SAND DANCING IN SHIELDS WITH L.S. LOWRY

‘I’m particularly fond of watching large ships coming in to the harbour, or being brought down river by tugs. I love the Tyne for that reason. It’s a wonderful river’.

From 1960 until his death in 1976 prolific artist L.S. Lowry frequently travelled from his home in Cheshire to the North East. He used the Seaburn Hotel as a second home and a base to explore the area, but when his usual room at the front wasn’t available he would occasionally book in at The Sea Hotel, South Shields.

Pic in the book L.S. Lowry in the North East.

The hotel is based on the seafront near the entrance to the river Tyne. He would sit for hours in the car park between the South Pier and the Groyne, sketching ships and tugs entering the river from the North Sea.

Lowry was fascinated by the relentless power of the sea and subject of one sketch was the Adelfotis cargo vessel who ran aground on the Herd Sands at South Shields in 1963. It’s exciting to think that Lowry was there sketching in the background.

Wreck at South Shields, pencil on paper 1963. The Lowry Collection, Salford.

Always Ready is a film I made in 2016 about the work of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, it features excellent archive footage of the Life Brigade’s brave rescue of the crew from the cargo ship. (Check the link below).

Lowry found a number of vantage points to watch the river Tyne – one was the Mill Dam where an episode was filmed of TV programme When the Boat Comes In, and today is where The Customs House theatre & arts centre stands.  

From there he walked ten minutes up River drive to the bridge which overlooked the shipyards, a different picture today as the yards have been replaced by housing. On many occasions he travelled on the Tyne ferry between North and South Shields.

Old House in South Shields, oil on canvas, 1965.

Lowry was drawn to buildings that were old, neglected or about to be pulled down, an oil from 1965 titled Old House in South Shields caught my eye as I recognised the building from a photo in South Shields Library archive. Sadly not there now, it was demolished and replaced by flats.

Old House in South Shields. Note the position of the windows and doorway.

The large house was set on The Lawe – a hill top over-looking the entrance to the Tyne. To get there Lowry would have walked from his favourite spot at the seafront up the steep bank.

With its strong connection to the sea, this area would have been attractive to Lowry, with the old Pilot steps and Watch House nearby and standing tall are two beacons – large brick pillars originally used as navigational aids for guiding ships into the river before the piers were built.

Derelict at the time Lowry was there, the house was originally a barracks for soldiers during the Napoleonic invasion scare, then used as a business man’s club and reading room by the gentlemen of the Lawe.

South Shields, oil on canvas, private collection, 1962.

At the back of Lawe House was a large Roman Remains Park – today it’s a partly re-constructed Roman Fort. Being drawn to old neglected buildings Lowry may have wandered over and sat sketching among the ruins – or was just knackered and needed to rest after walking up the steep hill.

Gary Alikivi  December 2021

Notes:

L.S. Lowry by Michael Leber & Judith Sandling

L.S. Lowry in the North East published by Tyne & Wear Museums 2010.

Sunderland Echo

https://southtynesidehistory.co.uk

ALWAYS READY (26min) South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade 1866 – 2016. – YouTube

LIGHT UP THE LAWE – with UK artist, Andrew McKeown.

Part of the renovation of the North Marine Park in South Shields is a new sculpture placed on the Lawe Top. The artist, Andrew McKeown, specialises in Public Sculpture and has completed many large scale commissions throughout the UK and Internationally.

In an earlier interview on the blog in June, Andrew talked about his work…..I am working on designs for a large contemporary steel Beacon in the North Marine Park. The Beacon takes it’s inspiration from the Lawe Top Beacons built in 1832.

The installation of his new work was on the morning of 31st October 2020, and I managed to grab a few words with Andrew….Today I’m supervising the installation of the new Beacon sculpture. The blacksmiths are just fixing the bolts down now, it’s pretty much all installed.

Has it been a hectic day ? Yeah just a bit (laughs). We started at 9am, the blacksmith got loaded up earlier than expected but we got up here and got on with it.

What does it feel like seeing your work finally put in place ? Fantastic. I’ve been working on this project since January after getting the commission. It was applying first, then getting selected then there was all the planning to do with the designs. The brief asked for it to be between 4-6 metres high. I went for 6 metres and that feels about right.

The original Victorian Beacons were a lot taller than that so I know it’s not meant to be a navigational aid as such, it’s a decorative piece with a nod and a wink towards the Victorian Beacons.

I think when the block paving is around, the lighting added and when it’s rusted after about 3-4 weeks it’ll develop a stronger rusty colour. It’s core ten steel and rusts so much it’s almost like a protective layer. It’s the same steel as the Angel of the North (sculpture in Gateshead by Antony Gormley). It’s just nice to finally be the day when it all comes together and it looks like what I wanted it to look like.

