Thanks to local artists Merlyn Chesterton, Sue Plummer, Judith Westcott and Grizel Luttman-Johnson for sharing this wonderful picture of the day they went hunting Bideford Black on the beach at Greencliff...
bideford black feet, greencliff (m chesterton 2012)
We look forward to seeing the results of their creative endeavours at a special exhibition in September this year at the White Moose Gallery in Trinity Street, Barnstaple (www.whitemoose.co.uk).
Another Bideford Black worker has recently contacted the Project. Here is his story that he has kindly written down to share with us... “I worked at Bideford paint mines in 1960/61, whith a Mr Pasco, Cris Weeks, Jim Mugford, Bob Cann, Brian Jury and a Mr Gorge in charge. We worked on the surface. There were other men under ground. They were Mr Mugford and Donald Glover and more men but I can’t remember there names. They mined the pigment by hand, digging it out with pikes and shovel, and sending it to the surface in truckes pulled up by a winch. Some of it was like clay, some was like cole. Were it was then shoveled on to a conveyer belt and sent into a big revolving drum that was heated by a large furnace that was lit each morning, so it was broken down to smaller lumps and it then went to a big grinding drum and crushed into powder, and than into paper sackes and stored until lorrys came to take it away and transported it all over the world. Ther was also a packing shed, were we put the powder in to one pound and half pound packets and sent away, and some times they mixed a carbine power with it. When we finished a days work we would shower as there were showers on site as we would be black and dirty because it was a very dirty and noisy job.”
remnants of the 'paint mines’ and processing plant, chapel park (p ward 2013)
We were certainly not sure how many people and memories or just
what might be brought to the surface by our invitations to our first public
event – the SHOW & TELL day at the Burton on 20th March!
Preparations were made; tables and chairs arranged, exhibits displayed, pens, notepads,
cameras and voice recorders at the ready, questionnaires and forms printed,
workshop organized and refreshments laid out - and fear not, we were most
warm and enthusiastic gathering at the SHOW & TELL day (TDC 2013)
Along with two past Bideford Black miners (Gerald Ford and Ron
Pither) and two past secretaries of the company (Jenny Shepherd and Valerie
Horrell), relatives, artists and interested parties steadily proceeded into the
room all with stories to share. Much tea and many biscuits were consumed as a
small but energetic gathering developed around the tables recalling tales of
the mines, meeting work mates and friends from years past, memories bubbling
happily in the air.
Ford and Ron Pither sharing memories, with Paul Lewin’s wonderful Bideford Black drawing of Bideford Bay in the background (TDC 2013)
sharing experiences of using Bideford Black (TDC 2013)
On the day we collected a wealth
of stories, contributions and connections, and even a number of artefacts – an
original pick and a miners lamp, as well as the promise of a pot of Biddiblack made by the old paint shop on
Kingsley Road. Over the coming weeks and months we will try our best to post
them on the blog and follow them up to be included in the final display and
archive but for now those of us who took part will not easily forget the warmth
and enthusiasm shared on the day.
miner’s lamp and pick kindly donated to the project on the day (TDC 2013)
Many thanks to all who made the
effort to come along and who contributed in whatever way. We are looking
forward now more than ever to see just how the project develops and to sharing
our memories with you all…
Many thanks to all our special volunteers on this project for all their help yesterday at the Show and Tell Day at the Burton, it was a hugely successful event with lots of visitors and they didn't stop all day - thanks Ros, Mike and Nicole.
To promote the Story of Bideford Black project and publicize the Show & Tell event on 20th March at the Burton Gallery, a team from BBC1 Spotlight was invited to produce an article to be broadcast on their evening news program. On a beautiful sunny morning on Bideford Quay, with the old East the Water Mine site in the background, presenter Carol Madge and a cameraman quickly and efficiently story-lined a series of interviews and filming angles from the information provided by our team to sum up the project and its intentions.
Story of Bideford Black’ BBC1 Spotlight 14313
Many thanks to Peter Christie
(local historian), Chris Cornford (local geologist, IGI Ltd), Gerald Ford
(ex-Bideford Black miner) and his wife Wendy, Pete Ward (local artist) and
Miranda Clarke (Burton Gallery) for their enthusiastic contributions. It was
fascinating to experience both the professionalism of the BBC team to produce
the article so quickly about a subject they knew very little, and also to feel
the excitement generated in the small group as memories and thoughts about
Bideford Black were brought to the surface – a most promising indication of the
projects potential over the coming months.
sight of the mines (bideford black; p ward 2013) – painting made live by pete
ward on BBC1 Spotlight 14313
In early March, a lucky coincidence brought the nephew of the last
owner of Bideford Black Pigments Ltd to the Burton Gallery. Ken Cookes was
visiting the area to look into his family history when he arrived at the Burton
to see our posters requesting any information about Bideford Black. Talking to
exhibition and collections officer Warren Collum, Ken recalled how his slightly
wayward uncle, Howard St Louis Cookes, a black
sheep of the family, had been sent to Bideford from London in 1935 to help
liquidate the struggling Bideford Black Mining Company as part of his job as a well-to-do chartered accountant. However, ‘Uncle’ Howard had seen potential in the
business and, despite lack of support from his family, had decided to buy it and
bring it back to life. Howard's move started a lifelong obsession with mining and he spent many years travelling around the south west prospecting for other sites and making himself to other mining projects in the area. Ken remembered how Uncle Howard was reputed to have
lived a playboy lifestyle from his Westward Ho! flat until his marriage and had
owned a black convertible Riley sports car in which he would drive the Devon
‘Howard Cookes was rather eccentric &
Edwardian in outlook & manner.’ Ken
Howard Cookes’ connections in the Ministry of Defence had secured
business as a supplier of paint for tank camouflage, boat anti-foul and something
to do with ammunitions(?). He later married an ‘Avon Lady’ who despite much speculation had no connection to the MAX FACTOR
cosmetics company, who already had a factory based in East the Water, another lucrative avenue for business - Bideford Black being used in the production of mascara. Eventually Howard Cookes had folded the
company in 1969, after a brief period running a wood yard and manufacturing wooden
sheds at Chapel Park that were sold in Southampton.
Tony Cookes after his trip down the mineshaft with ‘Uncle Howard’, Chapel Park
Mines 1955 (Courtesy Tony Cookes)
Ken’s brother Tony, who now lives in Australia, was old enough to
be taken down the mines but Ken never got the chance to go down himself.
Many thanks to Ken and Tony for their contribution.
A table full of maps and documents from TDC’s file on Bideford Black compiled by John Spencer in the 1980’s
As part of our continuing search for
information about Bideford Black a fascinating and informative few hours were
spent with Jon Charles, Building Control Surveyor
from Torridge District Council, who shared research and maps completed by John
Spencer a former surveyor for the council in the early 1980’s, among others.
The presence of mine shafts beneath the town have made it necessary to study
the safety of building developments in certain areas - basically a strip of
land running east-west parallel with the old bridge between Greencliff and Chittlehampton
where the seams ends.
Map showing the two seams of BLACK across North Devon from ‘Foundations For Low Rise Buildings in Torridge District Council Devon’ by Derek Sheldon
A particularly inspiring publication
was ‘Foundations For Low Rise Buildings in Torridge District Council Devon’ by
the former head of Building Control Derek Sheldon, revealing a dedication to
hands on learning and presentation about the area rarely seen today. The book
was produced as part of Derek’s qualification for the job.
In general the maps and charts show a
surprising number of possible and known mine shafts across the town created for
the extraction of both anthracite and ‘paint’ from two parallel seamsinclined
at a 70 degree angle north to south, and included surveys regarding the Alverdiscott
‘link’ Road as well as various newspaper clippings of land collapses and
letters between planning authorities and the Mining Company. To counteract the
possibility of mineshaft collapses during building and development a process
known as ‘grouting’, whereby concrete is poured into any voids created by
mining activity, is employed.
