'Let us now praise famous men and our fathers that begat us..'

Arthur Levison

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.
Arthur Senior came from Sunderland originally; he and his brother carried on a figurehead-carving business at Gloucester and at one time they had a shop on the North Dock at Swansea. When figureheads got scarce he went into the architectural carving business but he did occasional figureheads until the time he died in 1922, aged 76. He is believed to be one of the last of the genuine figurehead carvers.

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.

Loch Trool
The ‘Loch Trool’ Figurehead


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.

The ‘Black Dog

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.

Architectural Carving

Arthur followed his father into the architectural carving business and spent five years before and after the First World War carving in Cardiff, mainly on the Public buildings in Cathays Park. Arthur joined the army at the outbreak of the First World War and served in France with the Royal Artillery until he was wounded in the knee and discharged in 1917. Afterwards he worked in London on the hand carving of artificial limbs. His wound put a stop to cycle racing, in which he was a keen competitor before the war and for which he won a number of trophies on the track.

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  

He was probably best known for his new figurehead for the restoration of the famous clipper ship ‘Cutty Sark’ which the National Maritime Museum commissioned in 1956, when the ship was being preserved in dry dock at Greenwich. The figurehead representing a Scottish witch was carved from a 9 foot block of Canadian timber which arrived at the docks in 1957 in the Cunard ship ‘Invernia’. The timber in specially processed blocks of laminated white pine from the Blind River district of Ontario was a joint gift from the Canadian Lumbermen’s association, Canadian Forest Productions and the Department of Trade and Commerce. The original figurehead of this famous clipper was lost and the existing one had been affected by time and weather. Arthur appeared on television when he began the figurehead carving at the first National Boat Show at Olympia and was also a participant in the well known TV parlour game, ‘What’s my Line?’ The sculpture was completed in his workshop in Wagon Yard, a place that was so well known to his many model yachtsmen friends and wood craftsmen. Arthur was presented to the Queen at the ceremony of the opening of the ship’s dry dock at Greenwich.

Cutty Sark 1 Cutty Sark 2
Arthur working on the Cutty Sark sculpture in his workshop

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.

Model Yachting

He had always been interested in building model yachts as a hobby and, after the Second World War, he made this his profession. He probably built more yachts of all classes in timber than anyone. They were all built ‘bread and butter’ with some on the buttock lines to reduce wasted timber, so accurate was his carving that he hardly needed to use templates. His skill with his carving tools were remarkable and he could take off a whole cut from stem to stern of an ‘A’ Class hull with a few strokes of his mallet, without splitting the wood. He usually worked with pine, obechi or mahogany.

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.

A hulls

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.

Arthur with David Parkinson and K789 ‘Philippa’

Although in this race sailing skill was more important than boat speed a good boat was still necessary for success. Arthur’s boat ‘Philippa’ K789 built in 1962 is a development of the famous ‘Jill’ and of deep V section. ‘Philippa’ has almost the same waterline length and sail area as Jill but is lighter by about 4 lbs. According to the measurers book the design is attributed to Daniels but may have been modified by Arthur Levison as this boat was built 4 years after Daniels had died. Arthur was duly honoured by his club at a memorable reception held in the YM6mOA Clubhouse, where a shield was hung to join those of other notable model yachtsmen who had achieved the same success in the past.He was also a sailmaker and models all over the country and in other parts of the world won races with his well known varnished Terylene sails.

2007 Shield still in pride of place at HCMYC


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

Some time after 1960 K716 ‘JILL’ and K780 ‘JILL II’ were sold to Fritz Jocobsen of Hamburg, Germany, where they formed the foundation of the Model Yacht Club.
By 1970 David Parkinson was the registered owner of K789 ‘Philippa’ and he continued to race her until he emigrated to Canada. The boat remained in the loft of his brother’s house for many years eventually passing to Derek Priestley to convert to a Radio boat. In hindsight Derek admits now as a championship winning boat this was not a good move. Derek passed the boat on to another Fleetwood member but the boat has now lain unused for several years.
After talking to Derek about this article he persuaded the current owner to generously donate the boat back to the Hampton Court MYC to be restored to her former glory as a Vane boat to be sailed by club members at future Club Classic and Vintage events.

The buttock line stripes on the hull of K716 ‘JILL’


Jill 2
Another ‘Jill 2’ design having final preparations before delivery to Hamburg


David has been too modest. He omits any reference to his beautiful restoration of Phillipa, which won him the Howlett Trophy for 2008.

Russell Potts

The details shown below have been taken from the YM6 measurers handbook

K716 JILL Daniels 62lbs 1577 sq inches 77.9” 55” 1954
K780 JILL II A Hill mod Daniels 63lbs 1570 sq inches 80” 55.5” 1961
K789 PHILIPPA Levison mod Daniels 58lbs 1580 sq inches 79.4” 55” 1962


Other Known A class yachts Arthur had built.

K647 Perad K720 Juanita K754 Arabesque III K839 Boreas
K671 Arabesque K727 Coppelia K764 Marian Too K840 Nyala
K679 Vanity Fair K747 Arabesque II K785 Trident K843 Gigi
K704 Red Saber K750 Serica K796 Ayala K875 Zerlina
K707 Roberta K751 Highlander K806 Merseybeat K907 Impala
K718 Pinocchio K752 Firebird K812 Sayonara K929 Anita
A class
A collection of A Class hulls