Shildon railway museum hosts art from coal display

Coal workers painting by Derek Slater Derek Slater's paintings focus on the experiences of miners

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After almost three decades in the coal industry, Derek Slater knows all too well the harshness of life down the pit.

Mr Slater, from Ferryhill Station, went to work at Mainsforth Colliery when he left school aged 15.

Now 65, he uses his experiences as inspiration for paintings on the north-east of England's industrial heritage.

Combining his passions for mining history and art, a collection of Mr Slater's paintings has gone on show at Locomotion, the National Railway Museum in Shildon, County Durham.

Friend crushed to death

Mr Slater first won recognition for his art while he was employed as a fitter repairing mining equipment at Tursdale workshops after he left the colliery.

He took up painting more seriously when a hand injury ended his interest in boxing and left him in need of a new hobby.

Coal mining painting by Derek Slater Derek Slater's exhibition runs until late May

"I'd had an interest in painting for quite a long time and had won a national award [the Sir Derek Ezra art trophy] for employees of the coal industry," he says.

"The writing was on the wall during the strike and when I did get made redundant in 1994, I did a fine art degree at Sunderland University."

Soon after starting work at the colliery, a friend of Mr Slater was crushed to death at the coalface. His artwork explores the risks and grimness of the industry.

"I'm just trying to show what coal mining was about," he says. "It wasn't just going down a big hole and digging the coal out.

"There was more of a skill to it than that. It was the same in the other industries in the North East such as shipbuilding and the railways.

"The skill was realising that there was danger all around you, there was a lot going on."

Family connections

His paintings also reflect some warmer memories.

"It wasn't just a livelihood," Mr Slater says.

"There was a camaraderie around the workplace and a social side as well."

Mr Slater is proud the region has retained such a strong interest in mining long after the last pits closed.

"The strike came along, the pits closed and we all had to look for other work," he says.

"So many people have been involved in the industry.

"People have had grandfathers, uncles, fathers and brothers that have worked in the mines so there's still that family connection."

Coalmining: A Way of Life runs until 20 May. The museum is open between 10:00 and 16:00 BST daily. Entry is free.

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