The Artist Project Peterlee came about through an initiative that Artist Placement Group (APG) made to the Peterlee Development Corporation in 1974. Stuart Brisley was one of several artists approached by APG to consider the possibility of working in Peterlee. Eventually He was engaged by the Corporation to make a month’s feasibility study in Peterlee in July 1975. The result in the form of a proposal were presented to the Corporation, which after some amendments was accepted, and he began a 52 week period of consultancy to the Corporation on January 5th 1976. Stuart Brisley’s consultancy began in January 1976. Jim Ewing, Social Development Officer of the Peterlee Development Corporation was appointed as the official contact with the project. In January 1977 Leslie Cole, Public relations officer replaced him. Four people from the district were employed in July 1976 with one further addition.

It might be appropriate to make a simple identification of current art usages in Peterlee, in order to establish a basis from which a proposal for the further use of art may be made, and to give some indication of my understanding of the context for such a programme.

Briefly art usages in Peterlee appear to be comprised of those that are common if not universal, to the communications media (visual and literary journalism), on a national, regional and local scale; and those that relate to the Peterlee Development Corporation  (PDC): architectural/environmental planning, social development and leisure activities (production and consumption). These usages all form parts of planning strategies with materialistic and/or social ends in view.

PART 1 – Purpose

The resolutions of easily identified immediate practical needs in such a complex social environment, as Peterlee, while being contributive, cannot begin to resolve the fundamental question of the ‘human quality’ of a community. In a rapidly evolving social environment where traditional value structures are changing, where the family structure itself is subject to change and transformation, it is necessary to try to develop means whereby such complex situations can be investigated and understood.

The purpose of this proposal is to find the means through which to work towards a situation in which all the people in Peterlee have further opportunities to develop their own awareness of, and participation in the evolution of the community. The terms should be common, to the extent that people have access through it, and can begin to articulate their needs and expectations.


There is no immediate and open access to the broad historical context of Peterlee, the interrelated social and industrial conditions that created the complex of villages within the current Easington Rural District. There is no obvious open and immediate access to the recorded discussions and proposals for the new town- its implementation, development, present condition and future prospects. A short description of the immediate history of the area might provide some indications of the context in which the project operated.

Peterlee Newtown - 1945 Building begun 1948.
Easington Colliery. Pit sunk 1899.  First coal extracted 1910
Easington Village first recorded date circa 900 AD.
Castle Eden pre-industrial village circa C6th
Shotton Colliery Pit sunk 1840, closed in 1876 and reopened by Horden Colleries Ltd in 1900.
Horden pit sunk in 1900. First coal extracted 1904.
Blackhall pit sunk in 1909. First coal extracted 1915.

The project covers the period within living memory, i.e. currently from about 1900. It involves two major developments in the area.

i.   1900-1946
The sinking of three mines in the coastal area and the consequent development of housing settlements surrounding the pits- the industrial villages. The Easington Coal Co Ltd was responsible for the development of the Easington Colliery and housing for miners and dependents. The Horden Collierys Ltd opened the Horden and Blackhall pits, was responsible for housing developments surrounding both pits and was also responsible for the re-opening of the Shotton pit.

ii.   1946
The development of Peterlee Newtown was planned for a population of 30,000.  The proposals for the new town arose from consideration by Easington Rural District Council of the need for further housing within the villages in the late 1930s. The principle of centralized development was adopted by the Council in 1944. The report ‘Farewell Squalor’ a design for a new town, and proposals for the redevelopment of Easington Rural District (population in 1946; 80,000) compiled by C.W.Clarke, engineer and surveyor to the Council, was published by the council in 1946.

In concluding the report ‘Farewell Squalor’ C. W. Clarke with some feeling described the effects on the environment of the exploitation of coal in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“Let us therefore close our eyes on the 19th century degradation and squalor, and let us look back with unseeing eyes on the sordid existence of the first decades of this century. Let us blind ourselves to the septic and ugly building wens and ribbons perpetrated and planted upon us between the wars, and let us open our eyes and look brightly forward to the new town, the new living … Peterlee.”

Industrial Villages
People were attracted to the area by the prospect of work in the new and re-opened mines in the first two decades of this (twentieth) century. They came from the region: Ryhope, Monkwearmouth, Hebburn, South Shields, and further afield from Lancashire, Staffordshire, Cornwall, from Scotland, Wales and Ireland moving into the new Colliery owned houses as they were completed, street by street- 1street, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and so on.

C. W. Clarke describes the social character of the villages as they evolved under the aegis of the colliery companies. “The social character of the villages can best be described as ‘Traditional of a mining district’. To say that the area possesses no social character is misleading- rather should it be said that the social character has been shaped by the conditions existing in the past, is peculiar to the older mining areas and is evident even in the newly developed areas. These conditions- low wages, the uncertainty of the coal market upon which the whole community depended, the ‘natural’ dirty nature of the industry, the inherent dangers attached to the miners’ occupation, the insipid fear of loss of earnings caused by injury, and the miserably low compensation rates, the dread of nystagmus and to a lesser extent in this area of silicosis, the preponderate spoil heaps dwarfing the villages, the three shifts system, and most important of all, the absence of alternative industry, all tended to concentrate the attention of the people on the pit head gear. There was no escape from it. It was coal all the time”.

An examination of the industrial structure in the district in 1929 as revealed in the Ministry of labour statistics… shows the dependence of the area on coal mining absorbing 88.69% of the total insured population in employment…

Between 1929 and 1939, coalmining lost very little of its overwhelming dominance accounting for 75.71% of the total insured population in employment in this district in 1939.

