Sign-writer Jim Telford has left his mark on Coquetdale

An occasional series of portraits of Creative Coquetdale Folk by Katie Scott. This week, James (Jim) Landers Telford, a self-taught sign-writer and artist.

By Katie Scott
Thursday, 6th February 2020, 7:00 pm
Jim Telford at work and below, the Rogerson's sign and Jim working on the set of Middlemarch.
Jim Telford at work and below, the Rogerson's sign and Jim working on the set of Middlemarch.

As you enter Coquetdale, the creative work of Jim Telford can be seen all around you.

There is an eye-catching sign In Rogerson’s Shoe Arcade, Rothbury. We see portrayed a shepherd, wearing hob-nailed boots; his dog, and the Simonside Hills as a backdrop.

The words read, ‘Thomas Rogerson, Rothbury. The Original Home of Simonside Footwear’.

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Jim Telford's Rogerson's sign.

I’ve enjoyed looking at this sign many times, but recently noticed the distinctive signature, JL Telford, with the J and L interlinked.

I asked the shop assistant about it, and she kindly let me view the private quarters upstairs in the shop. There I found several paintings which Jim had done for Ian Rogerson (Thomas’ son).

Ian told me he had asked Jim to paint them to enhance the upstairs showroom, where ‘ladies’ were served in the 1960s. Paintings of Thrum Mill, Cragside House, and pretty views of Rothbury and Coquetdale.

I decided to do some research on Jim and ended up speaking with several people about the man and his work.

Jim Telford working on the set of Middlemarch.

He was so very well respected and admired. The word everyone used to describe him was ‘perfectionist’.

It seems he was also a great raconteur and a very humorous person too. For example, while he was painting the shop sign for J. R. Soulsby’s toy shop, he decided to paint R. Soul and then left to go home to Thropton for his dinner, before completing the name that afternoon.

Jim’s widow Cath, and his daughter Jane, tell me that he was constantly painting; in his spare time he would always have a brush in his hand.

Jane shows me into the conservatory where he liked to sit to work, after he had suffered a major stroke.

The room is light and airy and Jim feels very present. His cap, paints, his canvases, Christmas cards he was working on, are all around.

He was told, when recovering in hospital, that he would not be able to lift a paint brush again. However, the consultant obviously did not know the strength and determination of the man he was dealing with. Jim was painting the very next day!

Jim worked throughout Northumberland and beyond. His work was of such a high standard that he was commissioned by the BBC to help make the town of Stamford, Lincolnshire, into the ‘Middlemarch’ of George Eliot’s novel, set in 1830s, for their popular series filmed in 1994.

This was not the first time Jim had worked on film sets, his work was also in the award-winning children’s series: White Peake Farm, set near Rothbury.

Visitors to Alnwick’s Barter Books will also note his perfectly executed words on Peter Dodd’s famous writers’ mural.Ian Rogerson told me ‘He was a true friend, one of kind. He didn’t paint for money, but to be happy’. His paintings continue to make us happy; I have been fortunate to see them on the walls in a number of his friend’s homes.

Jim’s excellent sign-writing is still a joy to see around Northumberland and Scottish Borders; on business premises, bus companies, on boats and shops.

I wish I could have met the kind, funny, talented man, that was Jim Telford.