Hasard Cheratte: Neo-Gothic Coal Mine
Hasard Cheratte colliery is a former coal mine in Belgium that once played host to many thousands of Dutch miners at the height of its productivity. Today, mining has ground to a halt and the town’s periphery is dotted with the abandoned remnants of its prosperous past. Operations began here in 1850, when an exploratory mine shaft was sunk at a depth of some 250 metres. On June 18th, 1851, they struck the “mother lode” by discovering the Hasard seam – a thick layer of coal that guaranteed the company’s future for many years to come. Operations grew over the next 20 years, with the company gradually acquiring a total surface area of 351 hectares dedicated to extracting the precious resources that suffused the subterranean world below them.
As activities expanded, persistent flooding in the tunnels caused many problems. In 1876 a new mineshaft named the Cinq-Gustave was dug to allow for the vertical transport of workers up and down to the low-level tunnels. The Cheratte mine shafts cut down into the water table of the River Meuse, and this was a factor that cost the lives of several miners (allegedly children) who were working in one of the lower tunnels when its walls collapsed in 1877. This fatal accident led to a closure of the site whilst they considered new engineering solutions. The pumps were stopped, and river waters gradually flooded the existing tunnels; effectively drowning the mine and causing it to lay dormant until such a time that technologies could be improved to let work continue. It was nearly 30 years before the mine reopened its doors. Prospectors knew that the earth below Cheratte contained huge deposits: assessments had estimated that there were actually 24 separate seams of varying widths that could contribute to a potential output of 1,000 tons of coal per day. All of these riches beckoned enticingly, but were situated at extreme depths that would push engineers to their limits in order to extract the coal.
It was in 1907 that construction of the site’s most characteristic building took place. This extraction tower was modelled after Malakoff Tower in Cologne, designed in a neo-gothic medieval architectural style. It contained Belgium’s very first electrical “headframe” – a large machine centred around a rotating wheel with motors powered by direct current that could haul large weights of coal up the vertical Shaft Number One from a depth of 170 metres below ground. This building also contained rooms for showers, offices and various other administrative functions. At its peak, Hasard-Cheratte colliery employed 1,500 miners to work on the site. It must have been an absolute hive of activity at that time.
Increasing extraction costs and ongoing workforce problems led to its closure on October 31st, 1977. Although Cheratte’s coal seams were not exhausted, they are relatively thin and sinuous – so all of the more easily-accessible segments had been hauled to the surface and it was much harder to work efficiently on the remaining reserves. By 1977 the number of miners had gradually decreased from 1,500 to 600. When the colliery shut down, the majority of its buildings were razed to the ground and formerly bustling town changed into a quiet residential area. Just a few architectural behemoths remained, as a reminder of the industrial activities that had transpired over the previous century.