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

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Bideford Black Five goes to Hartland Quay 23413

"Attempt what is not certain. 
Certainty may or may not come later. 
It may then be a valuable delusion.” 
Richard Diebenkorn.

On a misty April morning five North Devon artists brought together by The Story of Bideford Black project and the prospect of a group exhibition at the White Moose Gallery in Barnstaple, set out with paper and brushes and various concoctions and blends of Bideford Black in hand to simply see what the day might bring. Merlyn Chesterman, Judith Westcott, Griz Luttman-Johnson, Sue Plummer and Pete Ward are artists from quite different perspectives and experience but who all share a deep appreciation of the natural world as an inspiration for their work and, of course, an interest in the possibilities of Bideford Black as a creative medium. The day started with discussion about our experiences so far with the ‘black stuff’ and led onto the various ways we might like to approach creating artwork individually and as a group for the forthcoming show. 

 judith and merlyn (BB5 2013)

 sue and gris (BB5 2013)

 pete's bb beach graffiti 

 lunch break at hartland quay (BB5 2013)

 group paintings 1+2 (BB5 2013)

 group painting 2, detail (BB5 2013)

group signature sheet (BB5 2013)

The breathtaking location of Hartland Quay inspired a predominantly ‘geological’ response and an exciting experimental group painting involving the action of the waves and sand on various mixtures of the pigment. Historically a local carpenter had used a source of Bideford Black from Hartland to paint and stain furniture, although the whereabouts of the seam is not clear today[i]. 'The Bideford Black Five' plan to meet next in woodland to see how a different environment, similarly connected to the pigment, may influence their creative responses…

[i] see BIDEFORD BLACK The History of a Unique Local Industry by SOUND ARCHIVES NORTH DEVON 1994, p5

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

bats, black badgers and development plans

chapel park development site, april 2013 (p ward 2013)

As the Show & Tell day at the Burton in March drew to a close we were approached by a gentleman whose interest in the project was a concern about the inclusion of the Bideford Black Pigment Ltd Chapel Park Mine and Processing Plant site in the Torridge District Council’s Development Plans[i]. His distress was caused not by the obliteration of a site of local historic interest or the possibility of the dangers of building over numerous mineshafts and underground cavities, but for the safety of the resident badger population whose sett entrances may be seen in the black topsoil littering the area and which had apparently been disturbed by precursory development of the site. Indeed on a recent visit to the site with ex-miners we tried to imagine its previous incarnation as they reminisced about the tranquil beauty of the valley where they played as children, courted their loved ones and worked many years ago. Apart from the concrete lined stream (to stop the mine shafts flooding) and the dusty noise of the processing plant, the valley was lined with trees and surrounded by dairy farms – ‘a beautiful place to work, right out in the country.’ It was hard to imagine looking across the piles of rubble and freshly landscaped land, surrounded by new housing developments and supermarket. Let’s hope that whatever development does take place at Chapel Park is done with respect and sensitivity to its rich past.

black badger setts, cleave wood (p ward 2010)
mary ann mine shaft entrance with bat portal, cleave wood (p ward 2013)
bideford black bats (earth pigments on paper; p ward 2013)

The gentleman also informed us of the cleaning away of several cars and sealing of the old Mary Ann shaft entrance in Cleave Wood in January 2011. While the blocking up of the mine for safety’s sake has been done quite clumsily it has included a small portal to allow for the comings and goings of a rare and protected population of horseshoe bats who have taken residence in the tunnels. Looking through the opening into the darkness beyond to the sound of persistent dripping can only give a glimpse of the miners’ daily working conditions but it is well worth a look if you are sure-footed enough to find it.

view inside mary ann mineshaft, cleave wood (p ward 2013)

[i] On further investigation it was discovered that it is for sale for £1.4 million with plans for 13 luxury detached properties. The plans also include landscaping and regeneration of the woodland and stream as a nature conservation area. For further information about the development see http://www.primelocation.com/for-sale/land/bideford/?include_retirement_homes=true&include_shared_accommodation=true&include_shared_ownership=true&new_homes=include&price_frequency=per_month&property_type=land&q=Bideford%2C%20Devon&results_sort=highest_price&search_source=for-sale