What is the idea behind the words that are on the sculpture ? Yeah well it’s already happened hasn’t it. This morning within half an hour of it going up a Grandad and his Grandson walked past and the Grandson asked what is a Foyboatman? The Grandad explained and then added that his Dad was a riveter.

That’s what type of conversations I really intended from the piece to happen. It keeps the sculpture alive and all those historical trades and occupations alive.

It refers to the community of South Shields and the words at the top refer to the character of the area, the history and the aspirations. Words like exploration, wisdom, work, toil and adventure, words that make people think that yeah we have got this background as well as the shipping industry that pioneered the way for a lot of things

Can you see it being here for a long time ? The way it has been made and the materials it has been made with, it can be there for years until someone wants to move it. Maybe in a renovation of North Marine Park in another 100 years, but I’ll be long gone by then.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  October 2020.

SKUETENDERS – stories from South Shields.

LT16

In the North East of England, the Lawe Top is an area that run’s parallel to the river Tyne and looks out to South Shields harbour and North Sea. It was once an island, and in some way’s it still is.

Some residents I interviewed in summer 2011 were proud to talk about the Lawe being ‘a little village up on the hill’ away from the town of South Shields.

The documentary included narration by local historian and former museum worker Angus McDonald with music by North East musician Martin Francis Trollope.

This a short extract from some of the interview’s…

Janis Blower: It still has to a certain extent the same old identity that it had with the river and the sea, although the pilot’s have moved away from the area. It’s like a little village with it’s own unique identity.

Dave Slater: It’s an area which I’ve always liked and a lot of people living in Shields have this affinity with it. They think it’s like a special place. And the houses are nice they have their little quirks.

On Fort Street and the corner of Roman Road is Crawfords Newsagents….

Bob Crawford: (owner) I’ve been here 28 years it’s always been a newsagent’s, on the deed’s it say’s from 1920. Enjoy living on the Lawe Top. Made a lot of friends. Lot of nice people live on the Lawe Top. Hopefully be here a bit longer.

Jane Price: I’ve been working here about 10 years now and it’s quite handy cos I live on the street. Literally fall out the door into work. And it’s lovely living up here it’s like a village separate from Shields. Like a really close community. I also work in the pub at the end of the street. The Look Out pub. It’s really nice I enjoy it, my kid’s had a good upbringing here.

Living on The Lawe people are known as Skuetenders. But what is a Skuetender ?

Janis Blower: Well there is various theories to what a Skuetender is. One of them is that if you look down on the area from above the Lawe is in the shape of a skate. But probably the most reliable one is that this is the end of the river where the original fishing hut’s where, the fishing Shiels from which South Shields took it’s name. And it’s where they would salt the fish, and skuet is an old word for ‘to salt’. So if you were born at this end of the river you were a Skuetender or  it’s become Skitender over the years.

Ethne Brown: Well I’ve always lived on the Lawe Top, I was born on the Lawe Top in Trajan Avenue so I’m a Skitender born and bred.

Mel Douglas: Skitender is someone who has lived in this locality within a certain distance of the river. Yes I’ve always been one of them but not as much as Duncan Stephenson as he’s a proper Skitender.

Duncan Stephenson: A Skitender ? You’ve got to have a ring around your bottom end where you sat on a bucket when you were a kid. That’s where a proper Skitender came from, if ya’ haven’t got a ring round yer bottom end yer not a Lawe Topper.

Janis Blower: Well I was born and brought up in Woodlands Terrace so as a child you would just have to walk down Woodlands Terrace and you were straight on to the hill top. If the weather was good you literally spent all yer time out on the hill top or down onto the beach. What our mothers didn’t see what we got up to was a good thing.

Mel Douglas: When I was young I lived in George Scott Street. That was my impressionable time but we eventually moved up to this house (Lawe Road) which I’ve enjoyed. On the hill top area when I was a boy there was the gun encampments and Trinity Towers – a sort of radar station which was all fenced off.

Janis Blower: Trinity Towers was a magical place to play because it was so much like a castle or a fort. It had been originally built in the 1830’s by Trinity House, as a pilot look out. It stayed that until the early part of last century when the new pilot house was built at the top end of the park. By the time we were playing in it, it was the radar station for the college. You couldn’t actually get in it but it had bushes around it and little nook’s and crannies.

Mel Douglas: The encampment where the gun’s where for example a lot of people aren’t sure where they were. But looking out of my window if you catch the time of year when spring is starting to come through, realising that the gun’s and the fence had some sort of foundations, well there wasn’t much soil on top of that and the rest of the area in deep soil. So when the grass started to grow it would grow quickly where there was plenty of soil. But where the foundations of the encampment was there was no soil to speak about.

Janis Blower: By the time I was a child playing on the hill top the actual gun’s themselves had gone but you could still see where the gun emplacements had been the big round pit’s had been there. They had been fenced off originally but I’m sure that I can remember sitting on one of them dangling my leg’s inside. You were always being warned off them.

