L S Lowry (1887-1976) is one of Britain’s best loved artists. His instantly recognisable paintings usually feature gritty northern industrial streets filled with ‘matchstick’ people, rows of terraced houses, mills, factories and smoking chimneys against a white or grey sky. His paintings have soared in value since his death but in his early years he struggled to get recognition as a serious artist, particularly from his domineering and demanding mother. (Watch Mrs Lowry & Son starring Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave if you haven’t already). Most of his painting was done near his home in Pendlebury, Salford and in Manchester but he liked to take holidays in Berwick-upon-Tweed from the mid 1930s right up until his death and a number of his works were created there.
The Lowry Trail was set up by The Berwick Preservation Trust and it allows walkers to follow in his footsteps and see 18 sites which inspired his paintings and drawings of the area or are otherwise associated with Lowry. It is a self-guided walk taking about 3 hours and you can find a map and brochure here. There are information boards at each of the 18 sites, mostly displaying Lowry’s painting or sketch of the scene along with explanatory notes.
I completed the trail recently and here is my account of it, following the same order shown on the map.
The trail begins in Dewar’s Lane, a narrow alley off Bridge Street in the heart of Berwick-upon-Tweed. When I first saw Lowry’s 1936 pencil drawing I assumed that the crooked buildings were just for artistic effect but as you can see this former granary really does lean backwards.
The building now houses a YHA hostel and bistro.
In this rapidly sketched pencil drawing of Palace Street he noted the colours of the buildings signalling an intention to paint this scene at a later date.
This photo was taken in roughly the same location.
On Pier Road Lowry sketched this pencil drawing in 1956 of Berwick’s pier and lighthouse which were built in the early 1800s.
The same scene today. The former maltings buildings have been converted into flats. The pier is currently closed off for repairs so I was unable to walk to the end.
One of Lowry’s more cheerful scenes is On The Sands painted in 1959 or earlier. The information board reads ‘”Poverty and gloom. Never a joyous picture of mine you’ll see. Always gloom. I never do a jolly picture.” Lowry’s sorrowful remark is denied by this painting of brightly clothed children playing around a shelter behind Berwick Pier.’
The shelter is looking more gloomy now, fenced off due to unsafe brickwork and bereft of playing children as Berwick tries to emerge from the Covid-19 lockdown.
Lowry was so enamoured with Berwick that he is thought to have seriously considered buying this property in 1947. The house, called The Lions, stands on top of the town’s Elizabethan Walls and looks out to sea but it was found to be rampant with damp and Lowry did not proceed with the purchase. By 1971 it was derelict and vandalised and threatened with demolition but it has since been saved and restored.
Continuing along the town walls the next spot is where Lowry sketched a Football Match taking place on ‘The Stanks’ where the moat around the town used to be. Football of course is still very popular in Berwick. The local team Berwick Rangers is unique for being the only English Club to play in the Scottish football league until their relegation in 2019. They now play in the fifth tier of Scottish football.
This is the spot where the game Lowry sketched was played.
This photo, from December last year, was taken where the town wall crosses Marygate, looking towards the Town Hall which Lowry liked to paint.
This painting of the Town Hall called Old Berwick (Strother’s Yard) 1958 is one of four paintings and drawings of the same scene.
At Bridge End we can find the spot where this scene was painted in 1938. As with many of his works the streets are full of his matchstick characters and pets.
The view has barely changed since his time.
A sign above the door of the grey building reads ‘the Original Berwick Cockle Shop’ which apparently has nothing to do with seafood since these cockles are peppermint-flavoured sweets. A few antique jars of these are displayed in the window of William Cowe and Sons opposite.
Nearby is Sally Port, another narrow alley with steps leading up to the Quay Walls while the archway passes under the town walls to the quayside. Lowry painted this in 1954.
A few buildings have been demolished since Lowry’s time bringing more light to the alley.
Next we cross the river to Tweedmouth via the old bridge, one of three fine bridges over the Tweed at Berwick (two road and one railway).
A collection of cottages seemed to have caught Lowry’s eye and he painted this busy scene called the Old Property in 1943. The solitary observer with hands clasped behind his back is thought by art historians to represent Lowry himself. (The Lowry Trail information board from which this photo was taken is badly stained hence the red blotches.)
The Old Property today. What would Lowry have done with the wheelie bins which appear everywhere these days? He probably would have included them in his paintings.
Moving along to Berwick Harbour, this is where Lowry would have stood to sketch this view of Berwick looking back over the river.
The information board is missing from its easel.
At the Lifeboat Station there is an information board showing a Self Portrait painted in 1925 when he was 38 years old.
The trail continues to the suburb of Spittal. Not the most attractive-sounding name but apparently it derives from hospital rather than anything to do with saliva. The beach here however is very attractive and Lowry liked to walk along the promenade and gather inspiration for his seascapes and paintings of boats. Next to Sandstell Road car park is an information board entitled Boats showing some of his maritime themed works. The main image is of Waiting For The Tide, South Shields, 1967.
Further along Spittal Promenade there is another trail marker featuring his 1964 painting Girl in a Red Hat on a Promenade.
The final stop on the Lowry Trail map is called Back Streets and is made up of two rows of brick built terraced houses called Falloden Terrace and Howick Terrace. These were included in the trail because, although they are not typical in Berwick, these are the sort of houses that Lowry would have seen all the time during his rounds as a rent collector in Manchester and the kind of scene that appeared in many of his paintings.
When Lowry took his holidays in Berwick he would stay at the Castle Hotel, located opposite the railway station. Looking at their website they do not seem to make any mention of the Lowry connection. They might be missing a trick here.