The Leomansley Witch Project

Imagine you’re watching a horror film. A woman heads into ancient woods which are shrouded in mist. And before long, she comes across a tree. With an eye stuck to it.

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Chances are at this point in the film, you’d be shouting, ‘Don’t go in there. Run away!, whilst feeling smugly confident behind your cushion that you’d never be as stupid as to stay hanging around in mist shrouded woods where there are eyes stuck to trees. Well, I was in Leomansley Woods earlier this week. It was shrouded in mist and there was an eye on a tree. But did I leg it? No. And not just because I don’t do running under any circumstances.

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If something wicked that way had come, I had Finn the swamp dog to protect me and my experience of fighting off a clown in Beacon Park earlier in the month to draw upon. Crucially though, I know and love these woods and consider the tokens and trinkets that have been appearing there since the summer more curious than creepy, possibly symbols of someone else’s affection for them.

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Back in 2004, when I was a newcomer to these parts, I remember getting a call from my sister telling me to go and take a look in the woods as somebody, or more likely somebodies, had created works of art in amongst the trees. There were mosaics created from leaves and petals, clay faces sculpted onto the trunks of trees and brightly coloured papers hanging from their branches. For reasons I can’t remember, I didn’t take any photographs but I can clearly recall the sense of mystery and magic someone had created in the woods that day. We never discovered who or why and there was no encore. The seasons turned and the years went by and then, early this summer, we began to notice things. At first it was subtle. A pebble placed here, a strip of silver birch bark there. It was the first piece of pottery appearing lodged in the knot of a tree that convinced us this was more than the handy work of squirrels and our overactive imaginations. Dog walks took on a new dimension as every day seemed to bring something new. I’m sure at its peak, others were joining in and making their own contributions. And this time I did bring my camera.

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As the summer faded, the activity seemed to wane, and I’d assumed there would be no more. The other half took over the dog walks for a while but recently, for reasons involving a prolapsed disc, I took up the lead once again. Many of the original tree decorations had vanished but a handful of hawthorn berries, melted candle wax and a tickle of feathers (that’s genuinely and rather pleasingly the collective noun for them) had taken their place. Interestingly, others seem to be joining in once again, including the Leomansley contingent of the One Direction fan club.

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Once again, the who and why is a mystery, and perhaps that is how it should remain. Whether activity continues beyond the season of the witch or not, for me, Leomansley Woods will always remain a magical place.leomansley-cobweb

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Everything From Shells

Despite the bitter cold, a large crowd gathered in the Museum Gardens around a figure enveloped in green velvet.

Once the poems, songs and speeches had concluded, local artist Peter Walker’s bronze statue of Erasmus Darwin was unveiled to applause.

Recently, I read a wonderful post by Susan Ward on her Staffordshire Bred blog which reminded me of the importance of the sense of touch, when connecting with something.  I was so pleased to hear that the scallop shell Erasmus Darwin holds in his left hand is not only an important symbol of his beliefs and his work on evolution, but is also there to be touched. This is not a hands off statue and I hope that people will touch it, that it will be a well-loved part of the city and that stories will grow up around it.

Those days are still ahead of us – the sun has not even set on the statue’s first day in the Museum Gardens yet (although judging by the temperature in the park today, I’m not convinced it actually rose in the first place!).

The statue belongs to the people of Lichfield, but today belongs to Erasmus Darwin and Peter Walker.

The Gates of Christ Church

I often walk past the gates of Christ Church and was delighted when David Tucker, designer and creator of the gates, responded to my request for information about this wonderful part of our surroundings.

David is a Master Blacksmith based in Derbyshire and thanks to him I’ve discovered not just about this thoughtfully crafted, original ironwork we have here in Leomansley, but also something about this traditional craft in the 21st century.

Christ Church Millenium Gates by David Tucker

Here’s David’s own account of the creation of the gates:

These gates were commissioned to celebrate the Millennium and were completed and installed in the year 2000.

I am a Master Blacksmith and hand forge individually designed ironwork in response to the character and history of the setting. In this case, I was immediately struck by the lovely gothic arches and decided that I would like to reflect these strong forms in my gate. The gothic arch is synonymous with the church and I liked the idea of looking through my gates and seeing the same arches within the building.

Structure is important to me and I always try to create forms where all is not immediately apparent. I want the regular visitor to discover new facets and aspects to the design over time. The gates are made up of repeated downward-facing arcs and upward-facing gothic arches, placed on opposite sides of the gate, to re-inforce the forms and to create a three-dimensional structure. I love ‘honest’ and traditional methods of fixing and so chose to join the bars together with rivets and collars which just seem to say ‘here we are, holding these bars together’.

In the end, I designed three different options for the gate; a more traditional option, a cheaper option and this one, my own favourite and the most contemporary of the three. I was delighted when the commitee said that they would prefer an original and contemporary option, rather than pastiche. The gates were hand forged by me at my Derbyshire forge. I developed detailing such as hinges and latches etc. as I went along, so they would compliment the over-all design.

 

David's drawing of the gates

 

David does of course take commissions and it’s a pleasure to include his business card here.