Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Tom Leonard’s Little Project (NZ712192)

Not many folk have a museum named after them, but Thomas Leonard does. As a consequence – and despite its present-day reincarnation as the ‘Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum’ – the man’s name is one of the best-known in the region.

Tom was born in 1922 at Charltons, a small mining village a few miles to the south-west of the famous museum which now sits betwixt Loftus and Skinningrove. He was schooled in Boosbeck, before beginning his career in the ironstone business at the offices of the South Skelton Mines. He served in the RAF during WWII, resuming his career after hostilities – whilst honing his writing skills at every opportunity along the way. He soon moved into journalism with the Cleveland Standard and then the Evening Gazette, penning many articles – including sports reports.

He was heavily involved with The Green Howards for many years, but for a long time nurtured his dream of establishing a museum to the memory of the dying ironstone industry of the area. Indeed, as the mines closed, Tom began collecting various bits and pieces in the hope that he could one day fulfil this ambition.

The Gun Room at Gisborough Hall housed his growing collection for many years; then, in the 1970s, the opportunity arose to move the equipment into the old Loftus Mineworks (which themselves had closed in 1958) with a view to opening the collection up to the public. Several years of preparatory work and fundraising saw the new museum open its doors in 1983 – the first (and, I think, only) institution of its kind in the country.

Sadly, though, Tom himself had passed away in 1981, and never saw his dream properly fulfilled. The museum was named in his honour – The Tom Leonard Mining Museum – though it has since been rebranded after a radical revamp during 1999-2000.

[Much of the above information was taken from the museum’s website at www.ironstonemuseum.co.uk , where you can catch a glimpse of the man himself]

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