I had been into County Hall many times, often spending time in the waiting area, and at times admiring the Art Work in that area.It never occurred to me that this was the work of Norman Cornish (sometimes I don’t think beyond the obvious). I had appreciated the story shown in the frieze, as it brought back memories from my childhood.
I did not know the back story to the creation of the frieze either.
In the early 1960’s the very modern (at the time) County Hall was built and Norman Cornish was still a miner working at Mainsforth Colliery (near Ferryhill).
One day, whilst he was at work, a message was brought to him asking him to go to the nearest underground telephone at once. Usually this kind of message meant there was bad news at home. However when he managed to speak to the person on the other end he was offered a commission to paint a mural showing typical life in County Durham. He was offered £1000 to paint the mural for the new County Hall.
In order to carry out the work, he took unpaid leave from the Colliery for a year. A big decision to take as he had a wife and family to support. The work was to be carried out in secret and caused bad feeling with fellow miners, who thought he was still being paid as a miner.
He painted in an old Church Hall with no heating during a very cold winter. He wore layers of clothing and at times had to chip icicles off the entrance door.
He decided the mural would show the Miners Gala, a central event in the life of the community. One of the posters showing the slogan UNITY IS STRENGTH.
The art work was hauled into place in time for the grand opening on 14th October 1963 (Opening Ceremony carried out by the Duke of Edinburgh).
Of course we know that in present times the current County Hall will be pulled down, and the offices relocated to a more central location. However what about the frieze/mural?
Thankfully it has been retained and will be moved to a new location in Bishop Auckland Town Hall. It was hoped that it would be unveiled in April 2020, unfortunately our current problems will have put that on hold. Hopefully it won’t be too long before it is shown in its new position.
Norman Cornish website