The north of France was historically and still is a crossroad between the north and the south. Over the centuries, this region had bear witness to different power and houses of Europe, from the English to French houses and the Spanish .
During the 19th century, as most of northern Brit cities such as Manchester and Lancashire, the North of France emerged as one of leading industrial region of the country. In the center of the region, mainly from Hazebrouck to Valenciennes, the land was discovered to be rich of charcoal. An important source of energy at the time, charcoal was the only supply that can make steam engine works for train, the accelerator factor of industrial revolution.
The important past traces can now be found in several areas in the north. Recently listed in the Unesco World Heritage under the Cultural list, the mining landscape is a remarkable sight to visit where you can have a rich insight of the history. A Mining History Centre was also opened in order to preserve and promote the mining culture of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region. Furthermore, the conservation of the area helps to inform the future generation of the important part played by this fraction of history and how it has shaped the region.
The Lewarde Mining History Centre was opened to public in 1984. The pit started its mining operation in early 30’s and produced more than 440 000 tons of charcoal. The site includes a mining museum, a Documentary Resource Center and an Energy Science Center.
The guided tour is organised by the museum to expose to the visitors the real life of the women and men who had worked here. In an almost haunting atmosphere, the guide will meet the visitors at the miners’ washroom, also known as the “hanging room”.
This period of the century also marked the arrival of the immigrant in France, when they were brought here to work in the mining area. Mainly from Poland and North Africa, some of their belongings, letters and photos, packed with them to soothe the longing for their country home, are also shown in the exposition area.
The real adventure starts when you take the lift to descent into the galleries. Here, you’ll get to experience the true working condition of a miner, in the dark, small mining cave. As the visit goes along, we move towards the evolution of the mining skill. From only using manual tools, the miners started to have horses, machines and supplies.
Even though the region was becoming one of the greatest economy sources of the country, the miners were working in a poor condition. Cholera, long and cold winters as well as technical risks contribute to some of the major catastrophe and accidents in the mining area. As they suffer of this conditions, more and more working class force struggle to win for a better life. Closed down in 1971 and officially chosen by the French government and the North region, Lewarde Historical Mining Center welcomes more than 150 000 visitors each year.
In less than two hours from Paris, you can arrive here mainly by road or by train. The individual ticket price is 11,50€ for adults and 5,90€ for kids. You can also stay for lunch at the restaurant “Le Briquet” where the chef serves you regional dishes. Finally, don’t forget to buy some souvenirs from the shop, a small gift to remind you of the experience of going to the mining world.
All photos are by me