A ‘heavenly’ icon of the North

Viewed by thousands of motorists every day as they head into Newcastle upon Tyne or further north on the A1, the iconic Angel of the North spreads its (her?) welcoming wings on the southern outskirts of Gateshead. It was commissioned by Gateshead Council, and erected in February 1998.

Designed by British sculptor Sir Antony Gormley¹(who also created Another Place of 100 iron figures on the beach at Crosby near Liverpool), the Angel of the North stands over 20 m tall, and has a wingspan of 54 m. Overall, the Angel’s statistics are something to behold.

The construction details are also rather interesting.But why choose an angel as such an emblem for the North? Here’s what Antony Gormley said.

Driving north at 60-70 mph you only get a brief glimpse of the Angel off to the right, or a receding image in the rear-view mirror. So having seen the Penshaw Monument (just 8½ miles east) last Sunday, and with improving afternoon sunshine, we decided to grab the opportunity to view the Angel up close and personal. And we were not disappointed. It/She is a wonderful piece of sculpture of which Gateshead (and the Northeast) should be justifiably proud. So, if you’re headed towards the Northeast, don’t just drive by as we had for years, but leave the A1 at the A167 junction for Gateshead (map) and see for yourselves why this sculpture has become such a ‘heavenly’ icon. It’s well signposted.


¹ Antony Gormley website: http://www.antonygormley.com/

 

‘Acropolis’ of the North

Sitting atop 136 m Penshaw Hill, dominating the surrounding landscape and visible for miles, Penshaw Monument is quite an icon in the northeast of England, on the southwest outskirts of Sunderland (map).

Although not quite on the scale of the illustrious original overlooking Athens, the Penshaw Monument in not the less impressive for all that. It’s actually a half-size replica of the Temple of Hephaestus, not the Acropolis.

There are, according to my grandsons, 159 steps from the road where we parked the car up to the Monument.

It was built in 1844 and dedicated to John George ‘Radical Jack’ Lambton, Ist Earl of Durham (1792-1840). Lambton was the first governor of the Province of Canada, author of an important 1838 report to seek direction on how best the British Empire should manage its colonies around the globe.

The design of the monument is Doric tetrastyle. It is 20 m high, 30 m long, and 16 m wide. The columns measure 2 m at their base. Inside one of the columns is a spiral staircase to the roof that is (since 2011) once again open to the public. I had a chat with a National Trust volunteer who told me there had been just one fatality, in 1926, when a 15-year old boy fell to his death.

When we visited last Sunday it was overcast and blowing a gale (the remnants of Hurricane Oscar that recently devastated the east coast of the USA). But the views were still impressive, and on a clearer and brighter day, would be something special. There is an unbroken landscape to the east and the North Sea. To the south, Penshaw Monument overlooks Herrington Country Park, the site of the former Herrington Colliery, (owned by the Earls of Durham) which closed in 1985.

We must return in better weather, and as it’s just a mile or so from the A19 (the main route we take when visiting Newcastle upon Tyne), we’ll be able to drop by on a whim.


Penshaw Monument stands less than five miles by road (half that distance as the crow flies) from Washington Old Hall, the ancestral home of George Washington (POTUS #1), which we visited four years ago.