Musée de la Mine Couriot


Useful Information

Location: 3 bd Franchet d'Esperey, Saint-Etienne.
(45.438622, 4.376806)
Open: All year Tue-Sun 10-18.
Closed 01-JAN, 01-MAY, 14-JUL, 15-AUG, 01-NOV, 25-DEC.
Tours only with reservation.
[2022]
Fee: Museum: Adults EUR 6.50, Children (0-25) free, Seniors (65+) EUR 5, Disabled EUR 5.
Guided Tour Surface: Adults EUR 7.50, Children (0-25) free, Seniors (65+) EUR 5.50, Disabled EUR 5.50.
Guided Tour Underground: Adults EUR 8.50, Children (0-25) free, Seniors (65+) EUR 6.50, Disabled EUR 6.50.
Groups (10+): Museum: Adults EUR 5.
Guided Tour Surface: Adults EUR 5.50.
Guided Tour Underground: Adults EUR 6.50.
[2022]
Classification: MineCoal Mine
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: VR=727 m (-116 m asl).
Guided tours: Museum: self guided.
D=75 min.
V=76,020/a [2017] V=53,652/a [2018]
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: Museum: yes, Tours: no
Bibliography:  
Address: Musée de la Mine Couriot, 3 bd Franchet d'Esperey, 42 000 Saint-Etienne, Tel: +33-477-337115.
Reception, Tel: +33-477-43-83-23.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

12th century first discovery of coal reported.
1267 lord of Saint-Priest sells the right to mine Saint-Genis de Terrenoire to the Commander of Chazelles.
1601 edict liberalizes the exploitation of coal, revokes the right of the local nobility to charge the mines.
13-MAY-1698 another edict liberalizes the exploitation of coal again.
1815 after the fall of Napoleon, the region became the mayor coalfield in France.
1839 mine disaster at Clapier Shafts, operations abandoned for several decades.
1840 railway from Saint-Étienne to Montrambert increases mining activities.
1845 the Compagnie des Mines de la Loire has a monopoly after the merger of smaller companies.
1854 after Napoleon III dissolved the coal monopoly the Compagnie des Mines de Beaubrun exploited the concession.
1887 a dust explosion kills 79 miners.
1907-1914 sinking of the Châtelus 3 Shaft.
1917 Châtelus 3 shaft renamed after Henry Couriot, the president of the Société Anonyme des Mines de la Loire.
1946 nationalization of the coal mines.
1956 reorganization completed.
1969 the concrete headframe of the Châtelus I shaft caves in.
1971 begin of the dismantling of Couriot.
05-APR-1973 closure of the Couriot shaft, the last remaining shaft in the municipality of Saint-Étienne.
1983 last mine in basin, puits Pigeot at Montrambert, closed.
02-DEC-1986 Association des Amis du Musée de la Mine et de la Société Industrielle founded.
1991 mining museum opened to the public.
1995 association renamed Association des Amis du Musée de la Mine.
2011 declared a Historical Monument.
2012 major renovation works.

Geology

The mine is located in the Bassin houiller de la Loire (Loire Coal Basin). This name is not very helpful to locate it, as the Loire is 1006 km long, from the Massif Central to the Atlantic Ocean. It was coined by the mining engineer Louis Antoine Beaunier in 1817 when he surveyed the area. It is located between the Rhône and the Loire, southwest of Lyon in the Massif Central. The basin is a discontinuous band, about fifty kilometers long and only five kilometers wide.

The deposits are from the Stephanian (295-285 Ma), the Upper Pennsylvanian stage, which was internationally named after Saint-Étienne (Saint Stephen). It's the uppermost or youngest stage of the Carboniferous. It was a limnic basin located at the foot of the old Hercynian Massif, filled with lush forests and swamp, which was now and then covered by mud streams. The plant matter was later transformed into coal by the pressure of the overlying rocks and the heat from below.

The grades of the mined coal ranged from semi-bituminous and bituminous fatty coals to coal of the anthracite type. The mined coal was relatively soft, but some coal seams could reach a thickness of 15 m or even 20 m. But the thickness was very variable, and there were numerous fault lines, where the seams abruptly changed their depth, which made the mining very difficult. It was also a problem for mining automation in the 20th century, because in many cases, shearers and other felling machines could not be used. As a direct result the mining used room and pillar until the 1870s, later a bunch of different techniques was used depending on the character of the seam.

Description

photography
Coal Mining, France. Public Domain.
photography
Coal Mining, France. Public Domain.
photography
Coal Mining, France. Public Domain.
photography
Coal Mining, France. Public Domain.

