This easily-missed model of a miner can be found at the west end of the north choir aisle. Whilst not physically standing out, the model is certainly distinctive in the Minster. Its subject is the world of heavy industry, not religion, and its object of focus is an ordinary miner. This man who could represent any one of the thousands formerly employed in the industry. Whilst he isn’t the symbol of religious worship and sanctity that the objects which surround him so clearly are, he does represent the industry upon which whole towns and communities were built – particularly in the north, particularly in Yorkshire. More than this, however, the model represents the working man, the labourer, without whom there would be no Minster. His working conditions echo those endured by the workmen who built the Minster and the model is seen as a message to York Minster itself, that ‘Men like us made you, without us you could not be’1.
The model itself is relatively simple given its surroundings, a ‘blunt, matter-of-fact model of a pit-place, dwarfed by antique splendour.’2 It depicts a miner working at the coal seam. He is holding a pick, behind him are a shovel and a sledgehammer, and his oil lamps hangs on the middle of three pillar supports. To the right of the model hang his coat and a flask. The nameless miner is forced by his habitat to ‘bend until his back is nearly horizontal to the floor.’3 Indeed, given the positioning of the model, as Arthur Lindley notes, ‘the viewer has to adopt a similar posture to see into it.’4Whether by design or accident, it seems fitting.
It's been really good to work inside the Minster; there's something here for everyone, and I feel that I have more of a connection with the building.
The current label for this exhibit reads:
Barnsley Main Seam: An offering to the Minster from the Miners of Yorkshire. Modelled and presented by George Hector, 1959.
More information on the model can be found in The Friends of York Minster Thirty-Second Annual Report from 1960.5 The Report contains a detailed description of the events surrounding the model’s donation and its dedication. This information, which might initially seem mundane, gives the model some life, a story and help us to understand its purpose. They also reveal that its title is not ‘Barnsley Main Seam,’ but actually ‘The Veteran Miner.’
A letter from George Hector, also included in the report, describes the model winning ‘a first class prize at the Miners [sic.] Arts and Crafts’ in 1959. In the letter, Hector requests that the model be put in the Minster ‘as a tribute to the Yorkshire Miners.’