FIDDLERS GREEN – Ray Lonsdale’s North Shields Sculpture

For an interview in October this year with seventies rock band Fogg, I met North East musicians Dave Robson and Bob Porteous in North Shields Heritage Centre near the fish quay  – hey its al’ rock n roll my friends!

Afterwards I went over to see Fiddlers Green, the sculpture by Durham artist Ray Lonsdale which was unveiled in 2017. I was reminded of Seaham’s ‘Tommy’, who featured in the last blog, as Lonsdale again presents us with a lone figure deep in thought.

Fiddlers Green, North Shields by Ray Lonsdale (pic. Alikivi 2022)

The fisherman, at ten foot tall and weighing in at two ton of steel – have the locals named him yet? Sits guard over the entrance to the River Tyne and the fish quay with its fishing boats, row of cafes, restaurants, fresh fishmongers and the aforementioned Heritage Centre.

I was interested where the name Fiddlers Green came from, so got in touch with Joyce Marti who is team leader at Discover, the Local Studies Department, North Tyneside.

I first met Joyce in 2014 when researching a documentary I made looking at the connection between North and South Shields.

‘Shiels’ 14 min film, 2014

Joyce explained “The memorial site was given the name Fiddler’s Green, a term that originated in 19th century maritime folklore. It was a mythical afterlife location for sailors and mariners who served their time at sea. There is said to be a fiddle that never stops playing, dancers who never tire, and drink which flows freely”.

“The sculpture was funded by North Shields Fishermen’s Heritage Project and North Tyneside Council who wanted to see a permanent memorial to North Shields fishermen lost at sea”.

On the back of the sculpture the plaque reads…

Fiddlers Green, North Shields by Ray Lonsdale (pic. Alikivi 2022)

Directly across the river, South Shields has its own sculptures connected to the sea with the Conversation Piece.

Placed near the Groyne pier at the entrance to the River, are a large group of ‘weebles’ – the local name for the 22 bronze figures, which are in small groups talking to each other and checking the time waiting for their men to return home from sea.

In the shade and snow, the Conversation Piece/Weebles in South Shields by Juan Munoz. The red Groyne in the background. (pic Alikivi 2022)

The figures were unveiled in 1999 from an idea by Spanish artist Juan Munoz. He must have created a number of these pieces as a couple of years ago I saw some fenced in behind a cage near the beach in Barcelona.

Word is, another sculpture is planned near Fiddlers Green, that’ll be one more pinned to Lonsdale’s map of the North.

Joyce Marti added “The group who raised the initial funds for Fiddlers Green have now commissioned Ray to start a ‘Herring Girl’ statue to be placed on the Western Fish Quay, North Shields”.

A list of locations can be seen on the official website at:  Two Red Rubber Things – Home   

Alikivi    December 2022


Seaham Hall (pic. Alikivi)

A visit to former industrial mining town Seaham revealed two contrasting stories separated by 100 years.

At the time there was a wedding reception being held in Seaham Hall so no chance of having a look around, but it’s another wedding that it’s noted for.

Lord Byron.

On 2nd January 1815 romantic poet and world traveller Lord Byron married Anne Millbanke. These passages taken from the book ‘The Life and Writings of Lord Byron’.

Anna, the daughter of Sir Ralph Millbanke was an attractive looking, learned, prim young lady. They were married in the drawing room at Seaham, Sir Ralph’s place. At first all went smoothly’.

‘But Byron’s money difficulties, drinking bouts, orgies, liver disease and now took laudanum habitually. Trembling in the balance between sanity and madness his conduct was very unkind. Lady Byron talked of him keeping loaded pistols in the room’.

‘Her husband’s resolve to travel either with or without her, she preferring to stay in England. He told her in a fit of rage, he never cared for her, and would free himself from the bondage of matrimony. The marriage barely lasted a year and shortly after he left England for good’.

In complete contrast just over a mile away on the seafront terrace is a nine foot tall statue of a First World War soldier I’ve visited a few times.

Tommy on Seaham seafront terrace green (pic Alikivi).

Originally created as a temporary display in 2014 by prolific North East artist Ray Lonsdale, the sculpture is officially named ‘1101’. Referring to the first minute of peace as armistice started 11am 11 November 1918 – now it’s known affectionately as ‘Tommy’.

