Sunderland artist Ray Lonsdale’s sculpture in tribute to old Vaux site set for Keel Square approval

A Wearside artist has created yet another magnificent tribute to Sunderland history, which could be displayed in the city centre if approved by the council.

Mastermind behind Seaham’s notorious Tommy statue, Ray Lonsdale has crafted a tribune to the old Vaux Brewery – working tirelessly over the last fourteen months to pay homage to history in the North East.

His new piece which he has named Gan Canny is a life-sized monument to the old Dray Horses which patrolled the streets of Wearside until the closure of the Vaux Brewery in 2000.

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The statue itself encapsulates two men with dray horses, pulling a cart of Vaux’s world famous beer.

A lot of hard-work and craftsmanship has clearly gone into the piece over the last 14 months, and it shows by tiny details – from delicately crafted blinders on the horses’ faces, to well placed reigns attached from the hands of the master to the harnesses of the pulling animals.

Artist Ray Lonsdale with his metal sculpture 'Gan Canny'
Artist Ray Lonsdale with his metal sculpture ‘Gan Canny’
(Image: Copyright Unknown)

Speaking to the Chronicle, Ray said: “I think every town should always acknowledge its history,” adding, “As far as the Vaux’s dray goes, it’s something that many, many people still remember – myself included.”

“I remember seeing those going around on a Saturday when my grandad used to take me to town.

“The more I’ve gone through the job – the amount of people who have came into the workshop and seen it have all got memories of it, and it seems to be a very affectionate part of the history of the town.”

Ray has also been incredibly busy creating a further two statues for the city, which are expected to be unveiled at a later date across Sunderland’s Riverside development.

He said: “I was asked to come up with some proposals to relate to the shipyards, as they’re no longer there and will never come back.”

“So, I sort of came up with the idea of linking the history of the town when the yards were alive and well, to now when they’re dead and gone, and just a memory,

“The two pieces I’ve done – one relates to when the yards were open, and the other relates to one of those old shipyard workers from the first piece telling his grandchild now what it was like to see the yards on the Wear, because the grandchild will never see it.

“Those two pieces should be going within eyesight of each other somewhere along the riverside.”

Sunderland City Council’s planning and highways committee meets next week to decide whether to place the new statue in Keel Square – a city centre hub which already pays tribute to Sunderland history.

Although officers have already recommended approval of the artwork to the council, the final decision rests upon the planning and highways committee.

Tommy statue at Seaham harbour by sculptor Ray Lonsdale
Tommy statue at Seaham harbour by sculptor Ray Lonsdale
(Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

Comments from the council’s conservation officer, included in the planning report, say the piece will provide “an attractive and symbolic reminder of an important part of Sunderland’s history.”

“The proposed siting is considered appropriate, being located on one of [the] former historic routes along which the dray and horses would have travelled to and from the Vaux Brewery and within the new Keel square where it will be visible to the passing public.”

“It is considered that the sculpture is an attractive piece of public art that will make a positive contribution to Keel Square, Bishopwearmouth Conservation Area, and in turn local character and distinctiveness.”

A stunning interactive statue called ‘Propellers of the City’ is already on display for members of the public to visit, as well as the famous Keel Line – the length of the Naess Crusader the largest ship ever launched on the Wear – which remembers the shipbuilders of the city.

Sunderland at night time, Keel Square off St Mary's Way, on the former Vaux Brewery site
Sunderland at night time, Keel Square off St Mary’s Way, on the former Vaux Brewery site
(Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

Speaking to the Sunderland Echo in 2013, council leader Paul Watson said: “In creating the new city centre public space we saw the opportunity to celebrate Sunderland’s shipbuilding and industrial heritage.”

The committee will meet at Sunderland Civic Centre’s council chamber at 5.30pm on Monday, November 1 to discuss the application.

The meeting is also open to the public.

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Chronicle Live – Sunderland