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I Remember : A Palette of Words

Tony Gadd was ‘poet in residence’ throughout the Norman Cornish Centenary. Later this month an Anthology of works created during the Centenary workshops at each of the exhibition venues will be published via this website. Participants will be receiving personal copies in due course.

Poetry is a powerful medium which also has the capacity to evoke memories and trigger emotions. Many people have a favourite poem.

I Remember (title) takes the reader on a journey through Tony’s early years and is a constantly evolving poem initially inspired by Cornish’s paintings and drawings. It was warmly received as an introduction at a number of Centenary lectures, and is published here for the first time. Tony has personally selected the images to accompany this poem in recognition of the inspiration they provided.

Tony plans to publish his personal Anthology in the near future and it seemed appropriate to share his palette of words as a taster of things to come.

If you would like to contact Tony directly about his work and receive details about any forthcoming publications, then he may be contacted at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


I remember

Colour TV in the 1960s

laid on the floor, elbows on cushion, chin on hand
watching Stingray, Captain Scarlet, Thunderbirds and Joe 90
fantastical tales, all filmed in ‘Supermarionation’ 

I remember

Swooning and cooing over Aqua Marina

a mute, tail-less mermaid with Bridgette Bardot lips
and silicon polished eyes 

I remember

Wondering if she would ever choose me over Troy
wondering what the hell was ‘Supermarionation’ ? 

I remember

Thinking all baddies had thick necks, shiny bald heads with
thick bushy eyebrows over menacing eyes and devilish grins 

I remember
Sitting in the barbers shop with me Granda

I screamed as the barber set fire to a mans head
watched as he then waxed and polished it

brushed the collar of his ever expanding neck
transfixed, my eyes bulged as he turned and smiled 

I remember

Running out the barbers, thinking me Granda must be a real
gangster as he new lots of baddies 

I remember

Me mam typing quicker than I could speak

writing in hieroglyphics, she said it was ‘short hand’, but
it looked pretty long to me 

I remember

Going to the Odeon cinema in 1969, aged 7,
to see me first ever film, 2001 A Space Odyssey

two and a half hours of my life i’d never get back

wondering what the hell was it all about

hypnotic visuals, discordant sounds, assaulting my senses
few words, lots of space, space, space and no ending 

I remember

Months later being nonplussed, as Apollo 11 landed on the moon
all black, white and grainy, no invisible ‘HAL’ to talk me through it 

I remember

Fifty years later realising, why the 7 year old me didn’t get it

with its themes of existentialism, human evolution, AI, and extra
terrestrial life, still not sure I get it now, still never watched that film again 

I remember

Getting drunk on cadburys old Jamaica chocolate,
9 pence for a 3 and 3/8 ounce bar

a burnt orange sleeve, with gold foil cover

feasting square by square on a pirates treasure, followed by a
palate cleanser of 2 hubbly bubbly or some golden nugget chut 

I remember

Tripe, liver and onions, leek suet pudding boiled in a cloth,

penacalty, fish finger stotties, bacon grill and pressed ox tongue in a pyrex
bowl, which doubled up on Sundays for a 10 bob swirl of Mr Whippy. ice
cream. Beef’n’drippin, spam fritters, faggots in gravy, fray bentos pies, and
a spare key kept in a draw just in case, to open tins of corned beef 

I remember

Sunday lunches, huge roast joints that would last all week
Yorkshire puddings the size of your plate

pressure cooker veg fresh from the allotment

all doused in grandmas secret recipe mint sauce

skin on rice pudding served out of huge enamel tins

all cooked in Council Rayburn, the commoners AGA 

I remember

Scraping the ice off the inside of me metal framed single glazed window,
to see if it had snowed overnight, then dressing in front of the open fire,
the only heating we ever had

Then shovelling snow to get out of the house, to get to school,

which never, ever, ever, shut for the weather 

I remember

Frozen wet feet from ill fitting rubber wellies

soggy woollen mittens, strung through duffel coat arms

the tingle in finger and toe tips as they quickly began to thaw
much like the coal dust speckled snowman i’d spent hours creating 

I remember

The smell of rubber plimmies, hanging in bags from cloakroom hooks
doing PE in my pants and vest and those slip on jabs or sand shoes
third of a pint bottles of milk served at school morning breaks
prunes and custard, discarded stones balanced on edges of bowls
‘Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor’ ringing out around the hall

those who reached thief often missed afternoon classes

spending their time instead on the bog 

I remember

School days, playing ‘spot’ with a brown leather casey

against crumbling sandstone outside bog walls

adjacent allotments with owld gadgees in diamond patterned cardies,

who pass freshly picked tomatoes from grubby hands, through diamond
patterned fence, halved with a penknife used for grafting plants, whittling
stakes and sharpening stubby pencils, just big enough to fit a’hind their ever growing lugs 

