A "LOCAL hero” who went from being a pipe fitter to a champion boxer has been immortalised in the village where he lived.

A sculpture of the boxing gloves of champion fighter Maurice Cullen was unveiled in Shotton Colliery, in County Durham, today.

The 10ft sculpture, in Ashbrooke Estate, close to Mr Cullen’s former home, was revealed by his grandchildren Luke, 16, Tom, 13, and Millie, 6.

His wife Joan said: “It’s amazing. It’s a real credit to him. We are very, very proud.”

Mr Cullen, who died in 2001, was five times British Lightweight boxing champion.

His career took him all over the world, including to Maddison Square Gardens in New York.

The unveiling ceremony was attended by Mr Cullen’s family, MP Grahame Morris, local councillors, including Eunice Huntington, who secured funding for the project, and artist Graeme Hopper.

Mr Morris said: “It’s a fitting tribute to local hero who has had little recognition, but in truth has been an inspiration to our community.

 “I’m delighted we have chosen this site on Ashbrooke Estate, just in front of the house where Maurice used to live.

“Unlike many boxing champions today, he didn’t have the opportunity to live a life of luxury when his career finished. He returned to work in a chemical factory before serving as a milk man. He really was a local champion.”

Rachael Cullen, Mr Cullen’s daughter, said: “Me and mam first saw it about a year ago at Graeme’s workshop. I think in my head I had a vision of something quite small so when I saw it I was speechless, I think for the first time in my life.

"I was blown away – they are incredible.

“We are all incredibly proud. It’s absolutely amazing that the community and Eunice have raised the money to have this permanent legacy for our dad.”

Mr Hopper said: “The response has been lovely. It’s not always that public art is so accepted.

“Maurice was such a character in this village that so many people have come to say it’s great to have something for him.

“I’m over the moon that it has turned out so well. The family has been on board the whole way through.”

John Lethbridge, vice-chairman of Durham County Council, said: “This great man had a very full life. From pipe fitter to Maddison Square Gardens to milk man. How many of us could hope to have such a full life as Maurice?

“Maurice Cullen is an inspiration to us all and we can be proud that he was a Durham lad. It makes me feel good to be a Durham lad myself.”

Cllr Huntington, who spent two years raising the funds for the project, said: “I think most of us remember Maurice very well and everyone says he was a lovely lad.

“He was a gentleman inside and outside the ring and people did like him because he was a genuine person.”

Mr Cullen, who was managed by his brother, Terry, lost only eight of his 55 bouts in a career which spanned 1959 to 1970.

He grew up in Wheatley Hill, starting work as an apprentice pipe fitter at the local colliery. His family later moved to nearby Shotton. He fought in National Coal Board boxing championships winning the featherweight title and later the lightweight title.

In 1959 he turned professional and won his first bout against Ricky Mcmasters on points over six rounds.

After retiring as a boxer, he worked at a chemical factory in Hartlepool and then became a milkman.

His sister Eileen and son Mark also attended the event today.