Beeston’s secret history…
If ‘The Beeston Seat’, (the Beekeeper) is a much love piece of ‘public artwork’, there is a second modern sculpture in Beeston which is largely reviled and ignored. Since it installation in 1989, thousands of Beestonians have walk past it by without a second glance. It is certain that today, very few even know its name or troubled history, yet it cost the ‘public purse’ £25,000 and is the work of the award winning artist/sculptor Paul Mason (1952-2006), – considered by some to have been; “….probably the most important sculptor of his generation in the Midlands”. (Professor David Manley). The work of art in question is the ‘Water Head’ sculpture, which stand on the western side of ‘The Square’ in-front of the jewellers shop. Its story begins not in Beeston but in Nottingham.
In 1985 the pedestrianised Lister Gate in-front of St Peter’s Church in Nottingham city-centre was being redeveloped and Nottingham City Council commissioned Paul Mason. According to the Nottingham Evening Post (Dec. 1955), Mason’s objectives were to produce a work that was; “…. contemplative and tranquil, to induce calm in a busy city”. Taking a year to complete at the cost of £23,000, the result was a marble water-sculpture entitled ‘Leaf Stem’.
“Someone seems to have gotten the ‘plumbing’ wrong and when it was first activated the artist’s desired effect was not quite achieved.”
Returning to Beeston, once again we find change, this time the refurbishment of The Square in 1988/89, at the heart of our story. Early in 1989, on behalf of Broxtowe Borough Council, Mr Barry Protheroe handed Paul Mason the commission, to produce a public work of art, – similar in design to the Leaf Stem in Nottingham, – to stand in the newly refurbished Square. The results were yet again an organic shaped tall pillar of white marble. This time Mason christened his work ‘Water Head’ in reference to the gently flowing water, which in theory was meant to run down the exposed surfaces. Unlike its Nottingham counterpart, Water Head was originally fix into the ground directly over a drain for the recycling water, rather than being on a low stepped plinth.
Both the Beeston and Nottingham installations relied on the visual aesthetics of the play of light and water on their sculptured surfaces. Whist Mason might have been considered an acclaimed artist, his engineering skills and knowledge of hydro-dynamics were found to be some-what lacking. Someone seems to have gotten the ‘plumbing’ wrong and when it was first activated the artist’s desired effect was not quite achieved. It may have been the way in which water splashed ‘passers-by’ instead of flowing gently into the drain which generated the dislike of the sculpture, as much as the fact that when the pump was turned off, it was no-longer the spectacle it was meant to be. The Leaf Stem in Nottingham also suffered the same problems with its water flow and drainage. The water quality of both pieces of art were investigated by Environmental Health and found to be lacking. Both water-features were officially deactivated in 1994, (although Water Head was seldom in operation). For a time Leaf Stem disappeared only to be reinstated on a raised flower bed a few yards to the north of its original site, where it can be seen today. Water Head was re-mounted on a square brick-base in an effort to achieve better drainage.
The concepts and beauty of modern art are very much ‘in the eye of the beholder’. Call them ‘Philistines’ or what you will, when the Water Head was unveiled to the public it received ‘lukewarm’ attention to say the least. The Beestonian magazine labelled it the ‘Stump’. When the water-feature was deactivated, it became a favourite place for The Square’s local pigeon population to rest, earning it the nick-name ‘The Pigeon Perch’. With the coming of the Trams and The Square’s redevelopment, the future of Water Head once again hangs in the balance. There are those who would like to see the redundant sculpture gone for good. The writer is not in this mind as it seems a great shame that Beeston should loose a valuable, – in all senses, – piece of public art-work by a well-known artist like Paul Mason. Perhaps the local authority should find a new, more suitable home for it somewhere away from The Square and with a little care, planning and engineering, reactivate the water-feature. Only then can Water Head be seen and appreciated as the artist intended.
Jimmy Notts (Joe Earp)
A Green Man is a sculpture or other representation of a face surrounded by or made from leaves. Branches or vines may sprout from the mouth, nostrils, or other parts of the face and these shoots may bear flowers or fruit. Commonly used as a decorative architectural ornament, Green Men are frequently found in carvings on both secular and ecclesiastical buildings.
Usually referred to in works of architecture as foliate heads or foliate masks, carvings of the Green Man may take many forms, naturalistic or decorative. The simplest depict a man’s face peering out of dense foliage. Some may have leaves for hair, perhaps with a leafy beard. Often leaves or leafy shoots are shown growing from his open mouth and sometimes even from the nose and eyes as well. In the most abstract examples, the carving at first glance appears to be merely stylised foliage, with the facial element only becoming apparent on closer examination. The face is almost always male; green women are rare.
Beeston does indeed have its very own Green Man. Blink and you might miss this one. For those wishing to take some time out from the Town’s busy shopping streets it is recommended that you take a little stroll, – as Beestonians have been doing for over 100 years, – through Dovecote Lane Park. This wonderful wooden sculpture entitled ‘The Green Man’ is located in the enclosed garden area of the park at the Trevor Road end. Rather than saying anything about it, we will let him speak for himself.
