It is believed that coal was mined in the area during Roman times and there is documentary evidence of coal being dug on the Mendips in 1305 and at Kilmersdon in 1437. By the time of Henry VIII there were coal pits at Clutton, High Littleton and Stratton-on-the-Fosse. During the early 17th century coal was largely obtained by excavating the outcrops and driving drifts which followed the seam into the ground. Only small amounts of coal could be obtained by these methods and bell pits were also dug. These were vertical pits, with a 4 feet (1.2 m) diameter shaft up to 60 feet (18.3 m) deep, which were opened out at the bottom. When all the coal that could safely be extracted from the pit had been recovered, another pit was sunk close by to intersect the seam and the waste from the second pit thrown into the first. At the beginning of the 19th century there were about 4000 people employed on the coalfield. The Somerset Miners' Association was founded in 1872, later becoming an area of the National Union of Mineworkers. The uses of coal were varied. Coal was used in limekilns to produce lime for mortar used in building and by farmers to improve the soil. From 1820 coal was used to produce gas for lighting and to power steam driven woollen mills in the area. Coke was used to dry malt for the brewing industry.
The museum celebrates the history and heritage of the former Somerset Coalfield which stretched from Bishop Sutton in the West to Dunkerton in the East and from Pensford in the North to Coleford and Nettlebridge in the South. The coalfield reached its peak of production in the early 1900s, with Radstock at its heart, and it is the lifestyle of a typical Somerset coalminer of this period up to the closure of the last pit in 1973 which is reflected in the Society’s collection of mining artefacts representing mining activities and the miners’ everyday life; artefacts of social, domestic, religious, agricultural and commercial interest with special reference to the Co-operative movement, Friendly Societies, schooling and education; wartime memorabilia; John Wesley and Methodism; Great Western and Somerset & Dorset railways and canal artefacts. Dedicated areas demonstrate the coalface and the miner’s hard, dangerous working conditions. Shop at the Co-op as his wife did over 70 years ago, relive the trepidation felt by his children in the strict Victorian Board School; see how the community life centred round the twin pleasures of the church and the pub. The miner’s sporting activities focused on football, quoits and pigeon-racing. The Friendly Societies formed the safety net for the mining community in times of need and pit disasters.
The Great Western Railway and the Somerset & Dorset Railway, which superseded the Somersetshire Coal Canal, impacted greatly on the community, with the Radstock S&D Station being adjacent to the Market Hall and the GWR station being close by. Local enterprises depicted include the Blacksmith’s Forge and a Victorian Printing Office complete with 1856 Albion Press and composing area. Besides the collieries, other local employers in the town were boot and shoe manufacturers, brewers, printers, foundries and agriculture; all of these are represented within the Museum. There is a set of toilets on the ground floor close to the tea room and shop with level entry, these toilets have a unisex accessible toilet. Assistance dogs are welcome. The museum has full disabled access including a lift to the upper galleries. There is some designated disabled parking outside the Museum.
Location : Radstock Museum, Waterloo Road, Radstock BA3 3EP
Transport: Bath OR Frome (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 82, 173, 174, 175, 178, 379, 414, 678 and 776 stop 5 minutes away.
Opening Times : Daily 14:00 - 17:00; Saturday open at 11:00
Tickets : Adults £5.00; Seniors £4.00; Children (6 - 15) £2.50
Tel: 01761 437722