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The artist and Blidworth Colliery 1977

Blidworth Miners Canvas
[Dream Target Date - November 1977]

The transition from Joseph Whitaker Comprehensive school to Art college was facilitated by my art teacher David Stringfellow, who encouraged me to paint a large oil canvas on a mining theme. I followed the traditional method of sizing [priming] the canvas with a mixture made from fish-bones and other vile-smelling ingredients.

Based on scenes at Blidworth Colliery, the painting took several months to complete and provided a welcome relief from the mediocrity of my other school subjects. The painting became a major feature of the art studio and eventually Headmaster Ralph Brooke was impressed enough to fix something up with the Nottinghamshire Branch of the National Union of Mineworkers.

The NUM said they'd be delighted to hang it in their Headquarters at Berry Hill, Mansfield. That suited me fine, I could contribute to the coal industry without actually going down the pit to work and at the same time gain some recognition as a local artist.

Len Clarke receiving the Miners painting

Painting in the Miners' Offices at Berry Hill. The then President of the Nottinghamshire Area of the NUM Len Clarke (left) receives the painting from the artist, pit man's son Paul Fillingham.

In November, a photo-shoot was arranged with the local newspaper (the Mansfield Chad) and I was asked to attend a short presentation ceremony at Berry Hill. NUM leader Len Clarke presented me a commemorative Davy Lamp and an honorary membership of the NUM.

The then Prime Minister Jim Callaghan marching in front of the procession at the Nottinghamshire Miners' Annual Demonstration and Gala at Berry Hill. On his right are Len Clarke and the Rt Hon J. Concannon MP and on his left J.P. Whelan and Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover.

The newspaper pictures were later reproduced in 'The Nottinghamshire Coalfield 1881-1981 A Century of Progress' by A.R. Griffin (Moorland Publishing ISBN 0 86190 046 4). I was pleased to share the same page as former Prime Minister Jim Callaghan and a rather youthful-looking Dennis Skinner, later to emerge as the Labour Party wit known as 'the beast of Bolsover'.

Whilst I was on the Fine Art Degree Course at Leeds Polytechnic, the painting helped secure a scholarship from the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation [CISWO]. By this time the canvas was regularly appearing as a backdrop to TV news bulletins, in the standoff between 'Thatcherite' Ian MacGregor and left-wing union leader Arthur Scargill.

In the few years that followed, Britain's national coal industry was completely devastated by strikes and pit closures. And, in 1984, the unthinkable happened, Blidworth Colliery joined the list of pit closures.


Copyright - Paul Fillingham
Last update - 19 August, 2001