New exhibition celebrates South Tyneside’s coal mining heritage

Westoe Colliery in 1993
Westoe Colliery in 1993

A new exhibition is digging deep into the region’s rich coal mining heritage.

King Coal: the life & legacy of South Tyneside’s coal mining communities, an exhibition marking 50 years since the closure of Whitburn Colliery and 25 years since South Tyneside’s last pit Westoe Colliery shut down, opens at South Shields Museum & Art Gallery from this weekend.

The display, which runs until September, celebrates the mining heritage of the area, exploring the industry’s impact on the lives of the people in coal communities, from pit accidents and family life to the physical legacy of the coal industry in the South Tyneside area today.

The exhibition features over 20 paintings by renowned North East artist Bob Olley, who worked for 11 years at Whitburn Colliery, depicting men at work in various tableaux examining different aspects of the coal miner’s life.

Geoff Woodward, manager of South Shields Museum & Art Gallery, said: “Coal mining played a huge role in shaping the development and character of South Tyneside and its people. Although the mines have now long-since closed, the culture of the coal mining communities is still very much alive and resonating today through language, values and memories.

“It’s very fitting that we mark these significant anniversaries by examining and celebrating the Borough’s enduring connection with coal.”

Drilling the coal face by artist Bob Olley

Drilling the coal face by artist Bob Olley

Artist Bob Olley said: “I hope this exhibition helps this and future generations to understand how important the dangerous and dirty job of the coal miner was and how it was a mainstay of the local economy for almost a century.

“There were four working pits employing hundreds of miners supported by thousands of surface workers processing and moving the black gold by road, rail and sea. Some coal seams were worked miles out under the North Sea making the job of the miner even more unpleasant by the constantly wet conditions.

“Coal mining also produced a unique social bond that sadly, like the mines and miners has all but disappeared.”

Historically significant watercolours by Victorian artist Thomas Harrison Hair also feature in the exhibition on loan from Newcastle University’s Hatton Gallery, illustrating how these collieries looked in the early 19th century.

Another of the images from Westoe Colliery

Another of the images from Westoe Colliery

A wealth of personal effects and memorabilia from different periods in the region’s mining history will depict life from that time, as well as examples of work equipment.

Visitors will be able to listen to audio recordings of personal recollections and watch video footage in a recreation of the ‘Liddle House on the Prairie’ – a glorified garden shed that was used by striking miners in 1984/85 on the picket line outside Westoe Colliery.

•South Shields Museum & Art Gallery has free entry although a donation is welcome. It is open Monday – Friday 10am – 5pm and Saturday 11am – 4pm, closed on Sundays.