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Mine may be the last working deep ore mine in Europe and its future is
hanging by a thread. Producing a very small quantity of haematite for the
welcoming visitors to experience for themselves what it is like to go
underground with only the lamps in their helmets to protect them from utter
darkness, it has, up to now, been sustained only by the pumps of BNFL, who
could use the water for their cooling processes. Now they no longer need the
water, BNFL agreed to keep the pumps running for a few more months while the
feasibility of generating the necessary power by a wind turbine was
investigated. As this has proved impossible, a stark choice remains: turn
off the pumps, with the inevitable consequence of allowing the mine to flood
rapidly, or accept the continuing cost, estimated by Regeneration manager
Simon Walker to run to £150,000 a year. The cost could only be sustained if
there were a prospect of a viable industrial or tourist enterprise.
On 28th February the pumps were turned off. Subsequently the Mine Manager, who has also published a plan for offering the mine as a repository for nuclear waste, shut the gates, preventing West Cumbria Mines Research Group from returning to their premises as custodians of the Heritage Site. An unfortunate result has been that two trainee workers have had to return to the dole. The manager has since turned the pumps back on claiming that he has found a source to finance this action.
The late Fred Dibnah was a great admirer of the mine, coming on several visits while he was dying of cancer. Our photo shows him gazing in wonder at the mineral deposits in the roof of the shaft, and his sense of something irreplaceable is shared by Egremont miner, Colin Nichol. Colin started work at Florence in 1967 and returned in 1997 to be part of a small force in what was now a unique mine. He still passionately believes that there could be a viable business opportunity, combining industry with tourism, and keeping alive 200 years of history. A great admirer of the museum and the archives it has gathered, he still feels that is important to keep the past alive in a working mine to ensure that its heritage survives.
Compared with the real experience of going down into the darkness of Florence anything that Beamish offers is a toy, but is there a realistic prospect of attracting visitors in sufficient numbers to face such an ordeal? Everything comes at a price, and we ask our readers what the right price is of preserving this link with the Red Men of Egremont.
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