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The Pit Road - from Bishop’s Close Street

One of the most iconic images associated with Cornish’s work is the classic ‘Pit Road’. Often showing the final stages of the long walk to Dean and Chapter Colliery at all times of the night and day, as well as different times of the year. It was a journey of about three miles. It is no wonder that the daily experience left an indelible mark on his mind, and is represented so frequently in his work.

What is often overlooked is the start of the Pit Road which is featured today. Cornish would leave his front door at 33 Bishop’s Close Street, turn immediately left, and at the end of the row of houses the railway embankment forced the next left turn at the beginning of the Pit Road. The road (no vehicles), continued to the tunnel under the railway line, out of sight in the picture where the street lamp post looks much smaller. The early stage of the Pit Road then continued parallel with the railway line prior to veering off towards the Dean & Chapter Colliery. A detailed plan including images can be seen on pages 186 -187 in ‘Behind the Scenes; The Norman Cornish Sketchbooks’.

One other interesting feature of the picture is that the Flo-master Pen and watercolour is on a section from either The Radio Times or a newspaper; most likely the Radio Times. The word Home refers to the Home Service which was the popular channel during the 50s and 60s prior to the introduction of Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4 in 1967.

The picture also records a piece of local history which has disappeared. The journey along this road was undertaken by thousands of men walking to ‘the pit’ but it was also a short cut to Low Spennymoor where the factories were located. As the mines were closing men and women were beginning to work in the factories during a post war period of immense social change. The Dog Track was also in this area and very much a part of the cultural landscape, for the owners of Whippets and Greyhounds which feature in so many bar scenes.

The picture of the beginning of the Pit Road will be exhibited at the forthcoming exhibition

‘Norman Cornish: Behind the Scenes – Revealed,’ at Castlegate House Gallery, Cockermouth, Cumbria from September 18th to October 9th

Beamish Museum: Part 2

Number 2 Front Street will tell the story of The Spennymoor Settlement which was the cradle of creativity for aspiring artists, writers and poets during the 1930s. The story will be based around the family home of Norman Cornish, 33 Bishops Close Street where he lived from 1953 until 1967. Lisa Kaimenas, Project Officer-Community Participation, said “It’s a very typical National Coal Board house, as Norman was a hewer in the Dean and Chapter Colliery and his house was included as part of his wages.”

Norman and Sarah moved into 33 Bishop Close Street in May 1953 and lived there until he retired in 1966 due to a back condition. He became a full-time professional artist and the family moved to Whitworth Terrace where he was able to establish a studio to support his work. The studio is on long-term loan at Spennymoor Town Hall and many of the original contents from Bishops Close Street have been carefully maintained and prepared to be included when number 2 Front Street finally opens some time in 2022.

The exhibit will tell the story of Norman and his family, as well as life in the town, including the Spennymoor Settlement which he joined as soon as he was able on his 15th birthday. The Settlement was part of a wider national movement and nurtured the talent of artists Norman Cornish MBE, Tom McGuinness, Bob Heslop and Burt Dees. The author and playwright Sid Chaplin OBE, and newspaper journalist and editor Arnold Hadwin OBE were also active members of the Spennymoor Settlement.

Beamish Museum staff have worked very hard to ensure that as many places as possible will be accessible in the Cornish house and the upstairs, art space/studio space will be accessible by a lift acquired with support from the Banks Community Fund. To ensure as accurate representation as possible, the staff engaged in diligent searches for items to be included in the house. A recent example was provided by Shannon from the design team who managed to find a living room range (fireplace) as below. An additional image of Norman photographed in the actual living room is also below. Notice a portrait of Rembrandt in the corner! Just along the street will be the iconic Berriman’s Chip Van – hankies essential.

What a team at Beamish in all aspects of this amazing project.

Beamish Museum Latest News Part 1

Some of our most popular posts have been the progress reports from staff at Beamish Museum regarding the development of the former Cornish family home from the 1950s and early 60s. The project to recreate 33 Bishops Close Street, with some minor adjustments, is within the overall re-making Beamish 1950s town project.

Progress has accelerated in the past few months and we are delighted to be able to share a virtual tour of the house created by Emmanuel Kaimenas and Beamish Museum. Start at the front door and visit each room by clicking on the link below.

33 Bishops Close Street Tour

To move forward click on the arrow, and to read key pieces of information, click on the information button to reveal the content.

