This project has been developed by The Burton Art Gallery & Museum, with thanks to Torridge District Council and The Friends of The Burton

Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Story of Bideford Black - Schools Exhibition at the Burton

The Story of Bideford Black Schools Exhibition showcases work by Pupils of East the Water School and St Helen’s Primary School, Abbotsham.

Pete Ward led workshops with these two local schools, with the aid of Burton volunteers Ros, Nicole and Mike. The pupils learnt all about The Story of Bideford Black and met ex-miner, Ron Pither. They asked him questions about working in the Bideford Black mines and also visited Mines Road in East the Water, to look for any evidence of the mining industry and to hear Ron’s tales. The pupils then produced paintings about The Story of Bideford Black using the pigment itself.
painting courtesy st helens primary school, abbotsham

A selection of the paintings are displayed in the Café at the Burton for this special exhibition from 21st September to 21st October. The artworks created were spontaneous pieces, made by the children’s response to the material and what it feels like to paint with. The original paintings give a sense of the material, its textural qualities and how it behaves when applied to paper; some paintings are just black! 
painting courtesy st helens primary school, abbotsham

Thursday, 19 September 2013

we’re still digging

some last minute research but better late than never…

Its amazing where research into a subject may take you and the fascinating sidelines, distractions and personalities that may brighten your journey (while at the same time tempting you away from your eventual goal). The Story of Bideford Black Project has been no exception. Nearly every encounter has been a wonderful gateway to another story, an intriguing aspect of local history or contemporary politics, or simply a charming addition to the vast array of personal accounts and memories we have collected along the way – testament to the rich diversity and interconnectness of our world. Unfortunately not every detail can be preserved or represented, and the difficult process of filtering out the superfluous and endearing from the essential elements of the research, and of deciding what we want to, and can, say within the always-limited resources of time, space and money that are available have to be made.

BB trolley painting courtesy St Helen’s Primary School, Abbotsham

One such lead took me to meet local industrial archaeologist and Bideford railway enthusiast Felton Vowler. Felton has been interested in gathering information and artifacts about North Devon’s industrial past since the 1970’s and remembers visiting the ‘Paint Mines’ and gingerly entering the disused mineshaft at Chapel Park a few years after its closure in 1969. Felton’s main interest had been in the railway systems associated with the mining industry, an interest that continues today with his dedicated work as secretary of the Bideford Heritage Railway[i] at Bideford and Instow Stations on the Tarka Trail. When he was younger Felton had been an outdoor activities instructor and keen caver and climber. He and a friend had gone into the mine but quickly left after deeming it far too unsafe. He remembers seeing two of the old mining trolleys and lengths of railway track but sadly was unable to retrieve them. They must still be sitting there today!

OLD KING COAL... and a Paint Mine too! Parts 1,2,3 an article by Felton Vowler for the Atlantic Coast Express Magazine issues 58, 59 and 60, 2004 (click image to enlarge)

On the same visit Felton also spotted an old haulage sign at the entrance to the mine. The sign instructed operators of the bell code used in the mines. For the sake of posterity Mr Vowler acquired the sign and took it home for safekeeping. On meeting with him earlier in the year the whereabouts of the sign had unfortunately become a bit of a mystery! In the mean time Felton also vaguely remembered seeing a large enamel BIDDIBLACK sign at the Milky Way Adventure Park[ii] near Clovelly when the LynBarn Railway was there. Both the Milky Way and present Lynton Railway[iii] at Woody Bay had no recollection of the sign BUT Dave Tooke from Lynton Railway did have the Bideford Black Pigments Ltd haulage sign that Felton had lent to him some years earlier! On visiting the Woody Bay site to collect the sign for the project I was treated to a lovely ride on the railway along with a chance to look at the lovingly restored steam engines kept there.

BB Haulage Sign (paper on hardboard), courtesy F Vowler (photo Dave Tooke, Lynton Railway)

With the new display in its final stages of design and manufacture the project is still open to any information and artifacts you may have and may wish to contribute to make it the best representation and reflection of this fascinating and vital industry to Bideford’s rich and evolving history.  It is hoped that the display will inspire further interest in the subject and provoke more fond memories, and has thus been designed to allow for further contributions as they arise. We continue to look forward to hearing from you. So, many thanks to all those who have generously contributed so freely along the trail and here’s to fascinating sidelines and distractions, and to the wonder, inquisitiveness and camaraderie of human nature and to the richness and abundance of the world on which our livelihood depends!

