A BRIEF REPORT OF THE FIRST GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE VIEILLE MONTAGNE HERITAGE ASSOCIATION, SEPTEMBER 2018
In September 2018 a museum was opened in the former directorate building of the Vieille Montagne Zinc Company and combined railway station in the town of Kelmis, Belgium. The building, which has been thoroughly renovated, complete with a new zinc roof, houses a large collection of displays of local interest imaginatively and attractively set out. Called the MVM (Museum de la Vieille Montagne), it is dedicated to the ‘Societe Anonyme des Mines et Fonderies de Zinc de la Vieille Montagne’, or ‘VM’ for short, and to the small unique territory of Neutral Moresnet. The event was held during the weekend of 14th to the 16th September, it was significant enough to receive television coverage, press coverage and a large number of visitors.
The weekend also saw the first General Meeting of the recently-formed Vieille Montagne Heritage Association in one of the conference rooms of the museum. The Association is a mini-United Nations, members came not only from the home country of Belgium, but from France, Germany, Sweden and England, with an expression of interest from Italy. Members have a variety of backgrounds, for example there were representatives from ‘VM Building Solutions’, a former zinc rolling mill manager, a mine manager, at least three authors, archivists, and representatives from industrial history museums, etc.
One of the English representatives presented the MVM with an album of photo’s of the company’s days in Nenthead, Cumbria, as a gift from Alston Moor Historical Society, a sample of sphalerite (the zinc ore-bearing mineral) as a gift from the Nenthead Mines Conservation Society, and samples of the zinc roof cladding salvaged from the former VM ore-dressing mill in Nenthead. By coincidence, this VM building, possibly the last of its kind anywhere, was in the process of being demolished at precisely the same time that the museum in Kelmis was being opened in another VM building. It was then that a small but exciting discovery was made. Roger Balthus, chairman of the VMHA, looked for and found on one sample of sheeting a stamp mark that showed the zinc to have been rolled in Angleur and taken to Nenthead to be put on the roof there.
For the business of the meeting, Chairman Roger Balthus took members of the association through the agenda, which covered issues such as the registration of the association, which requires royal assent, ideas for a logo for the Association (a variation on the old VM company logo), the setting up of a working group to establish a website, and the cataloguing of the VM archives. Then, to round off, Alexander Kierdorf of the LVR group of museums in Germany gave a talk about mining in the Bensberg area of Germany.
An agenda item of particular interest and concern to members was the cataloguing of the VM archive – all 700 linear shelf metres of it. Daniel Van Overstraeten of the Association pour la Valorisation des Archives d’Enterprises (AVAE) explained that funding has been obtained to pay for this work, which will involve two archivists for an estimated period of four years. Access to VM archives has always been problematic, and now prospective researchers will have to be patient while this heroic task is under way. However, it is anticipated that hard-cover and bound reports, etc., the easiest items to identify, treat and catalogue, could be available after one year.
The day was rounded off by a meal at a restaurant in Liege. The next meeting will be held once the registration formalities have been completed.
Watch this space.
The Foreigners in the Hills
VIEILLE MONTAGNE MUSEUM TO BE OPENED IN KELMIS
The new 'Museum Vieille Montagne' (MVM) in Kelmis, Belgium, will open its doors to the public for the first time on Saturday 15th September from 2pm to 7pm with tours and lectures, and open again on Sunday 16th from 2pm to 7pm, when additional entertainment will be a theatrical performance based on the book 'ZINK'.
Visitors will learn about the unique neutral territory of Moresnet, the Vieille Montagne Zinc Company with its mines around the world, and the Altenburg Mine on which the VM was founded.
The Museum is housed in the former directorate building on the main street in Kelmis. The building has been beautifully refurbished with its stunning domed roof re-clad in zinc - of course.
More details will be published as they become available.
CAN YOU HELP?
Somewhere in England a Vieille Montagne steam locomotive is being restored and the owner would like to find out about its history.
What is known so far about the loco is that it was built in 1890, it worked for a few years for the East Brussels Tram Company, it was then bought by the VM to work at Angleur. The loco was given the name Lucie and the number 8. Can anyone supply any more information?
The former Vieille Montagne Directorate office in Kelmis, Belgium
Eighteen months later the next phase in the development of what has become ‘Vieille Montagne Heritage’ took place in the town of Kelmis, in the former tiny neutral territory of Moresnet, sandwiched between Belgium, Holland and Prussia.
At the Saturday morning meeting about twenty delegates from Belgium, Germany, England, Holland, France, and Sweden were seated around the table. The State University of Liege, Belgium, was represented, the Maison de la Metallurgie et de l’Industrie de Liege, Belgium, Nenthead Mines Conservation Society of Cumbria in England, the Industrial Museum of the Rhineland, Germany, the Bergisches Museum of Bensberg, in Germany, the local authority of Kelmis, and ‘VM Building Solutions’ with its representatives from France, Germany and Britain. A group of archive researchers also attended to express their interest in examining the many metres of VM documents held in the Belgian State Archives.
‘Vieille Montagne Heritage’ was established with a committee consisting of a French Chairman, German and English Vice-chairmen, a Belgian Treasurer and Belgian Secretary – a miniature United Nations.
The meeting was recorded by Belgian national television and the local press, after which the contractor for the zinc roof, to be installed as part of the renovation work at the new museum, was interviewed on TV with a backdrop of the roller banner produced for the 120th Anniversary of the VM at Nenthead in Cumbria.
Guided tour around the VM Directorate office and site of zinc works, Kelmis, Belgium
That evening delegates were privileged to meet the mayor of Kelmis and to enjoy a meal at a restaurant in nearby Aachen, just across the border into Germany.
On Sunday 18th there was a talk by author Marc Bressant, to conference delegates and residents of Kelmis, on his fictional work (at present available only in French) about Neutral Moresnet, called ‘So Small a Territory’. The theme being the fact that Moresnet is a minute piece of land ‘the size of a large farm’, surrounded by Belgium, Holland and Prussia, that remained ‘neutral’ until after the First World War.
Vieille Montagne Heritage Chairman, Roger Balthus, with author Marc Bressant
A couple of small spin-offs were:
1. Contact has been made and much information exchanged between a former manager of the Zinkgruvan mine, not far from the Ammeberg mine in Sweden, where zinc ore was produced for shipping to Belgium, and the plant manager of the works at Balen in Belgium where that zinc was roasted.
OTTO Otto Martin Torell, a Swedish mining engineer who worked at Nenthead in Cumbria from 1897, when the VM first arrived, to 1900.
2. The identity of a Swedish mine engineer has been discovered to add to the list of foreign workers at Nenthead in Cumbria, England.