The Angel of The North

Many cities and regions are defined by their buildings. statues and works of art.  Some such as The Great Wall of China, Leaning Tower of Pisa achieved this status despite being originally built for very different reasons.  Others like the Eiffel Tower or even the London Eye were only ever meant to be temporary structures and frequently derided and seen as eyesores that ruined the local cityscape and yet the Eiffel Tower is surely the most recognisable monument not just in Paris but in all of France.

The greatest icons of cities however were always deliberately designed to be high profile works of public art.  Undoubtedly it is hard to top the iconic Statue of Liberty in New York and Christ the Redeemer that looks down over Rio De Janeiro in Brazil.  On my recent guided tour of England, I had the chance to re-visit the 17 year old Angel of The North, a modern icon for North-East England.

The base of the Angel

The base of the Angel of the North

The statue is thought to be one of the most viewed works of art in the world, situated as it is near the A1M motorway and gaining the attention of around 33 million people every year.  The wingspan of the Angel is 54 metres (175 feet) which is about the same as a Jumbo Jet and it stands 20 metres (65 feet) tall which is the same as 4 London double decker buses on top of each other.  Weighing in at 200 tonnes it has enough steel in it to make 4 chieftain tanks or 16 double decker buses and has been designed to withstand over 100 mph winds and last over 100 years.

But why did they build it in the first place?  The region already had a host of landmarks with its castles and cathedrals and especially the Tyne bridge which is often said to form part of the most striking urban landscapes in Britain and is seen around the world on the labels of the Newcastle Brown Ale bottles.

Newcastle Brown Ale

The One and Only! One of the most well known brands in the world. It has a dry nutty taste with a delicate floral aroma. Newcastle Brown is easy to drink as a lager with a distinct character of a British ale.

The 1970’s and 1980’s had been one of intense hardship and industrial decline.  Where rivers that at one time had seen the majority of the worlds steel ship-building now lay mostly derelict whilst the coal-mines that had helped power an empire were being rapidly closed down due to cheaper if lower quality coals from places such as Australia and much hated market reforms of the Margaret Thatcher led government.  It was seen that the North-East and the city of Newcastle in particular needed a pick-me up.

Designed by internationally renowned Antony Gormley OBE, the Angel of The North was at first not universally appreciated but started a cultural revival that went on to include the Baltic contemporary art gallery and the nearby Sage Gateshead which is now recognised as one of the top 5 concert halls in the world.

Newcastle Quayside

Newcastle Quayside with some of the 7 bridges visible.

Like many of the best public works of art, the Angel, as well as being a symbol of NorthEast pride and local culture, draws upon various inspirations.  That the Angel draws upon the local industrial heritage is obvious from its materials and construction. It sits on a hill rather like a prehistoric burial mound which is actually the top of an old coal mine in Low Fell with exquisite views of both the countryside and parts of the nearby city.

The wings of the Angel are not flat but angled at 3.5 degrees to give a slight feeling of it embracing visitors whilst standing proudly overlooking the motorway that reminds people who have driven the 300 miles from London that they are either nearly home or a reminder that they have arrived somewhere very different from where they left.

Anthony Gormley

Gormley himself talks on his creation…

“People are always asking, why an angel? The only response I can give is that no-one has ever seen one and we need to keep imagining them. The angel has three functions – firstly a historic one to remind us that below this site coal miners worked in the dark for two hundred years, secondly to grasp hold of the future, expressing our transition from the industrial to the information age, and lastly to be a focus for our hopes and fears – a sculpture is an evolving thing.”

The Angel of The North

The Angel of The North adorned with a giant replica shirt of former England and Newcastle Captain Alan Shearer. (Photo from Evening Chronicle)

“The hilltop site is important and has the feeling of being a megalithic mound. When you think of the mining that was done underneath the site, there is a poetic resonance. Men worked beneath the surface in the dark. Now in the light, there is a celebration of this industry”.

Of course the Angel also reminds us that the coast of Northumbria was where the very first Christian missionaries arrived and thrived in England despite the brief and bloody interruption of the first Viking marauders early in the 8th Century.

The Angel of The North

The Angel of The North with myself at its base.

For more information on the Angel, the Baltic and Sage Gateshead or Europe’s largest shopping centre in the form of The MetroCentre be sure to visit the Visit NewcastleGateshead website.

If you like history then don’t forget my new book 101 Most Horrible Tortures in History.

101 Most Horrible Tortures in History

101 Most Horrible Tortures in History

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
This entry was posted in Heritage, history, Life, Northumberland and Durham, Science and Engineering, Travel, Ye Olde England Tours and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Angel of The North

  1. Francis says:

    Much enjoyed this one. Knew Gormley at College. Never knew, however, he’d literally rise to such heights!


  2. I drive past the angel so often but never knew much about it. So interesting. Thanks for enlightening me!


  3. Pingback: The Hartley Colliery Disaster of 1862 | Stephen Liddell

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