I remember

Drawing the short straw

and being sent in to buy beer, under age, at the off-sales window

of the Colpitts Pub, two bottles of Samuel Smiths bitter all we could
afford, shared between ten, more spit than beer, how bitter sweet it was 

I remember

Coal fired chippy’s serving up, fish lots, dab and chips, and a bag of
scraps or scrapings’ wrapped in yesterdays newsprint, nee forks,
fingers arnly,

discount given for yesterdays news 

I remember

Using my great grandfathers shoe last, to feed the soul

Sutton Street cobbler with kiwi polish and buffed leather smells

provides horseshoe heels, a pound of blakey rounds and quarter tip segs
to feed the soles, to stamp my feet, to make some noise

to parade, drill and pass out 

I remember

Pit heap, pit head, pit wheel and gantry landscapes
Huge pylons, aerial tubs and telegraph pole skylines,
The smell and taste of an autumn days smog, and the
phosphorus orange glow from the pit yard lights. 

I remember

Coal deliveries, dropped in back lanes,

menfolk still on shift, women at h’ame left to handball

frem lane to shed

on return frem shift, the pitmen diarise, the quality of load delivered 

I remember

Pitmen tewing the’ pluck oot,

blue tattoos, chiseled into hands and face

scars hewn from years spent at the seam,

flat cap, hides many more tokens, from time underground

as they speak, the only thing visible, butt ends of broken, rotten teeth 

I remember

Them haakin’ an coughin’ the black spit up

deep roond pullie eyes, hide any notion of emotion,

foot-rot ’n gout, huge spots all ower the feet and hands

burnt off by blue lotion issued from the infirmary

stag, frem lack of light, isolate them frem life ootside

ralloused, with caisson disease, dust, and anthracosis,
pneumo and skumfish, all of them explained away as bronchitis
have em all at h’ame, reaching for oxygen, hauled roond,

on a cast iron trolley 

I remember

The first time seeing Norman Cornish’s paintings

browt a tear to me eye, as I saw aa’l me family that had gone befower
aa’l the memories of that life lang gone.

now I use a palette of words to explain our heritage, our community.
our hopes for the future, our destiny, our ‘ Slice of Life’, our

‘Sense of Place’, in this landscape, we call h’ame 

Eddy’s Fish Shop

Eddy’s Fish Shop, now demolished, was a focal point in the community. This was from a time when ‘corner shops’ were a common feature in many towns and villages.

Cornish’s interest in Eddy’s Fish Shop began one day in the early 60s when he called to see Stan and Mary Eddy in their shop and he asked the question:

‘Stan, do you mind if I paint your fish shop?’

Stan and Mary Eddy originally owned fish and chip shops in Church Street and Villiers Street and there were other fish and chip shops in the town. Mary and Stan met in the RAF where Mary was a truck driver and Stan had returned from living in the USA. During a period of change in Spennymoor, the fish shop at the bottom of Craddock Street became available as Stan’s brother Oswald approached retirement. The shop was surrounded by houses, pubs and The Rink Ballroom (formerly The Clarence Ballroom) where Norman first met Sarah in 1944 . Oswald’s initial was retained on the sign outside and the location was perfect for brisk trade. It also interested Cornish who saw the potential for a scene which was to become one of his most admired subjects, evoking memories for so many people who grew up at a time when fish and chip shops featured with significance in communities.

The shop remained open until circa 1974 when it was demolished along with the ballroom and other unsafe buildings. The paintings and drawings are all about community and a particular slice of life. Stan and Mary’s sons became popular stalwarts in the community - Ronnie as Chair of Governors at Rosa Street School, (located a short distance from the shop) and Gordon who served with distinction as a member of the Durham Constabulary for thirty years.

In his own words:

The local collieries have gone, together with the pit road. Many of the old streets. chapels and pubs are no more. A large number of the ordinary but fascinating people who frequented these places are gone. However, in my memory, and I hope in my drawings, they live on. I simply close my eyes and they all spring to life.

The final word from Ronnie Eddy:

‘The chips were regarded as good, but couldn’t touch the chip van!’

Eddy’s Fish Shop is featured in Behind The Scenes: The Norman Cornish Sketchbooks, and the original location in Craddock Street may be visited as part of the Norman Cornish Trail.

Edward Street

During Cornish’s era, streets were often very much the hub of social activity in many towns and villages, with few cars on the roads. Front doors were rarely locked and people knew almost everyone in the street. If ever something was delivered then neighbours would come to the door to see what was happening.

Back streets and quiet streets were sometimes the venues for football, skipping, gossiping, hanging out the washing and street games for children. A horse and cart was a regular sight on the streets of Spennymoor and other towns and villages throughout the region during the period chronicled by Cornish.

Edward Street was a popular subject for Cornish, which he visited on numerous occasions throughout his career at all times of the night and day and in different seasons. The works always included activity by people going about their business, which added interest to the composition. In his own words:

When out walking I often passed through this street on my way home. I was interested in the way that the street was crowned at the top by St Paul’s Church.

