Stoke & Staffordshire

BBC project unearths Staffordshire's hidden paintings

Maria Killoran from Leek's Nicholson Institute holds the Venice painting
Image caption Maria Killoran from Leek's Nicholson Institute holds up the Venice painting by William Wyld

Some of Staffordshire's previously hidden oil paintings have gone on display on a new BBC website.

The BBC, in partnership with The Public Catalogue Foundation, have launched the nationwide project Your Paintings which features the 200,000 pictures held in a vast range of public institutions.

There are masterpieces in major galleries, hidden gems in local museums and town halls, and even art in fire stations, hospitals and schools.

And though they are owned by UK publicly-funded organisations, 80% of the paintings are not on display because of restoration, space or financial reasons.

Historical record

Comedian Nick Hancock was given unique access to scour the museums and art galleries of Staffordshire to reveal some of the paintings which help to tell the story of the county.

Predictably, Nick was first drawn to the home of his beloved football team Stoke City. On the wall at the Britannia Stadium is a painting by William Cartledge (1891-1975) which depicts a pottery factory next to a canal quay.

In the days when the Midlands was the centre of the industrial world, a few artists turned their attention to the new and dramatic landscapes emerging around them.

It is the pottery industry that gave Stoke-on-Trent its name and the Premier League club its nickname. Peter Coates, the club's chairman says that the painting serves as a reminder to the board that the football club only exists because of working people like the ones in the painting.

Most of the old pottery factories have long since disappeared - and that's what makes this painting by William Cartledge important as an historical record.

Admired by Arnold

Born in Staffordshire, John Currie (1883-1914) worked in painted ceramics before going to the Royal College of Art and the Slade where he joined the 'Neo-Primitive' group.

Currie left his wife and young son to begin an affair with an Irish model, Dolly Henry. This ended with Currie shooting her dead, before turning the gun on himself. He died in hospital a few days later.

The Potteries Museum and Art gallery (PMAG) holds 20 Currie paintings, including one of his wife and one of his lover entitled The Witch, painted a year before their deaths.

The famous Stoke-on-Trent novelist Arnold Bennett was a contemporary of John Currie and an admirer of his work.

Staffordshire Moorlands District Council has a small gallery in the market town of Leek. The Nicholson Institute is not large enough to display all of their collections, so they are stored in a nuclear fallout shelter underneath the council offices.

Built during the Cold War, the shelter still contains dormitories with the original bunks, a communications room and shower cubicles. Not many local residences know of the shelter's existence, but it makes a very secure store for their collection.

One huge canvas that is currently housed there is Venice by William Wyld (1806-1889). The curators now hope to restore this impressive painting and put it on display.

Unusual homes

Englesea Brook Museum is an old Primitive Methodist chapel on the Cheshire Staffordshire border. They have a large collection of religious banners - oil painted on fabric.

These are stored at various Methodist chapels in the area, including the Methodist chapel on the top of Mow Cop. The castle at Mow Cop was the birthplace of the Primitive Methodism religious movement.

A glimpse of south Cheshire's industrial past can be seen at the Crewe Heritage Centre which has a large collection of railway paintings by a local artist, Harry Watson.

The canvases have unusual homes - in the old Crewe signal box and on an Advanced Passenger Train.

Your Paintings project manager, Diana Hare, said: "Paintings can tell us so much about our history and culture. We can use them to unlock stories about the places where we live."

BBC Head of Programming for English Regions, Craig Henderson, said: "The range and quality of publicly owned paintings on our doorstep is truly fascinating, and the paintings themselves are often in quite unusual places.

"We hope our 'Hidden Paintings' films will inspire people to go and see the paintings they own across England, and discover much more via the BBC Your Paintings website."

Presented by Nick Hancock, Your Paintings will be broadcast on BBC 1 at 1800 BST on Sunday, 26 June.

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