WE were invited to an opening preview at the Mining Art Gallery in Bishop Auckland, further evidence of the town’s enthusiastically envisioned renaissance.

Many of the works are by the now-celebrated likes of Norman Cornish, Tom McGuinness and Bob Olley, others such as Derek Slater from Chilton and Robert Dodds from Spennymoor perhaps less well known.

Robert Dodds was a painter and decorator. All who had their house done up during the year received one of his pictures for Christmas.

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The gallery’s the dream of retired GP Bob McManners, raised in Ferryhill (“the artistic epicentre of the nation,” he said) and of Gillian Wales, who together collected 423 pieces of mining art.

Gillian grew up in Spennymoor, remembers Berriman’s fish and chip van which became the subject of one of Cornish’s most famous works. “As an eight-year-old I was mesmerised by the ever-growing ash on the end of Duggie Berriman’s cigarette, until it fell into the cauldron that was frying my fishcake.”

Exhibits range from the euphoria of Durham Big Meeting to the dark days of thin seam disaster, mostly by North-East artists. That entitled “Snap time” may be assumed the work of a Yorkshireman.

Together Gillian and Bob also wrote Shafts of Light, celebrating mining art in the North-East. At its launch in 2002, 44 pitman painters turned out. Only eight now tell the tale.

The gallery’s based in Old Bank Chambers, a former 1860s municipal building in the market place, open seven days from 10am-4pm. Fire regulations limit numbers to 60: they never much worried about such things down the pit.

GILLIAN WALES first encountered Tom McGuinness when she worked in Woodhouse Close library in Bishop. “He was a very quiet little man; he shyly asked if we’d put up a poster advertising an exhibition of his work.” Gillian assumed it to be in some local church hall; it was in a posh gallery in Mayfair. “As a librarian I should have known better,” she admitted. “You never judge a book by its cover.”

ALWAYS uplifting, the Candleliters music club at Newton Aycliffe overflowed last Tuesday, turns patiently awaiting their turn. It was Neil Maddison’s last gig after 13 years as organiser,

Our old friend Tommy Taylor – Durham County Council alderman, former LibDem parliamentary candidate, absolutely top bloke – won first prize in the raffle, was offered the choice of the wine or the biscuits and, mishearing, said he’d have the whisky.

Such aural examination recalled the night shift at Shildon Works when Tom – as you do – was using a matchstick to howk wax from his ear. After a workmate accidentally jogged his elbow, the stick broke – one half disappearing into the darker recesses of Tommy’s bonce.

Taken in the early hours to Darlington Memorial, he was approached by a casualty doctor with the greatest opening line in NHS history. “Tell me, Mr Taylor, are you still listening to the match?”

A LATE harvest festival at the glorious little Methodist chapel at Wind Mill, hidden near the A68 in west Durham, proved as joyous as ever. There’d been threat of a walk-out, nonetheless.

“If they have that song about autumn days when the grass is jewelled, you’re finding your own way home,” said the lady of this house.

At Wind Mill harvest, she was assured, there was more chance of singing Away in a Manger.

The Rev Richard Bainbridge, himself of Teesdale farming stock, was back to lead the service and to offer a sermon theme which, perhaps uniquely, embraced Winston Churchill, former Newcastle United footballer Moussa Sissoko and Dawn French’s dad.

Wind Mill marks its 150th anniversary in 2019. Others tremble. Eggleston chapel, from which camp meetings once overflowed the fell, will close in the new year, we hear.

At Wind Mill they’re also much looking forward to the wedding of Christopher Browne and Nicola Smith on December 9, the chapel’s first since 2003.

Nicola’s family live locally. Christopher’s from Sunderland, but his parents have a caravan up the road at Hamsterley. They met at Hamsterley Social Club. “I’d only gone in for a game of pool with my mates,” he said.

“It’ll be even lovelier because it’s so near Christmas,” said chapel stalwart Joyce Simpson. They probably still won’t sing Away in a Manger, though.

SIX-HUNDRED-AND-SEVENTY-ONE years and one day after the event, the Age UK men’s breakfast in Durham was entertained – that’s the word – by memories of the Battle of Nevilles Cross.

As usual it was the auld enemy, England v Scotland, and as usual our boys triumphed. “I had mixed feelings about coming this morning,” said the group’s solitary Scot. “I didn’t want to be reminded of the lads being slaughtered.”

The stooshie hadn’t really started until 12 o’clock, and was pretty much over by three. “Typically English, in time for tea,” said Andrew Rice, the speaker.

A member of a re-enactment group called Time Bandits, Andrew came dressed the part – someone thought he looked like a sort of 14th century Danny Baker – and armed to the teeth.

Both King David of Scotland and Prior Prosser of Durham – Edward III being otherwise engaged – claimed afterwards to have been guided by a vision from God. Only one may have been right. England 9 Scotland 3.

WE’D promised large lemon tops, Redcar’s favourite delicacy, if Peter Sotheran could provide documentary evidence of the late Mike Neville’s season with the North Riding Theatre Company at Redcar in 1958.

Though thus far unsuccessful, Peter has located details of the company’s 1953 season, firstly at Saltburn Playhouse and then the New Pavilion in Redcar with plays like The Deep Blue Sea, Travellers’ Joy and The White Sheep of the Family.

No Mike Neville – he’d barely have been 16 – but the troupers included James Beck, subsequently called up to the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard and Graham Barlow, who became director of the Bristol Old Vic.

Donald Pelmear, Middlesbrough born, went on to appear in numerous films and television series and until this year was still acting. Mr Pelmear is 93, and Peter Sotheran has decidedly earned his ice cream. More of that next week.

PETER SOTHERAN was appointed MBE in 2006, in the same honours list as me and former Darlington mayor Beatrice Cuthbertson, who has died, aged 98. A wonderfully dedicated champion of the village of Sadberge, Beattie was still occasionally teased hereabouts over her ever-present red-and-black beret. Finally, gently, she protested. It wasn’t a beret at all, she said, and the Daily Mail crossword offered a clue. “Party’s brief rise providing a lesson that may go to one’s head (8)”. It was, of course, a balmoral.

AND finally, that prolific and highly entertaining author David Wilbourne, for 12 years vicar of Helmsley and latterly assistant bishop of Llandaff in south Wales, is now back in North Yorkshire – from where he writes to The Times on the presently sensitive subject of ladies’ knees.

David recalls Robert Trench, a Victorian Archbishop of Dublin and renowned hypochondriac, obsessed with the idea that a stroke was imminent.

At a state banquet, the archbishop kept rubbing his leg. “It’s come at last; all feeling gone, total paralysis.”

Finally he was interrupted by the young duchess sitting alongside. “It may be of some comfort to your Grace that the leg you have been vigorously rubbing and pinching for the past ten minutes is mine.”