burton art gallery and museum
gallery highlights




Kingsley Road, Bideford, Devon EX39 2QQ

Telephone: 01237 471455
Email: info@theburton.org

Admission is Free
Open Daily 10am - 4pm
Sundays 11am - 4pm


The Story of Bideford Black

The Story of Bideford Black celebrates Bideford’s past industry.
The Story of Bideford Black, a coal-based pigment found in the Bideford area, is a significant element in Bideford’s history. The formation of coal and paint seams across North Devon began 350 million years ago in the warmer Carboniferous era, gave rise to Biddi-black, to give it its local name, which is found in a number of seams stretching from Abbotsham on the coast 12 miles inland to Umberleigh in the Taw valley. It exists in three forms - a hard anthracite coal, a thick black clay and a fine ‘smutty’ powder – all used for different purposes over the years.

Mined from the seventeenth century up until 1969 it was used as fuel in local lime kilns and potteries as well as forming the raw material for a paint used by the Royal Navy to protect the hulls of wooden warships and by the Ministry of Defence for tank camouflage in WWII, as well as the basis for mascara and many other applications, spreading the name of Bideford far and wide!

This display documents a key part of the story of Bideford re-told within the permanent collection at the Burton. With the support of the local community, we’ve been able to record and document memories and collect relevant artefacts, first hand information that could have been lost forever. What’s even more exciting is that Bideford Black is not only part of our local heritage but it’s also an artists material, in fact a number of local artists, including Pete Ward, Merlyn Chesterman and Judith Westcott use Bideford Black in their work. So it also has a direct connection with the current day.” commented Warren Collum, Exhibition and Collections Officer, Burton Art Gallery and Museum.

Pete Ward, Artist and Lead Researcher, originally proposed the idea for a display, having worked with Bideford Black as an artists material for a number of years and having become more and more intrigued with its history.

The display brings together three main themes relating to Bideford Black – Art – Geology – History. For more information click here to visit the Bideford Black Blogspot!

As part of the project, in June 2013, a new generation of Bidefordians discovered the heritage – quite literally beneath their feet, when children from both East-the-Water and Abbottsham schools learnt about Bideford Black. Workshops led by Pete Ward, ran in both schools bringing the story of this unique pigment, to life. Much of the artwork produced by the children is included within the display and has been on show in Café du Parc in the lead up to the main display opening. The workshops also included a walk around the area with the children ‘looking for clues’ to the importance of Bideford Black in the town’s history, such as road names relating to the industry. But most excitingly two ex-Bideford Black miners, who came forward during the Burton’s search for information also took part in the workshops, sharing their stories and memories about Bideford Black and bringing history to life for the children.

This project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund’s All Our Stories programme and generously supported by the Friends of the Burton through a legacy grant from Peggy Lines. The project has recorded, documented and explored Bideford Black resulting in the new permanent display.

Bideford Black: The Next Generation - The Story continues.........
Bideford Black: The Next Generation is the outcome of a year of research and making, during which nine artists from across the UK pushed Bideford Black pigment to its physical limits and thought about what the material might mean today. This natural material has historically been used in industry, and by artists to draw, paint and print with.

This eclectic exhibition represents the Next Generation of artists to use Bideford Black, and offers a 21st century response to a pigment that took millions of years to evolve. These new artworks are made using a myriad of materials – pastels, paper, film, scents, sounds and machines. What they share in common is that they all reflect upon, or are made with, Bideford Black pigment.

Creative film-maker Liberty Smith followed the artists for a year as they researched and developed their ideas. Liberty’s film will be part of the exhibition and presents a visually stunning record of these modern encounters with Bideford Black pigment. Liberty’s film trailer offers tantalizing glimpses of the project.
The full list of artists is: Tabatha Andrews (Devon), ATOI (Cornwall), Luce Choules (Essex), Corinne Felgate (London), Neville and Joan Gabie (Gloucestershire) in collaboration with Dr. Ian Cook, Littlewhitehead (Lanarkshire), Lizzie Ridout (Cornwall), Sam Treadaway (Bristol) and Liberty Smith, presently lives and works in London and went to school in Hartland, North Devon.

This Burton Art Gallery and Museum project is produced by Flow Contemporary Arts in association with Claire Gulliver, funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England as well as the Friends of Burton Art Gallery and Museum. We also acknowledge the support of the National Trust for their loan of Bucks Cabin to some of the artists during their investigations.

lottery funded