LINDSEY BIRD was a Darlington artmaster who was compelled to paint. Wherever he went, he was searching for paper on which to draw, and, so keen was he to record the view or the people in front of him, he once said: “I wish I had the chalk at the end of my fingertips.”

When he died in 1972, his widow had a wardrobe full of unframed paintings and, she said, there were so many of his framed works in people’s houses around the town that she could fill the Albert Hall twice over with them.

His repertoire was immense, from small sketches of schoolboys in examination rooms to Her Majesty the Queen Mother in full colour in Clarence House, from broad watercolour landscapes to really detailed etchings of streetscenes.

“All that an artist needs is a toilet, to be comfortable and then to draw whatever is in front of him,” he said, and he did.

The Northern Echo: Self portrait, by James Lindsey BirdSelf portrait of James Lindsey Bird

His reputation, though, never rippled out beyond the local area, “something to do perhaps with the fact that he was a retiring and self-effacing man”, said The Northern Echo after he died.

Several of his pieces, including the Queen Mother, are in the Darlington borough art collection but since the last exhibition of his work in 1998, his star has faded.


But now one of his former pupils, and lifelong fan, has collected some of his best works into a coffee table book.

“When I was at the grammar school, he was about the only teacher that I warmed to,” says John Shelton, who now lives in Staffordshire. “I went away to America to study but my parents still lived in Darlington so when I came back, I saw him and decided I would like to buy one of his paintings.”

The Northern Echo: Apple Blossom in Stanhope Park, Darlington, by James Lindsey Bird

It’s called Apple Blossom (above). “It still has pride of place in my house,” says John. “He told me the trees were near Stanhope Green and were going to be chopped down and he painted them before that happened.”

And so, most appropriately for Memories, his work also serves as a record of the town in times gone by.

The Northern Echo: Darlington grammar school, now the sixth form college, by James Lindsey BirdDarlington grammar school, now the sixth form college, by James Lindsey Bird

Bird, inevitably nicknamed “Dickie” by his pupils, was born in 1903 in Crook where his father was a composer, cellist and choirmaster at the Methodist church. They moved to Redcar and the boy won a scholarship to Middlesbrough High School and then the Armstrong College of Fine Art in Newcastle. His promise was such that he got a place at the Royal College of Art in London which awarded him a travelling scholarship to Italy.

After such high flying beginnings, he had to become grounded and earn a living to support his wife and daughter, so he joined the Batley School of Art near Leeds in 1932, rising to become acting headteacher.

In 1944, his marriage broke down, his early paintings got destroyed, and he moved to Darlington for a restart as head of art.

The Northern Echo: St Peter's Church, Croft, by James Lindsey BirdSt Peter's Church, Croft, by James Lindsey Bird

The Gothic grammar school in those days must have been quite forbidding, with its headteacher, Dr A Hare, flying through the corridors with his black gown trailing behind him, ready to administer the strap to miscreants.

Lindsey married May Edwards – known as “Teddy” because of her surname – from Whitby, had two sons, and lived in Stanhope Road, where he had his studio in the front room which was a “permanent blue haze of Player’s tobacco smoke” and full of his prodigious output.

In 1964, the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School old boys commissioned him to paint a portrait of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who kept him entertained at her home with a “flow of chat and endless cups of tea”.

The Northern Echo: Gallery 2 in Mechanics Yard, Darlington, by James Lindsey BirdGallery 2 in Mechanics Yard, Darlington, by James Lindsey Bird

In 1966, he opened the Gallery Two in Mechanics Yard, and two years later, he retired from the grammar school after 24 years. Very soon afterwards, he had a stroke and, depressed, he and Teddy moved to Scorton, where he recovered and spent his last years painting Yorkshire scenes and illustrating articles for The Dalesman magazine.

After his death, there were several retrospective exhibitions – many people in Darlington had a Dickie – but it is not until now that there has been an attempt to collect his work into a book.

The Northern Echo: Locomotion No 1 at Bank Top station by James Lindsey BirdLocomotion No 1 at Bank Top station by James Lindsey Bird

"He did not seek popularity with flashy or trendy images," says John, who got a “B or C” in his art A-Level thanks to Bird and whose previous books are about RJ Mitchell, the designer of the Spitfire plane. "His was a multifaceted talent – portrait, landscape, or townscape – and characterised by attention to detail, vibrant colour, and mastery and economy of line. His output was the expression of a warm humanity, as seen in the drawings of his pupils and especially in the portraits of his family."

The Northern Echo: James Lindsey BirdDarlington Grammar School pupils by Lindsey Bird

The Northern Echo: James Lindsey Bird

“My intention with the book is to fulfil a long-cherished wish to commemorate his fine talent and to give him the publicity that he deserves.”

The Northern Echo: High Force, by James Lindsey BirdHigh Force, by James Lindsey Bird

James Lindsey Bird: The Need to Paint by John K Shelton (Standon Books, £19.95). It is available from Jeremiah Vokes’ bookshop at 61 Coniscliffe Road, Darlington (01325-469449), or from with postage £3.05.

  • There is a gallery of his work at


The Northern Echo: The Fleece Hotel, Blackwellgate, by James Lindsey Bird. Boyes shop now occupies this siteThe Fleece Hotel, Blackwellgate, by James Lindsey Bird. Boyes shop now occupies this site