JOYCE and Tony Oates bought the attractive print above in the 1980s from an antiques stall in the Mechanics Institute in Skinnergate, Darlington.

It is a very warm Victorian representation of a working class family bringing up their children. The father has put down his newspaper to earnestly instruct his two older children who have come to him after reading a point of interest in a book; the mother and the younger child are valuably at work with needle and thread while the baby sleeps contentedly in the box cot.

The family are poor, but they are well clothed, well fed and warm.

The Northern Echo: The School Board in the Cottage by Thomas Faed

The painting (above) is called The School Board in the Cottage – presumably, through the door, can be seen two members of the school board who are checking up the education is in progress.

It is by Thomas Faed, a Scottish artist noted for his domestic interior paintings which gave the viewer a warm glow rather than confronting them with the reality of grimy, grinding poverty.

The painting was first published in 1893 in The Leisure Hour magazine, which was produced by the Religious Tract Society, an evangelical Christian organisation with close links to nonconformist groups like the Quakers.

After having the print for about 20 years, Joyce and Tony decided it needed reframing, and when the framer took it a part, he discovered what everyone dreams of – a hidden note.

The Northern Echo: The note in the back of the painting

It read: “To Edward Ernest Nicholls from Mrs E Lucas Pease, Christmas 1893, Mowden Hall, Darlington.”

Edwin Lucas Pease was a director of the Skerne Ironworks on Albert Hill and had been mayor of Darlington in 1875. He had built the Mowden Hall mansion in the 1880s, and in 1889, a few weeks after he had been thrown from his bolting horse outside the King’s Head and knocked unconscious, his horse fell while foxhunting near Piercebridge and rolled on top of him.

The Northern Echo: Mowden Hall is now Marchbank Free School

He broke six ribs and was carried back to Mowden on a mattress, where he died, aged 50, seven days after the accident.

So at Christmas 1893, Mrs Pease was a widow living at the hall with her son, William Edwin Pease, the chairman of Cleveland Bridge, who in the 1920s would become the town’s MP.

Presumably Edward Ernest Nicholls was one of their employees – can you tell us anymore about him?

With many thanks to Julie Semple for sharing this lovely piece of local history. Her mother, Joyce, died last June, but her father, Tony, 88, still has 130-year-old print.