Staatsmijn Maurits-Dutch State Coalmine

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I can never understand people who are ashamed or embarrassed of where they are from or where they were born. You should always be proud of your roots.

Even if you live somewhere else you should never lose your pride of your birth place. It is perfectly possible to be proud of the place you were born and the place you live in.

My roots are in the south east of the Netherlands in a town called Geleen.

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Although it started of as a small village near a small creek it really started to prosper and became a vibrant industrial town after the State Mine Maurits opened up

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By the end of the nineteenth century, a few German and Belgian companies had started coal mining in South Limburg. 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 (below we write ‘DSM’). DSM opened three coal mines in the Eastern Mining District, before turning its eyes to the Western Mining District, more in particular to Geleen.

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 12 March 1915: the fourth state mine was to be located in Lutterade, 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 sinking two shafts giving access to the black gold. January 1, 1926 marked the official start of the exploitation.

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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 works office 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.

In the (old) 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.

Behind the Wage Hall there was in a huge changing room surrounded by baths for employees at 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.

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.

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 coal, and in 1965 it was decided to close the state mines. On 16 December 1965, Minister of 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.

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Below are some pictures of some of the heroes who worked in the mine.Many died in the mines or at a young age.

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A lot has changed since the mine closed. After the closure another state company was set up, a chemical plant called DSM.

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Geleen merged with the neighboiring town called Sittard, making it one of the biggest cities in the province of Limburg, with the very creative name Sittard-Geleen.

Although Geleen lost a lot of its vibrancy, I am still a proud Geleen man and I am equally proud of my new home Limerick hence a proud Limerick man also.

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