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15 November 2007
For Professor Joe Cartwright, Dr Annabel Cartwright and family, things may never be quite the same again.
The Cartwrights have just returned from a month on BBC television’s The Coal House where they and two other families recreated the lives of a 1927 coal mining community in Blaenavon. Joe worked long hours underground, Annabel ran a household without running water or central heating while children Kitty, 11, and Gwen, 12, rediscovered a world where they had to make their own entertainment.
Annabel, a research fellow in astrophysics in the School of Physics and Astronomy, heard about the Coal House project and entered the family. She has a keen interest in the history of working people, while Joe comes from a long line of miners.
For Joe, Professor of Geophysics at the School of Earth, Ocean and Planetary Sciences, his time at the coal face gave a real insight into the conditions faced by his father, two grandfathers and great-grandfather. He worked hard shifts at Blaentillery Drift Mine – the last working mine of its kind in the UK.
He said: "I worked really hard down there. I have never been so exhausted, every day.
"My great-grandfather died in my grandfather’s arms after a roof fall. That was really brought home to me while I was working down there. There were a few rock falls and we were told to watch the roof at all times.
"Mining is a wonderful job. It takes extreme skill – not just brute force- dedication and courage. We should be proud of the very few people still left in the industry. I feel enormously privileged to have worked alongside those colliers."
For Annabel, the small 1927 cottage presented a few surprises, although she quickly adjusted. She said: "While I wasn’t expecting hot water, there wasn’t so much as a tap or a sink. We had to get everything out of the pump. It was very, very hard for the first few days. However, I think having a background in physics did make it easier for me to get to grips with the stove."
Both parents are extremely proud of the way their daughters adapted, both to 1920s-style school and to playing with the other children.
Joe said: "They have had a hugely stimulating time, playing outside, making music, making up their own games."
Annabel added: "They never once mentioned television or missing their mobile phones – they were so busy doing lovely things outside. I hope now they will be using their computers and other gadgets far less so they can go out and do other things."
Both Cartwrights are now back at work – although the modern world is still taking some re-adjusting to. Annabel said: "We have really learned a lot. It’s lovely to be back in the 21st century – although one of the lightbulbs went the other night and my first thought was ‘Where are the matches and candles?’ "
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