A lovely day with LynBarn Railway, Woody Bay Station (p ward 2013)

Getting our hands dirty at last!

Bideford Black School Workshops and Exhibition

A very important aspect of the Story of Bideford Black Project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund All Our Stories Grant, has been the sharing of stories across generations, or more simply put - the old miners sharing their stories with the kids. So, having gathered a great deal of information we asked two local schools, both situated at significant places along the Bideford Black seam, to take part in a series of workshops. East the Water Community Primary School on Mines Road and St Helen’s C of E Primary School, Abbotsham most kindly agreed.

Getting our hands dirty at last - East the Water Primary School Workshop 1 (photos Mike Hedges 2013)
Getting our hands dirty at last - East the Water Primary School Workshop 1 (photos Mike Hedges 2013)
A walk along Mines Road with Ron Pither and St Helen's Primary School (photos Sadie Green 2013)

The 4 daylong workshops engaged the children (aged between 9-12 years old) and teachers (ages unknown) with their local history, that is Bideford Black Mining, through a simple presentation, a Q&A session with ex-miner Ron Pither and a short walk along Mines Road across Manteo Way to the old mine site at Chapel Park, looking at any evidence of the industry along the way. The children were then given a simple demonstration of how to make paint using raw Bideford Black pigment and then asked to create illustrations of the stories they had heard earlier using Bideford Black itself. While some children chose to illustrate of the stories, others simply enjoyed and learnt about the feel of this very different paint. Some of the pictures would then be used as part of the final display and shown in a special exhibition of work at the Burton Gallery.

As was hoped the children got thoroughly covered in the sooty black pigment and enjoyed a great day of stories, outdoor activity and painting. Everyone was surprised at the quality and richness of the paint, how it often didn’t do quite what they wanted it to, and worked very hard to make some great pictures. Nearly 400 paintings were made over the four days, East the Water School continuing the project during the week with further studies – we were utterly spoilt for choice. Thank you all for working so hard. We hope you all learnt something too!? The exhibition of paintings will be open to the public for a month in the Café du Parc at the Burton Art Gallery from 24th September.

Mining, painting courtesy St Helen's Primary School
Paintings courtesy East the Water Primary School
Paintings courtesy St Helen's Primary School
 Paintings courtesy St Helen's Primary School 2
Black Boat, painting courtesy St Helen's Primary School

The workshops were led by artist Peter Ward and co-ordinated by Sadie Green with help from Burton Art Gallery volunteers Ros Ford, Mike Hedges and Nicole Hickin. They were enthusiastically supported by the teachers and teaching assistants at both schools – many thanks to all. Learning Coordinators Sadie Green and Julian Vayne have developed further educational material resulting from the project in the form of a Learning Pack for schools to accompany the display.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

So much information and so little time!

Over the last few months the project team have been excited and inspired by the stories of the ex-miners and workers from the Bideford Black Pigments Ltd, from people who grew up playing around the mines, as well as from others with incredible knowledge about the local history and geology surrounding the pigment. From tales of long dirty hours working underground to practical jokes and games out of sight of the boss (if you were caught you would be polishing his black Riley sports car!), along with reams of newspaper cuttings, maps, photographs and fascinating relics acquired from the derelict mines and complex geochemical papers we are accumulating audio and video and good-old-fashioned written recordings about the subject. So now to unravel and assess the material, to arrange and rearrange and compose it all to reveal a simple and effective means to share The Story of Bideford Black for everyone to enjoy.

 Wally Mugford (ex-foreman), Jimmy Mugford (processing-plant worker) and brother with lorry driver at the mines, holding mining lamps, c.1953.
Bideford Black Pigment Ltd mining lamps donated to the project by Don Kersey.

