The Power and the Glory


Marek Stanczyk’s film Krystyna Shaft Headgear in photographs

Sląsk is Poland’s Black Country. If Katowice is Poland’s Birmingham, then Bytom is its Wolverhampton. The economy was entirely based on coal. The coal was initially mined near the surface, but as these deposits became exhausted the miners penetrated deeper and deeper. One of Bytom’s industrial railways beat the Festiniog Railway by a few years and became the world’s first steam operated narrow gauge railway.

The first coalmine was opened in the Szombierki area in 1768. It closed in 1820. The Hohenzollern Mine (later Kopalnia Szombierki) was opened in 1870. The Kaiser Wilhelm shaft (later Krystyna) was dug between 1870 and 1873. The coal mine was expanded in stages. By 1880, coal was being cut from three seams at depths of 104 m, 154 m and 171 m. At the end of the 19th Century, over 1,200 people were employed at the mine and 1,400 tonnes of coal were being hauled up daily. In 1917, the shaft was deepened and good seams of coal were found at 272,4 m, 294,4 m and 310 m. By 1920, the shaft was 340 m deep. In 1929. a modern all-enclosed winding house was constructed over the Krystyna shaft. Its winding engine was rated at 3,264 horsepower – the most powerful in Europe. It was designed to be able to raise coal from a depth of up to 510 metres.

After the end of WWII the mine was occupied by Soviet soldiers who attempted to work it with little success. It was handed over to the Polish authorities on 14 April 1945. It was renamed ‘Szombierki’ and its main shaft was rechristened ‘Krystyna’. By 1948, 4,372 were employed in the mine.

In the early 1990s the IMF imposed an austerity programme on Poland, dubbed the Balcerowicz Plan, and a so called ‘liberal’ economic policy. Poland’s heavy industry was decimated, the total demand for coal dropped drastically and cheaper coal was imported from the East. Many of Poland’s coal mines closed; the Szombierki mine was among them. Ironically, these were the very policies opposed by the late President Kaczynski, but to no avail.

In 2008 the Krystyna shaft headgear and surrounding land was bought by a property developer. All the historic colliery buildings were demolished with the exception of the unique shaft head headgear. This stands decaying and forlorn, stripped of all of its historical context. The developer plans to use the headgear as part of a new hotel and spa complex…

More films by Marek Stanczyk:

Krystyna shaft headgear at the height of its glory.


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