On the Lawe Top is Arbeia Roman Fort…

Dave Slater: I noticed when we moved here when we walked up Lawe Road is on the wall, name plaques of Roman emperors like Julian Street etc.. and the one round the corner is the name of his wife. So you can always learn something new as old as you are and as many times you been up here.

Janis Blower: The fort was very open in those days and we used to play in it as children you wouldn’t think about doing that now. I don’t suppose as a child you really appreciated what a heritage monument it was.

There used to be a caretakers house attached to it which has been demolished long since, and when you used to play on the green between the hill top and the pilot house, if ya dug around you could find bit’s of stoneware. I remember the red samian ware that you see in the fort, and we would find these bit’s of things and we would take them to the caretakers house and knock on the door ‘Is this a bit of roman pottery’ and he would say ‘Yes look’s like it is’. But I think after we had done it after the fifth or sixth time it was ‘No it’s a bit o’ brick’.

The Lawe Top used to be home to St Aidens and St Stephens Churches….

Joan Stephenson: When a lot of the houses were pulled down around this area and people moved to other part’s of Shields and they want their children baptised or anything they still say St Stephen’s is their church and they come back.

Ethne Brown: I was born up here and I was christened at St Stephen’s Church and all my family and father’s brother’s were in the church choir. My Grandma Whale on more than one occasion opened the fete at St Stephen’s church. It’s always been the pilot’s church and nice that they were in the choir. I was also married at St Stephen’s Church.

Mel Douglas: With respect to that I was very fortunate when sadly they pulled the church (St Aidens) down that I was in a position where I could buy the pew that I sat on as a boy and have in a room upstairs. The pew used by people getting married, my father, Grandfather, myself, all male members of the family had sat on that pew when getting married. Very proud of it.

Joan Stephenson: When St Aiden’s closed they amalgamated with St Stephen’s, it was sad because St Aiden’s was a lovely church. In the 1970’s we decided to make this building into a multi-purpose building to make it more economic to run and it stayed up while unfortunately St Aiden’s closed. Once the chairs are put to the side we hold dances, mother and toddlers, young kid’s come into dance, social evenings, it’s a really good venue for anything like that.

The street that overlook’s the Tyne is Greens Place where I spoke to Karen Arthur and her father George…

Karen: When you were little what did you used to see around here ?

George: We used to go to the shop along there beside the Turks Head pub. Shrybos you called here. We nicknamed her Fanny Mossy. Everyone knew her around here. She was an eccentric, she was an old maid and owned that shop.

Karen: Did she only let one person in at a time Dad ?

George: Yes if two of you went in she would say ‘Get out one of ya’. Cos she knew if she was serving one the other one would be helpin’ themselves with the sweets an’ that.

Lenonard Smith: We moved to 23 Greens Place in 1947 and that was great because at one time 17 lived in four flats. There was one tap outside and one toilet. Me happy days of the Lawe Top was I used to go to the Corporation Quay and I spent all my school holiday’s going away with the inshore fishermen. With the net’s it was driving, then crab pot’s and longlines.

We used to bait up in the cabins on the Corporation Quay and the light was done by carbine. The only thing with carbine was that when you went home you had black tash’s where the smoke would get up your nostrils.

On Baring Street is the art shop Crafty Corner….

Trevor Dixon: We purchased this property 8 year’s ago now and it used to be Crabtree’s the Bakers. Where I’m sitting now there used to be a massive oven that came right from the back of the shop. Took six months to cut it out and skip after skip. Our shop is a craft shop and ceramic studio.

It’s a very old building that we are in and it’s reckoned that we have ghosts. They’re all friendly. We’ve had a few local ghost groups bringing all their instruments in here and in the basement. They reckon we do have a lot of ghosts and we have things moved around now and then, disappear for a few day’s then turn up again.

I don’t think we could have picked a better place to be cos as you know The Lawe Top goes back in history as a creative place and I feel we’ve meant to be here.

Final words about The Lawe Top….

Mel Douglas: If it was up to me I would live in this house for the rest of my life. It’s a beautiful house and I love the community that I live in. Fantastic neighbours, nice people, I’d live nowhere else.

Ethne Brown: I just love living here on this Lawe Top. The house is a bit big nowadays but I don’t know where else I would go in the town. This is the only place to live.

Janis Blower: Everybody knows everybody else, yeah it’s a fabulous area to live. I can’t imagine to be living anywhere else to be honest.

Joan Stephenson: Just a lovely place to live.

Duncan Stephenson: Got everything here, beaches, parks. Home is where…

Joan: Your heart is.

To read more about the film go to the blog Skuetenders Aug.25th 2018.

 Gary Alikivi August 2019.