Until the 1850's,
Don Valley was idyllic, little touched by industrialisation.
In 1819 Sir
Scott visited Conisbrough Castle and described for posterity that part of
the valley which now cradles Earth Centre. "There are few more beautiful or
striking scenes in England than are presented by the vicinity of this ancient
Saxon fortress. The soft and gentle River Don sweeps through an amphitheatre in
which cultivation is richly blended with vegetation."
Within 50 years, the Industrial Revolution destroyed this rural idyll. Denaby
Main coal pit was opened in 1868 followed by Cadeby Colliery in 1893.
For the next 100 years, the mines provided coal for the country and a
livelihood for the people of Conisbrough & Denaby Main. But the land and the
people were to suffer as a consequence.
Both coal and livelihood were taken away in 1968 and 1986 when the pits
closed, and what was left behind was a legacy of despair and high (33%)
unemployment among the local population of Conisbrough, Denaby and Mexborough.
There were also 2 huge spoil heaps where fields and an ancient fish farm had
In 1990 a change took place when Jonathan Smales decided that the derelict
400 acre site left behind by the pits was ideal for an Earth Centre. Jonathan
was working on an idea for a museum for the millennium conceived by John Letts,
Life President of the Museum of the Year Award. A suitable site had not been
found elsewhere in the country, and so South Yorkshire was chosen.
"Following Earth Centre progress was a roller coaster ride of false starts,
wild hopes and dashed plans." The Guardian
In 1995 the Millennium Commission made an award to Earth Centre, which became
one of its Landmark Millennium projects. From 1996 work progressed on the
remediation of the land and the design and construction of the many buildings
and exhibitions. Phase 1 was only just completed in time for the gala opening,
after several changes of layout, design details and false starts.
When Earth Centre opened, it consisted of the Planet Earth Galleries, (1, 2
and 3),Cafe and boardroom, Nature Works Building, Living Machine plus the
offices housed in an old portacabin. After Phase 1 had been opened for 1 year,
the Earth Centre was closed due to poor visitor numbers, and work began on Phase
The idea was that if not enough people visited in its opening year, spend a
lot more money on the development. Thus it was that the Welcome building,
housing the shop, and the Conference Centre were built. To cater for residential
school visits, a block was built which followed the lines of a Little Chef
Travel Lodge. There was also an activity and Outdoor pursuits area.
Thus it was that Earth Centre re-opened in May 2001.
Suzy-Brain England was brought in to turn the venture around and make the
visitor attraction viable. More attractions were built as money from grants and
other sources became available. A pirate ship was built, a crazy golf course and
indoor 'Amazon Adventure' play area.
Education visits continued and more customers were initially attracted to the
improved facilities. However, by 2003 it was obvious that the target visitor
numbers were not being met, and by 2004, as increasing numbers of staff were
leaving, it was evident that the centre was unviable. In September 2004 the
attraction closed to the public, and only pre-booked school parties were
allowed. By the end of October, the Earth Centre, monument to Sustainability,
was un-sustainable and was put in the hands of administrators.
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