ARTISTIC memories of a bygone Sunderland are the focus of today’s Wearside Echoes.
A FAMILY party at a hotel which became a ‘second home’ to a top British painter will draw up arty memories for a former Wearside porter this weekend.
Brian Bellamy is to be guest of honour at a birthday bash for his nephew, Alan Smith, at Seaburn’s Marriott Hotel – where he befriended LS Lowry back in the 1960s.
And, in a bizarre twist of fate, Alan has booked the Lowry suite for the celebration – only finding out afterwards that his 93-year-old uncle was once pals with the painter.
“I never realised Brian worked at the Seaburn Hotel, let alone knew Mr Lowry. It will really bring back some memories for him,” said Alan, of Lakeside Village.
“It was purely by chance that we booked the Lowry suite, which is apparently where Lowry used to stay when he was in Sunderland. It is a nice family link with the past.”
Manchester-born Laurence Stephen Lowry began his art career in 1905 – working as a rent collector by day to fund his studies at night school and Salford School of Art.
Although frequently dismissed by critics as being too parochial and naïve, he slowly began to achieve success in the 1920s with exhibitions across Britain and Europe.
War was raging when Lowry, by now in his 50s, first had his work displayed in Sunderland Museum in 1942. It wasn’t until 1960, however, that he visited the town.
Indeed, it was only “by chance” that he discovered Sunderland after travelling down from Tyneside. It was to be the start of a long, and close, relationship with Wearside.
“I like Sunderland because of the shipping, shipbuilding and countryside. I like the sea. I sometimes escape to Sunderland. I get away from art and artists,” he once said.
The Seaburn Hotel – now known as the Marriott – became Lowry’s home away from home from the 1950s and 1970s, as he spent weeks at a time painting Sunderland.
His favourite spots included the River Wear, overlooking Lambton Drops, as well as shipyards and the seafront, with Brian often providing directions to different areas.
“I used to work as a driver/porter at the Seaburn and met Mr Lowry several times,” said Brian. “He knew I was a driver, so he used to ask me about places to go and visit.
“When I asked him what brought him to Sunderland so often he said he was interested in our industry, as well as the people of Sunderland and the North East.
“He liked painting scenes of shipbuilding, heavy industry and the sea. Although he visited regularly, he was always interested in asking for advice on new places to see.”
Brian, from Ford Estate, befriended Lowry during his two-year stint at the Seaburn from 1967-69 – and was even given a doodle by the artist at one point, which sadly vanished over time.
“He was fascinated by the different accents up here, and just liked the whole place,” added Brian. “He was always polite, nice mannered and kind – a very fine man.
“Going back to the Seaburn Hotel, and especially the Lowry Suite, will certainly bring back memories. Being the guest of honour at Alan’s party is a real honour too.”
Alan, who is just eight years younger than Brian, will be celebrating his 85th birthday – a date his family feared he would never see after he collapsed just before his 80th.
“I ended up having a triple heart bypass instead of an 80th birthday party, so I’m intending to enjoy this instead. It will be a special occasion for both Brian and me,” he said.
“We’ve always been close, and people often thought me and Brian were brothers. It felt right to make him my guest of honour – and now it will be an even more special occasion.”
The hotel with a lighthouse: Seaburn Hotel facts
•Sunderland Council passed plans for three new hotels in March 1936 – the £20,000 Seaburn Hotel, a £5,000 pub at Pallion and the £12,000 Barnes Hotel.
•Licences for these were granted on the surrender of other licences, including the Skiff Inn at Deptford, the Foresters’ Arms, Pallion Inn and the Dog and Pheasant.
•The Seaburn Hotel was built for Vaux Breweries, the parent company of Swallow Hotels, and constructed in just 14 weeks. It included 20 bedrooms and a restaurant.
•The original design included a decorative lighthouse on the roof, but this was never used – as it was considered a hazard to shipping. It was removed in 1946.
•Private bathrooms were installed in all bedrooms in 1969. In 1979 a new wing was built – adding another 36 bedrooms to the north end.
•The hotel was closed for 18 months between 1989 and 1991 for a £6million revamp, which included building a leisure suite with a swimming pool.
•VIP guests include Princess Diana, Princess Anne, Princess Margaret, The Beatles, Chuck Berry, East 17, Tommy Steele, Viv Richards, Lily Savage and Ben Elton.
•LS Lowry always stayed in room 104, except on rare occasions when it was not available. It enjoyed stunning sea views – as did his regular table in the dining room.