Tributes paid after death of Wearside woodcutter

Tributes were today paid following the death of a Wearside man who carved out a unique career as a woodcutter.

Thursday, 18th February 2016, 11:20 am
Updated Thursday, 18th February 2016, 11:55 am
Lesley Cooperwaite and son George Bligh (then 7) with Lesley's father Peter - pictured with the rocking horse Peter made for George.

Peter Cooperwaite, 80, spent his whole life as a wood craftsman, putting his own personal stamp on pubs, theatres, churches, schools, museums and even the Stadium of Light.

“We used to joke that there was a bit of my dad in almost every building in Sunderland - and many others beyond,” said his daughter, artist Lesley Cooperwaite.

Peter Cooperwaite's grandson George pictured with some of the amazing wooden items built by the craftsman over the years.

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“He was an incredibly talented man, who was passionate about making things out of wood. He was possibly the last of his kind - you just don’t have people doing what he did these days.”

Peter, son of council road sweeper Fred Cooperwaite and his wife Catherine, was born in Sunderland in November 1935 and grew up in the Hendon area.

“He was one of eight children and there was never much money, so he was always making things. He told me he made himself a pair of sandals once,” said Lesley.

“I assume his interest in wood came from this time, as I know he searched for driftwood on the beach to work with. Even as a teenager he was always working away on some piece of wood.”

Peter Cooperwaite's grandson George pictured with some of the amazing wooden items built by the craftsman over the years.

Peter joined the army after leaving Hendon Board School, serving in Hong Kong and making his name as a boxer. On a visit home, however, he found love.

The soldier met Sunderland girl Elsie Morris during a night out at The Rink, then a hugely popular dance hall. In 1961 the dance partners married and set up home in Thornhill Gardens.

“Dad served an apprenticeship as a woodcutting machinist at M. Winburn, a furniture manufacturer, and also worked for Caulder’s and Huntley’s,” said Lesley.

“He was briefly a wood machinist for the Public Works Department too, but then set up a firm in Trimdon Street with his youngest brother, John, called Cooper-Waites Brothers.

“The firm specialised in purpose-built joinery manufacturing, from bay windows to front doors and fitting out bars. If something needed to be built out of wood, they could do it.”

In later years the brothers rented floor space at Simon West Interiors, then based at the old Blind Institute, carrying out freelance work before eventually being employed by the firm.

“Dad didn’t retire until a couple of years ago, as his skills were still very much in demand - such as restoring the original mouldings at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle,” said Lesley.

“Even when he wasn’t working on a project, he was always working away at something in his shed. He just loved wood, and was passionate about making things out of it.

“He crafted a full-sized Doctor Who TARDIS, as well as a full-size dalek. At 79 he made a Sunderland Box Seat, and he also made a Davenport with Sunderland’s Hot Potato Man on it.”

Other projects Peter was involved with included:

l Rebuilding arched windows in the Great Hall of the Discovery Museum.

l Building the bar at the Stadium of Light.

l Building the bar of the Bluebell pub at Fulwell.

l Providing the interior for the Quayside Exchange.

“Dad was very knowledgeable about wood and different trees. He knew the properties of every kind of wood and could turn his hand to making anything wood-related,” said Lesley.

Peter was working right up until the day he took ill. He died on February 10, in hospital, after a short illness. His funeral will be held next Tuesday.

Bosses at Simon West Interiors, now based in Hendon Street, are to close the business during the service - as a mark of respect to Peter.

“We are devastated he has gone. We can’t quite believe it, and will miss him hugely,” said Lesley. “He was very well known in his field, and we were very proud of him.”

l Donations to the Woodland Trust Fund, in lieu of flowers, have been requestedd. Donations can be made via: