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The Wish Hounds
“And then he sought the dark-green lane,
Whose willows mourn’d the faded year,
Sighing (I heard the love-lorn swain),
‘Wishness! oh, wishness! walketh here.'”
— The Wishful Swain of Devon. By POLWHELE.
THE tradition of the Midnight Hunter and his headless hounds–always, in Cornwall, associated with Tregeagle–prevails everywhere. Whether this slice of mythology and folklore is the inspiration for Swindon’s fantastical Wish Hounds sculpture I’ve no idea but I’ve certainly always been intrigued by them.
The hounds, created in 1994 by Lou Hamilton, have a menacing air about them even on a pleasant May Bank Holiday. It doesn’t take much of a leap of imagination to hear them howling Baskerville-like in the dusk and making mere mortals quake. Perhaps dusk is a better time to see them, to feel their hot breath, see their jowls heavy with saliva…
Location Location Location
I found this information – and you can get the location of them here too on Geograph.org: ‘Wish-hounds also have other many other names, such as Yeth. It seems the word wish is from a Sussex word meaning marsh. Ghostly black dogs, usually with glowing red eyes, have been reported for hundreds of years, and probably date back to the mists of time. It is generally reckoned not to be a good thing to meet one. When this sculpture was first mooted, there were protests from some local Christians who objected to what they felt was pagan imagery and therefore, in their view, undesirable.’
The sculptor wrote a poem about them: the last two lines of which read: ‘They are the Guardians of the Earth’s secret; Wish-hounds of the Old Land.’ See the whole thing on this photo in the Swindon Flickr collection: https://www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/6103658812/
The Wish Hounds is a sculpture in three parts – concrete cast lettering, powder coated scrap metal and earthworks in a circle of trees. As you can see from the pictures the lettering is becoming a bit grown over in places and the floodlighting that was illuminated the hounds is now broken.
Swindon’s erstwhile Thamesdown council was the first in the country to adopt a percent for art policy which encouraged developers, once their scheme was completed, to fund a piece of public art. This forward thinking and innovative scheme resulted in Swindon acquiring an unusual, if not unique, cultural landscape with public art being scattered the length and breadth of the town – amongst my personal favourites are The Great Blondinis, the West Swindon Sculpture Trail, and the lonely cow chewing the cud up at the hospital. Though really I love them all.
Though some of the original ones have disappeared new ones have sprung up and even though some of them are now somewhat unloved they are no less interesting for all that. Before I started blogging about it all I’d never heard of the term ‘public art’ and really the closest I got to it was an old village pump, the Cenotaph and a redundant pit winding wheel..
May 26th – comment left by a listener:
“If I remember correctly, the Wish Hounds are on their long legs because they were designed to appear above the tree line for drivers on the M4 – and they used to look magnificent, leaping over the trees.
However, I’m not sure whether it was because of budgetary constraints or simply forgetting that trees grow but, they were gradually hidden by the ever growing trees – which is a shame.
They used to provide a great introduction to Swindon art to drivers between J15 and J16″
They must have been a magnificent sight before becoming obscured by all the trees – as lovely as they are.