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

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)

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