Angel of the North, steel statue and daffodil

Last updated on March 7th, 2024 at 11:34 am

Steel statue, Angel of the North, Gateshead, Tyne & Wear

So there you are, trundling down (or up) the A1 by Newcastle/Gateshead and this gigantic, rust-coloured, figure flashes past your peripheral vision.  “Oh”, you think to yourself, in a wondering kind of way, “That can’t possibly be a very old aeroplane; it must be the Angel of the North.”  And you’d be one of about only 90,000 people to have seen him that day; it’s true, the Angel knows who looks at him as they whizz by, and keeps a tally.

Gormley, Angel of the North, Gateshead, Tyne & Wear

Antony Gormley’s enormous steel erection, controversial when it was unveiled in 1998, has become one of the iconic images of the North East, alongside the Tyne Bridge, Durham Cathedral and Newcastle United scoring a goal, the kind of thing that makes locals go all misty-eyed.  But, is the Angel of the North a cherished landmark, or ‘bad art’?  Some refer to it as ‘the Gateshead Flasher’; others aren’t that polite.  It cost nearly £800,000 at the time, stands 66 feet (20 metres) high, has a wingspan of 178 feet (54 metres) – larger than a Boeing 757 – and weighs 200 tonnes.  It has massive piles (inevitably), buried 20 metres deep to keep it anchored and able to withstand high winds of up to 100 mph.  It is also built to last more than 100 years.  So I’m thinking, with claims like that, it must come with some kind of warranty.  There’s enough steel in it, they say, to build 16 double-decker buses, or 4 Chieftain tanks.  Presumably, the authorities decided that the North East had no immediate need for 16 more double-decker buses or an extra 4 Chieftain tanks, so it was decided to build a whopping great steel angel instead.

Who dreams up these statistics?

The Angel of the North, Gateshead

The Angel of the North is certainly big.  Standing on a mound, towering overhead like a futuristic colossus, it is built on the site of the pithead baths of the former Lower Tyne Colliery.  It is intended to be a reminder of the miners that worked far below ground, in the dark, for 200 years.  I can get that.  Antony Gormley said that it is a “Focus of hope at a painful time of transition for the people of the north east, abandoned in the gap between the industrial and the information ages.”  I can get that too, at least the sincere intention, although whether the good folk of Tyne & Wear feel abandoned is another matter; it sounds a little patronising to me.

I can see that some people are drawn to the Angel of the North.  There is something embracing and protective about those bloody great wings, stretching out far above you.  Undoubtedly, many love it – and, according to Gateshead Council, it receives more than 150,000 visitors every year.  I find it fascinating – and of course it is impressive.  But I’m not sure that it moves me – unlike Mr Gormley’s figures on the beach at Crosby.

The Angel of the North, Gateshead. steel man

You decide.  If you’re passing by, take a look – but best park up before you do.  Take the northbound A167 toward Gateshead from the A1; there’s parking on the left about a quarter of a mile further on.

Lastly, you really do need to be aware that a species of daffodil has been named after the Angel of the North, apparently due to the flower’s rusty orange hue and unusual height. Keep your eyes open for them in the garden centre.  Personally, I find the thought of a 20-metre high daffodil slightly daunting; anyway, my dibber isn’t big enough.

The Angel of the North, Antony Gormley, Gateshead

32 thoughts on “Angel of the North, steel statue and daffodil”

  1. Your photos show it to perfection Mike. I don’t normally go for this kind of art, but I think this one is very striking and must be even more impressive seen with one’s own eyes. Thank you for sharing its history.

  2. I’m definitely in the love camp. But then I like marmite too. Strangely I found the angel more impressive from the road than close up.

