Among the doom and gloom of Covid and Brexit and town centre shop closures there’s some good local news in the restoration of The Watchers.
The Watchers form part of the West Swindon sculpture walk. These sculptures are a culturally significant part of the West Swindon landscape, installed in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Roger Ogle has done much to champion them – then much later than him – so have I. I’ve featuredThe Watchers and the rest of the trail on this blog and in my new guide book.
Despite the fact that they’ve been shamefully neglected by our town’s leaders for decades now, they remain things of enjoyment and an untapped resource I’m sure. If the powers that be did but know it.
Anyhoo! Last year the chap on this sculpture sadly suffered decapitation. But rejoice! For, thanks to Swindon stonemason Toby Robson,The Watchers are Restored. But more on that in a bit!
‘Artist: Carleton Attwood. Material: Cement Fondue. Project details: Funded by R.S. McColl and E.H.Bradley Building Projects Ltd. The sculpture represents guardian figures looking over the community.’
‘The Watchers, 1982, by Carleton Attwood (1908 to 1985) at Toothill Village Centre. The first sculpture in West Swindon, cast in ferro-concrete at Swindon’s town hall studios, is one of Carleton’s last works. Sculptor Pat Elmore had to complete the piece as Carleton suffered ill-health. Thanks to Carleton’s ill-health.
The work represents the guardians of the new community.’
The story behind the sculpture
The story goes that Carleton got the idea for this piece of public art from a family he observed at a Swindon town football match.
The day was a rainy one and the father was holding his raincoat around his wife. She in turn shielded their child with their raincoat and the child the dog.
The restoration of The Watchers
Now back to the resoration. There’s a nice piece here inThe Swindon Advertiser about the restoration. Said Toby: ‘… it’s a big challenge because the sculpture is more than 40 years old. And nobody knows what materials went into it originally in terms of sand and the cement mix used. Nobody remembers.
I chatted to Toby just yesterday and he told me that the community had been so supportive and interested in what he was doing and how heart-warming he’d found that.
Some photos from Toby of the work in progress:
And now the finished product. Ta da!The Watchers are Restored!
I’ve no idea how much public art other towns have but it seems to me that Swindon has an astonishing amount.
‘When I began blogging about Swindon, the public art was one of the first things I turned my keyboard to. Not that I even knew the term then. Back in the corner of Derbyshire I left behind, the closest I got to it was an ancient village pump, a cenotaph and a redundant and rusting pit-winding wheel. Hence, discovering all the public art in Swindon was quite the revelation. It’s not possible to write about all of it here but, if you’re so inclined, Born Again Swindonian contains oodles of posts about Swindon’s public art – in particular the West Swindon sculpture trail.‘
Thamesdown Borough Council commissioned the pieces that comprise the West Swindon sculpture trail in the period from the early 1980s to the early 1990s. Funding came, in part, from the housing developer’s contributions to the Percent-for-Art public realm scheme.
My Sculpture Favourites
Within this blog I’ve written about much if Swindon’s sculpture and outdoor art installations. Thus there’s no point in my going over it all in this overview post. You should find it all in this section of the blog. But I will give special mention to a couple of my faves.
And one of my very favourite pieces is The Blondinis. Such a shame that they’re now languishing in a park in Gorse Hill. I still miss them.
Part of the West Swindon Sculpture Walk this one is located on one of the many superb big green spaces that West Swindon features, it’s quite easy to forget that one is in the middle of a big conurbation. It needs little imagination to see the artist’s intention for the sculpture as a relic of a long gone civilization.
This summer (2019) we finally got around to walking the second half, John Lewis to Coate Water in our tour of the River Ray Parkway part 2.
We went out the back of the Mannington Retail Park, looking for the old green signs that show the way. We found the first one on the edge of a field used by dog walkers, pointing us towards the Old Town Rail Path, following Sustrans Route 45.
NB: This stretch of this walk is approx 5 miles
Blagrove Fitness Trail
Lydiard Country Park
Old Town Rail Path
Coate Water Country Park
Blue Route 45 signs – Old Town 2 miles, Wroughton 2 miles
Discovered a new thing already, anyone have a clue what “Blagrove Fitness Trail” is (or was!) ?
The route now follows the road through the Signal Way industrial estate, sneaks out at the end of Berenger Close (which we almost didn’t find), and over the top of Evelyn Street, still following the old Rail Line.
Next to the Piper’s Way roundabout we discovered another sign.
Lydiard Country Park
Coate Water Country Park
Old Town Rail Path
From the sign we headed south along Piper’s Way, crossing over to take the off-road path around the allotments on the east side. Just after the allotments a further sign pointed us off road, onto a track that leads all around the edge of the Broome Manor Golf Complex.
