By Joshua Robinson –
Documentary landscape photographer and Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society (FRPS) Nick Hodgson opens his exhibition Free Mines Coal Faces this week at National Coal Mining Museum, Wakefield.
The exhibition tells the story of some of the mines still working today in the Forest of Dean (Gloucestershire), by a small free mining community mining coal for sale mainly to the local population.
Free miners trace their history back to the reign of Edward III (1327-77) when the crown confirmed the rights to mine for free, subject to an annual fee. Coal has been mined there ever since.
To qualify as a freeminer, a person must be born in the local area known as the ‘Hundred of St. Briavels’. However there is no longer a maternity unit in the area, so only home births can qualify. With possible future climate change legislation, today’s community could be the last generation of coal freeminers.
Located in the Museum’s Café and Shop ramp area, the photographs taken between 2019 and 2022 document both the landscapes of one of Britain’s oldest forests and the personalities and work of this community. Visitors will be able to see stark contrasts in the drift mines of the Forest to the machinery and buildings on the Museum site and get a feel for the camaraderie and teamwork of the free mining community.
Nick Hodgson said: “I am delighted and honoured to have been given the opportunity to exhibit my images on free mining at National Coal Mining Museum. Few people realise that coal is still being mined in tiny amounts in the Forest of Dean, although this might well be the last generation of freeminers able to do this. I’ve been aware of it all my life, as my great-grandfather was a free miner, and felt a strong need to document it as a photographic project. I hope these images give people a sense of this tiny community at work carrying on with the local tradition that dates back to the fourteenth century but may be under threat.”
Rebecca Hudson, Curator (Art & Photography) said: “We are delighted to be able to showcase Nick’s free miners photographic exhibition here at the Museum. We hope that our visitors enjoy seeing this very different side of mining, and one that is still going on today.”
Free Mines Coal Faces is open from Wednesday 13th September 2023 until Sunday 21st January 2024. More details can be found: www.ncm.org.uk/whats-on/free-mines-coal-faces