The Sunderland men who hatched a 2,000-mile plan - to view the art treasures of Europe

When you've got a real love of art, it's natural that you want to find out more.

Wednesday, 24th August 2016, 10:00 am
Four men and a van who were prepared to go off on an adventure.

And that’s what these men from Sunderland did in 1963 when they revealed their plans to tour 2,000 miles of Europe.

Chris Cordner reports.

The four men get ready for their European travels.

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A delve into the Echo’s archives revealed a story of great adventure, enterprise and a love of art.

Hats off to these men who really did want to find out more about the great masters of Europe.

They were Andrew Sheils, 19, of Westgate Avenue in New Silksworth, Alan Wilson, 19, of Wells Crescent, Westlea in Seaham, and Kenneth Henderson, 18, of Tunbridge Road in Thorney Close in Sunderland.

They were all students of Sunderland College of Art and joining them was a fourth friend, Stuart Reilly of Richmond, Ryhope, who was an apprentice welder.

The four men get ready for their European travels.

The year was 1963 and they wanted to develop their love of art which had been nurtured in the classrooms of Sunderland.

The idea was that the college students, whose classroom lectures had brought them into contact with the great masters, wanted to see the great treasures of Europe.

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

Our report at the time said: “The Louvre in Paris, the Vatican in Rome, and the Pitti and Uffizi galleries in Florence are fixed stopping points on a 2,000 mile trip that will take them through France, Monte Carlo, Monaco and Italy.

“Terminus is Rome, provided that the van which they bought last Christmas for £50 gives no mechanical trouble.”

The men were reliant on the transport they had lined up.

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

They had gone even further in their pursuit of art.

The resourceful group had also made superb arrangements to fund the trip itself with three of them getting jobs, said our report at the time.

“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.

The pair had expected to be touring Europe for three weeks and we were wondering how it all went. If you can help with any extra details, get in touch. Email [email protected]

The quartet were not the only Wearside people who got to see more of the world in the 1960s.

That same summer, 32 young people from St John’s Methodist Church in Ashbrooke, planned to visit Voss in Norway when they travel arrangements took an unexpected turn.

Their travel arrangements were deemed by officials to be too heavy for them to travel that way and transport by aeroplane had to be sorted out.

The party was led by the Minister of St John’s, the Rev Kenneth Waights.

He was assisted by the Rev B Walkland who was a Nottingham minister.

Mr Waights was said to be no stranger to travels to the continent and had regularly organised holidays for the youth of his church for many years.

Who remembers those trips and your youthful chance to see something of Europe in the early 1960s.

Email chris.cordner’