Next to Central Station in Newcastle is a building that I have walked past many times, Neville Hall. If you live in Newcastle you will recognise it. The building is home to The North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers or The Mining Institute which is an organisation dedicated to the research and preservation of knowledge relating to mining and mechanical engineering. Mining is very much part of Newcastle’s industrial past and the work of the Mining Institute did much to improve safety in mines and prevent explosions from occurring
The Mining Institute is near to the Lit and Phil, which played a part in its foundation. In 1852 the Lit and Phil proposed setting up an institute which would discuss preventing accidents in mines and ventilating them better, along with other things. Nicolas Wood became the first president. Nicolas Wood was a mining and locomotive engineer who worked along side George Stephenson. The building that houses the institute was built slightly later and is an amazing building. Inside you will find a Victorian Library which is full of artwork and sculptures as well as having an ornate glass roof and windows. Beneath the library is the Edwardian Lecture Theatre which is modelled on the one in the Royal Institution. I have memories of watching the Royal Institution lectures every year on television at Christmas. It was part of our family tradition.
Visiting the Mining Institute
We chose to visit the Mining Institute on one of this years Heritage Open Days. We noticed there were tours as well as two new exhibitions one celebrating the bicentenary of the invention of the miners safety lamp and the second commemorating the bicentenary of the publication of William Smith’s ‘map that changed the world’. The building is normally open to members and the public Monday to Friday 10:00 to 17:00, but was open on a Saturday for the Heritage Open Days. We managed to arrive mid way though a tour but tagged onto the end. We started in the Victorian library, entering though the door that said Members Only.
Inside the library is impressive. It was built at a time when Gothic architecture was fashionable and the high windows and vaulted ceiling show this. The room is panelled and filled with paintings. A sculpture of Nicolas Wood looks down overseeing the room.
It must be a lovely place to sit and study. The exhibition showing the history of the mining lamps was at one end of the hall and this was really interesting reading, as were the displays of the different styles of miners lamps
The Edwardian lecture theatre is constructed from Cuban mahogany and is an impressive place. The dark panels are topped with rows of photos showing past presidents of the Mining Institute. Many of these are well known industrialist at the time. Faces on the wall include William George Armstrong known for the Armstrong works and Cragside, the first house powered by hydroelectricity and Robert Stephenson.
The Mining Institute has a vast collection of notebooks, letters, maps, plans, drawings andbooks and reports over 150 years related to every conceivable aspect of mining and the movement of coal. It is a great place to find out about the Industrial Revolution, in which the North East played a big part. You will also find a large amount of geological resources here including maps and plans. Many of these are of great historical significance. The Mining Institute has an archive which stores these resources which is fascinating. There are layers of shelves which can be moved around in order to find what you are looking for. I imagine it was a hard job to catalogue everything stored within.
On the way out of the Mining Institute are a number of photos on the walls. These are black and white photos showing life as it used to be on Tyneside. We stopped for a while to look at these, they were really fascinating.
There was a model railway set up in one of the rooms on the way out which we also stopped to look at for a while. This was a great tribute to the industrial revolution and the part the Mining Institute played in it.
The Mining Institute was a fascinating place to visit and I am glad I took the time to pop in. The building is well worth a look around in it’s own right and the history behind the building only makes it more fascinating.
If you are interested in other historical hidden gems in Newcastle then the Holy Jesus Hospital is also an interesting place to visit.