28 October 2014

The Lady of the North

Northumberlandia, otherwise known, by those familiar with Viz, as the Fat Slag, is an immense land sculpture near Cramlington, north of Newcastle. 1,300 feet long and 112 feet high, the Lady is formed of 1.6 million tons of clay, soil and rock.

All of this came out of the adjoining Shotton open-cast coal mine, the operators of which, the Banks Group, engaged architect and artist Charles Jencks to design something more attractive than the usual levelled slag heaps and water-filled pits.

The Lady is laid out on land owned by the Blagdon Estate, which has been surface mined since 1943. Work began in 2010 and was completed in 2012. Once the slag had been formed it/she was sprayed with seed. There are stone-built viewing platforms upon the forehead and breasts, and at the hip, knee and ankle.

Waste is inherent in mining, and one might as well have a land-form that distantly echoes the tradition of the Long Man of Wilmington and the White Horse of Uffington as another fake hill. At £3 million, it probably also cost the Banks Group and Blagdon Estate less than other forms of landscape restoration.

26 October 2014

The Angel of the North

Located in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, The Angel of the North, designed by Antony Gormley, is the largest sculpture in Britain - and weighs in at a very earth-bound 220 tons. The strong horizontal form, and the slight forward angling of the wings of the sculpture, which stands just south of Low Fell, assists it to dominate the nearby A1.

This was coal-mining country, and the underlying mines had to be grouted before foundations 66 feet deep, comprising 165 tons of reinforced concrete, could be formed. The statue is just 66 feet tall yet has a wingspan of 177 feet, and has been designed to withstand wind speeds of up to 100 mph. 52 bolts each ten feet long affix the Angel to a concrete plinth 17 feet thick. Intriguingly, the body is hollow, accessible via a hatch on one of the shoulder blades.

Completed in 1998 at a cost of £800,000, the Angel was constructed, by Hartlepool Steel Fabrications Ltd, from 3,153 pieces of steel. It was delivered to site in three parts - the body of 110 tons and the wings of 55 tons each. 88 bolts hold each wing in place. COR-TEN steel and copper alloy was used, two inches thick for the ribs and of a quarter inch for the skin, the surface of which rusts in a predictable manner and doesn't require painting.

20 October 2014

Plotlander Arcadia, Farndon

The Dugout was built in the 1930s, along with many of the cabins and huts alongside the River Dee at Farndon, near Chester. The plotlanders, often city dwellers and artists, or simply those with little money, built themselves personal Arcadias on small chunks of marginal farmland, either bought or leased. Before the 1938 Holidays With Pay Act, most taking a holiday had to stay somewhere cheap, and the plotland huts were popular holiday billets.

Old railway carriages were a favourite basis for self-built cabins, extended using scrap materials. The 'movement' largely ended with the coming of WWII and the planning constraints introduced thereafter. Plotlands can have an wonderfully anarchic feel, and mutual self-help was at their root. But councils hate free-thinkers, and many plotlander cabins have been destroyed, yet Farndon thrives, and there's a similar edgeland feel to the chalets of Bewdley, Worcestershire.

08 October 2014

Neon Dreams

This vintage neon advertising sign came from a radio and television retailer and rental shop in Leeds. House and Sons is understood to have been quite a large concern, with six shops at its height. The illuminated part of the sign is about 16 inches wide by nine inches high. The contacts of the tube simply rest in cylindrical holders on top of the transformer, unlikely to meet current safety standards.

The Parmeko P2626 Luminous Tube Transformer has an iron core, embedded in asphalt to reduce noise, and is thus very heavy for its size. The output is 4,000 volts, 18 milliamps, more than enough to kill through even dry skin. Parmeko was founded as Partridge and Mee Ltd in 1927, in Leicester. The company name was changed in 1935. Parmeko went into administration in 2013.