Doing it Howard’s Way
I think it was way back in early 2019 when myself and colleagues in the Archives and Museums Services were approached by Howard Tomlinson in his capacity with the Grovehill Area Action Group about a proposal he had for a permanent memorial to the shipbuilding industry that once thrived at the Grovehill Shipyard, including of course, Cook, Welton & Gemmell ). It was a fascinating and worthwhile idea, and Howard wanted our support and contribution in preparing some designs and providing historical information for the artwork. This had been a longstanding dream of Howard’s and we were all excited about helping him to make that dream a reality. There were, however, other logistical considerations that looked set to cause delays to the process, and even plunge it into uncertainty as to whether or not the memorial could ever be built. When this was coupled with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic a year later, the project appeared to have been consigned firmly to the backburner and we didn’t hear from Howard again.
It was in early 2021 when we received contact from local sculptor, Peter Naylor (renowned for various public art installations, including the 158 Squadron Memorial at Lissett), who brought the terribly sad news that Howard had passed away not long since. Peter announced that he’d been in communication with Howard about the proposals for a shipbuilding memorial and now, with the blessing of Howard’s widow, he would assume the responsibility of completing the project on behalf of Howard and in his honour. Once again we were called on to provide help with the design and offer historical context and, as you might expect, we were all galvanised by Howard’s tragic passing into ensuring that this memorial would come to fruition and be done in the way that he would have wanted.
Using plans and images from the Trawling Through Time project and the East Riding Museums service, an information panel was put together recording the long and prestigious tradition of building and launching ships at Beverley. Through the benevolence and generosity of local shipwright John Marin, it was possible for Peter to secure a site for the memorial on John’s land at Grovehill, close to Weel Bridge, and of course on the very spot where the shipyard once stood. Much of Peter’s sculpture involves specialised metalwork and he often uses Hull engineering company W Campbell and Son for the fabrication, precision cutting and welding of the structures. In the case of the Beverley Shipbuilding Memorial, he again turned to this company for the construction of the metalwork, and so through Peter’s determination to bring everyone together and finish the project, Howard’s dream gradually turned to reality.
It was also while working with Peter on this project that I began to learn more about Howard’s life and achievements. Even from the brief correspondence and meetings that I had with Howard, I realised he was a humble, kind, and intelligent man; a pleasure to work with, but what I didn’t know was that his interest in Grovehill heritage was but a small part of wider voluntary work in the community that included founding the Hull Homeless and Rootless Project (HARP) after which he was awarded an MBE in 1989! So incredible was his modesty and humility that not once did he refer to any of this when trying to influence and persuade us about helping him with his project. I felt very humbled by this knowledge following the news of Howard’s death and think his example is perhaps one that many of us could learn from. There’s a very interesting interview with Howard that features on the HU17 website from when he stood as a Beverley Party candidate in local council elections, and I would highly recommend it for anyone wants to learn more about him.
Finally, on 15th October 2021, the Beverley Shipbuilding Memorial was ready for its grand unveiling. A small crowd gathered on the Beverley Business Park (site of the former Grovehill Shipyard) near Weel Bridge at noon to watch as Peter Naylor conducted proceedings together with Howard Tomlinson’s widow. In keeping with Howard’s humble and magnanimous character, the event deliberately avoided a large-scale fanfare and instead provided an intimate and fitting tribute to his passion for community and commitment to honouring the proud shipbuilding traditions of Beverley. The memorial will now stand as a legacy to that for many years to come, and anyone visiting Grovehill to see it can also re-live the areas industrial past with sound clips from interviews with ex-shipyard workers, on the ‘Beverley – Shipyard Voices’ heritage trail, available by downloading the ‘What Was Here?’ mobile app on smartphones.
(In memory of the late Howard Tomlinson MBE)
by Sam Bartle
(Digital Archivist & Editor)