Why It’s MY “Angel of the North”

I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly patriotic person. I don’t get emotional about cricket or red buses, and I’ve heard “Jerusalem” played at too many funerals to enjoy it much. However, I came very close to pulling a woman’s head off her shoulders last week because she insulted a symbol that I love. On the East Coast mainline train from London to Newcastle a braying voice suddenly spouted out a mouthful of venom and ridicule aimed at MY ANGEL…and it is mine. It might belong to a lot of other people too but I have an emotional connection with it that makes it mine.

I love this angel and everything it says about the regeneration of the North East. This area was savaged by Thatcherism in the 1980’s. We lost our pits, our shipyards, our steel works. We were in danger of descending into a nothingness of half-jobs and hopelessness, answering phones in call centres instead of building ships.

We were worth more than that and the North East fought back. It regenerated and reinvented itself and, in general, has a level of prosperity and a standard of living higher than it ever had.

The angel was part of that fightback.

It was a brave decision to spend so much money on a piece of public art, a decision heavily criticised by people who thought the money would have been better spent on housing and job creation, but Antony Gormley’s “Angel of the North” was a statement of intent. The most viewed piece of public art in Britain was a powerful declaration of Newcastle/Gateshead’s  capacity to reinvent itself. 

Anyone visiting the Tyne quayside can have no doubt that the reinvention has been achieved – the Baltic Museum of Modern Art, the SageGateshead music venue, the wonderful “blinking eye” Millennium Bridge. It was a reinvention that started with the angel.

As a piece of art it carries powerful symbols of North Eastern heritage. It celebrates the engineering skills of this region, it embraces the religious past of Durham Cathedral  and Holy Island, and its position at an old pithead is a wonderful memorial to the miners of our  past.

It’s a symbol of homecoming and a gesture of defiance. You might not like it but it’s not something to be ignored and it’s a powerful reminder than the North East wasn’t going under without a fight.

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About andromedababe

Schoolteacher,shoe lover,garden geek.Likes glitter.Any views on educational practice are my own and are not to be taken as endorsement of any specific educational theories or schemes of work.Note: this is my personal blog - not all my posts relate to education.
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9 Responses to Why It’s MY “Angel of the North”

  1. Jules says:

    I may be a Southerner (part Welsh, part East Anglia, part Derbyshire), but I’m from solid working class stock going back at least 300 years, so I appreciate a symbol of the struggle.

    I absolutely love the Angel, had a moment with it on my own a few years back; touched it, and sat on the grass under it while I gazed skyward. I watched it soar in a blue sky with some picture perfect white clouds. Marvellous!

  2. Richard Smith says:

    Yes. All of that.

  3. Kate says:

    Lovely post, and I couldn’t agree more.

    At the time the Angel was created I was teaching Year Five in a primary school in a particularly deprived part of Gateshead. When it first went up a lot of the children were coming into class repeating their parents’ opinions of it: all the money that had been “wasted” on it, that it was rusty, that it looked like an aeroplane had crashed nose-first into the ground, that the ‘stupid’ artist had said it couldn’t be floodlit.

    Then we were invited to the Central Library for a session with a group of local artists. They were working with the children and families of Gateshead to give them a chance to find out more about Gormley’s work, the Angel, and its place in their landscape. The children learned so much that afternoon about the history of their region, and came out with a genuine understanding of, and love for, the Angel. Quite a few of them told me that they were going to ask their parents to take them to visit it, so they could teach *them* all about it. The pride and hope that was reignited in many North East communities by that sculpture should never be underestimated.

  4. Sarah says:

    I was born in Newcastle, but then sadly we lived away for a good few years till I was able to return to attend university in the city. For me ‘coming home’ was always symbolised by the train pulling towards Central Station and the view of the bridges honing in to view. No longer, to me, I’m home when I look out of the train window (I always have to sit on the left of the train when heading North) and see the Angel looming. That a huge Shearer NUFC was once draped over her shoulders says so much to me that she has been accepted and is ‘part of the family’ now.

  5. Yes. I still can’t forgive the bloody Evening Chronicle for their luddite, snobbish, short-sighted and at times vitriolic opposition to the thing that now ALL geordies love with a passion. Gormley knew they would, as did I and my sister, and anyone with imagination and pride. Shame on the Chronicle for not even recognising the scale of their folly in their weasly capitulation once the thing was up and public opinion well behind it.
    I have lots of pictures of my now late sister and I under the thing making it special and mine! I love that it’s yours too, Andromeda.

  6. Mrs_Moons says:

    Born in Newcastle, now living in Yorkshire. and the Angel leaves me teary-eyed each time I see it. It’s a clarion call for Northerners, along with Lindisfarne’s Run For Home. When I hear that, I swivel round unwittingly, like a chubby meer cat, until I’m facing Due North 😉

  7. Mick says:

    Hi
    Came across your blog today.
    I was very fortunate to visit the NE a while ago and see the “Angel” in person. I’ve lived in Australia for the past 26 years (previously in Felling, Tyne & Wear) and I have to say, the sculpture is extraordinary and close up it is a remarkable feat of work. It was my late father’s favorite artwork and brings back both happy & sad memories…I will be back in the NE next summer 2013 and the “Angel” will again be on my list of must sees. Fantastic!

    Mick

  8. rob williamson says:

    Thank you for your post ..I am just an averagely macho bloke exiled in the middle east and I just cried when I read your words…It is called the Angel of the North for a reason..it is not the property of Newcastle ( wrong side of the river for a start), it is in everybodys heart as Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland and all the pit villages of the Durham coalfields have suffered …but willl rise again
    Rob

  9. Philip says:

    Nice piece of art, but as someone who worked in the houses that it overlooked which were some of the poorest and deprived in Gateshead at that time, it was far from a symbol of hope and more an indication that Gateshead had forgotten all about them and were willing to spend more on an object of art than on people. Just worth bearing that in mind when considering all the fanfare about how lovely it is.

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