Now see them gannin'

When William Irving's painting The Blaydon Races first went on show more than a century ago, police officers stepped in to control the excited crowd gathered to see it.

When William Irving's painting The Blaydon Races first went on show more than a century ago, police officers stepped in to control the excited crowd gathered to see it.

Staff at the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, where the picture is now displayed, will be hoping for an equally enthusiastic reception when their interactive Blaydon Races exhibition, opens next month.

The painting, first shown in 1903, was inspired by the Geordie Ridley song of the same name and documents the raucous day out at Blaydon enjoyed by a series of eccentric, folkloric characters.

It was bought for the region for £110,000 at auction in London in November 2002 after a campaign led by The Journal.

The exhibition brings the painting and this day - June 9, 1862 - to life, through a series of five monologues recorded by actors, a version of the song sung by local school children, as well as displays focusing on Irving and Ridley.

Actress Jane Holman[corr], 48, of Grosvenor Place, North Shields, has recorded a monologue in the character of Cushie [corr] Butterfield, a fishmonger from Blaydon, immortalised in another Geordie Ridley song.

She said: "Cushie is a really fun character. The song about her says she is a big lass and a bonny lass and she likes her beer.

"In the painting she has gone out for a good day out and is determined to enjoy herself. In the monologue I recorded she talks about Geordie Ridley, who is also featured in the painting.

"She can't make her mind up whether to like him for making her famous, or be angry at him for describing her in the song as looking like a bag of sawdust tied with string."

Madaleine Moffatt, of Curtis Road, Fenham, Newcastle, plays the part of Nanny Fleck, a miner's wife.

She said: "Nanny Fleck was a feisty lady, with incredible energy. She was terrifically proud of her husband and her sons, who were all miners.

"The Blaydon Races was the one time of the year when she could really enjoy herself. She probably had to pawn her husband's trousers so they could all have a flutter. She had a very tough life. She was up at 5am every day, lighting the fire and boiling the water.

"She really deserved her day out at the races."

Actors have recorded monologues for three other characters featured in the painting - the Black Diamond, the boxer from Seaton Burn, North Tyneside, George the Plunger from Durham and Gull Willie from Newburn, Newcastle.

Children from Winlaton West Lane Community Primary School in Blaydon have also recorded a version of the Blaydon Races song for the exhibition.

Andrew Smith, of the Shipley Art Gallery, said playwright Tom Kelly had consulted local historians before penning the five monologues.

He said: "A lot of thought has gone into the monologues. They and the exhibition as a whole gives you an insight into what life was like during the period in which the painting is set. It is all about bringing history to life and introducing a whole new generation to this painting."

The exhibition is set to open permanently to visitors at the Shipley Art Gallery in Prince Consort Road, Gateshead, on March 2.

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