THE 1960s steps of Durham’s County Hall have played a huge part in Angela Williamson’s life: she not only had a wedding photo taken on them but she is immortalised on them in the large painting which celebrates a centenary of the county council.

Well, the back of her grey coat can be seen on the mural, as she, full of busy, with her coat belt swinging behind her, dashes up the County Hall steps.

“I started work there as an office junior, a month before my 17th birthday, in 1976 in the education department,” says Angela, in response to one of our pictures published over the summer showing the newly-built County Hall.

“My favourite position, as I worked my way up, was in the Educational Psychological Service under the formidable Mrs JM Currie. She had a fearsome reputation which was completely justified – she demanded the best from her staff simply because the children in her care deserved the best and she was respected for that.

“I met my husband, Bill, at County Hall. He was a civil engineer in the highways design section and worked on the Leadgate and the Wheatley Hill bypasses.

The Northern Echo: Angela and Bill Williamson having a wedding photo taken on the steps of County Hall in 1989. Bill died in 1

Angela and Bill Williamson having a wedding photo taken on the steps of County Hall in 1989. 

“We married in December 1989, and as our reception was at Redhills Hotel, it seemed fitting to pop over for a photo at County Hall, since that was where we'd originally met.”

That year was the centenary of the county council.

The Northern Echo:

Norman Cornish in 1963 with his County Hall mural showing the arrival of the banners at Durham Miners’ Gala

When County Hall was built in 1963, the council commissioned a mural celebrating pit life for the new entrance. It chose to paint it a pitman at Mainsforth Colliery, Ferryhill, called Norman Cornish – he took the call telling him he’d won the £1,000 commission on the colliery phone at shaft bottom.

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Cornish’s work – 6ft high and 30ft long (above) – was considered such a success that in 1989 selected Cumbrian artist Julian Cooper to create a centenary painting 6ft high and 15ft long.

The £10,000 work, paid for by Northern Arts, the Co-operative Bank, British Coal, the National Government Officers Association and the council, was unveiled in March 1990 by the then Bishop of Durham, Dr David Jenkins.

The Northern Echo: The Centenary Painting by Julian Cooper, commemorating 100 years of Durham County Council, with Angela's grey coat featuring in the panel second from the right

On the left, the mural (above) – known as the Centenary Painting – shows the council’s first purpose-built offices in Old Elvet, and the council’s early work in health administration. The central panel shows the mining industry on which the county’s prosperity was based, with a miner claustrophobically working away at the bottom.

The right hand section shows the council’s concerns during the 1980s: two workers who were involved in the “greening” of the county dashing about their business and a yellow-coated engineer with a theodolite building a road.

“I didn't know I was on it until it appeared,” says Angela. “Someone said to me that there was a girl on there with a coat like mine, and that’s how I wore it when going into the building.

“I suppose it was just a snapshot of random people.

“There is no significance to Doug Swales being on it either – he’s the man in front of me from the architect’s department, dashing t’other way, laden with files – nor the yellow-coated engineer, Dave, who was a colleague of my husband.

“I don't think any of us were aware of our inclusion until it was a fait accompli!”

A new county hall is being built on The Sands and the 1960s one, including Angela’s steps, scheduled for demolition.

In 2020, the Cornish mural – which was delivered in 1963 to County Hall in the back of Jimmy Gill’s furniture van – was removed under the careful eyes of conservators to Bishop Auckland Town Hall where it can still be seen.

The future of the Centenary Painting is yet to be decided. Susan Robinson, Durham County Council’s head of corporate property and land, said: “We recognise this is an important artwork for Durham. Its future location will be considered as part of the review of the new headquarters.”

“I’ll be very sad to see County Hall go,” says Angela, who now lives in Chester-le-Street. “I went to St Leonard’s School so it’s always been part of the landscape and of my life.”

Her time there finished in 1992 when she left to become a full-time mother.

“For my last years there I was one of the Assistant Emergency Planning Officers charged with making plans for the civil defence/protection in case of any peacetime emergency or major incident. I was actually the first female officer at the council in what had traditionally been a man's job.

“One of my abiding memories is of providing assistance to our Scottish colleagues in the aftermath of the Lockerbie air disaster.”

If anyone from Angela’s County Hall days between 1976 and 1992, when her maiden name was Drane, would like to contact her, she’d be delighted to hear from them at

The Northern Echo:

County Hall being built in March 1961, with Mr Eddison's splendid road roller in front of it

The Northern Echo:

County Hall taking shape in 1962. It was officially opened by the Duke of Edinburgh on October 14, 1963

The Northern Echo: A wide-eyed camera view of the new Durham County Hall at Aykley Heads at the end of September 1965, before the council staff moved in. It is quite a symphony of shapes and now, less than 60 years later, it is at the centre of controversy over its future

A wide-eyed camera view of the new Durham County Hall at Aykley Heads at the end of September 1965, before the council staff moved in, although the building had been officially opened by the Duke of Edinburgh on October 14, 1963