Dudley Building, Wren’s Nest Project, England, Architects, Images
Strata Project Dudley, central England
Strata Project in Dudley by Knight Architects + Moxon Architects, UK
12 Nov 2007
What’s it about? In the middle of the town of Dudley, in the West Midlands, is a world-class nature reserve called the Wren’s Nest. The Wren’s Nest is internationally famous for the number of perfectly preserved fossils that can be seen there. The fossils were formed more than 400 million years ago when Britain was covered in warm, shallow tropical seas, and located south of the Equator, roughly where the Bahamas are now. The fossils are thus a window into Britain’s tropical past. The same processes that formed the fossils also created limestone. The Wren’s Nest was an important mining site in the Industrial Revolution. When the miners finished they left behind vast open-air quarries which, when the light streams through them, resemble natural cathedrals. Local residents call these quarries the ‘Seven Sisters.’ Fossils can be seen in the walls and picked up in every handful of dust.
The miners also left behind a network of underground canals and quarries beneath Dudley. Today few people outside the area are aware of what lies beneath the town’s front gardens. This project will re-open the daylight mines and underground canals so residents and visitors can travel through them and explore Dudley’s natural and industrial heritage. Extraordinary modern-day engineering will stabilise the fragile rock structures to allow everyone to safely access the secrets of these amazing spaces hidden away at the heart of the Black Country. A brilliant light show will complement cutting-edge interpretation to tell the stories of this underground world in a powerful and evocative visitor experience that is both educational and exciting.
Tell me more… Visitors will be able to board a narrow boat and sail down an underground canal into the mines. The canals used to work like conveyor belts. When the mines got too deep to remove limestone by taking it back up to the surface, the miners built underground canals at the base of the mines so that the limestone could be taken out from the bottom. Boats ferried the limestone back along the canals until they resurfaced in the town of Dudley. The journey through the canals and mines follows the path of the limestone, which was mined in seams. Visitors will be able to walk through the mines and discover how they were created. The mines were excavated by hand (not by dynamite) and some of them are so large that they can be thought of as underground ‘galleries’. Emerging into one of these spaces is a startling experience, both for the scale of the enterprise and the sudden realisation of how far underground all this took place.
Interpretation will introduce visitors to how the mines were worked (including the incredible feats of engineering involved) and those who worked them. After visiting the underground mines, a lift will transport visitors up to the surface of the Wren’s Nest. Here they will be able to explore the Seven Sisters, the last remaining daylight open limestone quarries in the world. An interpretive foyer will explain how the limestone and the fossils were formed and came to be above ground at the Wren’s Nest. Visitors will be able to follow an elevated walkway through the Seven Sisters. This part of the experience will show how mining has helped give us information about Britain’s ancient past. In a series of unique buildings set within the mines themselves, the importance of limestone as a fertiliser, building material and then, crucially, as a key ingredient of the iron smelting process which drove the Industrial Revolution will be investigated and explained.
Strata Project Dudley images / information from Knight Architects + Moxon Architects, UK
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