HORSLEY Hill is a name we associate today with one of South Shields’ biggest post-war housing estates.
As so often happened in the southward expansion of the town in the mid-20th century, it consumed what had originally been farmland.
But in Albert Ernest Black’s depiction of the area, in watercolour, gouache and pencil, Horsley Hill Farm is still extant and still the rural scene, taking in Quarry Lane, which it was in the dying years of the Edwardian era.
Black’s is not a name many may instantly recognise. Born in North Shields in 1882, he loved sketching and devoted the last 30 years of his life, until his death in 1963, to his art.
South Shields was a popular subject – and like other of the artists who feature in the new Watercolour Treasures exhibition at the town’s museum, he was inadvertently helping to chart the history of the town.
For Dan Goodman, who has curated the exhibition as part of his MA in art museum and gallery studies at Newcastle University, it’s wherein lies some of their appeal.
The paintings are from the museum’s collection, acquired over almost a century-and-a-half. Some have not been seen in public for some years.
Dan, 27, was given a free rein to choose what he wanted to feature. They were a bit of a mixed bag,” he says, “but a lot of the pictures act as records of social history in the 19th and 20th centuries, and there are also some really beautiful pieces in there.”
The museum’s art collection dates mainly from the 1870s, a large number of works having been left to it by art collector Thomas Reed following his death in 1921.
Another artist featured is James Miller Brown, who was painting in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, and whose sketchbooks, giving a fascinating insight into how he worked, form part of the exhibition.
He specialised in landscapes and coastal scenes, so on the one hand you have Trow Rocks with waves crashing onto the shore, and, on the other, tranquil scenes of farmland near Boldon, and also Boldon Mill as it was in 1897.
Some of the pictures bring you up sharp.
A generation has grown up having only ever known the air raid devastation of South Shields Market Place in 1941 in black and white photographs.
But here it is in vivid colour, from the brush of Albert Black.
The names of two artists featured, however, will more familiar – James Cleet, who was born in 1840 and died in 1913, and his son, also called James, who died in 1959 – the latter best known as a photographer in the town.
Both painted and, in some cases, it’s not possible to say whose work was whose; but both contributed to a pictorial history of the area.
Dan, who is currently working at the Biscuit Factory art gallery in Newcastle as a curatorial assistant/technician – and who himself paints “somewhere between the abstract and the representational” – found one of his favourite pictures from the exhibition among their work.
This is a sketch of the old Roman well at the foot of The Lawe which disappeared from view when the North Marine Park was extended in 1897-98. It is the only known illustration of the well.
Also featured are some of James Cleet Jnr’s photographs, among them a splendid one of the funeral cortege for South Shields Police Chief Constable William Scott between the wars, and another of members of the Durham Home Guard, pictured at Marsden Hall in 1942.
Said Dan, originally from Northampton but who now lives in the North East: “When I started, I didn’t know who any of these people were, so it has been a bit of a learning experience for me.
“But it’s been nice to do something like this from the concept, right through to the end.”
n Watercolour Treasures runs until October 31.