I met Arthur Dooley a couple of times in the 1970’s. Whilst I was thrilled to meet him face to face, having been an admirer of his work and character for some time, I doubt he was so enthused as I was at the time a National Insurance Inspector for DHSS and was chasing him for his self-employed national insurance stamps. In fact I ended up in the witness box at the city magistrates court on a couple of occasions testifying to his state of stamplessness. The neglect of his insurance card seemed to me a reflection of his somewhat chaotic lifestyle rather than any wish to deprive HM Government of its dues. At the time he was living in what had been the Black Horse pub in Quarry Street Woolton and when I called on him there it always looked as though he’d moved in yesterday. Considering what a pest I must have been he invariably received me politely with assurances that his accountant would sort things out. Some years after our encounters I was given a limited edition Madonna statue of his which, despite its pious origins, always reminds me of an unstamped National Insurance card.
He was born on 17 January 1929, the eldest of two children born to Arthur and Bessie Dooley. He lived in various homes in the Toxteth area and after leaving school at 14 and had a variety of mundane jobs . He joined the Irish Guards as a regular when he was 16 and whilst serving in the Middle East he absented himself to join the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Apparently his motivations were more mercenary than any antipathy to Israel or the Jewish people and it is said he reached the rank of Colonel in the PLO. This 'desertion' resulted in his being sentenced to three years in a military detention centre from which he was discharged after a year in recognition of his good conduct. He returned to the UK and eventually left the army in 1953.
He found work as a janitor at St Martin’s School of Art in London and began to develop his skills as a sculptor. Returning to Liverpool in 1955 he began in earnest to try to carve out an artistic career. Often working with scrap metal he prominence in the art world steadily grew in the sixties with such works as The Risen Christ [Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral], The Resurrection of Christ [Princes Park Methodist Church] and Madonna and Child [St faith’s Church, Crosby].
Dooley is the sort of character you could write about for days and I am surprised that so far I have not come across a published biography. Surely there is material aplenty here for the suitably qualified author. Notwithstanding the absence of a single tome on his life there are many references for him on the internet, some of which I show below.
He died on 7th January 1994, aged 64, leaving a son, Paul, who had in his later years worked alongside his father. He lived in many places across the city including 31 Enid Street L8, 17 Slater Street L1, 58 Huskisson Street L8, 55 Quarry Street L25 all of which are still standing. Homes which have been demolished include 22 Greaves Street L8 and 31 Fairview Place L8.
One of Arthur Dooley's childhood homes in Toxteth
At one time Dooley had a flat in this house in the Georgian district.
The bar which occupies the house which was once Dooley's home and studio..
A modern day view of the pub which was Dooley's home and studio in the 1970's.
My own piece of Dooley sculpture, a limited edition Madonna from 1990.
There are lots of articles and appreciations of Arthur Dooley to be found with an internet search. He appeared on This Is Your Life in February 1970 and the programme can be viewed in full on YouTube. The obituary in The Independent is worth a read as is this article from the Liverpool Echo . For anyone looking for a longer more in depth study of his work I was interested to come across a paper written by Robert Gaunt as part of his Master's course at Manchester Metropolitan University. The 142-page paper can be downloaded from MMU's website.
© Liverpool Footprints