  3. I think it’s blooming brilliant Mike! From a photography point of view you could have so much fun with it. Yeh not sure about a 20mt high daffy either, could be tricky.. I’m a little nervous to ask what your ‘dibber’ is 🙂 🙂

  4. It looks very good from here in Sussex (he said with his tongue very firmly in his cheek!)

  5. Hi Mike – it is an impressive art work – and to many is an art work … people who know better than I do. I am more open-minded about things since I’ve been blogging – get to read lots, see lots and thus try and put some different thoughts and creativity into my head-space.

    I did see the Gormley statue (naked man – whether that’s relevant or not … I’m unsure …and I didn’t notice!) on Exeter College roof in Oxford recently … I think I might have a closer look next time – in the name of art knowledge!

    I guess the advantage of the Angel – is that one can get up close and see it in all its glory. Love the stats though … and thanks for posting up and giving us directions – cheers Hilary

  6. I think it’s better from the road rather than when under or up close. . I wonder if there will be a refurbushment fund in, now 80 years time. Love the idea of it having such large piles!!!!

  7. I’m sure this sculpture would be amazing to see firsthand!
    Glad I found your blog! I live in Canada and love Britain. Been there twice and hope to go back someday.

  8. I’ll admit, I’m left a little confused concerning that enormous piece of art. I’m sure it’s a wonder to behold if not only for its size.

  9. I’ve never heard of this. I suppose that’s not surprising. I find it oddly compelling. It isn’t my style of art and yet it seems to have a certain resonance, It does have a bit of “airplane” look, yet there is something about seeing those all-encompassing wings created from material that is just about the total opposite of feathers. Wings that could crush you or protect you. I think it’s fascinating.

  10. Every time I come across an image of the Angel of the North (never having ventured out of Yorkshire in that direction during my holidays), I think of my late husband. He told me the name of the statue and where it is, when we saw an image of it on TV many years ago.

  11. I have seen photos of it before and find it somehow discomforting. Still, maybe if I saw it in person I might not think so.
    One must have an open mind!

  12. It looks great from afar, a towering figure appearing out of nowhere. I’d like to see it sometime, amidst the lovely landscape. Greetings.

  13. Patricia Kellar

    It is a little strange – wings instead of arms – but it certainly is an imposing work, and must startle the traffic. I like the figures on the beach better too, very melancholy.

  14. I saw it from a bus and had never heard of it before that, maybe five years ago. It was startling to see, the way it stands up high and alone. I’m not sure I like it but it is interesting.

  15. What in the world? is my reaction. Not much like my idea of an angel. To each one’s own.

    1. artandarchitecturemainly

      I am with CherryPie. Joe and I went to a Summer Academy Week in Newcastle one year and did not expect to love that part of the world. But it was a fantastic mixture of lectures and tours. The Angel of the North was a bit surprise, and delight.

  16. It’s none of my business, because I live here and not there, but – it looks okay to me. Except if I thought angels really looked like that I’d not be too keen on going to Heaven. 😀

    1. Could be one of the Wright Brothers, reincarnated. 😀 Except, he was American, so why would he end up in your country? 😉

  17. N.T. Wright, former Bishop of Durham, might have something to say about whether or not the people of that area felt abandoned when the subsidy rug was ripped out from under the mining industry, for the Church was there, working to help pick up the pieces. But all of that is so sad and so political, and I’m not here to judge (nor do I know all the details that would give me any right to do so). I would like to see the Angel of the North in person, and think it’s a pretty cool image, although I initially thought it looked like someone holding a gigantic surfboard. The figures on the beach, on the other hand, are pretty eerie. I wouldn’t want to be on that beach at dusk.

  18. Leaves me cold. Looks to my eye as though a hybrid welder-sculptor who can’t do humans or animals decently made a shop-window mannequin and pop-rivetted it to a girder in some sort of crucifixion rite. If that’s “art” then I’m a Dutchman. Rust isn’t a quick enough end for it. If it’s proof to winds of 100mph, I have my fingers crossed for a 101mph gale! Other than it having been a monumental (no pun intended) waste of 800,000 quid I have, as usual, no strong opinions on the matter. 😉

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