Above and Below the Surface – A Social Geographic Map of Wakefield District

The latest in our series of blog posts about collaborative arts commissions between Wakefield Arts Partnership members, features the collaboration between Edgelands Arts and the National Coal Mining Museum for England (NCMME).


Blog by: Bev Adams, Co-Director, Edgelands Arts

How often do we think about the ground beneath our feet? Do we ever stop and think about how the subterranean landscape can affect the nature and shape of the communities above?

Edgelands Arts and NCMME asked these questions as part of their recent project supported by the Wakefield Arts Partnership. Armed with the understanding that mining was the key industry in Wakefield for over a century, Edgelands Arts worked with volunteers from NCMME to map the mines in the District.

35 mines were located from memory and by looking at books and old maps.

Tony Wade, Co-director of Edgelands Arts, then drew a simplified map of the Wakefield District, pinpointed the mines, made some cut-out pitheads and took the now three dimensional map to NCMME, asking visitors to add their memories to it. Over 100 people interacted with the map, writing memories on cards and adding more mines.

Stories emerged about how miners could walk underground for miles, and how some mines were connected, allowing miners to descend in one village and ascend in another.



Edgelands Arts showed the map again, in the Art House, as part of the recent Wakefield Art Walk. A further 140 people interacted with the exhibition, adding more mines to the map along with childhood memories of playing on or near the spoil heaps, of women eating lumps of coal to combat indigestion, and how the coal seams are so shallow in the west of the District that people still dig coal out of their gardens to this day. The total number of mines now mapped is close to 60.



The most overheard comment at the Art Walk exhibition was “fascinating!”

The map provides a stimulus for conversation and social interaction. It brings people together to explore our District and share our knowledge of it. It explores the past to understand the present and look to the future. It helps us to understand how Wakefield has been shaped geologically, topographically and culturally.

There is a further opportunity to interact with the Map at National Coal Mining Museum on 3rd June as part of NCMME’s 30th anniversary celebrations.