A Day at work in a Miner’s Life at the Bideford Black Mine…

I have written the following story as it might have been, having talked in my research to two miners both of whom were extremely helpful and informative: thank you very much to Ron Pither and Gerald Ford. 
Ros Ford (Lead Volunteer, The Story of Bideford Black)

chapel park paint works revisited (ros ford 2013)

A Day at work in a Miner’s Life at the Bideford Black Mine…

Having had breakfast I walked up Mines Road for 0800 hours ready to start work. Upon entering the mine I walked past the office on the right to the shower block to change into my work clothes: Work clothes kept there for the purpose of mining, no special safety wear other than a hat, and wellington boots to keep my feet dry:-just old clothes caked in Bideford Black from previous days work... A carbon lamp in addition to show the way when underground and to detect any unwanted gases, and a pick axe to hue the rock out with.

As I walked into the mine the uprights made of wood formed the ribs of the mine and they joined together overhead with fir and pine tree branches in which hornets were sometimes found nesting .Once the seam was reached, work began, hard manual labour with a pick-axe.

The Biddie Black was mined out and put into a truck  which was then hauled up on a winch wire. There is a bell system to ensure that everyone knows to be out of the way as the trucks are hauled up and down the track:

1 = Stop
2 = Truck  coming down.
3 = Truck coming up
4 = Someone walking up and down.
(Roughly 6 trams a day are produced full of Bideford Black. each weighing  a ton).

photo 1: ron pither and gerald ford at the entrance to 'mary anne' (ros ford 2013)

To ensure there is air inside the mine there is a shaft called ” The Mary Anne” ( see photo 1). This ensures that  fresh air is always circulating within the mine, healthy enough for us to breathe. If I need a wee while at work, I just find an appropriate place and relieve myself and cover it with soil that is lying around, anything more I have to go up to the surface and use the toilets :- ( these toilets have a green door with green lattice work above them ( see photo 2)

At the end of the shift I resurface and head for the shower block very basic showers which at the end of the shift are very black. Biddie black by its very nature is very black, oily and takes a lot of washing out. The carbolic soap used to wash is provided by the management. I remove my work clothes, shower, change back into my “ going to work clothes” and then head for home and supper and rest after a very physically demanding day.

photo 2: paint works toilet door (ros ford 2013)

Apparently after finishing working in the mine, one of the miners said that his skin actually sweated black pigment for about three months!

Good camaraderie was essential when working together in the mine, they all relied upon each other to keep one another safe and interestingly during the time that the two miners I spoke to worked at the pit  there were no serious accidents.

Regarding the hornets found nesting as one of the miners told me, "They didn’t bother us and we didn’t bother them”.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Black Field, Greencliff

If you follow the seam of Bideford Black east up over the cliff at Greencliff you might be lucky enough to notice how the fields above carry the colour change in their soil, as a black/grey line at the top of the ridge. What evidently lies beneath the earth’s surface shapes and colours and even feeds our needs as inhabitants of the planet, affecting and even, it may be said, creating our ‘culture’, whether it be our agricultural, industrial or creative affairs. While bare fields are arguably not the best way to treat and nourish the land both for our own agricultural purposes or the encouragement of the rich biodiversity upon which our existence depends[i], such vast expanses of soil do allow us to appreciate the richness and diversity of the geology that underpins the places we live.
black field, greencliff (p ward 2013)

This intermittent, undulating and variable seam of 350 million year old Bideford Black runs from Greencliff in the west almost directly east, through Bideford to Hawkridge Wood near Umberleigh in the Taw valley. If you have seen any evidence of it in the fields, streams and hedgerows around you it would be fantastic to hear from you, or to see any photos you might have taken.

