AN old storage cupboard has been transformed into a mock mine to give museum visitors a sense of life at the coalface.

Volunteers at Durham Mining Museum recreated the colliery scene in a cupboard, once used as a cellar for the bar at Spennymoor Town Hall, in County Durham, where the museum is based.

Visitors can don hardhats and experience what it was like working in a cramped, dark mine in the installation, which has been decked out with fake coal, timber props and a model pit pony and tub.

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Spennymoor Town Councillor Andrew Smith said: “It is like walking onto the coalface down a local mine, it is set up like a longwall face and when you go in it does have that feeling.”

Museum secretary, Jack Inch said: “A lot of people want to know what it felt like to work down the mines.

The Northern Echo:

With the pit pony and coal tub are children from Ox Close School from left Kiera Mullen, six, Melissa Burke, eight and Lucy Aston, seven. 'Old man' museum volunteer Michael Wilson, background.

“You cannot reproduce and appreciate the ambience and experience unless you get down and crawl on your knees then try to move and work in that environment.”

To help make the coalface look realistic, museum volunteers got their hands on scenery from the BBC police drama Inspector George Gently, which is set and filmed in the North.

Producers had turned to the museum for authentic pit props for the show, which is set in the 1960s, and in return gave it imitation coal and rock from the set of an episode called Death Underground.

Spennymoor Mayor Jeff Daley officially opened the feature today (Friday, April 25) and welcomed some of the first visitors, pupils from Ox Close Primary School which works closely with the museum.

He said it will enhance the experience for museum visitors and help educate children about their local heritage and help them appreciate the way of life for previous generations.

The youngsters - sent to work by overman Michael Wilson - said it was exciting but brought home the reality of how tough a miner’s life could be.

Aidan Nichol, 11, said: “Even though it wasn’t real you can picture what it was really like and just tell it was a scary a place to work.”

Since moving from Thornley to Spennymoor in October 2011, almost 5,000 people have visited Durham Mining Museum - two thirds of them from outside the town - and its website averages 250,000 hits a month.

Admission is free and it is open Monday to Thursday, noon to 4pm, and Friday and Saturday, 10am to 2pm. Schools interested in arranging a visit can call 01388-815276.