Lowrys Berwick, NorthumberlandThere are many reasons to visit Berwick: the town’s fascinating and at times violent history epitomised by its sacking at the hands of Edward I ’s army; the variety of architecture, from its massive Elizabethan fortifications to Robert Stephenson ’s magnificent railway bridge across the Tweed ; the harbour wall jutting so far out to sea; and the rare character shown in its compact shopping centre. But there is another less obvious one: its links with painter LS Lowry, who developed a deep affection for the place that led him to produce 30 or more drawings and paintings of it.
LS Lowry first visited the town in 1935, stopping during a trip to Scotland taken on the advice of a doctor concerned his patient was becoming exhausted by looking after his bedridden mother. He returned to holiday there frequently until the start of WWII , and continued to pay it visits after that – in 1947 he even considered buying a house, The Lions, in the town.
The artist’s depictions of Berwick perhaps show a more contented side to his personality than we would normally associate with his most famous images of matchstick men and smoky factories – the painter in holiday mood perhaps. Most colourful of the Berwick images is one from 1938, showing Bridge End in the town: red roofs and headgear, a warmly red-bricked building, splashes of deep blue, a red skirt and orange coats blend to create a cheery scene where people are conversing rather than as so often in his pictures dashing somewhere else.
A similar, though perhaps still slightly more restrained mood pervades his view A Market Place, Berwick, the first significant piece he painted in the town during his initial 1935 visit. Again people are chatting, and there is a cosiness suggested about the shops lining the broad thoroughfare.
But surely the warmest and jolliest of his Berwick paintings is On the Sands, whose very subject is leisure: the blue sea is calm, the weather obviously warm given the clothing on the children populating the scene, and relaxed adults would appear to be sheltering from the sun in the little pergola which is its focal point. Joyous is not a word often used about the artist, but it seems apposite here.
Lowry’s significance to the town has been recognized by the authorities there who have constructed a trail linking 18 points where he painted or sketched, taking in the football pitches by the ancient fortifications, the pier, the harbour, the promenade at Spittal on the other side of the river, and some of its back streets. Those back streets included Dewar’s Lane, sketched by Lowry in 1936 in a style more reminiscent of his views of Salford and Manchester . The trail if followed in its entirety treks six miles around the place, though it may be more fun to wander independently and happen by chance on the easel-like boards marking particular points of interest.
The friendliness of Berwick seemed to have unlocked the more human side of Lowry, epitomised in the story of the most charming piece he produced in the town. While staying at a hotel there in 1958 he became friendly with fellow-guest Mr Waldie, whose son’s brave response to a minor accident impressed the great man to such an extent that he cheered the lad by drawing a childish Thurberesque scene on some hotel notepaper and giving it him as a present.
Berwick isn’t as great a magnet for art-lovers as say St Ives or Staithes , but its rugged character and amiable disposition will endear it to today’s visitors as it did to Lowry for so many years.
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