In my attempt to become a “better”, more knowledgeable “Ruhrpott Kind”, I recently went on a jolly to our local mining museum. It is literally just down the road from me. I have been before but never paid any real attention to the site other than when we visit the “Oldtimer Festival” to look at the classic cars (not necessarily an event for old men- which is what most English people would understand from the expression “oldtimer”).
Sitting on hot coal
There is an area near Witten, south of the River Ruhr called Muttental (Mutten Valley) popular not only for its beautiful walk and cycle ways but also for its rich seam of coal which runs under the surface. This coal (black gold) was excavated over 450 years and even today there is subsidence in unexpected places. Local people are well aware that in times of desperation coal was mined and the tunnels not officially recorded.
Zeche Nichtigall (Nightingale Mine) was first mentioned in the early 1700s and at the museum you get a real feel of how important this industry was for the local area.
On the site of the museum are also the remains of an old brickwork (Ziegelei). Fascinating. I now know the correct word for “bricks” in German. Upto now I have always said “Steine”. Wrong! It’s “Ziegel(steine)”. As they say in Yorkshire: “Tha learns summat new everyday!“
It took us a little while to understand how the bricks were produced, especially how the tall chimney was connected to the oven. In the end we got there. The brick furnace was first put in to use in 1892 and closed on 1963.
I have a question: “Did the Industrial Revolution happen at the same time in Germany as in England?”
I have been watching the BBC production of “Victoria” played brilliantly by Jenna Coleman with Tom Hughes as her inspirational German Prince Albert. In the last series it shows how desperate Albert was to improve living conditions for the common people. As well as the huge technical development during the Victorian era, there was a massive increase in the number of houses being built.
During the time of urban development there was obviously a big demand for bricks in Witten too and, because there was a shortage of local labour, migrant workers (Gastarbeiter) were employed. At the Nightingale Museum you can see photos and items belonging to the men, many of whom were Italian. This reminded me of Bedford, a town north of London, where I lived for 10 years.
My husband grew up near Bedford and remembers the London Brick Works which was one of the biggest brickworks in the World. At the height of its production it employed over 2000 workers, many of whom came from Italy, and there were 162 chimneys to be seen on the rural Bedfordshire landscape. The factory had to close in 2008 because the sulphur dioxide emissions were too high.
The leaning chimneys
In the 1930s the village of Stewartby, near Bedford was set up as a “model” village for the brick workers. 32 chimneys each standing 72 metres high could be seen near Stewartby. Today there are only 4 high chimneys remaining. These have been put on the presavation list because of their local historical interest. There is talk of them being demolished and replaced by a replica chimney because they are leaning and are not thought to be safe. The Stewartby chimneys are an iconic landmark and if you are ever passing-by, look out for them along with the lake (an old clay pit) which is a place for nature lovers.