Victor Noble Rainbird was a prominent local artist who was born on 12th December 1887 at 49 Sidney Street, North Shields. From 1917 to 1933 his home was at 71 West Percy Street, which is now marked with a blue plaque to mark his residency there.
Rainbird painted in oil and watercolour and was also a stained glass window designer. He attended Armstrong College, Newcastle, during which time he began to exhibit on Tyneside before moving on to study at the Royal College of Art and, later, the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
When the Great War broke out in 1914, he joined the Northumberland Fusiliers as a private soldier. He was posted overseas and served on the western front at Ypres, Passchendale, Vimy Ridge and Armentieres. He later joined the Northumberland Fusiliers, 34th Division and, in connection with field observation, prepared drawings for headquarters in the Somme’s front line.
After a short break in England, he returned to France to take part in the retirements on the Somme Front, and was made a non-commissioned officer in charge of a company of Lewis gunners in shock troop training. He ended his war career as a corporal with the Durham Light Infantry.
There is no doubt that Rainbird was badly affected by his war experiences, during which time he had been the victim of an enemy gas attack. It is believed he suffered from what is now termed ‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’, or shell shock as it was then known.
On being demobbed, Rainbird returned to North Shields and set up as a professional artist, exhibiting his works at various galleries throughout the country.
During the years following the war he encountered serious alcohol problems, and on at least one occasion was arrested and fined for being drunk and incapable. It can only be speculated as to how his experiences during the war were a contributory factor to this.
Common works that Rainbird executed are of the sea, seafront and streets in and around North Shields. He produced and sold paintings in large numbers to pay his way through life, using inferior materials and selling them to pub landlords for a drink or two. He would often set out several boards on a table and paint in sky, foreground and details before adding a title and his signature, all in a very short space of time.
Rainbird moved to Otto Street, Sunderland around 1934 and died there on the 8th March 1936 aged 48 following a short illness. He was brought home to North Shields and was laid to rest in a pauper’s grave in Preston Cemetery.
The Victor Noble Rainbird exhibition ‘From Dark to Light’ ran for three months last year at the Old Low Lights Heritage Centre, North Shields, with over £6,500 raised by donations and receipts from catalogue, card and print sales. A memorial service was held at Christ Church on 8th March 2016, followed by the unveiling of a Memorial Sculpture at Preston Cemetery, North Shields on the artist’s unmarked grave in recognition of his life and amazing talent.
by Charlie Steel © 2016
Further reading for many of Charlie’s articles can be found in his books: ‘Monkseaton Village’ (Vol. 1 & 2), ‘North Shields Public Houses, Inns & Taverns’ (Part 1 & 2), ‘Tynemouth Remembered’ and ’Whitley Bay Remembered’ (Part 1 & 2) , all published by Summerhill Books.