2 Captivating Sculpture Parks in England for Art Lovers

We visited two captivating sculpture parks in the North-West of England. These parks are quite different, but for any art lover both are worth a detour.

We visited two captivating sculpture parks in the North-West of England. These parks are quite different, but for any art lover both are worth a detour. (On the right: a sculpture by Guiseppe Penone; “Albero Folgorato” [tree struck by lightning], bronze and gold.)

Not all our travel explorations in Great Britain are around historic sights, like old towns and castle ruins. In between, we satisfied our interest in contemporary art and visited two sculpture parks. Two sculpture parks, which couldn’t be more different.

First our route took us practically past the gates of the “British Ironwork Centre”, north of Shrewsbury. Some weeks later, we were in the vicinity of the “Yorkshire Sculpture Park”, so we planned carefully to pick a nice day to visit – but more about this later…


The “British Ironwork Centre”

The entrance to the "British Ironwork Centre" with several of their signature gorilla sculptures.

The entrance to the “British Ironwork Centre” with several of their signature gorilla sculptures.

The British Ironwork Centre is foremost a commercial enterprise, a company specialised in creating small designs for garden or house decoration. Though they also make oversized robots, which we found later guarding the entrance to a fuel station in York, so they obviously find customers for these large pieces.

Upon entering the driveway from the highway, you soon see what this centre is mainly about: sculptures of animals. Most appear to be fairly lifelike; some are a little more abstract. Almost all are a bit larger than life.

But that’s not to say that the British Ironwork Centre doesn’t do other things. As mentioned above, they have some oversized robots and strange alien figures. And then there are a couple of real eye-catchers, which would make a visit worthwhile on their own.

One of the large robots that the “British Ironwork Centre” creates. We noticed some of these later, standing at a petrol station in York.

One of the large robots that the “British Ironwork Centre” creates. We noticed some of these later, standing at a petrol station in York.

This enormous fantasy bird (a Phoenix?) was perched on top of an old Jaguar car in front of the “British Ironwork Centre”. It is twice as tall as the car below.

This enormous fantasy bird (a Phoenix?) was perched on top of an old Jaguar car in front of the “British Ironwork Centre”. It is twice as tall as the car below.

 

One of the really spectacular pieces was standing on the left of the parking lot, not far from the main entrance: the “Knife Angel”. This is a quiet, but not subtle, protest against violence involving knives in Great Britain. The tall sculpture was created by Alfie Bradley, a resident sculptor at the British Ironwork Centre.

It was made from over 100,000 knives, many of which arrived in evidence tubes, sent by police constabularies from all over Britain. All had to be meticulously cleaned before assembling the sculpture. It certainly sends a strong message.

There are ambitions to erect the “Knife Angel” on a plinth in Trafalgar Square – but currently a discussion is raging about public safety and what “image of Britain” it might send to tourists. It would be a shame if this magnificent piece of art was either encased in a vandal-proof cage, or remained forever hidden from the broader public. (This insight article provides more detail about the “Knife Angel” sculpture.)

Their second famous piece can be found inside the enclosed sculpture garden. The “Spoon Gorilla” was also created by Alfie Bradley, but much earlier when the artist was only 24 years of age. As the name suggests, this piece is made of 40,000 spoons, donated by children from all over the world.

“British Ironwork Centre”: the impressive "Knife Angel", made from over 100,000 knives, by sculptor Alfie Bradley.

“British Ironwork Centre”: the impressive “Knife Angel”, made from over 100,000 knives, by sculptor Alfie Bradley.

This "Spoon Gorilla" was created by sculptor Alfie Bradley, then aged 24, at the “British Ironwork Centre”.

This “Spoon Gorilla” was created by sculptor Alfie Bradley, then aged 24, at the “British Ironwork Centre”.

 

The main theme of the British Ironwork Centre is their large “Metal Safari Park”, a collection of African animal sculptures. Many of these are quite stunning pieces.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

You will also find a number of other sculptures, either inside the park or adorning the parking lot and driveway. One side of the parking lot was lined by “Terminator Style” fighting robots; a green patch had an oversized tarantula; and the hedges were crossed by groups of jumping deer.

The oversized sculpture of a tarantula in the parking lot of the “British Ironwork Centre”.

The oversized sculpture of a tarantula in the parking lot of the “British Ironwork Centre”.

This stylised African Lion sculpture stands along the driveway into the “British Ironwork Centre”.

This stylised African Lion sculpture stands along the driveway into the “British Ironwork Centre”.

 

Spread throughout the enclosed part of the park, you will also find countless smaller pieces: birds, sheep, other farm animals, and quirky park benches – all with price tags attached, ready to buy and take home (or have delivered). This is the section the park makes its money from.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

Another money making part is the large cafeteria with its indoor and outdoor seating, and the extensive shop you must pass through to get to the cafeteria and the enclosed park. But everything is rather tastefully displayed and quite unique – so you might find yourself spending a few Pounds (or more) during your visit.

The outside cafeteria of the “British Ironwork Centre” is a pleasant space in fine weather.

The outside cafeteria of the “British Ironwork Centre” is a pleasant space in fine weather.

