'Let us now praise famous men and our fathers that begat us..'
by David Bell
A lot of the factual information has been taken from a tribute written by the late Norman Hatfield, the then Vice Chairman of the MYA previously published in Model Boats, also various press cuttings and pictures kindly loaned by Arthur’s son Philip Levison. Some of the picture quality I am afraid is poor as these are scans from old newspaper cuttings, magazines and old photographs.
In the mid 1950’s Arthur’s name was usually coupled with those of two other great craftsmen, Bill Daniels and Kenneth Corby because together all three (Daniels the designer, Levison the builder and Corby the maker of fittings) were responsible for creating a fleet of ‘A’ Class boats whose beauty of line and quality of finish have been unsurpassed to this day
Arthur was born on 16th November 1892, in Gloucester and first practised his craft as wood carver with his father Arthur Levison Senior, who was employed on the restoration of Gloucester Cathedral and who also specialised in the carving of figureheads for sailing ships.
The last big figurehead he did was for one of the Loch line of ships the ‘Loch Trool’. The ship was in collision in the channel and the figurehead was taken to Falmouth. The picture shown is of this figurehead with Arthur Senior and Junior taken about 1908.
There is a carving of 'The Black Dog', in the Gloucester Folk Museum, with Arthur Levison Senior's chisels on display. The wooden figure originally sat on the parapet of The Black Dog Inn, Northgate Street until 1966 and had first thought to have been destroyed when the building was demolished, but like any good dog, he eventually turned up.
Young Arthur worked on many figureheads as a lad and he remembers how all other work went by the board when one came along. The wood used was usually a baulk of Newfoundland yellow pine. A few chalk marks were put on it and away they went with the saw and axe and about a fortnight would see the figurehead complete. Many an off- cut from the baulk would be carved into small boats by young Arthur which joined a fleet on the rainwater butt. The Levison’s have been shipbuilders for generations and it is believed Arthur’s grandfather built the last sailing ship constructed at Gloucester. She was a three masted schooner called ‘Dante’ which was sadly lost in the Atlantic. In another article written in the 1950’s Arthur mentioned a Great Uncle who was picked up by the press gang to serve in the Navy, captured by the French, and released on parole to teach English in Paris during the Napoleonic Wars.
Arthur was married in Gloucester in 1921 and he and his wife Lydia, moved to Farnham, Surrey, where they lived for the rest of their lives. They had two sons Philip and John but sadly John, a 2nd Wing Glider Pilot lost his life at the Battle of Arnhem in the Second World War. Philip, now a young 84 was an RAF navigator during the war, and then worked for Royal Insurance before retiring to Anglesey in 1985.
Between the wars Arthur continued his architectural and monumental carving business in partnership with Mr S Waite, he also specialised in building static steam and sailing models on plaster seas to adorn the offices of shipping lines. During the Second World War he worked with a firm in Raynes Park, which made small detailed models of warships and other military equipment for use in training programmes.
Arthur carved with distinction in wood, stone and marble and amongst his outstanding work were a Coat of Arms in stone for the Officers Mess at Aldershot, the copying of wood panelling for the home of Viscountess Cowdray, stone carving at Alfred Lord Tennyson’s house at Haslemere and carved barge boards for Lady Swayling’s house.
The Cutty Sark Figurehead
Also a musician of considerable talent, Arthur learnt to play the violin at an early age and was in the orchestra for many of the Farnham Operatic Society productions. He idolised Mozart and had a keen appreciation of all his works, particularly his operas. In fact he could recite whole passages from the librettos of ‘Don Giovanni’, ‘Cosi fan tutte’ and ‘ The Marriage of Figaro’, and loved talking about Mozart’s humour. He was also a keen Bowls player too, and held his County badge, of which he was very proud.
I believe the first Model Club Arthur joined was at Guildford. In later years Arthur was a member at Gosport and the YM6mOA. The YM6m Owners Association (Now Hampton Court MYC) at the Rick Pond was proud to have Arthur as a member. His best known ‘A’ Class yacht was ‘Jill’ (named after his granddaughter), designed by Bill Daniels, which was the prototype for a line of successful boats on similar lines.
In 1968 at Gosport Arthur achieved his greatest ambition by winning the British ‘A’ Class Open Championship and the International Race for the Yachting Monthly Cup with ‘Philippa’ (named after his son Philip and his wife’s maiden name Philips). Arthur was given a fantastic ovation when he received his prize at the dinner after the event. Arthur had tried many times to win this event and had never succeeded despite coming very close in previous years. It is fitting that one who had helped so many skippers to succeed should have this success himself. The credit for this fine victory is shared by David Parkinson, a Fleetwood Club member who was Arthur’s very competent mate.
Gifted in the way that few mortals are, Arthur could create in wood, stone and marble things of beauty and design and was proud of it. Many clubs and Associations have lasting memories of him in the form of trophies carved and presented by him which, it is hoped, will continue to be competed for in the same spirit with which he himself competed. An example shown below is the Metropolitan and Southern District Championship Trophy for the A Class. Arthur died on 14th November 1975 just before his 83rd birthday
The Fate of Arthur’s Boats
David has been too modest. He omits any reference to his beautiful restoration of Phillipa, which won him the Howlett Trophy for 2008.
The details shown below have been taken from the YM6 measurers handbook
Other Known A class yachts Arthur had built.