LOWRYS LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE NORTH EAST

Known for his paintings of industrial scenes, cotton mills, chimneys and ‘matchstalk men and dogs’, L.S. Lowry from 1960 until his death 16 years later, regularly left his home and travelled over the Pennines to sketch in Durham and Northumberland towns – continuing his great love affair with the North East coast.

He first landed in Berwick in 1932 after his father died of pneumonia aged 74, his doctor advised him to rest before taking on the responsibility of looking after his bedridden mother.

Lowry was devastated after her death in 1939 and with the worry and strain he considered a permanent move to Berwick ‘I’ve not cared much for anything since she died. I’ve nothing left and just don’t care’.

Lowry on Seaburn promenade about 1960. pic. L.S. Lowry estate.

Did he spend days or weeks at a time in the North East ? I’m not sure but after retirement as a rent collector he based himself near Sunderland and a room in the Seaburn Hotel quickly became a home-from-home for one of the UK’s most popular artists. ‘I sometimes escape to Sunderland. I get away from art and artists.’

Leaving the hotel he would walk along Roker seafront making pencil sketches on hotel notepaper and the back of old letters. Lowry was generous with his work and gave a number of his drawings to people he met by chance.

Newbiggin-by-the-sea 1966 oil on canvas. Private collection.

He would catch a train, taxi or a lift with friends up to Blyth, Berwick, Bamburgh or Newbiggin. Constantly drawn to the coast he would stare out to sea, and was inspired to use the sketches as a basis for oil paintings ’Don’t start thinking I was trying to put over some message, I just painted what I saw’.

Lowry was interested in St Peter’s Church in Monkwearmouth and seven mile away its twin monastery St Paul’s in Jarrow. Nearby in Bede Art Gallery he would meet Director, Vince Rea, and on a number of occasions enjoyed talking with amateur artists in the gallery.

St Paul’s, Jarrow 1962, pencil and ballpoint pen on paper. Private collection.

As mentioned in a previous post Lowry spent many hours at South Shields where the Tyne meets the North sea watching tugs, ships and fishing boats coming in. On the north side of the river is the notorious Black Midden rocks, before piers were built it was a graveyard for ships.

High up on the headland is Tynemouth Castle and Priory providing a dramatic backdrop. Lowry loved the scenery, the atmosphere, and above all, the sea.

He exhibited work at Newcastle’s Stone Gallery and became a friend of owner Mick Marshall. In later years he encouraged young artists to stay close to their roots rather than assume a move to London was necessary ‘No need to go to London to become a famous painter, you won’t find better lamp posts there’.

Sunderland Museum have an exhibition devoted to him and as a permanent reminder there is a Lowry Road and a new housing estate – Lowry Park, I think his mother would approve.

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.

LORD OF THE RING – in conversation with Sunderland boxing coach & fire fighter Preston Brown

The fantastic four of Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard were my era and I loved them. I’ve met Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler and went to see Tommy Hearns box as he was my favourite.  He was a great boxer, very skilful.

His fight with Marvin Hagler in 1985 is the most exciting three rounds of boxing. If Hearns boxed he would of won, but they both went at it hammer and tong and Hagler knocked him out in the third round remembers Preston.

Then every now and then you get a freak of nature like a Mike Tyson, he was powerful, had agility, and skill yes, but he was a fighter knocking people out. Boxing matches bring a clash of styles.

Today in the ring you have Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury, Billy Joe Saunders who just fought for a world title, there’s still good boxers out there. They came from amateur boxing but it’s not as popular as it used to be as there are more distractions now, kids can be in their bedrooms on their computers where parents can keep an eye on them.

17 year old John ‘Pasty’ Brown.

FIRST ROUND

I was born and brought up in Hendon in the east end of Sunderland and my Dad, John, was a boxer. In the ‘60s a boxing club was opened and my Dad ended up coaching. Through boxing he helped a lot of kids and hopefully I can do the same. Boxing can learn you discipline and respect – it can do a lot of good.

When I was young I was out in the street, bird nesting, playing on railway lines. But I drifted over to the boxing club with the other lads and my Dad was in there. I wasn’t forced into it. I’d sit ring side and took an interest in it.

What I’m doing now is a continuation of what my Dad did. Some kids when they first come in to the gym are not sure about it, but about 90% of them end up respecting the place, have determination and dedication to turn up training each week, and learn discipline. You’ve got to put the time in. It’s a tough game you can get hurt.

Preston in the gym.

IN THE RING

When I became a member of Sunderland Amateur Boxing Club I started boxing competitively through the ‘70s and ‘80s. I slowly progressed from boxing to coaching and become official through the A.B.A. (Amateur Boxing Association).

Sunderland lad Tony Jeffries was one of the gym’s proteges, he represented GB in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and won a Bronze medal. At the gym with Tony was a kid called Stuart Kennedy, I thought he was a very good boxer, but just like in life, you’ve got to have a bit of luck. Stuart glided around the ring with his footwork but didn’t get the lucky breaks.

A kid called Anthony Wilkinson boxed with me, he won three British titles two years in a row and at 17 turned professional. I thought he was a bit young for it but he was making money. I think he could have been the best boxer we produced.

ALL FIRED UP

I got a job in the fire brigade, 22 year I’ve been in now, and there was a couple of firefighters who were boxers, they knew I had coaching badges so asked me to help out with some training.

We got on for a couple of year arranged a few charity matches with the police and then got invited to go over to Boston and Denver plus a small club in Ireland where we go annually.

The firefighters loved the boxing training and after using other gyms, with the total backing and support of Chief Fire Officer Chris Lowther, I set up our own in an old storage building in the Sunderland fire station grounds.

