John Wiggins Digs Backyard Mine as 'Memorial' to England's Mining History

John Wiggins' backyard mine
John Wiggins' backyard mine

An English homeowner has given new meaning to the phrase "it's all mine!" John Wiggins (pictured above) spent 13 years digging a mine below his backyard garden in the village of Skelton Green in northeastern England. He employed such precision and attention to detail that the replica mine looks like one you might find a mile below ground in the Appalachians -- but his is only 15 feet down.

Wiggins explained to the Darlington and Stockton Times newspaper in Weybridge, England, that his interest in ancient ruins combined with a love for local mining history in the larger English town of Cleveland motivated him in the painstaking project.

"I moved in here 15 years ago," said the 68-year-old painter. "I started to become interested in local history, and this part of the world is notorious for its mining background."

The area was home to 100 iron mines in the 1800s, but by the 1960s most of them were shut down.

"I visited a mine nearby in North Skelton," Wiggins continued, "and it was an experience I'll never forget. But it made me want to preserve Cleveland's identity, so, as you do, I decided to dig up the garden."

He used a backhoe to dig out the 150-foot-long corridor of his model mine. Inside is a railway that he built for a makeshift tram to carry ironstone. Using reclaimed materials from local builders and markets, he built the walls of the mine and two headstocks that serve as the shafts where workers and ironstone would be lifted out of the mine. The whole thing is ventilated to prevent water from flooding the mine and allow fresh air and a little light inside.

The last part of the project that Wiggins has left to complete is a mine office.

"I want it to look authentic, like it's from the 1840s," Wiggins said. "I want it to look abandoned, as if miners just up and left. ... Everything is an exact version of what was in the smaller old mines. I've consulted experts, used my own knowledge of ironstone mines and read a lot of old books to get everything accurate."

According to the British tabloid, The Sun, it cost Wiggins "thousands of pounds" to create the mine.

He called his underground masterpiece a "memorial ... to the ironstone miners of Cleveland" and said that he wasn't aware of anything else like it in the area. He added that he is willing to offer free tours of his mine to those interested in learning more about the town's mining history.

While Wiggins built a model of a historic treasure on his property, a real age-old find was discovered in a home in the nearby English town of Plymouth earlier this year. In August, homeowner Colin Steer discovered a 33-foot-deep well under his living room floor that dates to the 16th century.

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