PAINTINGS depicting life in County Durham's coalmines have been the centrepiece of an exhibition that has toured France and Belgium.

Thousands of people viewed paintings by Bishop Auckland artist and former miner Tom McGuinness when they were on display at this year's Festival de L'Humanite in Paris, probably the biggest international working class gala in Europe.

Yesterday, as the paintings were returned to Bishop Auckland, Mr McGuinness, who worked at mines in Fishburn, Newtoncap Bank and Kelloe, said he was proud that his work had been seen by so many people. He said: "It is good for me and good for other people to see what went on down the mines.''

The touring exhibition also featured work from other artists including Barrie Ormsby, Lotte Shankland and George Robson.

Mr Robson, who was a representative for the National Union of Miners and has been involved with the organisation of the Durham Miners' Gala for many years, said the exhibition was tremendous.

Exhibition organiser Georges Sentis is an historian living in Lille who is fascinated by the mining community, particularly in County Durham.

He said: "I heard about the Durham Miners' Gala ten years ago and I have a special interest in the mining community.''

It is hoped that the exhibition will bring mining communities in France and County Durham closer together with plans in the pipeline for miners' bands going to play at the Tynecot, in the Somme battlefields, where thousands of mine workers lost their lives.

NUM secretary David Hopper said: "We are looking forward to developing our links with Northern France and Belgium and we have even been in contact with miners in Australia.''