We got help with funds for equipment from the local council who said ok as long as you open it up to the community. We kitted the gym out with the best because the council were totally onboard with the whole idea and we had a big opening night in April 2019.

When we first opened the doors to the kids we were only getting a handful but that quickly grew to 35 a night so we extended to two hourly sessions. We got loads of kids off the streets.

The youngest is 9 year old when they train, you can’t box until you’re 11. From 11 to 15 you’re a schoolboy, 15 to 17 classed as a junior, at 17 you can box men. My first senior fight was at 17 the other lad was 34. I got beat but we’re still good friends (laughs).

I was classed as a boxer not a fighter, I had boxing skills with my feet, hand speed and technical ability. I boxed him in the first round, dancing round him you know. Second round he thought it was time to slow me down and hit me with a body shot and knocked me down I had a standing count of eight to compose myself. That’s the difference between a boy and a man.

Kids start off at three rounds of a minute and a half, as you get older you go to two minute rounds and seniors box three minute rounds. Our gym aims to channel the energy of young kids, it gets them interacting with people, better than them playing on their phones.

CREATING CHAMPIONS

We’d love to produce Olympians or World Champions but if they come out just feeling better about themselves we’ve won. In the gym we’ve had police officers mixing with criminals, different people who wouldn’t normally get on but who’ve got a love of the sport. The atmosphere is fantastic everybody loves it and you can forget about what is happening outside – like being in a bubble.

There’s no better feeling in the world when the referee holds up your hands to say ‘and the winner is’. In the same breath if you get beat by the better man you think ‘I’ll do better next time’. The fire lads and the kids have a thing where they say ‘I didn’t win that fight but we learnt from it’. And that’s important because it’s all about competing. The gym’s motto is creating champions in the ring, creating champions in life.

Anyone that can step in the ring has my total respect. You’re stepping into the unknown, the man across from you might be better. So have you done enough training ? Have you worked with the coach enough ? You will be put in the ring against someone with similar experience.

Although our club has fought against a team that’s put in ringers – fighters with a lot of fights – matched against someone with only two or three. That’s not on really, it’s about giving the lads a proper fight, they’ve got to be matched up correctly.

Preston coaching in the gym.

HEADS UP

Head guards were brought in a few years ago and the kids and females need to wear them but the bigger lads can agree to wear them or not. I’m a big believer in them when you are training but they are uncomfortable to wear when competing.

I will insist on everyone wearing one when sparring and training. The women may not be big and powerful as the lads but they are very skillful and I appreciate that, it’s an art.

PROGRESS

Britain has produced some good boxers over the years who have come through amateur gym’s but in the past year covid has restricted that so it’s a problem, we’ve got to work something out to go forward and make progress.

For more information contact Preston on: 07740 285 966

Sunderland Central Fire station, Tyne & Wear Fire & Rescue Service,

Phoenix building, Railway Row, Sunderland SR1 3HE

Gym address: Unit One, Westbourne Road, Sunderland SR 1 3SQ

Interview by Gary Alikivi   August 2021

POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (7) – Sunderland men involved in the Spanish Civil War

Another story to be added to Postcards from Spain comes from local and family history researcher Linda Gowans from Sunderland. Linda was involved in a project researching the World War 2 memorial board at St Gabriels Church in Sunderland, when she came across two men who were involved in the Spanish Civil War….

Both men also received O.B.E awards in the New Year Honours list of January 1946. The first was Captain Frederick Robinson of 14 Hawarden Cresent, Sunderland who was Master of SS Garesfield. He was at sea a total of 30 years, served in both World Wars and brought food supplies to the people of Spain fighting General Franco.

I searched for some background on Frederick and found on the 1939 register taken just before the Second World War he was employed as Master Mariner on SS.Knitsley. He lived with his wife Elizabeth and had one son Frederick who was 5 year old.

Linda added….The second is Captain William Gould, Master of S.S. Monkleigh, he had been at sea for a total of 42 years. During World War One and Two he was torpedoed four times, twice in each war. He also ran the blockade to bring supplies to Spain during the Spanish Civil War.

Also searched for some background on William and found that on the 1891 census he was 4 year old and lived at 9 Princes Street, Sunderland with his father Thomas, who was a mariner, his mother Jane and brother George. Ten year later William was an apprentice steam engineer.

In 1910 he married Maggie Graham, they had two daughters Irene and Kathleen, and a son, William junior. Not long afterwards his wife Maggie died, aged 32. William remarried to Ada Moore in 1922, and three more children were born, Thomas, James and Poppy.

Linda also mentioned William and Ada’s son Thomas who joined the British Armed Forces but only for a short time as it ended in tragic circumstances….. Thomas decided not to follow his father to sea and in 1942 joined the RAF, gaining his wings in South Africa in 1943.

On April 29th 1945 he was part of 3 man Advanced Flying Unit out on a training flight. Joining Pilot Officer Thomas Gould on board were Flying Officer Gordon Aubrey from the Royal Canadian Air Force, and Sergeant Howard Montgomery of the Royal Australian Air Force.

They took off from RAF South Cerney, Gloucestershire but ran into poor weather and visibility was very low due to a snowstorm. While flying at low altitude the aircraft hit tree tops and crashed in a wooded area at New Barn Farm, Temple Guiting. All three men on board were killed. Thomas was only 21.

His body was brought home for burial at Bishopwearmouth, Sunderland and his grave bears the inscription, ‘His life, a noble sacrifice’.

A tragic end to a young man’s life, and sad that he went before his father William who died 7th April 1950.

 If you have any information about the North East men and women who were in any way involved in the Spanish Civil War please get in touch at garyalikivi@yahoo.com

 Gary Alikivi  April 2020.