I Twitter!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Pitmen Painters... (1934 - 1984)


I know you might have heard of the Pitmen Painters.

At least, you might have heard of Lee Hall's play which has won hearts on Tyneside, in London, and soon to be seen on Broadway so I hear...

You might not have had the chance to read William Feaver's book on the men who came from my community, the 'Ashington group' that inspired the play.

Ashington, once claimed as, "the biggest mining village in the world".

The pitmen, weary after hours of back-breaking toil down filthy and often dangerous mines, resorted to pastimes and hobbies, to ease their minds, to save them from going mad... Or turning to drink. (For Ashington was a bit of a temperance town in those days... Nowadays, there are very few public houses (pubs) in Ashington, for reasons of law, the landed gentry (the Duke of Portland) and temperance... What sprang up instead were oodles of Working Men's Clubs. More of that another day, me bloggy birds).

They grew leeks down their allotments (tick for Fhina!), they kept and raced pigeons (no tick. Yet...), they would spin yarns (tick) and some of them turned to art appreciation (tick!).

The Ashington Group (CLICKIE) would meet at first in the local YMCA and later in their own hut, which I used to drive past until it was torn down in the Eighties, and which my grandfather, himself a talented artist, also attended... They would critique one another's and other artists' work (courtesy of books loaned out by the Public Library) under the wing of a lecturer from the local Technical College, where my uncles also studied to better themselves when not down the mine...

Practically self-taught, what developed was a unique and telling record of isolated and singular lives predominantly spent underground. Naive and beautiful images all. Poignant and heart-felt.

Racing wan whippets, growing green and flowering plants in their meagre allocations of garden, grafting hard at the coal-face hewing black gold from the bitter seams, tending to sturdy pit-ponies and ramshackle pigeon crees, strenuously pulling bogies (carts) and chains down the pit.

Oliver Kilbourn became perhaps the most famous artist. Tom McGuiness and George Blessed (uncle of the famous 'act-or', the loud Brian Blessed), George McLean, George and Leslie Brownrigg, Arthur Whinnom and Andrew Rankin, among other men, stand out...

This was a predominantly male-dominated world, patriarchal, hierarchical, but with strong women waiting back at home, tending the fires, making bread and plain drop-scones on the high-maintenance blackened range, washing soot-filthy linens in the poss-tub in the backyard, counting the black pennies out of the wage-packet, filling the tin bath up with 'scadding wattor' before the blazing fire for the men 'comin' hyem', and most important of all, raising the bairns...

A unique period in history, of which I am proud to be a very small part.


2 comments:

LPC said...

Very interesting.

jinksy said...

So free time creativity compensates for unpleasant jos, eh? What's new?! LOL :)

Something I wrote earlier...

Blog Widget by LinkWithin