The artist who captured everyday life in Rochdale

PUBLISHED: 14:48 17 November 2020

George Mainwaring in 1979

George Mainwaring in 1979

George Mainwaring

George Mainwaring painted scenes he recalled from his childhood in Rochdale

'Can you put me a set on these Frank' shows the interior of a clogger's shop on Whitworth Road, near Tom Holt's engineering works'Can you put me a set on these Frank' shows the interior of a clogger's shop on Whitworth Road, near Tom Holt's engineering works

ome artists achieved enormous fame for painting everyday scenes of life in Lancashire in the last century. LS Lowry and Helen Bradley are among the best known and now efforts are being made to add another name to that illustrious group.

George Mainwaring was born in Rochdale in 1907 and only took up painting in his late 60s, but over 20 years he produced a body of work which recalls in minute and affectionate detail the world in which he grew up.

Now, George’s son John is trying to raise his father’s profile and has made many of his dad’s paintings available as prints.

George was one of 14 children and left school at the age of 13 to work in a cotton mill. John said: ‘His escape from a tough working life was his Saturday morning class at Rochdale School of Art. At 16 he could easily have progressed to be a full time student in the school, but the family could ill afford the loss of his income, and so the opportunity slipped by.’

George's first painting, 'I don't call that dancing', shows the dancing bear on Portland StreetGeorge's first painting, 'I don't call that dancing', shows the dancing bear on Portland Street

George married Ethel in 1933, was a policeman during World War Two and later worked for the Ministry of Food but would often create drawings for his children – John and his sister Dorothy – to illustrate the stories he would tell them.

In the 1960s he started a series of historic drawings in the Rochdale Observer and in the mid-70s, when Dorothy was teaching at a school in Heywood, she asked him to draw a dancing bear he remembered seeing on the streets of Rochdale in his youth. Dorothy liked the picture so much, he reproduced it in oils as a birthday present for her.

‘That was his first oil painting,’ John said. And it started a great outpouring of memories onto canvas.

'The John Street tram smash' depicts a Sentinel steam lorry colliding with an electric tram'The John Street tram smash' depicts a Sentinel steam lorry colliding with an electric tram

Over the next 20 years he recreated characters, places and events from his early life and brought them to life with a lightness of touch and a delightful sense of the humour in everyday life.

George Mainwaring may not be a household name to rival Lowry or Bradley, but his work has much in common with theirs. All three captured moments that would at the time have been considered unremarkable by the people involved: paving streets, delivering coal, playing games. All three depicted working people and families from Lancashire. And all three had an engaging style and an innate ability to tell a story on the canvas.

Over 20 years - until Ethel’s death in 1993 when he packed away his brushes – George recreated scores of scenes that unfolded many years earlier among the terraces and cobbled streets of Rochdale.

John, who now lives in Hampshire, is working to create a complete gallery of George’s work, and has made a number of prints available for sale.

He added: ‘He had a really good memory for things. Each of his paintings shows a scene from his life and tells a story. He was always keen to show who it was in the paintings without doing a portrait – he captured their mannerisms, as well as the locations and events he remembered.

‘He knew Helen Bradley and there were similarities in their work, but while she depicted society, my dad tended to paint his friends and acquaintances in everyday circumstances.’

To see more of George Mainwaring’s work, and buy prints, go online to georgemainwaring.co.uk.

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