[i] see Graham Harvey, The Carbon Fields (Bridgewater UK; GRASSROOTS, 2008)

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

A Walk Along Memory Lane – well Paint Mines Lane actually…

Many thanks again to Gerald Ford and Ron Pither for a pleasant morning spent wondering down memory lane – well ‘Paint Mines Lane’ actually. With the help of volunteer Ros Ford and her son Jake, we first visited the old mine entrance in from Brunswick Wharf (by Croft’s independent financial advisors) to peer through the old rotten door to see if we could spy the old adit within that took the miners under the railway and into the lower shaft. The site had been a coal merchant for many years after the mines closed and stained orange water still runs out through the car park from the disused shafts.
The old coal yard/mine entrance at Brunswick Wharf (p ward 2013)

We then proceeded to Chapel Park to explore Cleave Wood, or Paint Mine Woods as it was known to locals. We found the old Mary Ann shaft that was blocked off as recently as 2011 and various but sadly few remains of the mines and processing plant. Despite the recent development of the site and use as a landfill which has drastically re-landscaped the area Ron and Gerald described the basic layout of the plant and recalled many memories of their days working (and playing) there. They remembered the beauty of working surrounded by woods and streams, of childhoods scrumping apples, cutting boughs of holly for Christmas, dropping stones down the old shafts and finding ‘wuzzy bears’ (sweet chestnuts) while they were courting. An interesting time was had by all with much to return to for another day.
Gerald Ford and Ron Pither at the entrance to Mary-Ann Shaft in Cleave Wood (p ward 2013)

Bideford Black (Part I) by Gerald Ford

Ex-Bideford Black miner Gerald Ford sent this excellent account to the blog about his early years at the Chapel Park processing plant - in his own words...

"I will begin to tell you of my life as a worker for the Paint Mines (Bideford Black Pigments) . It started on a day in 1957, when I was 1st employed as a factory hand. The first thing was to meet all the employees there, and if I can, I will remember all their names. First of all we will start with the men underground (Miners). Wally Mugford( Underground Foreman). Bill (Bronco) Cole. Ronnie Short. Donald Glover. and Bert Bowden.

In the Mill and on the surface , men  workers.  George Arthurs(Mill Foreman). Vic Hookway. Martin Pascoe and Johnny Bissett In the packing  shed and John ???????.          
In the office was the Boss Howard St Louise Cookes, who we all had to call Sir, but behind his back we refered to him as Cooky beside other unrepeatable names, and the secretary then  a miss Janet watts. But after being employed there on and off for 10/11 years there was a great number of staff changes, to many to put in this. Names, I will and may say later in this story.
Gerald Ford back at the 'coal' face (p ward 2013)

I was first taken to George to be given my job, which was on the nozzle in the mill taking off bags of ground pigment at 1/2cwt at a time, about 20 per hour (Lovely and warm to sit on in the winter,as it was not the warmest place to work.

To get to the nozzle the culm or pigment had to go through the following proceedure. Firstly it had to be mined, using ,picks,shovels, and pneumatic drills. Then brought to the surface up the Inlcline (1 in 3) by hoisting trams which were the trucks,a matter of 400-500 yards, using a bell system for go ,stop etc.

Once the trams got to the surface they were unhitched then pushed 250 yards using 2 men along the tracks to where they were tipped onto the Feed Bed area awaiting to go through more production.

The pigment was then shovelled on to the feed belt so much at a time so it was not to fast , clogging up, not to slow as to run empty,causing damage to the rollers in the Mill.
At the end of the Feed belt it was tipped in to a very large turning roller drier, which would take approx 1 hour to go in one end then come out the other.

Then it would go onto another belt to take it to the hopper which was to allow the culm to enter the very noisey grinder (large heavy rollers) to be crushed to a very fine powder (Biddiblack)  then blown to the Nozzle, paked awating shipment.

I spent a few years working on this part of the of the production of Bideford Black Pigments and went elsewhere to join the army etc. I returned to the paint mines several years later, to start again, but this time I was underground, starting as a miner working my way up to the underground foreman. Cooky was still there as the Boss."

Ex-miner Gerald Ford, 4413

Ron's Drawing

Ex-miner Ron Pither brought this drawing into the Burton to share with us that he has spent his time making. It shows the ground plan of the processing plant as he remembers it. Thanks Ron.

Ron's Drawing of the Bideford Black Pigments Ltd Processing Plant