Artist Bill makes sure his memories always live on

Leyland artist Bill Southworth with his artwork
Leyland artist Bill Southworth with his artwork

Bill Southworth is preserving the fond memories he has of his hometown the way he knows best – painting.

The 84-year-old, who lives with his wife Brenda in Highfield Avenue, Farington, has been capturing scenes of the area on canvas for decades, and his favourites are displayed in picture frames on the walls of his home.

Upstairs, in a bright attic space is his work area, where yet more paintings of Leyland and Farington, as well as his other interests such as trains and planes, are piled high and cover the walls.

He’s also known locally for painting a large First World War mural at the British Commercial Vehicle Museum in King Street, which he believes is a legacy to be proud of.

“Not many people get the chance to work on a 15 by 13 foot canvas,” he says. “I just went to town, painting bomb craters, tanks, planes and barbed wire.

“I’d already done some work on the walls of the museum, painting a row of shops, and I noticed they had some vehicles from the First World War, which gave me the idea to do a battle scene for the backdrop.

“I’m interested in that type of thing anyway, such as aircrafts, so I mentioned it to the volunteers at the museum, and they just said ‘feel free!’

“I was up a ladder and it took about three weeks to complete.

“They have some brilliant volunteers there and what they do is fantastic, and I just wanted to do something a little bit different to contribute.

“It’s there for life now.”

That was in 2011, and Bill also has some of his work displayed in the Rose and Crown pub on Stanifield Lane.

They show images of the Stanifield Lane area from years gone by, and he’s recently worked on producing a piece showing the new Mill Street Garden Project, which commemorates the cotton mill trade in Farington 150 years ago.

Bill, who grew up in Leyland and worked for British Rail for 20 years, uses old photographs of Leyland and Farington to paint watercolours and oil paintings of how the area used to look, and also draws on his own memories of buildings which have since been demolished.

“I started doing scenes of Leyland and Farington because I feel the place has been destroyed,” he explains.

“I wanted to paint the area as I remember it as a lad.

“There used to be a cinema in Hough Lane and a mill in Farington; it was a really thriving place and thousands of people were employed at Leyland Motors.

“Leyland used to make everything, with the Rubber Works too, but nothing stays the same, and those industries have gone now.

“Factories have been demolished and I do think it’s a shame. People seem to like seeing my paintings which show what their hometown used to be like.”

Although art has always been a hobby to Bill, he has also sold a few of his pieces over the years, and used to do particularly well at the old Leyland Festivals.

He says: “I’ve sold a few paintings to people who have moved abroad too, who want to see pictures of Leyland and Farington in their homes in places like Australia and Canada.

“I don’t sell as many these days; times have changed and people don’t necessarily spend their money on things like artwork anymore.”

Bill’s interest in art started when he was at school, although he admits the hobby was ‘quite unheard of in those days’ and he never pursued it as a career.

Luckily, his chosen vocation sparked an interest in the travel industry, such as trains and particularly aircraft, which has also become a focus of Bill’s artwork.

Again, he has drawn on his own experiences to create the paintings, and after a 20-year stint working for British Rail, he captured a snapshot of the tough times when his workplace closed down.

“I did bits of art competitions at work too, which kept the hobby going for me whilst I was employed,” he says.“I retired after that, but I always find something to do, and I usually have a few paintings on the go.

“I try to do a bit everyday if I can, and I’ve tried other subjects, such as the cedar tree in Worden Park, but I prefer doing scenes of industry because most trees look the same.”

A dad of two, grandad of five and great-grandad of one, Bill adds: “I also enjoy making model aircrafts, as I wanted to join to RAF as a kid, and I’ve made a few things for my family members.

“I collect old photos and postcards of the area, and I have quite a few books about local history.

“I’ve also collected stamps and model cars over the years, but I wouldn’t say I’m passionate about it all; it’s just an interest really.”

Bill, who used to live on Hough Lane before all the shops opened, and who moved to Farington about 50 years ago, before most of the current houses were built, is also a member of the well-established Farington Art Group.

Preferring to stay in the background instead of shouting about his achievements, Bill says he enjoys meeting up with the group once a week to ‘chat and paint’.

“We just have a common interest in that we all like painting,” he says.

“It started back in the 1960s, although there are no original members left in the group now.

“It almost fell through about three years ago actually, but it has always had a strong core, and it’s doing well again now.

“We meet every Thursday at St Paul’s Church, and the only reason I joined was because I spotted an exhibition they were doing when I was out walking my dog one day.

“That was in the 1970s. They encouraged me to join, and I didn’t get involved too much at first, but I have a bit more time on my hands now.

“TV doesn’t interest me much, so I prefer sitting with other people to chat and paint.

“Sometimes we have demonstrators come in, and there are about 30 members.”

Next year is the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, and the British Commercial Vehicle Museum volunteers are preparing for a big exhibition to commemorate the date.

Hundreds of people are expected to visit the Leyland attraction from all over the country, and in the background, providing a strong core to the displays, will be Bill Southworth’s artwork.