Leeds: ‘How I helped Henry Moore’

Dr Jeffrey Sherwin with a Henry Moore.
Dr Jeffrey Sherwin with a Henry Moore.
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A show featuring more than 100 works by Henry Moore opens in Leeds tomorrow. (Friday, March 4)

Reporter Charles Heslett spoke exclusively to one man who enjoyed a special relationship with one of the world’s greatest sculptors.

“If it hadn’t been for me there would be no sculpture gallery and no Henry Moore in Leeds.”

Jeffrey Sherwin is only half joking.

Back in the mid 1970s Dr Sherwin, now 75, was a young, thrusting Leeds councillor and shadow chairman of Leeds Leisure Services.

His bright idea of creating a separate sculpture gallery at the front of what was the old Leeds City Art Gallery had been rejected.

In fact not only was it knocked back by the ruling Labour group, the proposal was then spurned by his own Conserative party when they took over the running of the council in 1975.

He said: “The art gallery was virtually closed because it was deemed unsafe.

“The architects’ department had come up with a scheme to clad it in an external steel corset and put all the heavy sculptures upstairs.

“That was rejected and I approached Bernard Atha, then chairman of leisure services, after the meeting.

“I said why don’t we put the sculptures in a new gallery, built on Centenary Street, put a pub in the bottom and use the rent to offset the costs - and they all laughed.

“The next year the Conservatives won the election and I put the same idea to the chairman Irwin Bellow, later Lord Belwin, and they all laughed.”

Annoyed but determined, Dr Sherwin paid for an architect with his own money to draw up some plans.

Later the concept was given considerable support by the council’s Director of Leisure Services Mike Palmer-Jones and civic architect John Thorp.

Dr Sherwin, who was a GP in Harehills, invited Henry Moore to Leeds with the offer to name the new gallery and pub after the Castleford-born genius.

He added: “Henry said ‘I don’t mind the gallery being named after me but they only name pubs after dead people’.”

The scupltor had come from his Hertfordshire home with his daughter Mary to the city in May, 1978, and were entertained in the Blue Room in Leeds Civic Hall.

Among those gathered was Coun Jack Binks, a Morley undertaker.

Dr Sherwin said: “Jack nudged Henry in the ribs and said ‘ere, Henry, how can a little fella like you knock those holes in those big women?’

“There was a moment of horrified silence and then Henry Moore laughed and said ‘it’s great to be back in Yorkshire again’.

“Jack followed it by with a ‘by the way, Henry, do you do memorials? If so I can put a bit of work your way’.

“That was the beginning of a long, successful and fruitful relationship with Henry Moore, his wife Irina and his daughter Mary.”

A £100,000 grant was secured and Henry Moore laid a foundation stone for the new extension on April 10, 1980 - the Queen opened it in November, 1982, just fours years before Moore’s death.

From tomorrow it will be filled with his sculptures, part of a 100-work show which the largest seen at Leeds Art Gallery in over 20 years.

Stephen Blake of the CMA  Photo: Vikki Ellis

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