The Brass plaque attached to the stone base tells the whole story:
‘This sculpture was carved by Stan Bullard (1920 – 2012), a Beeston sculptor, from a piece of yew tree in autumn 2008. It was undertaken as a commission from Broxtowe Borough Council to replace the ‘One World Sculpture’ on this site which commemorated Earth Summit 1992. The new sculpture has as its theme “man’s interaction with the natural green world.” The sculpture also marks the 100th anniversary of Dovecote Lane park which was opened in 1908′.
The ‘One Word’ sculpture replaced by the Green Man, was another of Stan’s works. It consisted of a ‘totem pole’ type carving of a man’s head, with falcon like shoulders and abstract tree like body. It was painted yellow and black and gloss varnish.
Once again we will let the original plaque tell the story:
‘This sculpture was carved by Stan Bullard, a Beeston sculptor, from a beech tree, felled at Strelley after storm damage. Work commenced in Beeston Square on One World Day, 30th May 1992 and was completed as a commission from Broxtowe Borough Council to commemorate Earth Summit 92′.
Note that Stan gave a live demonstration of his work before completing and installing it in the park.
New Book Available From August 2017
by Frank E Earp and Joseph Earp
“The Nottinghamshire town of Beeston as we know it today began life as an Anglo-Saxon settlement close to the banks of the River Trent. By the late eighteenth century the town had developed into a thriving textile centre. The nineteenth century saw a new mix of other industries, including famous names like the Humber Works and Boots the Chemist. Over the last decade Beeston has witnessed its greatest change with the introduction of an extension to Beeston of Nottingham City’s Tram Network. Local authors and historians Frank E. Earp and Joseph Earp delve into the town’s murkier past in this unique approach to the town’s history, blending the serious with the not so serious, and seeking out its hidden secrets”.
Available from all good book shops and also available on-line. The book can also be ordered directly from Amberley Publishing:
Telephone: 01453 847800
Around 550 metres to the west of the start of Ewe Lamb Lane, is the prominent natural feature known as Bob’s Rock. It is roughly located between the cemetery, to the south, and Wesley Place, to the north. This large sandstone outcrop, which commands wide views to the north over the Erewash valley, is according to Earp (1990) ‘the third largest stone in Nottinghamshire’.
In Mellor’s book ‘An address to the young folks of Stapleford, (1906), he interestingly mentions the geology of the area and of Bob’s Rock:
“In “The Geology of Stapleford and Sandiacre” Mr. J. Shipman says:—” I know of no similar area where so much work for the field geologist is crowded into such a small space.” He shows how the rocks have been shattered and displaced by faults, and pushed up or let down, “as to remind one of a patchwork quilt or Mosaic pavement.” He then refers to the millstone grit on Stony Clouds, to the Bunter pebble beds, the Waterstones, the Coal measures, the glacial drift deposits, the alluvial deposits of the Erewash, etc., all of which I am not competent to discuss, but I suggest you should form classes for the study of them.
As evidence of the glacial period, he gives a picture of the boulder clay, much Contorted, resting on crumpled-up upper keuper shales, at Wilsthorpe Brickyard, Sandiacre, in 1883. He says that “both parishes are just on the southern edge of the great Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and Yorkshire coalfields. North of a line drawn east and west through the north side of these villages stretch the coal measures and lower carboniferous rocks, which have been forced up into a great saddle-back, or anti-clinical ridge, now known as the Pennine Chain. South of this east and west line the new Red Sandstone strata have been faulted down two or three hundred feet.” He speaks of a deposit of drift close to Bob’s Rock resting “against an old cliff of Bunter Sandstone much fissured and weathered, which formed a sheltered nook in which the sand was deposited when the country was submerged during one of the stages of the glacial period.”
Another interesting story connected with the stone is that of John Wesley (1703-91). It is ‘supposed’ that Wesley preached at the stone in 1774.
John Wesley was an English theologian, evangelist, and founder of The Methodist religious movement. The established Anglican church was hostile to Methodism and most of the parish churches were closed to him. Wesley’s friend, the evangelist George Whitefield, was also excluded from churches and preached in the open air, in February, 1739, to a company of miners. Wesley hesitated to accept Whitefield’s earnest request to copy this bold step. Overcoming his scruples, he preached his first sermon in the open air, near Bristol, in April of that year. He was still unhappy about the idea of field preaching, and would have thought, ’till very lately,’ such a method of saving souls as ‘almost a sin.’
These open-air services were very successful; and he never again hesitated to preach in any place where an assembly could be got together, more than once using his father’s tombstone at Epworth as a pulpit. He continued for fifty years, entering churches when he was invited, taking his stand in the fields, in halls, cottages, and chapels, when the churches would not receive him.
The Wesley Place Chapel in Stapleford was built afterwards near this spot where John Wesley preached in 1774. He used the natural sandstone outcrop (Bob’s Rock) which stood next to a quarry.