Local residents and business’ felt strongly enough about Tommy they raised enough funds to buy the statue outright and make him a permanent fixture on the terrace green.

Made of rusty red steel Tommy is sitting with his helmet on, gun in hand and looking down. Has he just found out that war is over and is by himself catching his breath thinking about what he witnessed on the battlefield and all his marras who were killed?

Each time I’ve visited there’s been a quiet reverence shown by people of all ages paying respects laying a flower or small wooden cross, thinking about how wars have affected loved ones, relatives, and friends.

Tommy on Seaham seafront terrace green (pic. Alikivi).

The soul of the sculpture is its emotional heft. Placed in the middle of the terrace green with his back to the sea he looks inland and finally able to say ‘We’re comin’ home’.

Ray’s work featured on this blog in September this year.

GAN CANNY – created by North East sculptor, Ray Lonsdale | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (

Alikivi   2022

GAN CANNY – created by North East sculptor, Ray Lonsdale

Gan Canny sculpture by Ray Lonsdale. pic Alikivi 2022

For non-Geordies reading this post ‘Gan Canny’ is a phrase meaning take it easy. It can be said after yakking with yer marra and putting the world to rights – which means talking to your friend and solving all our problems.

Av’ yer got that reet? Champion. I went into Sunderland city centre to check out the new Fire Station music and theatre venue and stayed for a canny bit o’ scran. If non Geordies are still following that means ‘some nice food’.

Also on my list was to see the new sculpture just around the corner in Keel Square.

I visit galleries and museums where fantastic paintings and great skill is on show like in Madrid’s Prado, Scotland’s National and Newcastle’s Laing, unlike the contemporary art in Gateshead’s Baltic which leaves me cold.

Don’t get me wrong I’ve seen good contemporary stuff in New York’s MOMA and the Pompidou in Paris but the Tracey Emin tent and unmade bed in Tate London some years ago looked like a sixth form art project.

An outside location is a different challenge, the position is all important. Gateshead got it spot on with The Angel of the North placed at the top of a hill on a former colliery next to the A1 motorway and seen by thousands of cars daily.

The artist Antony Gormley originally made small models of the design but it was Hartlepool Steel Fabrications who produced what you see now.

Gan Canny sculpture by Ray Lonsdale. pic Alikivi 2022

Gan Canny installed in December 2021,  is the latest work by Ray Lonsdale and is placed a stone’s throw away from where the Vaux Breweries were in Sunderland.

Gan Canny is a life sized sculpture of a driver and his assistant and two horses pulling a cart loaded with barrels and crates of Vaux beer. The detail is fantastic with a bucket and shovel for the horse muck – three balls of it – and the assistant feeding the horse lumps of sugar – no doubt the driver’s gesture is ‘gan canny with that sugar’.

Ray also produced 11.01 the nine foot tall soldier at Seaham, 11.01 refers to the first minute of peace, as the First World War armistice started at 11am on the 11th November 1918.

The red steel sculpture now known affectionately as Tommy, is sitting with his helmet on, holding his gun and looking down – is he weary from a day’s fighting and seeing some of his marras being injured or killed ? Or catching his breath and preparing himself to go over the top ?

11.01 – Tommy by Ray Lonsdale. pic Will Binks 2017.

Each time I’ve visited there’s been a quiet reverence shown by people of all ages, paying respects, laying a flower or small wooden cross, maybe reflecting on how wars have impacted the lives of friends, relatives, or their own lives.

I experienced a similar atmosphere the other week when I visited The Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge in the Scottish Highlands.

Lonsdale also created Fiddlers Green at North Shields – a memorial to lost fishermen off the North East coast. Loss is a major theme running through here and the Gan Canny sculpture reminds me of the loss of a slower pace of life.

I’m old enough to remember a time when the rag an’ bone man with his horse and cart trotted down the back lane shouting ‘any ole rags’.

But this new sculpture by Ray is to celebrate Sunderland’s connection with Vaux Breweries, who for over 150 year were major employers in the city. Although not the emotional heft of Tommy, Gan Canny is worth going back for.

More works by Ray Lonsdale can be seen right across the North from Gretna Green in Dumfries down to Middlesborough on Teesside.

Alikivi   September 2022