Sculpture to take pride of place as former Vaux site carves out a new future

One of the most memorable sights of days gone by is set to be brought back to life with a new sculpture that will stand proudly in Sunderland city centre in a moving tribute to the brewery that once stood there.

The sculpture of a Vaux waggon pulled by two dray horses, has been designed by sculptor Ray Lonsdale who designed Seaham’s much loved ‘Tommy’ statue and the recently unveiled sculpture in Hetton entitled Da said “Men Don’t Cry”. The waggon and horses have been commissioned by Sunderland City Council’s development company as part of plans for the former Vaux brewery site which will see it developed for high quality office accommodation, residential, retail, food and drink, hotel and leisure use. Plans for the former brewery site, which has space for 19 plots on a 5.5 acre site, are an important part of wider transformation plans for Sunderland city centre.

These will see £0.5bn of private and public investment ploughed into the city centre by 2030, bringing more and better jobs, new spaces to live, and spaces to relax. There are also plans for a new railway station, better connectivity in the form of improved road links and a new footbridge across the river connecting the stadium with the city centre, in addition to new leisure developments and a stronger daytime and night economy.

Commenting on the plans for the sculptures, Councillor John Kelly, Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture at Sunderland City Council, said: “The former Vaux brewery holds a very special place in Sunderland people’s hearts, from the familiar smell of hops that used to drift over the city to the colourful sight of the dray horses pulling the waggons through the streets. “So I think it’s only right and proper that we should celebrate Vaux’s historic past at the same time as we look forward to its exciting future by commissioning this sculpture for the landmark site.

The council has also commissioned two more sculptures from Ray Lonsdale which will pay tribute to the city’s shipbuilding heritage. These will be sited on footpaths overlooking the River Wear. The first is of two workers sat side by side eating their bait as they read about the impending closure of the shipyards. While the second is based on Ray’s own experience of his Dad taking him to see a ship being launched when he was little. It shows a grandfather telling his grandson all about what it was like to see a ship being launched as they sit on a bench overlooking the river.

Cllr Kelly said: “Sunderland is rightly famed as having once been the largest shipbuilding town in the world and people are tremendously proud of their shipbuilding heritage. This is a very accessible way of celebrating our shipbuilding past and paying tribute all those who worked in the industry and made it the success that it was.

“Obviously a project like this isn’t going to happen overnight. We’re expecting the first sculpture of the dray horses and waggon to take pride of place on site in 2022 followed by the other two by 2024. “But people can get an idea of what the finished sculptures will look like thanks to the maquettes of the work which we’re putting on show in Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens’ Museum Street. “The models will also be going on show at various locations and events. And I’m sure that everyone will agree that Ray has done an excellent job with these evocative designs.”

Councillor Rebecca Atkinson, Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration, added: “This is just the latest development in the exciting plans for Sunderland city centre which is undergoing a £0.5bn transformation between now and 2030 that will deliver the step-change residents want to see in the heart of the city.”

The sculptures, which have been commissioned at a cost of £390,000 will be made from hollow corten steel and manufactured by Ray Lonsdale at his South Hetton workshop. Commenting on the commission, Ray said: “I am of an age that means I have first hand memories of the Vaux , horse drawn drays touring the (then Town) streets making their deliveries.

They are distinct images in my mind and that alone shows their importance in the history of Sunderland to me personally. Everyone who can recall them seems to do so with affection and as a reminder of times when road rage wasn’t as common and life’s pace seemed a little more relaxed. Rose coloured glasses maybe but that’s how it feels.

“The two pieces to follow on from the Dray both represent the shipbuilding of the river Wear and its loss to the City. One shows two workers having their bait on a makeshift bench as they read of the impending closure of the yards. The second piece is of a grandfather telling his grandson what it was like to witness a ships launch at close quarters.

A memory clear in my mind as my dad used to work in the yards and took me to such a launch as a child. The boy in the sculpture will never see Sunderland in the same way as the old guy did.” 

The maquettes are on show at the City Library at the Museum and Winter Gardens in Burdon Road until October. They will then go to:
National Glass Centre – October – January 2020 –

The Bridges – January – February 2020