A museum is celebrating receiving a national award less than a year after it opened, The Purbeck Mineral and Mining Museum, near Corfe Castle, has been granted Heritage Railway Association’s Interpretation Award for 2013.

Judges praised the museum for its unique underground experience in explaining the history behind Purbeck ball clay mining.

Peter Sills, chairman of the Purbeck Mineral and Mining Museum, expressed his delight at the news.

He said: “This prestigious national award is the best present that everyone associated with the Purbeck Mineral and Mining Museum over the past 12 years could want.

“It’s an important national recognition and endorsement of some 30,000 hours of hard work by a small team of dedicated and committed volunteers.”

Volunteers spent 12 years planning and building the museum from scratch.

It sits on the site of the old Victorian ball clay works demolished during the 1970s.

The museum features a realistic reconstruction of an underground tunnel, a rebuilt mine building, and a 300m section of narrow gauge railway. Narrow gauge industrial steam trains were brought back to the Isle of Purbeck for the first in 60 years in September. Robin Jones, editor of Heritage Railway magazine, acts as one of the award’s judges.

He said: “I first visited the Purbeck Mineral and Mining Museum last summer and was astonished at just what had been achieved by the volunteers who have developed it.

“This museum is, by far, one of the best I have come across in recent years. It is Dorset’s unsung gem and a real jewel in the crown of the Isle of Purbeck.”