The Musée de la Mine Couriot is located in the buildings of Puits Couriot (Couriot Colliery), which was the last coal pit of the city, closed in 1973. The pumps were stopped and so the mine is flooded with groundwater. In general, it's quite difficult to make a show mine in coal mines, because the coal seam might emit explosive and probably poisonous gas. So there is an underground tour with all the typical machinery, but it was placed in a gallery close to the surface, in which the working conditions were reconstructed. The museum offers three variants, a self-guided tour though the museum and the accessible mine buildings, a guided tour on the surface with additional buildings, and a guided tour underground. The guided tours require reservation and include the self-guided visit to the museum.

The historical buildings of the former mine site are quite impressive. There is the headframe of the Couriot Shaft, together with engine room and power room. The power room was responsible for the electricity to power the hoist and the surface building. There was no light in the mine, the miners had personal light which was stored and charged at the lamp maintenance workshop. The compressor room was providing pressurized air in huge amount to power the machinery underground. To avoid sparks, which could cause an explosion, there were neither diesel engines nor electricity underground. Only the trains were electrically powered, and there is an electric locomotive maintenance shop. The Grand Lavabo (main washroom) with the changing room for the miners is also accessible. Washing and sorting plants were demolished in 1969.

The museum exhibition is located in the administrative buildings of the mine. Beneath the machinery, tools, documents, plans and mineral exhibition there are three permanent exhibitions. La figure du mineur is an art exhibition with sculptures, posters, and extracts from archive films. The La grande histoire de Couriot (History of Couriot) is an interactive exhibition with tactile model of the mine. And finally there is the Six siècles d’aventure houillère (Six Centuries of Coal Adventures) which has a large relief plan of the Loire area created for the Universal Exhibition of 1889. The mine museum has also conference rooms and hosts cultural events like art exhibitions, film screenings, and festivals.

The underground tour starts with a lift (or cage) ride down into the mine. The ride simulates the descent to a depth of 700 metres, where a mine tunnel of the 20th century, rather huge with two railroad tracks and steel support waits. Such tunnels were used to transport coal and miners to and from the mining area and here they were called travers-banc. So the visitors mount the narrow gauge train for a short ride. During the train ride, you can see the coal transport machinery. Reaching the working site, the tour continues on foot. The train ride takes only 2 minutes, in reality it took the men almost half an hour to reach their workplaces.

Coal mining in the 20th century is dominated by a technology called soutènement marchant (walking support), which was developed in the 1960s. Coal was cut down at the face and pushed on conveyor belts, but after mining a certain distance, for example, one meter, there was one meter of unsupported roof. So the mining area was very wide, hence it was called "longwall", as high as the seam was thick, and moving forward slowly, step by step. A row of beams was used to support this meter of new ceiling, and the next meter of coal was cut. The rows of beams were not left in place, this would have been too expensive, so the empty seam was filled with rocks and the row of beams removed, So the beams or jacks for the next step came from the back side. It's a little like the walking of a caterpillar, henc ethe name walking support. At some point the manual beams were replaced by hydraulic beams with metal plates at the roof, which prevented falling rocks effectively and protected the piqueurs (pickers), the miners which loosened the coal with a jackhammer powered by pressurized air. On the tour you can actually try such a jackhammer and feel the power and hear the enormous noise they produce. Even this modern mining was hard and unhealthy work.

The next section shows a historic coal face, with wooden beams made of pines, which cracked before breaking. The miners used a kind of small pickaxe for felling, which in Saint-Étienne was called a "rivelaine". The backfilling was also done manually, with rocks brought down from the surface. Mine operators tend to collapse the mine slowly, which is much cheaper, but the mining companies were obliged to fill the voids to avoid subsidence.

The final stop is the stables. Since 1820, horses were used to pull the lorries with coal, filling material, and wooden beams. They had underground stables like this and never left the mine alive.

In this area three seams were exploitable at shallow depth, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd seam of the "Beaubrun" beam. The outcrops on the surface were first quarried. When the mine was operated, it was necessary to fill the mined seams with sandstone to avoid subsidence, which was quarried at those old quarries. At the beginning of the 19th century, the mining operation was unimportant, due to the technical difficulties. Around 1840 the first railway from Saint-Étienne to Montrambert was opened and mining increased. Three mines were operating, the Compagnie des Mines Ranchon in the south, the Compagnie Parisienne in the west, and the Couriot shaft operated by the Grangette Mines in the southwest.