Having brought everything together and chosen the most appropriate parts to express the essence of this tale, we will next be taking the Story to a few local schools, along with a specially created Teacher’s pack by Learning Co-ordinator Sadie Green. 120 children will be treated to a special Bideford Black day where they will be taken on a walk to look at the few remains of the mining industry in the town in the company of artist Pete Ward and ex-miners Gerald Ford and Ron Pither and then invited to paint their interpretations of the stories using Bideford Black itself. Some of the pictures will then be displayed in a special exhibition to be held in the Burton Gallery when the new display is unveiled in October. It’s going to be a busy summer!

drawing on bideford black

An artist studying BA (Drawing) at University College Falmouth recently contacted the project after reading our requests to record our experiences with Bideford Black. Ed Eva, originally from the North Devon area, consequently hunted down the seam and gathered a small amount for his own personal use. He has since explored the pigment as a painting medium, enjoying its matt intensity and flexibility, as a simple drawing tool and as a printing medium. To find out more about Ed’s fascinating experiments visit http://edmundeva.wordpress.com/2013/04/ and thanks Ed for sharing your thoughts.

 bideford black ‘ink’ drawing (Edmund Eva 2013)
 matt black bideford black paint (Edmund Eva 2013)
bideford black carbon paper print (Edmund Eva 2013)

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Bideford Black in the Bideford BUZZ

The following article and images were kindly contributed by Chris Hassall and republished with the permission of the BIDEFORD BUZZ where the article was originally printed in Dec 2011. The article offers a wonderfully concise piece of personal research based in a genuine interest in local social and natural history and some great photos. Many thanks Chris. 

More About Bideford Black...

Most people will know that “Bideford Black” is derived from a sort of coal deposit that was once mined around Bideford and used to make a protective black paint for coating ships' bottoms. It can safely be assumed that the terms Biddiblack and Filliblack (as in Filliblack Way) are derived from this Bideford product being used as a filler for caulking seams as well as a paint. Details of the uses and processes involved can be read in books from Bideford Library, but I propose to outline a little of what can still be seen of the places where Bideford Black used to be mined.

Most of the Torridge landscape is underlain by contorted strata of mixed sandstone and shale beds, all of which run in an approximately east-west orientation. Amongst these rock strata are a few bands of carbon rich shales and coal, which also used to be known as culm, and it is these that were mined, first for fuel and later to produce the famous Bideford Black paint, which gave rise to the curious name of the “Paint Mines”.
Mary Anne Adit before closure (Chris Hassall 2010)

Looking at maps and street plans, one can see names such as Mines Road and Pit Lane which would appear to have connections with the mining industry, yet they seem quite unconnected with each other, one being east of East the Water and the other on the hill to the west of the town centre. Then a couple of years ago when ground works for a new housing development called Harlseywood were being excavated off Abbotsham Road, opposite the end of Moreton Park Road, vast quantities of black shale were dug up, indicating that the culm beds were coming to the surface here as well. Finally, walking along the beach at the base of Abbotsham Clffs, (taking due heed of the risk of falling boulders) there is a point where a band of coal appears in the bottom of the cliff face. This is not easy to locate, being masked by undergrowth and loose soil and gravel, nor is it good coal for burning, and certainly not worth the long walk with a wheelbarrow to help yourself !
Mary Anne Adit after closure (Chris Hassall 2011)

If you take a ruler and join up these places on the map, you find they are on an approximate straight line which, if continued eastwards, passes close to Hiscott where at Somers, in another little valley running down to the river Taw, there are old quarries that also used to dig coal. It seems a safe assumption that the culm seams ran straight from Abbotsham Cliffs to Somers, being hidden under higher ground to the east of East the Water and having been eroded away by the formation of the Torridge valley alongside which Bideford grew up.
Mary Anne Adit interior (Chris Hassall 2011)

I don't know of any existing signs of the pits that Pit Lane is named after (although historian Peter Christie may well know better), but there are old photographs that show a mineral railway or conveyor emerging from the cliffs above Ethelwyn Brown Close, which used to be railway goods yard in the past, and it is said that an adit (horizontal mine shaft) followed the culm seam through the hill from there to the mines at the end of Mines Road.
It is at Mines Road, the eastern end beyond Manteo Way, that the recent (before and after World War Two) mining operations took place. Here there were several adits giving access to different seams of culm at varying levels in the side of the deep little valley through Cleave Wood, as well as vertical shafts opening from the meadows beside the road. The seams had picturesque names like “Paint Seam” and “No.1 and No.2 Mary Ann Seams”. The last of the adits was closed off to prevent access only last year, with a concrete block wall leaving a small space guarded by a metal grille to allow bats to fly in to hibernate over winter. Badgers have taken over the mining operation now and are active in the side of the valley and the old spoil heaps, busily digging their own tunnels and “ovens” (Henry Williamson's name for their living chambers). However a builder has planning permission to develop the site, and heavy machinery has been “landscaping” much of the area so that soon this last remnant of Bideford's mining heritage will be lost.
Chapel Park lane, 7 months later (Chris Hassall 2011)

The names of Pit Lane, Mines Road and Fillablack Road may soon be all that is left to remind us."

