In the footsteps of one of Britain’s best loved artists

A self-portrait of the artist painted in1925 when he was 38 years old.

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.

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 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 that inspired his paintings and drawings of the area or are otherwise associated with Lowry.

It is a self-guided walk taking about three hours. There are information boards at each of the 18 sites, mostly displaying Lowry’s painting or sketch of the scene along with explanatory notes.

The trail begins in Dewar’s Lane, a narrow alley off Bridge Street in the heart of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Looking at Lowry’s 1936 pencil drawing of Dewar’s Lane, one might assume that the crooked buildings were just for artistic effect.

It is interesting to see how little has changed since Lowry frequented Berwick and painted street scenes. One of his more cheerful scenes is entitled 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 belied by this painting of children in bright clothes playing around a shelter behind Berwick Pier.

On the Sands was painted in 1959 or earlier.

The shelter is looking gloomier 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 a property there 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 too 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 last year. They now play in the fifth tier of Scottish football.

Lowry’s drawing of a football match on ‘The Skanks’.

A favourite subject of Lowry’s was the town hall at Berwick. This painting of the town hall, Old Berwick (Strother’s Yard), 1958, is one of four paintings and drawings of the same scene.

(L): Old Berwick (Strother’s Yard); (R): This picture of Sally Port was painted in 1954.

At Bridge End is the spot where this scene was painted in 1938. As with many of his works the streets are full of matchstick characters and pets.

This picture was painted in 1938.

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.

The trail crosses 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 seems 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 was badly stained hence the red blotches.)

The figure in the foreground with hands clasped behind his back is thought to be Lowry himself.

What would Lowry have done with the wheelie bins that appear everywhere these days? He probably would have included them in his paintings.

The trail continues to the suburb of Spittal. Not the most attractive-sounding name but apparently it derives from a 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.

The final stop on the Lowry Trail map is called Back Streets and is made up of two rows of brick-built terraced houses.

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.

This article first appeared on Thrifty Traveller