Coal mining exhibition creates visitor boom at South Shields Museum

An exhibition which digs deep into South Tyneside's rich coal mining heritage has proved a hit with museum visitors.

Visitors Maria and Jim Frazer. Credit and Copyright ©: Colin Davison
Visitors Maria and Jim Frazer. Credit and Copyright ©: Colin Davison

Visitor numbers are up by 26 percent at South Shields Museum & Art Gallery - and the increase is said to be down to the King Coal exhibition.

The display, which celebrates the life and legacy of the area’s coal mining communities, opened on May 5 and in the space of six weeks the footfall to the museum has jumped by almost 3,000, compared to the same period last year.

Bob Olley clocks in to the exhibition using the restored Westoe Colliery clock. Photo by Colin Davison

Geoff Woodward, museum manager, said: “The reaction to this exhibition so far is remarkable, and really exciting. There has been huge interest in it right from the outset, and we’ve had very positive, often quite emotional, responses from visitors, both in person and online.

“King Coal marks 25 years since Westoe Colliery closed and 50 years since Whitburn Colliery shut down and there are a lot of people who vividly remember the industry. The displays of objects, pictures and film are striking a deep chord with them.”

One of the highlights of the exhibition is more than 20 paintings by renowned North East artist Bob Olley, who worked for 11 years at Whitburn Colliery, depicting men at work in various tableaux examining different aspects of the coal miner’s life.

Geoff added: “The powerful paintings by Bob Olley really bring the dirt and danger to life, but also highlight the great camaraderie and humour of the miners, and have been a strong favourite for many people.”

Artist Bob said: “I hope this exhibition helps this and future generations to understand how important the dangerous and dirty job of the coal miner was and how it was a mainstay of the local economy for almost a century.

“There were four working pits employing hundreds of miners supported by thousands of surface workers processing and moving the black gold by road, rail and sea. Some coal seams were worked miles out under the North Sea making the job of the miner even more unpleasant by the constantly wet conditions.

“Coal mining also produced a unique social bond that sadly, like the mines and miners has all but disappeared.”

The museum has announced tours of the exhibition hosted by Bob Olley, on July 13 , August 10 and September 14. Tickets cost £6 and can be booked at