Chris Hassall 09/11/2011

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Bideford Black Five goes to Hartland Quay 23413

"Attempt what is not certain. 
Certainty may or may not come later. 
It may then be a valuable delusion.” 
Richard Diebenkorn.

On a misty April morning five North Devon artists brought together by The Story of Bideford Black project and the prospect of a group exhibition at the White Moose Gallery in Barnstaple, set out with paper and brushes and various concoctions and blends of Bideford Black in hand to simply see what the day might bring. Merlyn Chesterman, Judith Westcott, Griz Luttman-Johnson, Sue Plummer and Pete Ward are artists from quite different perspectives and experience but who all share a deep appreciation of the natural world as an inspiration for their work and, of course, an interest in the possibilities of Bideford Black as a creative medium. The day started with discussion about our experiences so far with the ‘black stuff’ and led onto the various ways we might like to approach creating artwork individually and as a group for the forthcoming show. 

 judith and merlyn (BB5 2013)

 sue and gris (BB5 2013)

 pete's bb beach graffiti 

 lunch break at hartland quay (BB5 2013)

 group paintings 1+2 (BB5 2013)

 group painting 2, detail (BB5 2013)

group signature sheet (BB5 2013)

The breathtaking location of Hartland Quay inspired a predominantly ‘geological’ response and an exciting experimental group painting involving the action of the waves and sand on various mixtures of the pigment. Historically a local carpenter had used a source of Bideford Black from Hartland to paint and stain furniture, although the whereabouts of the seam is not clear today[i]. 'The Bideford Black Five' plan to meet next in woodland to see how a different environment, similarly connected to the pigment, may influence their creative responses…

[i] see BIDEFORD BLACK The History of a Unique Local Industry by SOUND ARCHIVES NORTH DEVON 1994, p5

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

bats, black badgers and development plans

chapel park development site, april 2013 (p ward 2013)

As the Show & Tell day at the Burton in March drew to a close we were approached by a gentleman whose interest in the project was a concern about the inclusion of the Bideford Black Pigment Ltd Chapel Park Mine and Processing Plant site in the Torridge District Council’s Development Plans[i]. His distress was caused not by the obliteration of a site of local historic interest or the possibility of the dangers of building over numerous mineshafts and underground cavities, but for the safety of the resident badger population whose sett entrances may be seen in the black topsoil littering the area and which had apparently been disturbed by precursory development of the site. Indeed on a recent visit to the site with ex-miners we tried to imagine its previous incarnation as they reminisced about the tranquil beauty of the valley where they played as children, courted their loved ones and worked many years ago. Apart from the concrete lined stream (to stop the mine shafts flooding) and the dusty noise of the processing plant, the valley was lined with trees and surrounded by dairy farms – ‘a beautiful place to work, right out in the country.’ It was hard to imagine looking across the piles of rubble and freshly landscaped land, surrounded by new housing developments and supermarket. Let’s hope that whatever development does take place at Chapel Park is done with respect and sensitivity to its rich past.

black badger setts, cleave wood (p ward 2010)
mary ann mine shaft entrance with bat portal, cleave wood (p ward 2013)
bideford black bats (earth pigments on paper; p ward 2013)

The gentleman also informed us of the cleaning away of several cars and sealing of the old Mary Ann shaft entrance in Cleave Wood in January 2011. While the blocking up of the mine for safety’s sake has been done quite clumsily it has included a small portal to allow for the comings and goings of a rare and protected population of horseshoe bats who have taken residence in the tunnels. Looking through the opening into the darkness beyond to the sound of persistent dripping can only give a glimpse of the miners’ daily working conditions but it is well worth a look if you are sure-footed enough to find it.

view inside mary ann mineshaft, cleave wood (p ward 2013)

