Driving up the A1 towards Gateshead and Newcastle or travelling on the East Coast Main Line you can’t help but notice a large figure looming over the roadside/railside trees. This is the Angel of the North, a contemporary steel sculpture of an angel designed by Antony Gormley. Thousands of people pass its outstretched wings every day.
The Angel of the North is visible from miles around. However, you really have to visit the site and stand at the foot of the giant statue to properly appreciate the sheer size of Britain’s largest sculpture.
The 208-tonne “Angel” basically takes the form of a human figure. At twenty metres high, the Angel is higher than a five-storey building. Its wings are fifty-four metres wide – almost the same as a jumbo jet.
The Angel stands on a mound created from the remains of old pithead baths. The site on the edge of Low Fell was once the Lower Tyne Colliery. Coal has been mined in the region for hundreds of years. It was responsible for the expansion of industry in the Northeast of England in the 19th century. Iron foundries, shipbuilding and locomotive manufacturing transformed the small riverside town of Gateshead into a centre of heavy industry. This declined slowly during the 20th century. Finally, the last coal mine closed in the 1970s.
The Angel of the North
Since the 1980s various art projects have been part of Gateshead’s regeneration. These projects include the Sage auditorium, the Baltic contemporary art gallery and the Angel of the North.
The former colliery site was reclaimed in 1989. Then in 1994 the sculptor Anthony Gormley was commissioned to make a work of art for the site. Four years later the Angel’s massive steel sections were transported from Hartlepool Steel Fabrications in Hartlepool where the statue was manufactured. Normally they produce bridges and oil rigs and the Angel represents these structures with its ribbed body and wings. They also give the structure enough strength to withstand the high winds that sometimes whip across the hilltop.
The statue stands directly on the ground, there is no plinth. The figure is rooted on concrete piles sunk into solid rock 22 meters below the surface.
The figure is now one of Britains most filmed and photographed monuments. Angled inwards the extended wings give a sense of embrace. Corten steel was used to make the sculpture. This is a ‘weathering’ steel alloy which forms a stable coat of rust after a few years of exposure. This gives the Angel its warm red colour.
The Angel aroused lots of controversy when first unveiled in February 1998. It is probably one of the most talked-about pieces of public art ever produced. The Angel has become a landmark for the Northeast of England. The statue is often used in film and television to represent the Northeast of England.
Visit the Angel of the North
The Angel of the North is free to visit and is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The site is a short distance from the A1, its full address is Durham Road, Low Eighton, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear NE9 7TY. From the A1 follow the brown tourist signs.
Once you have parked your car in the free car park there is a sloping path running from the car park up to the base of the sculpture.
There are no toilet facilities at the site.
The Angel’s Garden
Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the site is not the sculpture itself, but the meaning that the Angel has to some people. People have always wanted loved ones to rest in the shelter of an angel’s wings. Below and to one side of the statue is an area of small trees. On the branches, people have hung miniature models and pictures of the Angel of the North along with notes and pictures about their loved ones who have died. These are mostly children and its very touching to read some of the stories.
Whenever I travel north, I cannot resist calling in to see the Angel, it a remarkable piece of engineering and a stunning piece of art. Highly recommended and it’s free!!
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