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

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Modern Day Miners

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).

Bideford Paint Mines by Brian Fishleigh

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)

Ron Pither’s List...

On the SHOW & TELL Day ex-Bideford Black miner Ron Pither, with the help of others who came, kindly wrote down a list of all those he could remember who had worked in the mines (see image).

If you can remember any other names associated with the ‘paint mines’ it would be fantastic to hear from you...

Friday, 22 March 2013

SHOW & TELL @ the Burton Gallery 20313

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 pleasantly surprised…
a 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.
Gerald Ford and Ron Pither sharing memories, with Paul Lewin’s wonderful Bideford Black drawing of Bideford Bay in the background (TDC 2013)
Artists 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.
the 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…                                                                                                          

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Many Thanks

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.

BBC1 Spotlight 14313

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.
‘The 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.

in sight of the mines (bideford black; p ward 2013) – painting made live by pete ward on BBC1 Spotlight 14313

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Memories of ‘Uncle Howard’

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 Lanes.

‘Howard Cookes was rather eccentric & Edwardian in outlook & manner.’ Ken Cookes (nephew)

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. 

Mr 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.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Two Black Seams beneath the Little White Town

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 project.

'Devon's Non-metal Mines' by Richard A Edwards

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.

Bideford Black Pigments Ltd (It was never just "Bideford Black") and of course "Paint Mines" was just a local name…

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 relatively new. 

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!

Kind regards
Jenny Shepherd “

Chapel Park Processing Plant Site (P Ward 2010)

Many thanks to Jenny, and we look forward to any other details she might recall… 

we need your stories!

Our poster to publicise the SHOW & TELL day at the Burton on the 20th March, form 1100 to 330...
We look forward to seeing you there.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Mystery Photos

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 :-)