The colliery companies owned the mines in which the miners work and the houses they lived in. It was possible to be dismissed from the pits and simultaneously evicted from colliery company housing. Some men were fired and evicted for speaking their minds. Speech was inevitably suppressed in the furtherance of the companies’ interests. Some people were reduced to living in the ‘crees’ (cabins or huts) in the allotments. It is reported that up to 32 families were living in the allotments in Horden in the 1930s. Others were reputed to have lived in caves along the beach between Easington Colliery and Blackhall.

The form and character of the physical and social environment of the pit villages was the obvious outcome of the drive for profit by owners and investors. The miner, as a wage laborer, sold his labour in order to live from hand to mouth, week by week. This association of interests shaped the environment and the social infrastructure.

Lewis Bunt, a miner, and grandson of Thomas Bunt, the first miner M.P, says “My grandfather used to describe miners’ houses as reflecting what the coal owners thought of the miners”.

Outside the pit the miners were left to develop ‘their own resources for their social life and amenities – and on what profit the colliery company cared to plough back in the form of inadequate housing”.  And also on what they were required to contribute by law. “Coalmining is one of the few industries in which the provision of leisure facilities by employers is required by law. The Mining Industry Act of 1920 established a Miners Welfare Fund. … For purposes connected with the well-being, recreation and conditions of living of workers in and about the coal mines.  The income of the fund was to be provided from a levy of a penny a ton of saleable output- the so-called Miners magic penny”. 

"The outstanding feature of the community emerging from these conditions is the communal spirit shown. In what other industry is the same camaraderie shown between the people to the same extent as exists in the mining villages? Where else is shown the same sympathy in bereavement, assistance in necessity, or rejoicing in the good fortune between members of a community?"

New Town 1946
Farewell Squalor- A design for a new town arose from the bitter industrial and social experience of the previous 50 years. It was an internal initiative intended to create a means of transformation of the whole district through the development of a new town, as the focus of the district.

It coincided with the Distribution of Industry Act of 1945, containing provisions for the encouragement of new industry towards ‘development areas’, including the North East, and with the New Towns Act of 1946, in which the Minister responsible for Town and Country Planning was empowered to designate new towns, and to institute development corporations to be responsible for the construction and management of new towns.

It resulted in the designation of Peterlee, and in the formation of the Peterlee Development Corporation in 1948.

Women  1900-1946
Women were servicing agents, isolated in the home with no broader horizons than husband, children, family, neighbors, the street and the church. It was women who humanized brutal living conditions while their own lives were severely restricted by the constraints of the social order within an overpowering one-dimensional industrial context.

Working opportunities for girls of fourteen up to the Second World War were limited to ‘domestic service’ wherever in the country. There were a few jobs in local shops, and for those who came from a higher station (e.g. colliery officials daughters) there was nursing and teaching. After marriage women did not work outside the home; they were destined to run the home and raise the family. Men worked together in the pits and maintained a closed social life in the clubs.

During the Second World War women from all over the area were drawn to work in nearby munitions factories. It changed their experience and understanding of the social conditions of their lives. Since then women have been employed in industries which utilize a ready female labour market.


Part 1
The collection of personal experiences, statements and etc relating to the past broadly within living memory relating to Peterlee Blackhall, Horden Easington Colliery, Easigton Village, Shotton and Castle Eden, leading to a collective history. (Within living memory coincides with the sinking and manning of the mines on the coast between 1900 and 1915.) To create a Peoples’ History of the new town of Peterlee and the villages within the District of Easington.

To encourage the development of historical consciousness in the area, as a necessary prerequisite for an understanding of the circumstances and actions in the present and in the future.
(Part one is intended to become one of a number of interconnected social tools not an archive of local history.

Part 2
To, Collect and collate historical materials relating to: the development of local government, the proposals for the new town: Peterlee in the pamphlet Farewell Squalor, published by the Easington District Council 1946.
The designation of the new town Peterlee and its subsequent development. 
The history of the Peterlee Development Corporation.
A history of women
Collections of studies made in the area e.g. The North Eastern Area Study Papers.
The continuous studies of mining in the area.

Part 3
The mature form of the project to become an open workshop, concerned with the development of historical awareness, the exploration of issues of current public interest and proposals for action.

To develop means by which materials held by the project is made available to the public.
Programmes of talks, lectures, exhibitions audio/visual presentations etc. Publishing.

The Final Phase
In April 1977 a proposal for the transference of the project to Easington District Council was made to the Peterlee Development Corporation. In June negotiations took place between the P.D.C and Easington District Council, although the Project was not represented.
In august as Stuart Brisley left the project prior to the agreed hand over, parts 2 and 3 were dispensed with, including the following documents:

1: A history of the Peterlee Development Corporation by Fred Robinson, Rowntree Trust, University of Durham, commissioned by the project.
2: A history of Women in the area by Pat Gallagher a member of the project, was commissioned in 1977.
3: Comparative Studies in New Town Planning by Gary Armen
4: An examination of Artist Project Peterlee and two other documents by David Brown.
5: Documents from the Free University. The Free University invited the project to Documenta 6 Kassel, West Germany in June 1977, and to the national Eistedford, Wrexham, Wales in August 1977)
6: Concept, structures, history and proposals for and open social workshop in the District of Easington.

The project in its first phase was a small element within the Peterlee development Corporation reflecting aspects of the particular relationship between the people, their elected representatives and the P.D.C a governmentally appointed quasi autonomous Corporation. Those aspects of the project above, which fell at the first hurdle, in part attempted to bring to public attention the nature of these arrangements. 

On the transference of the project to the Easington District council John Porter the first local person to be employed was appointed to run what was left of the project at Easington District Council.


Below is the PDF of the original Peterlee Report.