We found him! Sunderland lad remembers his amazing 1963 tour of Europe

The four men get ready for their European travels.
The four men get ready for their European travels.
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He was one of the adventurous 19-year-olds who went on a tour of Europe with a difference.

We asked for memories of the fab four from Wearside who took on a 2,000 mile journey in an old Ford van.

How we reported the story in 1963.

How we reported the story in 1963.

Alan Wilson was one of them and he got in touch to tell us more.

Chris Cordner updates the story.

Take an old Ford van, add four intrepid men from the Sunderland area and throw in a desire to enjoy the best that Europe had to offer in the arts world.

It sounds like a wonderful plan and the quartet of Alan Wilson, Andy Sheils, Ken Henderson, and Stuart Reilly made it come true in 1963.

It was great to see the article in the Sunderland Echo and it brought back lots of fond memories

Alan Wilson

It was Alan, now of Oakville in Ontario in Canada, who got in touch to tell us more.

He said: “It was great to see the article in the Sunderland Echo and it brought back lots of fond memories.

“We made it as far as Paris, visited the Louvre, and then the van broke down.

“Luckily, we found a garage where the owner spoke English, and repairs were made and we were on our way.

“We got to the Riviera, went swimming in the Med, and drove to Italy before we ran out of money.

“While we were in Paris, the van was broken into and some of our clothes were stolen. We spent a day in French police stations and although helpful, our clothes were never found.

“We had enough clothes left to get us back. Although I’m not sure I think the insurance claim we made in Paris came through, so it didn’t turn out so bad.

“The galleries of Italy would have to wait for another trip. We slept two in a tent, and two in the van and made our way to Calais, then a channel crossing brought us home.

“Ken now lives in southwest France, I live near Toronto in Canada, we have lost touch with Andy, who we believe lives in Ireland and Stuart unfortunately passed away a few years ago.

“Ken and I have re-discovered each other and have visited each other in France and Canada.”

At the time, Andrew was 19, and of Westgate Avenue in New Silksworth, Alan, 19, of Wells Crescent, Westlea in Seaham, Kenneth, 18, was from Tunbridge Road in Thorney Close in Sunderland.

They were all students of Sunderland College of Art and joining them was the fourth friend, Stuart who came from Ryhope and was an apprentice welder.

They wanted to develop their love of art which had been nurtured in the classrooms of Sunderland.

They got together with Stuart to plan an itinerary which would include the galleries of Paris, Florence and Rome.

They had pooled their financial resources to buy a van which was seven years old at the time.

They had gone even further ito make sure the trip went smoothly and was properly funded.

“Finances for the actual trip have come from vacation jobs that have temporarily converted the three students into refuse collectors, ice-cream salesmen and deck chair attendants.”

Our 1963 report said: “New front tyres, welding repairs to the floor (a job undertaken by Stuart Reilly) and an overhaul of the brakes have put the vehicle in good working order.”

Mr Sheils was the spokesman for the group and explained in 1963 why their own transport was a necessity for the trip.

It was their preferred method of travel after a hitch-hiking continental holiday the previous year had ended abruptly with “the party returning to England and spending the remainder of their holiday employed by a travelling funfair at south coast resorts,” our article explained.

Our thanks go to Alan for getting in touch and we wonder whether others have enjoyed their own epic summer holiday adventure in decades gone by.

Or perhaps you would just like to be reunited with friends that you shared the 1960s with, and need a helping hand.

Get in touch and tell us more.

Email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk