Boulby Mine Anniversary Bench (Boulby, Katie Ventress, 2021)

I’ve been exchanging emails with sculptor Katie Ventress for a while now, learning more about her wonderful Anniversary Bench at Boulby Potash Mile on the North East Coast. Rather than the usual format, I’d like to present her own words about the piece, which I’ve edited for length and formatting.

Boulby Mine (located 5 minutes away from my workshop) asked me if I would be interested in taking up their commission to make a piece to celebrate their 50 Year Anniversary. We came up with the idea of a replica of a miners’ “Bait Table”.

These tables are found underground and are used by the miners for meetings and breaks, they also have a “communications board” that features a tannoy, phone, light, notices and more. We decided to make the top of the table include a map of the labyrinth of mine tunnels below your feet and information about the site.

To make the piece extra special we then agreed to include a full sized miner himself, sat at the table, taking in the scenery whilst kitted out in large array of safety gear, from his helmet, head lamp, self rescuer, belt and more. We loved the idea that any member of the public that passes can stop at the bench, take in the scenery, have a picnic, read the information, trace the miles of tunnels beneath their feet or take a picture with the miner with Boulby Mine in the background.

At this stage I lost a few night’s sleep, laying in bed not being able to turn off my brain as it skipped around thinking about the technicalities of the piece:

“To have it galvanised it has to be made in sections that will fit into the tank…how do I make it bolt together?”

“What fixings shall I use?”

“What method of installation will be best?”

“What is the best way to have the intricate mine map included?”

“What materials shall I use?”

“Do I have enough time in my diary to try and fit this amazing opportunity in?”

“What if I can’t do it in time?”

“What if it looks naff?”…

I then set to work on designing the sculpture with everything we discussed in mind…it was also a fantastic opportunity for me to potentially show off some more of my skills, and hopefully make a sculpture that would do the area proud.

I started work on the bench in April 2020. The first thing I did was calculate how many lengths of various steel stock I would need and ordered the raw material, along with the wood for the seats. Next I cracked on with table frame, working from diagrams and images from the mine, some tables were different from others, so I tried to make it somewhere in between.

These benches have slightly “odd” sizing, in that the seats are lower than normal and the table top is slightly higher, I believe this is so the workers can sit comfortably whilst wearing all of their work gear.

Not only was I provided with images from Boulby, but they also took me down the mine itself, right down to the working face! This was an awesome experience! 

I expected just a quick trip down the shaft and back up again, but I was underground for hours (around 4 I think?!). They kitted me out with all the appropriate clothing and gear and we were handed two numbered tokens, one to hand in on the way down and another for the way up. I couldn’t have felt much smaller or more out of place in my shiny new overalls, stood in the lift on the way down, towered over by everyone on their way to their shift. But equally I felt very welcomed, safe and looked after.

The roadways were huge, allowing vehicles to pass by each other, honking their horns at each corner to signal someone was coming round. Following strings of lights, every turn off looked the same to me. It was maff’tin!! At first the heat was lovely, I am like a moth towards light when it comes to heat, but this was constant, humid and salty, every time you spoke you got a little shock from the taste of salt on your lips.

The sounds, heat, massive machinery and unbelievable process I saw was inspiring, it made me want to make something that would honour every last person that works and has worked there over the years!

The benches underground were covered in lots of beautiful, artist, expressive artworks doodled by the workers themselves…… I wasn’t allowed to include any of them in my design unfortunately, even though I thought it would have added a real personal touch.

The sculpture is made from forged and fabricated mild steel, with a galvanised finish, while the top of the table is made from laser cut stainless steel.

Once I had fabricated the bench I then worked through each individual item on the head board, trying to replicate all the details to make fairly accurate representations of each piece of equipment.

The mine sent me loads of facts and figures to have a look at for the table top and a very complicated CAD image of the map of mine tunnels. I tried to sieve through all of the information, including the most important facts and trying to make the text understandable and interesting to the average Joe with no mining experience (like me). Then I put it together in a design that fit onto the top around my 3D elements.

In the meantime I set to work on the miner himself…

I took multiple images and measurements of the human figure, sat exactly in the pose I wanted. I even looked at cross sections of the human body, which was a bit grim, but really helped with understanding the anatomy. Next, I drew out a full-sized image of my seated man from a few different angles, so I could keep taking exact measurements from the page whilst making him. I used my partner, Jamie Windows, as a guide for the shape and form of the figure.

Whilst in the process of making him I was also given feedback and helpful information from a couple of actual miners, such as the different equipment used by each different type of worker and much more, which was exactly what I needed to help me feel confident about some of the finer components

Each individual worker needs different equipment on them, depending on their role. My representation is not a replica of just one miner and one role, but hopefully an amalgamation of the many people you may see at work and a few things they may have on them.

After making an internal frame, I cut sections of sheet steel which I first forged on my fire into a rough shape, adding wrinkles and folds into the clothing. These sections were then welded onto the frame work to build up the form of the miner. The final stages involved the galvanising, a process of dipping the sculpture in a molten zinc bath to help protect the piece from rusting. This finish is then filled with a mild acid to make give a more mottled, organic effect.

The sculpture was a large piece to make on my own and it was difficult to maneuver, even with the help of my small forklift.

The finished sculpture was completed in time for the mine’s 50th anniversary at the end of September 2020 (although Covid restrictions saw the dates of installation moved to June 2021). It’s sited on an area just beside the Cleveland Way, across the road from the mine (a public footpath that runs along our beautiful coast line).

Many thanks to Katie for being so generous with her time and resources for this article. All photos provided by Katie, except the final one (Rick Hilley)

One thought on “Boulby Mine Anniversary Bench (Boulby, Katie Ventress, 2021)

  1. Rosalind Parker June 13, 2022 / 6:50 am

    This is a fascinating, enjoyable read that males you wish to visit. Thank you.


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