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  • Monday Closed
  • Tuesday Closed
  • Wednesday 10am-4pm
  • Thursday 10am-4pm
  • Friday 10am-4pm
  • Saturday 10am-4pm
  • Sunday 10am-4pm
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Opening times

  • Monday Closed
  • Tuesday Closed
  • Wednesday Closed
  • Thursday Closed
  • Friday Closed
  • Saturday Closed
  • Sunday Closed
More information

Opening times

  • Monday Closed
  • Tuesday Closed
  • Wednesday Closed
  • Thursday Closed
  • Friday Closed
  • Saturday Closed
  • Sunday Closed
More information

Opening times

  • Monday 9.30am - 5pm
  • Tuesday 9.30am - 5pm
  • Wednesday 9.30am - 5pm
  • Thursday 9.30am - 5pm
  • Friday 9.30am - 5pm
  • Saturday 9.30am - 5pm
  • Sunday Closed
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The Ashington Group, also known as the Pitmen Painters, produced hundreds of paintings showing what life was like both above and below ground for their mining communities in Northumberland.

They began as an art appreciation class in 1934, through the WEA (Workers Education Association). Their tutor wanted them to learn about art though ‘doing’ so the group started to paint.

Read on to find out more about the inspirational group of miners who became world-famous amateur artists.

The paintings created by The Ashington Group are a unique and precious record of days gone by. More than just a photographic record these works help provide a glimpse into the everyday life of pitmen in the Northumberland town of Ashington.This amateur art group was founded in 1934 by local miners. With great enthusiasm and no little talent, they were able to illustrate their thoughts and feelings far more effectively through art than they could ever put into words. From its early days, as an art appreciation class, the Ashington Group created an important historical record.

How it all started…

It all started in 1934 when a group of men began a course in art appreciation run by the WEA (Workers Educational Association) under the guidance of Robert Lyon. The men had previously studied evolution and wanted to do something different.Robert Lyon soon realised their lack of knowledge regarding art did not stop their enthusiasm for the subject, which soon led to them experimenting in the different techniques themselves.Lyon said, “ the group did not want to be told what was the correct thing to look for in a work of art but to see it themselves why this should be correct: in other words, they wanted a way, if possible, of seeing for themselves”.They began to learn by doing with weekly homework subjects for the men to complete at home and then bring to group each week so the group could critique.

How the group evolved…

In 1936 The Ashington Group held its first exhibition in the Hatton Gallery in Armstrong College, Newcastle. The Group developed its own impetus and their paintings became increasingly Ashington-centred, depicting their surroundings and daily lives.During the 1930s, outsiders became fascinated by what they tended to regard as a rare and admirable exercise in working men’s art. To the organisers of Mass Observation (a forerunner of market research set up by poets and sociologists) it represented a true development of documentary culture. These men painted their own lives, testified to experiences that no one else, from trained art backgrounds, could truly understand. When the war came, the men painted the building of shelters, the arrangements for gas masks, for evacuation, for extra shifts and Dig for Victory.

After World War II…

The Group reconstituted itself with a rule book and settled into a new phase. They moved their hut from Longhorsley to Ashington and erected it on waste ground in Hirst Yard behind the Central Hall. They met weekly, tried sculpture, dabbled in abstraction, but remained basically loyal to the early teachings, that they should express themselves by painting what they knew.In the 1970s there was a revival of interest in the Group from outside. Exhibitions in Durham and in the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London brought the paintings to light again. They were shown in Germany, the Netherlands, and in 1980 were taken to China and shown as the first exhibition from the West since the Cultural Revolution.

The later years…

Paintings were sold at exhibitions to help raise funds for material and running the hut, but paintings that were regarded as the best were kept for the ‘Permanent Collection’. This soon amounted to more than a hundred works, originally stored in the hut and then in 1989 moved to Woodhorn Museum, under an agreement made between Oliver Kilbourn and Wansbeck District Council.In 2006, as part of the museum redevelopment, the permanent gallery space in the Cutter Building at Woodhorn Museum, gave the Ashington Group their permanent home.

Image: by Humphrey Spender 1938, copyright Bolton Council