No. 2 Front Street


No. 2 Front Street is a recreation of the former home of celebrated North East artist Norman Cornish and tells the story of the Spennymoor Settlement of artists, writers and poets.

The pitman’s home on Bishop’s Close Street in Spennymoor, County Durham, where Norman lived in the 1950s, has been recreated in our 1950s Town. Beamish has been working with Norman’s family on recreating the house, including his children Ann Thornton and John.

The Cornish family inside the recreation of Norman Cornish’s home. (l-r) John with his wife Dorothy, Ann with her husband Mike.

Norman arranged for some of the contents from his house, and from his studio in his later home on Whitworth Terrace, to be donated to the museum. Beamish staff carefully recorded Norman’s house before the contents were moved to the museum. Some of the items from his studio are on display in the exhibit.

We have recreated 33 Bishop’s Close Street – where Norman Cornish lived with his wife Sarah and their children Ann and John. It’s a typical miner’s terrace house, ownership of which would have passed to the National Coal Board in 1947 due to Nationalisation of the mining industry in the UK. Norman himself worked at the nearby Dean and Chapter Colliery in Ferryhill from the age of 14.

Norman was born in Spennymoor in 1919 and his family moved to Bishop’s Close Street when he was a few months old.

In May 1953, Norman and his wife Sarah moved into 33 Bishop’s Close Street nearby. We know he had lots of fond memories of living in this house with his family. Norman worked in the pits until 1966 when he left due to a back condition. He became a full-time professional artist.

The Cornish family lived in Bishop’s Close Street until 1967, when they moved to Whitworth Terrace in Spennymoor, where Norman lived for the rest of his life. Norman’s paintings captured everyday life in Bishop’s Close Street.

The museum has recreated the house based on memories shared by Norman’s family. Sarah told us that in the living room there was a dining suite, couch, TV, book shelves, sideboard and Sarah had her sewing machine in the corner. John and Ann described their mother as a great cook and she would do most of her cooking on a modern Glow-Worm range that we have an original version of.

The front room was very light and airy, as was the furniture. Described as Scandinavian and modern in appearance, the furniture was first seen by the Cornishs in Heal’s store, which was a very “in” place to find your furniture at that time, when they were on honeymoon in London. When they got home they saw the same style furniture for sale in Bishop Auckland and they bought it.

Because Norman was an artist as well as a hewer in the pits, he had that extra income and so his house was a little bit more stylish; he was able to afford extra things within the house.

Downstairs in the exhibit at Beamish has some of the original furniture on display, this is from the extensive collection donated by the family.

Norman’s son John was born in the house at Bishop’s Close Street and lived there until he was 11. He came to Beamish to lay a brick in the house in the 1950s terrace, along with wife Dorothy, who volunteers at the museum, son David and daughter-in-law Katie.

The exhibit at Beamish tells the story of Norman and his family, as well as life in the town, including the Spennymoor Settlement, which he joined as soon as he was able to on his 15th birthday.

The Spennymoor Settlement was part of a wider national movement and nurtured the talents of artists Norman Cornish, Tom McGuinness, Bob Heslop and Bert Dees, and playwright Sid Chaplin among others. Norman was the last surviving painter from the Spennymoor Settlement, which became known as the “Pitman’s Academy”.

The Settlement provided free classes and community groups and was an outlet for creativity in an area affected by unemployment and poverty. Norman was advised by warden Bill Farrell to “paint the world you know”, leading Norman to expertly capture the everyday lives of the people of Spennymoor and familiar places. The talented painter continued to capture the people of Spennymoor until his death at the age of 94 in August 2014.

Upstairs in the exhibit is an accessible art space with lift, where visitors and groups will be able to take part in arts activities. A £10,000 grant was provided by The Banks Group from its Banks Community Fund to support the art space.

Norman arranged for the contents of his studio, including some unfinished work, his chair, easels, paint pots, brushes, and furniture that he had made himself to be donated to the museum before his death. Norman made frames for his work and we have the equipment, including his framing machine. We are delighted to have received this amazing collection belonging to such an important North East artist.

The museum restored the Berriman’s chip van that featured in a number of Norman’s paintings. The cart was a common sight on the streets of Spennymoor until 1972 when it was collected by Beamish.

No. 2 Front Street forms part of The 1950s Town’s Front Street terrace, which includes a hairdresser’s, fish and chip shop and a 1950s ice cream café.

The Design of No. 2 Front Street Terrace

Outside, the front door and main edging of the window frames are painted in a green gloss metal and wood paint to match the “colliery green” so commonly seen in Spennymoor and other Durham pit villages. This colour is shown on nearly all of Norman’s sketches of the area. The lintels, window sills and door step are painted white.

Yellow linen print wallpaper has been used in the living room, matching archive photos we have of Norman’s house and oral histories. The ceiling has been painted in matte emulsion with a plain ceiling rose.

For flooring, there is lino in the living room, Yorkshire stone flags in the kitchen and the upstairs rooms have exposed reclaimed timber floorboards.

Damask-style wallpaper has been used in the main bedroom, matching photographs we have of Norman working at his easel, and a small, cast-iron fireplace from the collections has been installed.

In the small bedroom, the wallpaper is a delicate floral design, this matches our oral histories and was replicated from an original in the Beamish collections.