Newspaper clippings and documents from TDC’s file on Bideford Black compiled by John Spencer in the 1980’s
Jon also recalled his own memories of
incidents regarding the mines from growing up in the area including
investigations into the ‘Liberty James’ scrap yard off Mines Road polluting the
water table through the dumping of cars into disused mineshafts. Many thanks to
Jon for his time and generosity in helping unravel the story further and giving
a well-informed and enthusiastic depth to yet another fascinating aspect of the
North Devon Maritime Museum (http://www.northdevonmaritimemuseum.co.uk/)
have kindly pointed us in the direction of this excellent book by Geologist Richard
A Edwards that they helped with the research for, along with other local
experts. The publication has an informative and well-illustrated chapter
devoted to Bideford Black, focusing on the geology and history of coal and pigment mining in North Devon from the earliest records in late 17th Century until the mines' closure in the 1969. It was published by Halsgrove
Press in 2010.
Last week Jenny
Shepherd, one of the last secretaries to work at the Bideford Black ‘Paint
Mines’, contacted us. She has kindly shared some of her memories …
“What I can remember:
I joined with my friend as a fully qualified secretary from the
then North Devon College in 1960/61. We did all duties from filing to
Balance Sheet, trial balance, wages, invoices, correspondence, reception and
everything in between. My friend remembers that we had to ask for the
'phone numbers we required as there were no dialling facilities.
Chapel Park Processing Plant Door (P Ward 2010)
The office was a very old nissen hut with a wooden floor which
had subsided so much on each side that there was a large open space (if memory
serves correctly it was about 9" across) running the length of the room
where the boards had come apart and from where the dust permeated.
Although It was extremely cold and dirty there was a very inefficient and
antiquated cast iron, wood-burning stove that we were allowed to use when our
fingers turned white and got too cold to type. In fact, everything was
antiquated and damp. The whole thing was situated in the middle of a wood
at the end of Mines Road which was then just a country lane. We were not
allowed to see either the mine or the sawmills although we were promised to
have a conducted tour. Unfortunately it didn't happen. When we got home
we had to scrub our faces with a nail brush and soap to remove the waterproof
dust although it was not so apparent on us as it was on the miners' faces and
hands. I don't think there were any washing facilities for the men but
cannot be certain. We worked for Howard St Louis Cooke who was an
accountant as well as (I think) a mining authority and certainly Victorian in
his work ethic (and in other ways too which are better forgotten)! He
tried to be a divisive employer but luckily my friend and I remain close to
this day. The names which we can remember are Mr Wally Mugford (mining
foreman), Mr Arthur who was possibly in charge of the sawmill and a Martin
Pascoe. The first has been deceased for a large number of years as I
suspect has the second. Mr Pascoe was much younger than them but older
than we were. Mr Mugford and Mr Arthur treated us very kindly. I
believe Mr Pascoe later became a private detective. There may also have
been a Mr Dymond.
‘Biddiblack’ and ‘Jetablack’ were mined and processed into
powder at that time. I understand in the beginning these dyes were used
to colour the black pointing between the bricks of Victorian buildings but that
subsequently the main monies were made during the war when it was used for
camouflage purposes. I also understood that it might have been used later
in the production of makeup.
There was also a sawmill business which, in those days, was
We were advised that the mines travelled beyond Weare Giffard
towards Torrington and possibly beyond but I do not know if or how they would
have been filled in. Mr Cooke owned many detailed maps. I know,
just on one occasion, when we were returning home from work there was a most
eerie sound which sounded like the then popular theme music of the TV programme
Quatermass. We had never run so fast in our lives. We believe it
was just the angle of the wind through trees and over one of the shafts but it
terrified us at the time!
Rather different circumstances than today's!
Chapel Park Processing Plant Site (P Ward 2010)
Many thanks to Jenny, and we look
forward to any other details she might recall…
We were recently shown these two photos from the www.northam-devon.co.uk website - one a view from the old paint mines across to Cleave in Northam, the other a painting of a donkey on a shed very near the mines using black paint, possibly Bideford Black itself ( lets hope so, the image is fantastic)...
Cleave from behind mine at Bideford (from www.northam-devon.co.uk)
Northam Donkey House (from www.northam-devon.co.uk)
However, as yet we haven’t found their source or any verification of the nature of the donkey painting - there is no accreditation on the www.northam-devon.co.uk website or any means of contacting the authors. If anyone has any information regarding the source of these photographs we would really appreciate it so that full credit and even copyright information may be given and the possibility of using them in future publications may be possible. Many Thanks :-)