, and which may not survive now that the final deep-coal mine at Kellingley in West Yorkshire has closed.

The objects and art within the show illustrate what the words are about, but the exhibition also has spoken word, from the museum’s own miners as well as others. There is also song, including a sample from the latest English Folk Song and Dance Society project, and poetry.

And visitors are encouraged to add their own mining terminology to the museums’ online glossary.

Historian George Redmonds (right) with miner Eric Richardson at opening of In Our Own Words exhibition at the National Mining Museum.

During the exhibition period there will be Sunday afternoon live performances in the museum’s café, on March 6, April 3 and May 8.

Visitors will be able to listen to music and words inspired by the lives of coal miners and life in Yorkshire or even share their own work with others.

A keeker was someone who inspected the hewers - the men who extracted the coal - and an onsetter was the man stationed at the bottom of the mineshaft to hook and unhook tubs of coal.

And the exhibition will give people the chance to find out when a gate is not a gate, why a drift has nothing to do with snow and how miners might go down the shaft in a cage or on the chair but never in a lift.

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Mike Benson, museum director, said: “I’m delighted to open In Our Own Words as my first exhibition here as it has been inspired by the very people who worked and lived in mining communities.

“We’re really excited for our visitors to add their own words to our collection, so that we can further build our connections with coalfields around the country. Yorkshire is well-known for its charming colloquialisms and we hope that this exhibition will evoke memories, inspire new audiences and be enjoyed by visitors from local areas and further afield.”

The exhibition runs until May 9.



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