Spennymoor Settlement      
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Spennymoor Settlement: A Potted History
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The Spennymoor Settlement was established in 1930 with funds from the Pilgrim Trust, with a resident warden W.G (Bill) Farrell, accompanied by his wife, Ceridwen (Betty). Its objectives were:

"To encourage tollerant neighbourliness and voluntary social service, and give its members opportunities for increasing their knowledge, widening their interests, and cultivating their creative powers in a friendly atmosphere."
It very quickly became known as the "Pitman's Academy". It was a time of depression: unemployment was rife, Spennymoor was an impoverished community, the future looked grim. Bill, with his deputy warden, Jack Maddison, brought hope to a town of despair - providing the will and means to fight back. They showed people new horizons and set them on the path towards them. Things were done and, equally important, exciting things were attempted. Much social and educational pioneering work was accomplished at a time when the state and the economic system were falling down on their jobs. A first priority was to give unemployed miners something creative to do with their enforced leisure. Symbolically, as it turned out, there was an early class on shoe repairing. The cobblers mended many a worn-out leather sole; the Settlement went on to mend hundreds of worn-out souls. There was a pre-school childrens' play centre, using techniques not mastered nationally for almost another thirty years. There was a Citizen's Advice Bureau and a poor man's Lawyer Service, long before legal aid. There was a branch of the County Library, manned by volunteers, years before a purpose-built library was provided in the town.

pic2The Everyman Theatre was built in 1939. Miners and their wives in the Drama Group were discussing Stanislavski's "Method" two decades before it was thrust onto the world. Socially significant plays were produced, with every group - including Painting and Sketching, Womens' Sewing, Woodworking, WEA Study Class members, and Boy Scouts Troop contributing. Spennymoor was introduced to the works of Ibsen, Gorki, Priestly, O'Casey, and others. A first night at the Everyman Theatre production of Strindberg's Easter attracted the playwright's English biographer, Elizabeth Sprigge, who marvelled at a mining community's response to this sensitive work.

At a time when University education, even Sixth Form education, was the preserve of the privileged few, adult scholarships galore were being won to Ruskin Colledge Oxford, by Settlement Members. Many went on to win honours degrees at Oxford and other universities. Now there are hundreds of people scattered throughout the country, and the world, who owe The Settlement a great debt of gratitude and to try perpetuate its values. It was never the aim to produce men and women who thought and acted exactly alike. Rather it was to produce men and women who know themselves and something of the real beauty of Nature and Life - and in knowing these things are able to appreciate their neighbours.

pic4The actual theatre building was built in 1939 by out-of-work miners, to provide a venue for the Everyman Theatre Company, which continues today and has produced many plays over the years. A key physical feature of the building is a stone sculpture on the front, which was created by the famous sculptress Tisa Hess, otherwise known as Elizabeth, Countess Von Der Schulenberg, who worked at the Settlement with the miners. Her work has now been recognised in her home town in Germany.

The sculpture represents the faces of the comedy and tragedy masks, a well known symbol of the dramatic arts, and the original models for it were two local residents. The original sculpture has recently been copied and the replica has been installed in its place, the original having been mounted inside the Theatre for its preservation. This work has been partially funded by Sedgefield Borough Council's Historic Buildings Grant.
There has been a recent publicity campaign to trace the original stone mason, who, along with his apprentice, installed the sculpture. Both have been identified as local men who are now deceased. The campaign has resulted in a great deal of interest in the Settlement and its buildings as of local historical importance. Internally, the building hosts a theatre stage and hall with sound and lighting equipment as well as dressing rooms and toilets. This building is the Everyman Theatre.

pic5There is also an adjacent building which is owned by the Settlement Association. These aspects combined; the history, the sculpture and the theatre that highlights the Settlement as unique and of historical value, and the building was granted Grade II Listed Building status in 2004.The Settlement was known historically as the 'Pitman's Academy' and nurtured the talents of people such as the writer Sid Chaplin and local artists Norman Cornish, Herbert Dees, Tom McGuinness and Robert Heslop to name but a few.

During the summer of 2008 a major refurbishment was carried out. The theatre was re-opened to the public  in September 2008
. The first performance by the Everyman Theatre Company was “Alas Poor Geoffrey” by Alistair Faulkner in February 2009.

A book detailing the history of the Spennymoor Settlement has been produced by Robert McManners and Gillian Wales. “Way To The Better” is available from our contact details at the price of £12, with a few limited edition hardbacks available for £16.

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