We are indebted to all of the staff at Beamish Museum and individuals and organisations that have provided partnership support throughout the project. The project is about 33 Bishops Close Street but it is also ‘a slice of life’ for so many other people in the region and beyond, evoking memories of their own life and times.

Thankyou Beamish for keeping the spirit alive, and the memories as an inspiration to all of those who share an interest in the project.

To be continued …. next week: Part 2

Rosa Street School

The late 19th century was an interesting period in the emergence of Spennymoor as a town in SW Durham, midway between Durham and Bishop Auckland. In 1853 the Weardale Iron and Coal Company opened the Ironworks at Tudhoe and hundreds of immigrant workers arrived from the Midlands, Wales and Lancashire. As a town, Spennymoor came into existence in 1864 and the original Town Hall, situated on the High Street, opened in 1870. Spennymoor was ringed with collieries, blast furnaces and coke ovens. Very poor housing conditions prevailed and even by 1920 fewer than 10% of the town houses had water closets.

To meet the needs of an expanding population Rosa St School opened in 1870 and the external features of the school have remained unchanged. The school is situated near the lower end of Edward Street and viewing the ‘streetscape’ (previously unseen), Edward St can be seen with St Paul’s church ‘crowning the top of the street.’ To the left hand side , out of sight is the Zebra crossing providing safe passage for children, parents and grandparents taking children to and from school. Rosa St. school provides a focal point for children, parents with prams and all sorts of people going about their daily business. In his own words:

“Spennymoor has all that a painter needs in order to depict humanity.”

In May 2011 the Beamish Museum arranged a return to Spennymoor for the iconic Berriman’s Chip Van, following a period of restoration. The vehicle was parked at the side of the playground at Rosa St. School where staff from the museum were also in attendance. One afternoon Norman and Sarah Cornish also visited the chip van and after a short period of time a crowd gathered. A chair was quickly provided for Norman and he spoke at length about the chip van and Rosa St. School.

Rosa Street School is featured in ‘Behind The Scenes: The Norman Cornish Sketchbooks’ along with St Paul’s Church, Edward Street and the Zebra Crossing, All are iconic locations featured on The Norman Cornish Trail. Details available at

Next week – The latest from Beamish Museum - A Virtual Tour

St. Paul’s Church

In 1967 the Cornish family was obliged to move away from Bishop’s Close Street which was scheduled for demolition. It was a period of huge social change across the county, as exhausted mines were closing, employment patterns were changing and folks had to adapt to a very different era. The new home at 67 Whitworth Terrace provided more expansive accommodation as it had been a former Methodist Minister’s home. The large office eventually became Cornish’s studio.

The house had easy access to the town centre, no more than a walk of five minutes, and the first subject of interest on an almost daily walk was St. Paul’s church.

St. Paul’s was consecrated in 1856 but in 1953 a large fire ripped through the building and reduced the church to a ruin. A local man was later convicted- it was believed that he had a grudge against the church because he had previously been convicted of stealing the communion wine! The rebuild task was enormous and took over three years but the opening was rewarded by a visit from the late Queen Mother who was passing through the region.

Next to St. Paul’s church was Edward Street and within a relatively short distance were other iconic locations such as Rosa Street School, The Zebra Crossing, Eddy’s Fish Shop, and all before arriving at Berriman’s Chip Van, just off the High Street near the Town Hall. All of these locations were of interest to Cornish at different times of the day and night as well as different seasons in the year. St Pauls Church originally had a perimeter wall which was later removed and immediately revealed the position of the church to full effect in all sorts of different atmospheric conditions. In his own words:

“At night about 6-30pm (now October) when it is just turning dusk, there is a magical quality in the atmosphere. Tonight is drizzly and misty slightly. The distant lights hang like pearls in the mist; lights are reflected in rectangular patches on pavements and under sills. The church lies behind, shrouded in subtle blue-grey mist, its painted spire adding to the mystery up there.”

St. Paul’s church is one of the locations for visitors to the Norman Cornish Trail which starts and finishes at the John Kitson Archway at Spennymoor Town Hall where parking at the rear is free. A number of different drawings and paintings of St.Paul’s church are also featured in ‘Behind The Scenes: The Norman Cornish Sketchbooks’ available in our online shop.

Cornish Centenary

Throughout the centenary year, an interesting range of themed exhibitions is planned in order to commemorate Norman’s life and to celebrate his work.

If you would like to find out more click below:

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