In our memories and of course in history books, most so called ‘great events’ are usually well-recorded, but sometimes the ordinary things that happen in our lives are not considered extraordinary enough for comment. Yet things are often very important nevertheless, and sometimes give a reader a much better idea of the ‘times’ than the supposedly great events.

Norman and Sarah Cornish lived in Whitworth Terrace no more than 200 metres from Edward Street and St Paul’s Church; and at the bottom of the street was Rosa Street School, which was a short distance from the Zebra Crossing, and Eddy’s Fish shop.

These subjects provided all of the inspiration Cornish needed to capture simple everyday activity, reminiscent of early Dutch influences with pictorial representation of scenes of daily life. He was exposed to the works of other great artists throughout his career but continued to develop his own approach to interpreting the ‘life around him’.

These locations comprise a significant section of The Norman Cornish Trail which can be downloaded at along with information about Behind The Scenes: The Norman Cornish Sketchbooks including previously unseen images in a chapter about the street scenes synonymous with his paintings and drawings.

The Gantry: Part 2

Cornish vividly recalls the first time he entered the cage on his first day at work.

In his own words:

As we stooped to enter the cage, which held 20 men at a time I was comforted by the fact that I was amidst experienced men quite used to the descent into the pit. The cage dropped very rapidly. About halfway down I felt that I was coming up-over. We finally landed at the shaft- bottom and I was relieved to find that it was well lit by electric lights. A tunnel curved away in the distance. My mining career had begun.

At the Stone Gallery exhibition in 1960, Cornish was introduced to Lord Lawson of Beamish, who was born in Whitehaven in 1881, moved to Boldon Colliery aged 9 and worked underground as a ‘trapper’ from the age of 12. Jack Lawson, a former miners’ leader, was elected to Parliament in 1919 as MP for Chester-le-Street and became Secretary of State for War 1945-46. He was also Lord Lieutenant of County Durham 1949-58. Jack Lawson and his wife invited Norman and Sarah to tea at his home one afternoon and a car was sent to collect them. After tea he suggested that he and Cornish have a chat in their front room and Jack Lawson produced a copy of his autobiography, ‘A Man’s Life’, which was a favourite of Cornish.

Lawson opened the book and read aloud the chapter describing the pit cage descending from the gantry, leaving Cornish with a much treasured memory. ‘A Man’s Life’ was a firm favourite on the bookshelves at Whitworth Terrace and it was humbly inscribed to Norman Cornish, miner artist, from the author Jack Lawson.

The book also delves into the challenges faced by miners: to overcome prejudice, the disrespectful treatment by officials and lost opportunities to continue their education. In one of the chapters, there is a reference to a poignant moment under-ground, and in total darkness, when pausing between strenuous activity, two of Lawson’s colleagues continue a conversation about the salient points in a specific Greek play.

Cornish worked hard as a miner but frustration crept in as he wrestled in his mind with the fact that a colliery was geared to coal production and not art appreciation.

The Gantry: Part 1

Cornish arrived cold and damp from walking over two miles in heavy snow to start work aged 14, at 2am, on Boxing Day 1933. He had no choice, and was denied the opportunity of continuing his education because he was the oldest in his family of five brothers and one sister.

There were over a hundred collieries and pits including quarries, brickworks and coking plants within a five miles radius of Dean & Chapter Colliery, at various stages or working, closing or dormant. The smoke and sounds of the railway engines hissing, coal trucks, colliery buzzers, and miners’ boots on the steps combined to create an industrial cacophony. The impact upon the environment and the men was pervasive.

He was offered a job as an underground datal ( paid by the day) lad and when he signed on the dotted line the official said in his deep voice: “You’ve just signed your death warrant son.” The pit was nicknamed locally ‘The Butchers Shop,’ owing to the number of accidents there. The records of 177 fatalities make for sober reading although there were no ‘disasters’ (officially five or more killed together, by gas explosion for example).In 1935 there were 2,135 men and boys working underground and 538 above ground. By 1937 the workforce was producing 3,000 tons of coal a day – a third of it machine - mined and the rest hand hewn.

On his first day he was given a lamp and a disc and moved out of the lamp cabin to be confronted by a flight of steel steps leading on to a gantry which crossed the mineral line. The gantry led onto the cage bank level which was at the opposite end of the gantry wheels and ropes. As the shunting engine passed below them, they became lost in a cloud of steam which reflected the arched window lights of the colliery like a cinema screen.

In his own words:

I went through the door and the first thing I saw was the gantry scene. The men were there with their orange oil lamps and they looked like fireflies. Then I saw a mass of steel railings, steps, girders and steel wires. I thought it looked like a great steel spider’s web and when I saw the colliery behind, I thought it was like a giant big spider – moving towards us and then going to drop us down a great hole.

The picture is about feeling – what I felt and saw as a boy.

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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