Tom Lamb: The Biography of a Mining Artist

A new illustrated biography of one of the region’s great coal mining artists was launched at the Mining Institute in Newcastle in December 2014.
Biography of a Mining Artist
Product Code:
Author/Editor: Peter J. Norton
Publication Date: NEIMME 2014


Celebrating the life and works of 86 year old artist, Tom Lamb, the book traces Tom’s life through 27 years hard work at the Busty Pit, Craghead Colliery in County Durham. Tom started work at the age of 14 years old and worked continuously at the pit until he was made redundant in 1969. Written by Mining Engineer Dr Peter J Norton, the book includes many stories and anecdotes from Tom’s life underground and is illustrated with over 100 of his sketches and paintings.

When Tom Lamb worked in the mines there were about 750,000 people involved in the coal mining industry in the United Kingdom and there were 135 pits in the Durham Coalfield alone.  At the age of only fourteen Tom started work in 1942 during the Second World War in the Busty Pit at Craghead. As a child he had been hospitalised with a bout of diphtheria and whilst convalescing he found he had a talent for drawing.  When underground as and when the opportunity arose, he would sketch his colleagues at work.   Tom is unique amongst the mining artists by painting from his sketches he made underground in sketchbooks he took with him throughout his whole mining career. Three of his sketchbooks have survived and the drawings capture the brutal conditions methods of hand-winning coal that disappeared once nationalisation and mechanisation came in during the late 1940’s. They depict the hot, damp, dark and dangerous environment of working in seams as thin as 18 inches (46cm) using the “bord and pillar” method. The threat from roof falls, water inrushes, gas explosions and simple injury from the equipment was ever present.

At home Tom would use the sketches as a basis for his oil paintings and his work is almost unique in graphically capturing the harsh conditions, the reality and often the sheer despair of such hard physical labour. No wonder he took every opportunity to escape into the countryside and paint scenes where fresh air and sunshine predominated.
Tom worked at Craghead for 27 years and was eventually made redundant in 1969.  He found more fulfilling work as an Attendant at the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) Museum in Durham City until retiring in 1993. Since retiring Tom has concentrated on his art and had many successful exhibitions. Tom is now 86 years old and the effect of so many years underground is beginning to take its toll and his work rate is slowing down.  However, he remains in good humour and is always ready for a bit of crack and is a very good story-teller.

Tom’s paintings represent a way of life long since passed. He had no formal training as an artist, yet has produced thousands of works throughout his life, including many fine landscapes. Whether you are an ex-miner, social historian or an art lover, there is plenty of interest here.

The book has been published by the Mining Institute with generous support from FWS Environmental and Geological Consultants.

About the Author


Purchasing Information

ISBN: ISBN978-0-9931151-0-3
Book Information: 210 x 210mm, perfect bound, softcover.

List price: £ 10.00
NEIMME Members price: £ 10.00
Other societies price: £ 10.00

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