The British Ironwork Centre – Practical Information

The British Ironwork Centre is right off the A5 highway north of Shrewsbury. But blink and you’ll have missed it, because the entrance is not very well signposted and doesn’t have a dedicated turning lane. The owners are currently lobbying to have the highway entrance re-designed for better access.

Entrance to the park is free, although a donation of £2-5 is very much encouraged. Many of the exhibits will appeal to children too, so we would rate this as a very family friendly excursion. More information on their website .


The Yorkshire Sculpture Park

When we drove out at around 3:00, the rain had finally cleared a little. So we got a final view of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

When we drove out at around 3:00, the rain had finally cleared a little. So we got a final view of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

The theme of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park differs very much from the Ironwork Centre. This one is located around 20 miles south of Leeds. Here you will find large contemporary outdoor sculptures or sculpture groups created by world-renowned artists. The majority are spread throughout the grounds of the former Bretton Hall, an 18th-century country estate.

The sculpture "Dream City" by Anthony Caro in front of the historic Bretton Hall. The hall is currently off-limits, as it is being converted into a hotel.

The sculpture “Dream City” by Anthony Caro in front of the historic Bretton Hall. The hall is currently off-limits, as it is being converted into a hotel.

It is the oldest permanent outdoor sculpture park in England, founded in 1977. By now it is famous for displaying the largest collection of works by the English artist Henry Spencer Moore in Europe. Yet there are many, many more international sculptors featured throughout the enormous parklands and the underground gallery – we only saw a fraction.

We had planned our visit long in advance, and had constantly kept an eye on the weather forecast, well aware that you would want some sunshine to explore such a large park. At 9am, when we left our overnight camping, the forecast was for clear and sunny all day. At 11am, just before we arrived, it started to rain – nice gentle soaking rain, which never really stopped. So much about the weather predictability in England!

We last checked the weather report at 9am: clear and sunny all day! Well, we arrived at the park around 11am, and this was the "English Sunshine"...

We last checked the weather report at 9am: clear and sunny all day! Well, we arrived at the park around 11am, and this was the “English Sunshine”…

The weather also played havoc with our ability to take photos. Later in the day, it became so heavy that I feared it would damage my camera, as my extendible lens was completely covered in thick drops – so we walked out prematurely, just after 2pm. But we enjoyed our time at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and vowed to return!

The first exhibition we visited was the Underground Gallery, an enclosed exhibition space on the floor below the welcome centre. We were hoping that the rain would stop and in the meantime we were very much mesmerised by the exhibits in the temporary display of works by Guiseppe Penone.

This Italian artist displays an amazing skill and connection with his natural surroundings, mostly in form of almost ‘dissected trees’. Like, in the centre of the exhibit, where a trunk of a tree, cut into halves and laid out in its full length,stretched through two rooms. The inside was carved back to the layer of one particular growth ring, and one section was filled with a bronze cast of the void.

The other end of "Matrice" by Guiseppe Penone. The hollowed out stem stretches across 2 spacious rooms of the Underground Gallery. Here you see the bronze he had cast inside a section of the hollowed tree.

The other end of “Matrice” by Guiseppe Penone. The hollowed out stem stretches across 2 spacious rooms of the Underground Gallery. Here you see the bronze he had cast inside a section of the hollowed tree.

Outside, around the Underground Gallery, were several more of Penone’s art pieces, like life-size bronze sculptures of trees with large rocks balanced in their branches. This exhibition will close on the 28 April, 2019 but, as we understand, some of his large bronzes are part of the permanent collection of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

Finally, we had to give in to the fact that the weather report had deceived us, and ventured out into the park anyway. I can’t judge how much we really missed, as the entire estate is over 500 Acres in size. I know we missed the Chapel and some other out-lying exhibition pavilions. But we saw quite a lot of intriguing sculptures on our circular route between the parking lot and the lake.

And what little we saw was quite interesting. As always with art, some pieces don’t manage to capture your attention, but others really speak to you. Some leave you baffled, while others evoke real astonishment.

We recommend to open the larger photos with a detailed description.

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park – Practical Information

If you are interested in contemporary sculpture, we highly recommend a visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park! As mentioned, it is located about 20 miles south of Leeds, near the town of West Bretton – just off the M1.

If you need to come by public transport you will be pleased to know that the park can be reached by bus. The Metro bus lines 96 and 96A, commuting between Wakefield and Barnsley, stop right at the welcome centre of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Entrance to the park is free. To make up for this, the parking fees are a bit steep; it’s £11 to park for anything longer than 2 hours [as of 2018]. But we think that’s only “fair enough”. TIP: you can also drive past the welcome centre to park further down in the estate, near the cafeteria; this will bring you more into the centre of the outdoor exhibits.

Due to its size, you need to be fairly fit to see much of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park; younger kids might get bored and tired after a while. For more information, and the current temporary exhibits visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park website .


After the sculpture park in Uruguay, by Pablo Atchugarry , and Inhotim in Brazil these were the first sculpture parks we had visited in a long time. But since we’re always keen to see public art, and we have learned that there are 13 more sculpture parks in Great Britain , we will show you more once we have visited them…


 

Juergen

webmaster, main photographer & driver, second cook and only husband at dare2go.com. Freelance web designer with 20 years of experience at webbeetle.com.au

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