If you’ve ever travelled between Darlington and Newton Aycliffe, seen a big metal head sculpture near the road, and wondered what it is, I’m writing this article for you. If you’re searching for interesting things to see in Newton Aycliffe, this article may interest you too but big metal sculptures don’t have universal appeal.
When you are travelling from Darlington or have just left the A1 and are heading towards Newton Aycliffe, you can see the big metal head poking out of some trees close to the roundabout that connects the A167 with St Andrew’s way (B644). It’s quite an impressive sight to see but very inappropriately placed. If you are travelling in the other direction, you cannot see the sculpture at all. Even if you are travelling down St. Andrews way, the big head sculpture is easy to miss. [MAP]
The sculpture is called “In Our Image” but, for the average person passing along the road, there’s no way to know. Even if you were to stop your car and push through the trees that surround the sculpture, all you can see is are the four metal support pillars that lift the giant head a into the treetops. There isn’t any information plaque below the sculpture or any information posted nearby. It’s a very poor state of affairs.
When you are travelling along the A1, near Gateshead, and see the Angel of the North (one of the North-East’s most recognizable sculptures), if you want to, you can leave the motorway, park near the sculpture and walk around it. If you wished to do so, you could even have a picnic beneath its outstretched iron wings and, should you not be familiar with the Angel of the North, there would be no need to stand scratching your head. There is plenty of information posted nearby.
If you want to know about In Our Image, you would either need to ask a local or do an online search for “big head Newton Aycliffe.
History of Newton Aycliffe’s Big Head
In Our Image has been peeking out from the trees near the entrance to Newton Aycliffe Business Park since June 2009. It’s 16.7 meters high and weighs 4.7 tonnes. The sculpture was designed by Joseph Hillier. He’s a member of the Royal Society of Sculptors and his work has been commissioned and exhibited all over the UK. In Our Image is one of Hillier’s most popular creations and has received a lot of interest both in the UK and abroad.
The big head sculpture took two years to complete. It was commissioned by Sedgefield Borough Council and cost £165,000.
The big head, its shoulders, and the supporting columns were produced at Aycliffe Fabrications. The company is also responsible for a lot of the other metal artwork in the area including the arch Darlington Borough Council commissioned in 2015 as part of its restoration project for the Skerne Railway bridge.
The big head, which is designed to look like a work in progress, bears several silhouettes that resemble people climbing the iron gridwork and working hard to complete the construction.
The sheet steel silhouettes are based on some of the craftsmen who helped create the sculpture. Hillier took photographs of them while they were busy constructing his giant head and then designed his metal workers accordingly.
According to Sedgefield Borough Council, the big head is meant to pay artistic homage to the hard work and progress that has been made in regenerating Newton Aycliffe while also honouring the town’s industrial heritage.
My Opinion of In Our Image
As a work of art, I like the big head sculpture. Newton Aycliffe is a working town and the industrial estate is home to a diverse range of industries. The name “In Our Image” seems appropriate and the sculpture boasts an interesting design.
However, if this large sculpture is meant to honour all the work going on in the area, the council should have made it easier for people to know what the sculpture represents. Without asking around or doing some research, to the average person passing by, the sculpture is just a large head among the trees.
Some people may not agree with what I’m going to say next but, in my opinion, the council has chosen to erect the sculpture in a very poor place.
Apart from being difficult to access, the big head may distract motorists at a time when they need to place extra attention on the road. Roundabouts have traffic coming from multiple directions and, at certain times of day, the roundabout next to the sculpture gets very busy.
Lots of roundabouts have features in the centre of them but, although they may attract attention, they are directly ahead of motorists. There’s no way anyone could temporarily forget the roundabout is there.
The big head sculpture near Newton Aycliffe Business Park is not in the centre of the roundabout though. It’s at the side.
If the council had erected In Our Image a little further down the road, near McDonald’s, KFC, and the filling station, it would have presented less of a safety risk. It would have also made the sculpture easy to access and the council could have placed some information near to it as the councils responsible for similar structures, such as The Angel of the North, have done.
I’ve always wondered if the big head has caused any accidents, so I did some research.
Accidents statistics on crashmap.co.uk suggests there have been more accidents near the big head roundabout since 2009 than there have on the roads nearby, but not nearly as many as have occurred a little further down the road at the roundabout that provides access to the A1.
The accident details on the crashmap website are hidden behind a paywall. My curiosity is not great enough to encourage me to spend money but, if the big head sculpture has caused just one accident it will be one accident too many.
Although In Our Image, has managed to attract a lot of press interest, it’s disputable how popular it is with the local population.
When The Northern Echo covered the story in June 2009, the article stated the council planned to prune the nearby trees to keep the sculpture visible. By only pruning the trees on one side, the council has only been partially true to its word.
The article ended by asking readers to share their options of sculpture. Only three people did. None of them were impressed.
Jolly Roger said the money could have been better spent helping the public. He felt the sculpture was more about giving the council members an ego trip
Sardonicus kept it short and sweet by saying “It beggars belief!”
Ann was annoyed by the council’s promise to prune the nearby trees, pointing out the problems the council seems to have trimming the hedges that overhang the nearby footpath and the poor condition of the footpath itself.
Passing by the sculpture 12 years later, I can confirm the footpath is still in poor condition and the hedges could do with a trim. Although I like the sculpture and love the “in our image” concept, I have to agree with Jolly Roger. It would have been nice if the council had asked the people of Newton Aycliffe what they wanted before investing so much money. It seems to me the sculpture was less about paying homage to Newton Aycliffe and its people and more about massaging the ego of the council’s big head.
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