Geeta Pendse unearths the history of ‘King Coal’ across the East Midlands through art, architecture and human emotion

BBC Arts reporter Geeta Pendse unearths some beautiful artefacts and stories from an industry which once employed more than 24,000 men across the East Midlands.

The men who served ‘King Coal’ will be remembered forever thanks to the volunteers and experts who have fought to preserve a rich collection of paintings, colliery buildings and artefacts. Geeta discovers hidden treasures inspired by the dark, and dangerous world of “pit life,” and joins former miners, curators, painters and enthusiasts to tell the story of The Art of Mining.

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Along the way Geeta discovers the works of local pit painter George Bissill, who found success amongst London’s upper-class in the 1920s.

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Geeta comments, “Essentially what is fascinating about George is that he was a self-taught painter, who worked in the mines near his home in Langley Mill, Derbyshire from the age of 14 and then fought in the First World War where he tunnelled under No Man’s land towards enemy lines.

“He hated this work and as soon as he returned to England after the war – vowed never to go down a mine again, yet these experiences fuelled his paintings. He travelled down to London, where he started out as a pavement painter and then was spotted by an art curator. Soon his work was being shown to the London art world and was widely celebrated.”

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The programme meets Kate Pattinson whose grandfather was a close friend of the artist. She has lovingly preserved a scrapbook full of newspaper clippings from national and regional papers telling George Bissill’s ‘rags to riches’ story.

By the late 1920s George had grown weary of the ‘art world’ and left London. He continued to work as a painter – but was largely forgotten, and sadly his work was never recognised by the community he came from in Derbyshire.

You can watch Civilisations Stories: The Art of Mining presented by Geeta Pendse on April 30 on BBC One at 7.30pm.


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