On 10 March, after enjoying a day visiting Snibston Discovery Museum’s collections, we returned to experience the New Age of Discovery – Snibston Colliery in 2100, complete with steampunks, music, film and performance. The event was billed as ‘Snibston’s past becomes the key to a very different kind of future’.
Part of the Transform Snibston programme, which has involved artists in a major project, the New Age of Discovery (NAOD) started with drinks, the opportunity to ‘steampunk’ a pair of 3D glasses, and mingle with steampunks and guests. The staff were suitably attired in steampunk clothes and vied for attention with local steampunks attending the event. We were then led through a darkened museum, with displays draped with dustsheets, while our guide explained how Snibston had been put to sleep after oil had run out. That night, though, it would reawaken to a new age of coal and steam.
Our tour led us outside and into the theatre foyer where food, appropriate to the local area of Leicestershire (including Melton Mowbray Pork Pies!) awaited us. Suitably refreshed, we entered the theatre for a showing of the 3D steampunk silent movie, Clockwork, by ADEPT’s artists Steve Manthorp and Shanaz Gulzar. Accompanied by the sound of ticking clocks, the story unfolded of a sister who was kept a slave by her brother, but who found refuge in working on clocks and making mechanical objects. While the film immersed us in a steampunk and Victorian world, I wasn’t totally convinced of its place in this event, as it did not obviously link to Snibston and the collections there, as much as some of the other aspects of the evening. The following day we visited Bradford Industrial Museum to see the Steampunk exhibition there (more of this in another blog). A key part of the exhibition was this film, and I felt that it proved a more appropriate fit for that context.
On leaving the theatre, we were led outside to a soundscape of burning braziers and sixteen ornate Victorian looking trumpets through which we could hear oral histories from people who had worked at the colliery. This provided an evocative atmosphere in which to hear these stories, but it was difficult at times to see where the next sound station was. I felt that more light or signposting of each sound station would have helped.
The path then led to the old workings of the collieries themselves. Amazing structures lit up again the night sky, these provided the backdrop to the climax and, I felt, most successful part of the event. We were first treated to a stunning rendition of opera from Lili la Scala, who sang from the pit head gear. Then, steampunks processed up from there to a walkway. Accompanied by music, images of miners, the colliery, mine workings and steam engines were projected onto an enormous screen. Finally, Kit Cox announced the New Age of Discovery, fireworks exploded over the screen and, to everyone’s surprise (or at least most people’s!), a steam train broke through the screen and charged up the track towards the museum. This was followed by a steam engine, from which jumped steampunks carrying our limited edition gifts – carved pieces of coal, very fitting for a colliery!
The evening over, we walked back through the museum where another surprise awaited us. The beam engines that we had admired earlier in the day were demonstrating how smoothly – and quietly – they could produce power; a fitting end to our visit to the Age of Discovery. We then made our farewells to steam, steampunks and 2100 and returned to the 21st century with its oil and combustion engines.