maandag 18 december 2017

How it started underground

Efforts are being made to advance Chemelot and Brightlands in the Netherlands in terms of innovation and competitiveness. This requires transitions in doing and thinking. Transitions are connected with the history of the area where Chemelot and Brightlands are located. We are going back in time.

Maurits State Mine, 1967

The early history of the region between the Dutch villages Geleen, Urmond, Stein, Elsloo, and Beek goes back to well before the start of our era. When the ground was being prepared for the construction of the ARLANXEO office at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus in 2012, remains of buildings were unearthed, probably a farm yard, that dated from the Iron Age (800-50 BC). Big pits around the buildings could also be dated back to the Iron Age, based on the pottery shards found in them.
Until the twentiest century this remained a rural area.

By the end of the nineteenth century, a few German and Belgian companies had started coal mining in South Limburgç in the very south of the Netherlands. Geologically, the Belgian Campine, South Limburg and large swaths of the German state North Rhine-Westphalia form a single coal-rich area. Recognizing the strategic importance of coal, the Dutch government founded De Staatsmijnen (The State Mines, later DSM) in 1902. DSM opened three coal mines in the Eastern Mining District, before turning its eyes to the Western Mining District, more in particular to Geleen.

A fourth state mine
The Geleen municipal council was not amused and sent the Dutch government a letter to object to mining operations within this calm, conservative and agricultural community.
From the letter sent by the Geleen municipal council, dated 14 March 1908:

But let us have a look at the drawbacks Geleen would suffer from the mines. We will not even mention the moral drawbacks, and of the material drawbacks we will mention only one: Where will the farmers find workmen to work their land? How much will they have to pay them? No, we hold Geleen, with its healthy, virtuous and prosperous population too dear to let its people be reduced to mine slaves.

In neighboring Sittard, meanwhile, hopes grew that this ‘prize’ was theirs for the taking. The die was cast by Royal Decree of March 12, 1915: the fourth state mine was to be located in Lutterade, west of  Geleen, which offered the best possibilities to work the so-called Maas fields. A year later, this mine was officially named Staatsmijn Maurits (Maurits State Mine). The work initially focused on digging two shafts giving access to the black gold.
January 1, 1926 marked the official start of the exploitation.

Underground shot Maurits State Mine 1960

The main building
In 1922, the first stone was laid for the main building of the Maurits State Mine in Geleen. From the opening in 1924 to the closing of the mine on 1 September 1967, this building served as the ‘nerve center’, not only housing the managing director, head engineer, supervisors, and offices, but also comprising the gigantic bath building (now demolished).
The main building was designed by the Amsterdam architect Leliman. He was a representative of the Amsterdam School, which reacted against the Neo-Gothicism and Neo-Renaissance of around the turn of the century. With Berlage as leading exponent, the designs produced by this school became more rationalistic, with fair-faced brickwork. Above the massive wooden front door the name ‘Staatsmijn Maurits’ was shown in brickwork in the same style, with above it four façade embellishments representing the ‘Mine God’, made in 1923 by the Amsterdam ceramist Willem Coenraad Brouwer.
After 1937, the building was gradually expanded, for instance with a new Wage Hall.

New Wage Hall Maurits State Mine, 1952

In the Wage Hall the miners literally received their wages on Saturdays. Brass fencing was placed before the supervisor offices, and moving along the fence, the ‘undergrounders’ came in to collect their pay packets. Against the walls of the hall you can still see the wooden benches on which the miners waited till their number was called.
In the early sixties, the (old) Wage Hall was embellished with glass art by Eugene Quanjel. Entitled ‘Carboon’, it represents the formation of the coal layers. Use was made of a special technique, developed by DSM, to glue the colored parts in between two glass plates.

J. Kleynen, underground employee, next to a clothing hook in
the bath room of the Maurits State Mine, 1948

Behind the Wage Hall there was in a huge changing room surrounded by baths for employees at all levels. The original design was big enough for some 4000 employees (they worked in three shifts, six days a week). Everyone had their own clothing hook, which was lifted with a chain and secured with a safety lock, so that the clothes were literally high and dry.

Lamp room at the Maurits State Mine, 1938

Before going to the change room, the miners collected their identity badges. After changing, they reported to the lamp room where they were given the lamps needed for their underground work. The miners then formed a column on the footbridge to the shaft, with the shifts that had to go deepest heading the column. In the heyday of mining, in the early fifties, some 5700 employees worked underground and 3400 above it. The Maurits was Europe’s most modern, safe and efficient mine.

End of mining
In 1957, the mine achieved a record coal production, but the glory days of the Dutch State Mines were soon to end. With the introduction of natural oil and gas, there was no longer much need for Economic Affairs Joop den Uyl came to Heerlen to deliver the news in the local theatre. On 17 July 1967, the last coal was mined from the Maurits.

Water tower of Maurits State Mines, 1955
Monument  Municipality of Sittard-Geleen

Mining past
The Maurits Wage Hall is one of the few buildings reminding us of the mining past at Chemelot, or even in the whole of South Limburg. Part of the building, more specifically the front façade and the benches in the (old) Wage Hall, is a national monument.

At or near Chemelot there are also five municipal monuments: the construction workshop, the water tower, the mining monument, the Barbara monument and the mosaic monument. The construction workshop behind the Wage Hall dates from the earliest mining period. Special features are the original steel structure, consisting of riveted and screwed parts, and the original window frames and windows in the facades. The special, 30 m high water tower, also behind the Wage Hall, was built a little later, based on a design by Dinger. The mining monument in the nearby Mauritspark residential area, made by Eugene Quanjel in 1937, represents ‘Agriculture’ and ‘Mining industry’. The Barbara monument in the public garden opposite the Wage Hall entrance, made in 1951 by Wim van Hoorn, was commissioned by the Maurits State Mine personnel. Saint Barbara was seen as the patron saint of the miners (and other dangerous occupations).

Mosaic monument Harry Schoonbroodt, 1953

The mosaic monument at the crossing between Mijnweg and Tunnelstraat, made by Harry Schoonbroodt, was erected in 1953 as a jubilee gift of the Geleen citizenry to the State Mines. The text on the monument translates as: “The farmer no longer ploughs his furrows, for the waving grain had to yield. May God continue to give us pleasure in our work and may he grant a future to the young.

“...and may he grant a future to the young.”
But not as a miner, for that option definitively disappeared in 1967. It would have to be as a process operator or one of the many other professions created around the (former) Maurits State Mine.
In fact, these professions were created since the foundation of the mine, because with the mining industry the chemistry started…

Visit to check out the pictures from the mining era.
This is a repost of my (Dutch) June 5, 2017 post.
Read my May 20, 2013 blog post about the reason why of my English reposts.

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