Louisa Love’s first visit to Aylesham Heritage Centre

Posted on October 16, 2014

I paid my first visit to Aylesham Heritage Centre in early September – firstly to confirm my suspicion that this was the site I wanted to be partnered with for the DMAG project, but also to delve into the rich local mining history that I’ve heard about many a time from my 90 year-old grandfather (who was a miner at Betteshanger Colliery during the ‘50s and ‘60s) but never experienced for myself. What a gem the centre turned out to be!

Aylesham Heritage Centre is a small place housed with Aylesham House and is formed from a notable community of Kent’s ex-miners who are preserving the local heritage. From the 1920s until around the late ‘80s, four chief collieries existed in East Kent in the villages of Snowdown, Tilmanstone, Betteshanger and Chislet, and Aylesham was built to house these miners. All of the committee members who run the centre have worked at the collieries and/or have family who did, so they’re dedicated mining historians themselves (each with their own character) and have very close ties to the local heritage.

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I received a very warm, friendly welcome as soon as I walked in – not only was I greeted by about 10 lovely smiley people and a few cups of tea from Eric, I could see that it was a place full of fascinating relics and histories for anyone and everyone to look through…

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There are many things to look at and spend time with at the centre, from photographs, records and newspaper cuttings to mining medals, signage, souvenirs and films.

Eric spent quite a lot of time showing me through the displays and telling me about the many interesting moments from his own life that are recorded there…

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And it was a delight when Lyn took me out to the garage at the back and dug out the old sign from the The Greyhound pub that used to be across the road. There were some other great things buried in there that I’d love to rifle through more during another visit (I love encountering the ‘reject archives’ so to speak!)

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One of the things that stood out for me the most during my first visit there was actually the informality; by this I mean not only the very friendly, relaxed atmosphere, but also the simple, uncomplicated and (in a sense) non-hierarchical approach to displaying archives. Pretty much all of the material feels immediately accessible, visually and/or physically – I spent a lot of time just observing this. My artist mind led me to notice a lot about the display structures/methods before the actual historical content! – such as the upstanding frames housing the photographic archives and the cabinets and placards strewn across the walls. These are by generally overlooked elements but always interesting to me when thinking about encountering and experiencing collections. I really want to explore these ideas around presentation and communication more through the DMAG project…

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Another thing that struck me was the conversations that I had while I was there – so many stories and nice moments of discussion took place just through meeting people and looking through things. I’m really keen to start capturing some of these conversations to use as material for the project, as I think there’s a lot of potential there…

I finished my visit by watching a few documentary and film clips to do with the closing down of the mines – very interesting to see the difference between then and now.

I look forward to my next visit, when I’ll start properly delving into the many histories and resources at the centre. I’ll also have to bring my grandfather here soon as well!

 

Aylesham Heritage Centre is open on Wednesdays only, 10am – 3pm. Well worth a visit at least once.