MORE than a year of consultations, designing, planning and back-breaking labour will come to an end this week when Tamworth’s brand new warrior queen sculpture finally returns home to be revealed to the public for the first time.
Although pictures shared throughout the design process have provided glimpses of the huge sculpture of Tamworth’s Lady of the Mercians, Aethelflaed, only a couple of people have seen the six-metre tall steel figure put together in its entirety – and the overall effect promises to be ‘surprising and unique’.
For artist and sculptor, Luke Perry, Aetheflaed has become a real labour of love. He has invested months of time and effort hand-sculpting the statue, affectionately named ‘Our Aethel’, and is looking forward to it being revealed to the people of Tamworth, who provided the inspiration for the piece.
“This sculpture is really unique, and really quite different,” Luke said. “There isn’t anything else quite like it. There are not many sculptures of this size being built in the UK at this time and I’ve got a feeling this could be huge. I’m hoping she will attract a lot of attention to the town.
“I’m excited about the installation because other than myself, there are only a couple of people who have seen the sculpture in its entirety – and I think people will be quite surprised. Although I’m going to miss working on her, I’m really intrigued as to how people will respond; I hope they like it!
“It’s also quite a big year for women and women’s rights and Aethelflaed is a relatively unrecognised, yet incredibly important, female character in history. I hope she gains the recognition she deserves through this campaign and the various events taking place this year to mark the 1100th anniversary of her death in Tamworth.”
Before she can be revealed to the people of Tamworth, the huge sculpture has to be installed, and this is due to take place on Sunday, May 20, when Aethelflaed will be lifted into her final permanent home on the Offa Drive/Saxon Drive roundabout outside Tamworth Railway Station.
Aethelflaed will make the journey to Tamworth from Luke’s workshop in Cradley Heath and installation will involve a large crane, ropes, ladders and the hope that all goes to plan.
Luke said: I’ve really enjoyed this project and I love working with Tamworth; it’s a great place to be and a good team to work with. We’re now about to embark on the final and biggest stage of the project. We have practised putting the statue together off-site and it fits together nicely, but it is a very complicated process, involving ladders and ropes. We’re hoping it doesn’t rain as this will complicate things further, but it should be a very interesting day.”
The ‘Roundabout Art’ project is one element of the Arts in Unusual Spaces initiative, funded by Arts Council England and developed by Tamworth’s Arts & Events team, which is seeing art in all its forms popping up in a variety of locations across the borough. The sculpture is being funded by Arts Council England and Tamworth Gateways Project – a partnership between Staffordshire County Council and Tamworth Borough Council.
Aethelflaed is a key figure from Tamworth’s past, having played a pivotal role in English history by building a chain of fortifications against Viking invaders throughout the Kingdom of Mercia. Her fortification of Tamworth in 913 AD became the forerunner to Tamworth Castle. Daughter of King Alfred the Great, Aethelflaed’s accession as a female ruler has been described as one of the most unique events in early medieval history.
She was chosen as the subject for the new statue following consultations with local people, exploring what they are most proud of about Tamworth. Luke’s final design aimed to reflect the town’s Anglo-Saxon history, but with an ‘alternative, modern twist’ that places it firmly in the 21st century.
It was a timely choice by Tamworth residents as 2018 represents the 1100th anniversary of Aethelflaed’s death in the town on June 12 and a number of events are being planned to mark the occasion. These include a national service of commemoration being attended by hundreds of VIPs, including Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.
Andrew Barratt, Chief Operating Officer at Tamworth Borough Council, said: “The creation of this sculpture brings together many projects and initiatives, including the Gateways Scheme to improve links to the town centre, Arts in Unusual Spaces to get the community involved in bringing art to more areas of the town and a celebration of one of the most legendary and important figures in our Anglo-Saxon history.
“The hope is that as people step off the train at Tamworth Railway Station, they will be greeted by this impressive statue, that will not only point them towards the town centre, but will also give them a sense of Tamworth as an interesting and cultural place with a rich heritage to explore.
“Sunday will be a big day, marking the culmination of months of planning and hard work and I’m really looking forward to seeing Our Aethel being brought back to the town she took her last breath in 1,100 years ago.”
To celebrate the homecoming of the statue, we’re asking people to join a social media campaign and #DotheAethel. Simply take a picture of yourself, or with your friends, replicating the pose of the impressive steel statue and share it on social media with the hashtag #DotheAethel. The hope is that the campaign will attract attention across Tamworth and beyond to raise awareness of this incredible female warrior and the part she played in the making of England.
To join in, share your pictures with social media, tagging @VisitTamworth, using #DotheAethel and #Tamworth. For more information about the weekend of events and full instructions on how to #DotheAethel, please visit www.aethelflaed.co.uk.