Woodhorn Museum are celebrating the New Year with an immersive experience which celebrates the past 100 years of Woodhorn’s heritage.
First footing is a Northern English and Scottish tradition which marks the New Year. The first person who enters the household on New Years Day is seen as a bringer of good fortune for the coming year. They bring gifts, usually coal, salt and a drink which are symbols of prosperity.
I have memories of my grandmother ushering my grandfather out of the house before midnight with coal in his pocket, so he could be first at the door after the New Year and bring good fortune for the year.
We went along to Woodhorn Museum to experience the First Footing for ourselves.
When you think of history of the North East you have to think about coal. It is only in the last few decades that thriving mining communities were shut down.
Woodhorn Museum is one of these, it was a working colliery pit in one of the largest pit villages in the world. Over 2000 people worked underground during its heyday and over 600,000 tonnes of coal moved each year.
It is now a museum and celebrates the unique mining heritage of the area, housing the Ashington Group Collection of paintings from the Pitmen Painters as well as giving a fascinating insight into mining life.
It is a long time since we last visited, we went to see the Weeping Window poppy display when it was there.
The mine stands silent now but you can almost imagine the noise and bustle when it was a working pit.
The First Footing is an interactive experience or quest with actors taking you on a trip through the history of the museum. Our journey began in the Cage Room and Tanky Shed which was now a tally room.
To start our quest we were given our tally and a quest booklet. In mining life every miner had a tally and they were hung on the wall to show when they were in the mine. It was a way of keeping track of the personnel in this dangerous job.
For the next stage on our journey we were taken into the dark to experience what it would have been like for the miners as they worked below ground. With only a miners lamp to light our way we walked over coal dust into the tunnel.
Here we met one of the miners, his lamp shone bright on his head as he told us tales of working in the mine. It was bait time – time for sandwiches – so he was able to take a break. It gave you an insight into what it would have been like to work down in the dark.
We made our way to the pick sharpeners building which was transformed into a 1050’s house. Jemima was knitting blankets to try and make a little money for herself. She told us tales of the women who work in the mining community. Women were not allowed down the mine but did lots of other essential jobs like the wages. Her stories showed another side to mining life which was fascinating.
Inside Woodhorn Museum you get to see the machinery that was part of the mines running. We had a look around the engine sheds before going into Heapstead where the next part of the quest was. This poignantly symbolised the closing of the mines in the 1980s with the hanging up of miners overalls.
After the death of the colliery Woodhorn is reborn into a museum. We enter the Winding House to see a crushed man fallen on the floor. The dance brings the colliery to life again and captures the powerful transformation it undergoes. It is a moving and powerful display of hope for the future.
The final part of the First Footing is in the Cutter Building which also houses the main museum. Here we are challenged to think about what the future holds in a display about renewable energy.
The museum is worth lingering in with the display of miners banners as you walk in along with a look at the history of the museum.
The First Footing was well thought out and a great celebration of the history of Woodhorn Museum.
Before leaving we stopped at the cafe for a cup of tea and a slice of cake. They have a good selection of sandwiches and snacks at reasonable prices.
They also have a nice concept of a chatter table, the idea being if you want someone to talk to you can sit here and others can join you for a chat.
The gift shop has a lot of unique items, many relating to the history of the area.
Before we left we noticed a building we hadn’t been in so went to investigate. We discovered it was the stables and the forge for making the horseshoes for the pit ponies. Another interesting glimpse into the past
You will find Woodhorm Musuem just off the A189 coastal round east of Ashington. It is 25 minutes from Newcastle and is well signposted with brown signs showing you where to go.
Queen Elizabeth II Country Park
First Footing runs from 29th December to 5th January. Show times are between 11am – 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 3pm.
Membership is required for entry. Prices:
Membership is valid for a year and you can return as often as you wish.