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Going to the Dogs

You may have wondered why men and dogs feature so often in pictures by Cornish. ‘Man at Bar’ with dog was a picture which had pride of place in the Cornish home at Spennymoor. At first glance this appears to be a relatively simple composition. However, cover the beer pumps with one hand or the rear legs of the dog and watch what happens to the composition and also note what Cornish refers to as the curvilinear shapes appearing throughout all aspects of the man and dog.

‘Two Men at a Bar with Dog’ is equally interesting, not only in terms of composition but also for the remarkable story revealed several years ago about the two men themselves, Joe Hughes and Tosser Angus. The full story may be enjoyed on page 85 of ‘Behind The Scenes: The Norman Cornish Sketchbooks’ and is worthy of wider recognition recalling that they were two miners conscripted into the army at the outbreak of WW2. They survived Dunkirk, fought their way through North Africa, liberated Italy and finally returned to work underground at Whitworth Colliery. The dog in the painting was called ‘Piper,’ a tradition within the Durham Light Infantry for owners to name dogs after instruments.

Dogs and their owners appear in all sorts of locations drawn and painted by Cornish, along with individual studies of Greyhounds and Whippets. Dogs in different settings appear in many of the bar scenes and will be well known to admirers of his work from that era during the 50s and 60s. There is no doubt that greyhound racing was part of the cultural landscape of the time in Spennymoor and probably accounted for the large number of owners and dogs.

An initial attempt to introduce Greyhound Racing to Spennymoor in 1938 was unsuccessful. However, after the war, a site for a new Greyhound Stadium was proposed for Spennymoor and located at the old brickworks off Merrington Lane, near Low Spennymoor. The stadium opened in 1950. This was big business with race day on Monday at 7pm, and occasionally Thursday and Saturday evenings. A licensed club was provided for patrons and there were 60 kennels for the greyhounds. The whole activity would also include ‘the dark arts’ of conditioning, diet and exercise for the dogs to win prizes at races. The experience of owning and training offered the opportunity for local people to enjoy a ‘night out at the dogs’ as a different form of post war entertainment. Sadly social change also encroached upon the ‘dog track,’ which closed in 1998. The only reminder of the stadium is the nearby public house that has stood for over 100 years and changed its name to the ‘Winning Post.’

Piper, owned by Joe Hughes and Tosser Angus eventually became one of the top racing greyhounds in England and the winnings were able to pay for a holiday with their wives in Rome.

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.

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