Here we were excited to discover a stone marker, planted in memory of Cassandra Clunies-Ross, carved by Sarah Chanin in 1992. The work is carved in Sarsen stone and was commissioned by Thamesdown Borough Council’s, Great Western Community Forest Team. The stone marks an area of what was then new woodland.
The inscription reads:
Casso’s Wood – planted January 1992 by friends, in fond memory of Cassandra Clunes Rosss, ecologist-forester. 1965-1991. That her work to conserve woodland here and abroad is not forgotten.
The last part of the trail had us squeezing past nettles and wondering if we were going the right way, before suddenly finding Broome Manor Lane, and the familiar sight of the Coate Water Park.
The final Parkway sign stands to the west of the lake, near the miniature golf course.
Public art at Swindon’s Orbital centre recognises the role of Swindon people in both the defence of the realm and the town’s transport history
Everyone knows about Swindon’s incredible railway history, and the effect it had on the world during its heyday. But fewer people are aware of is Swindon’s aviation heritage. But this piece of public art at the Orbital centre in north Swindon is doing its bit to spread the word.
Extending from predictions of manned flight by Swindon’s nature writer Richard Jefferies in the 1800s, to the town’s links with today’s space industry, Swindon reaches for the skies. And beyond.
In the Orbital Shopping Centre in North Swindon, there’s a celebration of the town’s commitment to being at the forefront of transportation and the defence of the nation.
A range of artworks and interpretation boards tell the story. The installation includes paving slabs with pictures from students at Abbey North School, poems from children at Haydon Wick and Haydonleigh Primary Schools, and ever-changing art from other local children in the British Land Visitor Centre.
The centre piece is a sculpture based on the shape and size of a Spitfire wing in honour of the aircraft built in Swindon towards the end of World War II.
About the sculpture
The research and design of the sculpture and other works around the Orbital, is the work of local historian/artist Mike Pringle, of Green Rook. Mike is also director of the Richard Jefferies Museum near Coate Water.
In the following YouTube clip (thanks to Roger Ogle) you can hear Mike talk about the inspiration for the sculpture:
The figures within the wing represent the men and women of Swindon involved in the town’s aviation heritage, both in the sky and on the ground. Swindon provided pilots for the Battle of Britain, and female pilots for transporting planes from one place to another. Besides that, many women working on aircraft repair and construction.
Inthe centre of the sculpture, the two uprights and the glass panels represent tracks and sleepers of the railways. Out of which Swindon’s rich engineering heritage was born.
The memorial commemorates the centenary of the cessation of WWI hostilities. Designed by Dr Mike Pringle (of the Richard Jefferies Museum), it depicts different aspects of the First World War.
The location in the northwest corner of the GWR Park was selected because that’s where the sun goes down.
Made from five steel panels, GWR Park first world war memorial sculpture features cut out designs of: a horse’s head, a Lee Enfield rifle, a gun carriage wheel and the red cross of the Swindon Royal Army Medical Corps.
Artist Mike Pringle said ‘the pointed steel panels would be redolent of the sharp rooftops of the GWR works, described by soldier and Swindon author Alfred Williams as looking like the teeth of a giant saw blade.’
Aside from this sculpture in an agreeable green space, there are other good reasons to visit the railway village. The Mechanics’ Institution trust, run regular volunteer-led tours around the village. They usually post the dates and times etc on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/mechanicstrust/
They also manage the Baker’s Cafe, central community centre and the railway cottage museum. For opening times for that see their Facebook page above.
The Glue Pot pub in the village is always worth a visit for their real ales. And now there’s the Baker’s Community cafe too, formed from the old Baker’s Arms public house.
‘This work was commissioned just before the Swindon rail works was closed and made in association with the British Rail craftsmen. It was commissioned by the then Thamesdown Borough Council with financial assistance from Sun Alliance Insurance Group, Southern Arts, British Alcan and Metalfast Limited.’
The sculptor was Jon Clinch and were formed from Foundry cast aluminium alloy (LM6).
What that doesn’t say is that this sculpture was the absolute last thing made in the once great GWR works. That singular fact surely affords this sculpture a special significance?
It’s derided by many but I love it. And I STILL miss it. It’s soooooo joyful.
I recently chanced upon some photos on Facebook of Swindon-based artist Tim Carroll restoring the sculpture when it was moved from its original home in Wharf Green to its current location in a play park in Gorse Hill. This was some time ago I should add.
Now I had no idea that Tim had restored this fabulous, gorgeous sculpture – or if I did I’ve forgotten. This is quite likely.
Anyway, they’re great photos that deserve sharing. So thank you to Gordon Dickinson for letting me use them.
This wonderful, exuberant sculpture used to have a prominent position in Wharf Green. Now they’re in a play park in Gorse Hill. I do feel that’s a huge shame. I’d love to see them somewhere prominent once more.
Here they are duly titivated and in situ in Gorse Hill.