Alsó-Csinger - Coal Mining Museum, Ajka
Alsó-Csinger (pronounced 'Ulsho - Chin - gair'), has the same feeling one still gets in parts of South Wales where there was once a curious juxtaposition of coal-mining and rural village life.
A narrow track leads out of the village up a twisting side valley, climbing to the site of Ármin Akna (Pit), the site of the mining museum. Surrounded by steep slopes covered in trees, like many old mines I have visited, the place is now completely rural and as pleasant a place to visit for its beauty as for its interesting history. The museum sells a booklet about the mine, and its present role as a museum, and from the this is derived the brief history that follows.
It was in 1865 that the local squire, Gyula Puzdar, started to investigate the region's mineral resources. He appointed Mr Hout, mining engineer, to survey this area, in which a number of coal seam outcrops were already known. Further exploration was initiated on the recommendation of Hungarian geologist Miksa Hantken. The relevant area stretches from north-east to south-west, south-east of Ajka, 8 kilometres long by about 2 kilometres wide. In this area (the Ajka Basin), the seams of coal dip towards the south-west, and are traversed by about a dozen faults, as counted on a beautifully drawn section I saw in the mineral display room at the museum. There were four principal mines in this coal-field. Kossuth Akna (pronounced 'Kosh - oot'), the most shallow working in the north-east, Ármin Bánya (Mine) next, followed by the deeper Jókai Bánya (pronounced 'Yorkah - ee') and the deepest and most south-westerly, Padragi Bánya (pronounced 'Podrog - ee').
The shaft at Ármin Akna was commissioned in 1903, and was worked by a Schlick-type duplex-piston steam winder. The shaft was 128 metres deep, and 6m x 2.5m in section, constructed with wooden frame-props. The mine continued to produce coal until 1959, and since the site was subsequently chosen as a lasting museum to celebrate the local mining industry, the original equipment is still in place. The museum was opened in 1965, 100 years after the conception of coal-mining in the area. Another more poignant reason for the choice of this mine as a museum was that this was the site of a terrible disaster a few years after the pit was opened. In 1909, on 14th January, an underground fire broke out, claiming the lives of 55 miners. Their names are permanently displayed on a stone memorial plaque on the wall of the mine building.
In 1977, a 54-metre long show tunnel was built at the museum, displaying different means of constructing tunnels, and containing a variety of mining equipment from hand augers, picks and axes, to pneumatic drills, picks, and various pumps. Much of the tunnel consists of steel hoops, with timber placed horizontally behind to support the ground.
In the mine yard, a selection of equipment, salvaged over the years from the local mines, has been put on display. This includes various coal-cutters of different types, underground locomotives and trucks, conveyors and shaft-sinking gear. One of the more surprising features of the museum is the admission price - 100 Forint per adult, and 50 Forint per child. At a conversion rate of about 350 Forint to the pound, this has to be exceptional value for money by anyone's standards. As you leave the museum, you pass what is probably the most recent addition to the collection, and maybe the last. This is a truck loaded high with coal. It is labelled "The last truck of coal - September 3rd 2004, Ajka Coal Mines. 1865-2004"
Opposite the mine yard across the car park, we were directed to a mineral and geological specimen collection. This contains an impressive range of specimens, displayed in the traditional manner in rows of cabinets, just as I prefer it. It concentrates to some extent on the local economic geology, but also has a wide range of items from across Hungary and beyond. From this collection we learnt that the coal deposits are Upper Cretaceous brown coal, so they are geologically much younger than British coal reserves, and actually very approximately the same age as the chalk deposits in Surrey (Senonian). There were samples of bauxite and kaolin, the former supplying the important aluminium industry of north-west Hungary, the latter providing the raw material for the internationally famous Herend porcelain factory, a few kilometres away to the north-east.
There were on display the remains of a mammoth found in the Bakony Hills at Zirc (pronounced 'Zeerts'), and on the walls there were a map of the local coalfields, a number of really nice old geological maps in the wonderfully clear style introduced by England's William Smith in the early 19th century, and a beautiful hand-drawn and coloured section showing the coal seams of the Ajka Basin.