[i] On further investigation it was discovered that it is for sale for £1.4 million with plans for 13 luxury detached properties. The plans also include landscaping and regeneration of the woodland and stream as a nature conservation area. For further information about the development see http://www.primelocation.com/for-sale/land/bideford/?include_retirement_homes=true&include_shared_accommodation=true&include_shared_ownership=true&new_homes=include&price_frequency=per_month&property_type=land&q=Bideford%2C%20Devon&results_sort=highest_price&search_source=for-sale

A Day at work in a Miner’s Life at the Bideford Black Mine…

I have written the following story as it might have been, having talked in my research to two miners both of whom were extremely helpful and informative: thank you very much to Ron Pither and Gerald Ford. 
Ros Ford (Lead Volunteer, The Story of Bideford Black)

chapel park paint works revisited (ros ford 2013)

A Day at work in a Miner’s Life at the Bideford Black Mine…

Having had breakfast I walked up Mines Road for 0800 hours ready to start work. Upon entering the mine I walked past the office on the right to the shower block to change into my work clothes: Work clothes kept there for the purpose of mining, no special safety wear other than a hat, and wellington boots to keep my feet dry:-just old clothes caked in Bideford Black from previous days work... A carbon lamp in addition to show the way when underground and to detect any unwanted gases, and a pick axe to hue the rock out with.

As I walked into the mine the uprights made of wood formed the ribs of the mine and they joined together overhead with fir and pine tree branches in which hornets were sometimes found nesting .Once the seam was reached, work began, hard manual labour with a pick-axe.

The Biddie Black was mined out and put into a truck  which was then hauled up on a winch wire. There is a bell system to ensure that everyone knows to be out of the way as the trucks are hauled up and down the track:

1 = Stop
2 = Truck  coming down.
3 = Truck coming up
4 = Someone walking up and down.
(Roughly 6 trams a day are produced full of Bideford Black. each weighing  a ton).

photo 1: ron pither and gerald ford at the entrance to 'mary anne' (ros ford 2013)

To ensure there is air inside the mine there is a shaft called ” The Mary Anne” ( see photo 1). This ensures that  fresh air is always circulating within the mine, healthy enough for us to breathe. If I need a wee while at work, I just find an appropriate place and relieve myself and cover it with soil that is lying around, anything more I have to go up to the surface and use the toilets :- ( these toilets have a green door with green lattice work above them ( see photo 2)

At the end of the shift I resurface and head for the shower block very basic showers which at the end of the shift are very black. Biddie black by its very nature is very black, oily and takes a lot of washing out. The carbolic soap used to wash is provided by the management. I remove my work clothes, shower, change back into my “ going to work clothes” and then head for home and supper and rest after a very physically demanding day.

photo 2: paint works toilet door (ros ford 2013)

Apparently after finishing working in the mine, one of the miners said that his skin actually sweated black pigment for about three months!

Good camaraderie was essential when working together in the mine, they all relied upon each other to keep one another safe and interestingly during the time that the two miners I spoke to worked at the pit  there were no serious accidents.

Regarding the hornets found nesting as one of the miners told me, "They didn’t bother us and we didn’t bother them”.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Black Field, Greencliff

If you follow the seam of Bideford Black east up over the cliff at Greencliff you might be lucky enough to notice how the fields above carry the colour change in their soil, as a black/grey line at the top of the ridge. What evidently lies beneath the earth’s surface shapes and colours and even feeds our needs as inhabitants of the planet, affecting and even, it may be said, creating our ‘culture’, whether it be our agricultural, industrial or creative affairs. While bare fields are arguably not the best way to treat and nourish the land both for our own agricultural purposes or the encouragement of the rich biodiversity upon which our existence depends[i], such vast expanses of soil do allow us to appreciate the richness and diversity of the geology that underpins the places we live.
black field, greencliff (p ward 2013)

This intermittent, undulating and variable seam of 350 million year old Bideford Black runs from Greencliff in the west almost directly east, through Bideford to Hawkridge Wood near Umberleigh in the Taw valley. If you have seen any evidence of it in the fields, streams and hedgerows around you it would be fantastic to hear from you, or to see any photos you might have taken.

[i] see Graham Harvey, The Carbon Fields (Bridgewater UK; GRASSROOTS, 2008)