Stunning pictures reveal the moment when Tamworth’s new warrior queen sculpture was dipped into a huge bath of molten zinc, to slowly emerge shiny and victorious, ready for the final stage of the design process.
Motorists may have witnessed an unusual sight on the roads last week as our statue of Lady of the Mercians, Aethelflaed, was loaded onto the back of a lorry to be taken for galvanizing, before she returns to her final home in the town in a few weeks.
The six-metre tall statue, affectionately named ‘Our Aethel’, was taken from a workshop in Cradley Heath to the UK’s widest galvanizing bath at Joseph Ash Galvanizing in Telford.
It took a system of nine cranes and more than 20 people to carefully take the steel statue through the various stages of the galvanizing process, which included sitting in a vat of acid for two hours, chemical preparations, and submersion in a 450-degree bath of molten zinc.
Submersion in the bath was a tense moment as dipping can cause explosions if there are any areas that haven’t vented properly, and sculptor Luke Perry watched anxiously, together with an assembled crowd from the galvanizing firm.
Luke, who has spent more than a year hand-sculpting the impressive statue, said: “The zinc bath was a really nerve-wracking moment as the statue could have exploded if there were any pockets that hadn’t drained properly from the acid, or were not vented correctly. Everyone came out to watch to see if it all went okay. I’m glad that part is over now and we were all able to breathe a sigh of relief.
“It was an impressive scene when she emerged from the bath as galvanizing makes the steel very bright and luminous. This isn’t the finished effect though; she will now come back to my workshop for the finishing touches, which will involve slightly changing the colour and adding extra detail and pattern.”
Joseph Ash Galvanizing Marketing Manager, Mick Jackson, said: “It’s always an honour to be able to process and galvanize impressive works of art such as this and this is certainly one of the largest we have galvanized. We appreciate that the sculptor will have put hours and hours of work into their art, so when it comes to us, it’s imperative that we do the artist justice and provide the best quality galvanized finish. We’re looking forward to seeing the statue unveiled in Tamworth.”
After applying the finishing touches, Luke will be preparing for the final and most complicated part of the process – installing Aethelflaed into her new permanent home on the Offa Drive/Saxon Drive roundabout outside Tamworth Railway Station.
Currently the statue is in two parts – the torso and the sword upon which she will rest. Luke and his team have had a dry run at putting them together off-site and are now looking forward to the big day.
“We will soon be onto the final and biggest stage of the project,” Luke said. “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.”
Installation is currently planned for Sunday, May 20, when road closures will be in place around the area, including Albert Road, while Our Aethel is lifted and secured into place. She will then greet visitors as they step off the train and point them in the direction of the town centre.
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 this spring and summer to mark the occasion.
While the final interpretation is not exactly how Aethelflaed might have looked, Luke has worked with a 9th century historian to ensure all details are authentic and correct for the Anglo-Saxon period. The project also represents quite an ambitious feat of engineering and is expected to attract a lot of attention.
The ‘Roundabout Art’ project is one element of the Arts in Unusual Spaces initiative, funded by Arts Council England, which will see 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.
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 us on social media, tagging @VisitTamworth, using #DotheAethel and #Tamworth.
The unveiling of the statue is just one element of a packed programme of events taking place to mark the anniversary, which includes the creation of the town’s biggest ever piece of community art, a major commemorative church service with VIPs and celebrities from across the country, talks, a special guided walk, a commemorative ale and an academic conference weekend drawing academics and delegates from all over the world. For more information about the weekend of events and full instructions on how to #DotheAethel, please visit www.aethelflaed.co.uk.