Breaking Ground

On the Coal Tips © Estate of Archie Rhys Griffiths courtesy of The Auckland Project

Breaking Ground – Women of The Northern Coalfields

Saturday 13 October 2018 - Sunday 24 March 2019
10:00 am - 4:00 pm

Mining Art Gallery

This exhibition focuses on women of the 19th century and their untold role in the coal industry and mining communities. Artworks and archival material challenge the long accepted view that women in northern mining communities were simply wives, mothers or domestic workers, content to sit on the side-lines.

Known as Tip Girls, Pit Brow Lasses or Pit Bank Women, some women did go against the grain of society to work at the mines. But many more found other ways to support their loved ones.

Families of miners lived in constant fear of pit disasters and the risk of losing not only a loved one, but also their breadwinner. As housing was often provided by the colliery owner, if the man of the house was injured or killed, the mother and children would lose their home. Many women prepared against this by taking in washing, mending and dressmaking to protect the family’s finances.

Artworks featured in the exhibition include Pit Brow Lasses by David Venables, which depicts two female workers taking a break from their task to gaze out at the viewer. Venables finished the painting in 2015, using sketches he made half a century earlier, during a visit to Wigan colliery.

Visitors will also be able to see On the Coal Tips, by former miner Archie Rhys Griffiths (pictured). This dramatic painting captures in earthy tones three women hauling bags of coal during a strike.

Personal histories will be used as part of the exhibition, shining a light on the often overlooked role of women in these communities and telling the inspirational tales of women whose spirit and determination shone through in hard times.

Admission to Mining Art Gallery applies.




Visitor information

Mining Art Gallery, Market Place, Bishop Auckland, DL14 7NP

Opening times

Open daily from 10am to 4pm
Last entry at 3.30pm

Ticket prices

Adult: £5
Concessions: £4 (over 60s, full-time students, unwaged)
Under 16s: £1
Groups: Must be pre-booked
Arts Pass/ Historic Houses members

*If a visitor requires another person, as their companion or carer to enable them to access the museum, then this person is admitted with no charge.

More information on booking tickets for concessions, carers, groups and schools is available on our ticket pricing page. Proof of concessions will be required when purchasing your ticket. See here


Please note that photography is not permitted inside the gallery. If you would like to request images for media use, please contact

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