In a different era, Broomhill Colliery’s bath house wasn’t a place in which people particularly wanted to linger.
It was a communal washing space where, after a heavy and hard day down the pit, miners would scrub themselves clean and head off home for a few hours’ respite from their deep, dark working life.
Built in the 1950s, the bath house served the village colliery in Broomhill, at the time taking the place of a tin bath in front of the fire as a place to wash away the grime of the pit.
Broomhill Colliery closed in 1962, after which the austere-looking bath house, which looks across fields to towards the sea, had a short life as factory premises. But today, shiny and scrubbed, it is reborn as a lovely collective of artist studios known as The Old Bath House.
It forms a unique and exciting gathering of studios, which are home to galleries where visitors can see artists at work, take part in workshops and view exhibitions.
From the outside, the red brick building looks of its mid-century time with boxy architecture and a cubed tower. Inside it is flooded with light thanks to vast skylights and white walls. It shouldn’t really feel cosy, but it does.
Particularly so in the Niche Gallery, thanks to an inviting and highly effective wood burner which faces a soft sink-in leather chesterfield sofa, making it something of a hub for the artists to gather.
Niche Gallery is home to artists Paul Henery, below, and his daughter Katie Henery, right. Paul is an award-winning wildlife painter and Katie creates wildlife pen drawings on vintage maps, frequently featuring iconic landscapes of Northumberland and the east coast.
Paul and Katie were among the first artists to make the Old Bath House their base and for them it has its own sense of family history. Paul’s dad worked at the pit and his long service award is framed on the wall alongside those of other miners from Broomhill Colliery Paul hopes other families will donate their awards to add to the collection.
Walls throughout the building are lined in part with the original soft cream enamel bricks of the bath house which give a genuine sense of place.
“The history of mining in South East Northumberland is disappearing but there was a 92-year-old still living in Colliery Row whose daughter brought him here and you could visualise how it had functioned.”
The artists hope that, ultimately, The Old Bath House will become a unique arts destination, linking as it does the coastal go-to towns of Amble and Alnmouth. Many of the artists started out exhibiting their work in the start-up ‘pods’ at Amble harbour.
“We’d like to build up the workshops and retail here so that the venue becomes a workshop destination”, say Paul.
“More open studios, a restaurant in the tower and making it part of an arts trail along this coast.”
MEET THE ARTISTS
1. Helen Grierson’s glass studio has to be a cavernous place to house the huge kilns she uses for her glass artworks. She makes intricate coloured glass panels, framed pieces and most recently has see an increasing number of people commissioning glass splashbacks. Glass iris flowers made by feature in a set of iron gates at the Alnwick Garden. She holds regular glass and pottery workshops at the studio and has a small shop.
2. Libby Watkins specialises in pencil drawings of local landscapes which are given a twist with delicate shades of colour. Her subject matter is anything from Gateshead’s Millennium Bridge to Northumberland coastal landscape. Libby is also
a yoga teacher and is currently working on a series of oil paintings of one of her pupils, a former ballet dancer. You can see her at work in her studio where her work is for sale.
3. Karen Whatmough is a seaglass artist who makes jewellery collected from coastal beaches. Her pieces include pretty silver charms bracelets adorned with glass beads as well as earing and pendants. The most sought-after and glass is picked up from Seaham beaches, remnants of the days when the coastal town was home to glass factories from 1850 to the 1920s. The ‘spoils’ would be thrown into the sea. Now, small nuggets of glass are picked up on beaches with the coloured glass most collectable. Further up the coast the colours are more muted, predominantly greys and blues.
4. Ashley Edlridge is a retired design lecturer who ran fine art courses at Newcastle College. He took up painting when he could no longer after having a brain haemorrhage and stroke. He paints bold, striking portraits and many of his works are donated to charity. Recent commissions include a painting of an RNLI lifeboat. Of the gallery he says, “It is a great way of spending your life.”
5. Nicola Stevenson is ‘beyond excited’ to be opening her first studio at The Old Bath House. She paints huge seascapes, usually working from miniatures and based on the light and colour of the North Sea and skies. “This is such a great sharing space”, she says.
6. Ellie Davison Archer is all about bees. Her studio is a good place to find lovely products with her signature bee motif – though she delves into lobsters and shells too, transferring drawing to her very cool collection of cushions, teatowels, coasters and lampshades. Ellie also organises screen-printing workshops.
Take a video tour of the studios online at: luxe-magazine.co.uk/2019/03/video-the-old-bath-house.
Visit The Old Bath House Open Studios event on 20th – 21st April. theoldbathhouse.org