Monday, 15 October 2012

Branxton Concrete Menagerie

A few weeks ago Way Through went on holiday, and stayed in the fairly remote Northumberland village of Branxton, minutes from the Scottish border. Not only was there a field where the last monarch in the British Isles was slain (James IV at the Battle of Flodden, intriguingly documented in the only phonebox-turned-museum on record) but there was also a concrete menagerie.

Situated in the back garden of a modest semi-detached house in the middle of the village is a collection of 300 homemade concrete sculptures.

The menagerie was started in 1961 by James Beveridge who wanted to entertain his disabled son, Edwin. His designs were executed by a local retired joiner John Fairnington. Most of the figures are animals, but there are some people there, such as Winston Churchill, above. and T.E. Lawrence on his camel, below. There are also numerous plinths with inspirational text, many with an animal rights message.

The setting, particularly at sunset, was surprisingly affecting. The animals loom large above a view across fields. This was a strangely emotional place, arranged tenderly, but with a focused intent. This is a genuine piece of outsider art. The site has had a complicated legal history, but has been returned to the ownership of the creator's family. There is no charge to enter, but a collections box to help with the maintenance, which must be considerable.

Many of the statues are flaking and the stone tablets are worn, with their messages obscure. The peeling paint acts as a testament to one man's obsession with the bringing the world into his garden.

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