Blyth Hyperscope sculpture marks history and heritage
Sculptor Simon Watkinson had to delve deep to create a landmark artwork for a town's new market place.
On Saturday a day of celebration will mark the end of the ÃÂ£3m regeneration of Blyth's market place.
Sculptor Simon Watkinson, left, with Jim Jacques in front of Hyperscope
Events will include the official switch on of the market square's new water feature and Simon's Hyperscope artwork to be followed by an evening of entertainment from stilt walkers, fire artists, jugglers, street magic, and tribute band, ABBA Gold Europe.
The 7.5-metre tall stainless steel Hyperscope is the centrepiece of the market square.
Simon's aim was to fashion a sculpture which combined the town's coal mining heritage and its wartime history as a submarine base.
LED lighting and interior lenses will create an effect of liquid light rising from the ground to make its way up the column.
Simon, who lives in Gosforth in Newcastle, created the Counterweight artwork at the Gala Theatre in Durham, which is also linked to mining.
His latest work is another coal mining themed three-pronged metal sculpture which is due to be unveiled soon at Chilton in County Durham.
His commission's have also included casts of Earl Grey's head set in lit perspex boxes at the base of Grey's Monument in Newcastle.
Simon said that the Blyth sculpture, as well as reflecting a pit shaft and submarine periscope, was also based on the hyperscope device for looking over crowds.
"Market places are usually crowded areas and this artwork will look out over the people, and will also look spectacular at night," said Simon.
As he worked on Hyperscope, Simon met and involved former Blyth miner and submariner Jim Jacques.
"Jim personified all there is about Blyth's mining and submarine past," said Simon.
The market restoration has been carried out by Blyth Valley Council, Northumberland County Council, Northumberland Strategic Partnership, South East Northumberland and North Tyneside Regeneration Initiative (SENNTRi) and One North East.
Simon, 42, said: "I've investigated how Blyth has evolved over the years both industrially and socially and I hope the work will act as a focal point and meeting place for generations to come."
Coun Grant Davey, responsible for regeneration in Blyth Valley, said: "Hyperscope is an exciting centrepiece to the new market square, which will help to showcase Blyth's important heritage as the town continues to move forward."
Hyperscope was commissioned by Inspire Northumberland which advises, advocates and delivers public art and design projects in the regeneration areas across Northumberland.
They identify opportunities where innovative artists and designers can bring unique and exciting perspectives to projects that make them inspirational www.inspirenorthumberland.co.uk
The improvements in and around Blyth market place are part of a much larger project to regenerate Blyth, which will see around ÃÂ£60m invested in the town over the next few years.
Wartime submariner and later mining worker Jim Jacques describes Hyperscope as "fantastic".
To 85-year-old Jim it sums up his lifetime experiences.
Born in Ashington, Jim has lived in Bedlington for the past 34 years.
He joined the Royal Navy in 1939 and served on the heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk when she was on the receiving end of five salvoes from the German battleship Bismarck.
"The Bismarck close encounter made me think that 'hey Jim someone's looking after you son' - a special feeling that would stay with me throughout my naval career," he said.
He was also on the Norfolk when she was escort vessel for the first convoy run to Russia.
Jim's next ship was the corvette HMS Sweetbriar in which he made more than 20 Atlantic convoy crossings and one to Gibraltar.
"In that time we never lost a single ship," said Jim.
His affiliation with Blyth started in 1943 when he started his submariner training.
He served on submarines H44, L27 and HMS Truant and has been secretary of the Blyth & Wansbeck Submariners Association for the past 16 years.
After the war Jim worked as a miner at Ellington Colliery, group safety engineer with the Ashington group of collieries, and then under manager at Pegswood Colliery and Woodhorn Colliery.
He went on to teach physics at Hirst East School in Ashington and then joined Ashington High School.
Jim said that Hyperscope is the perfect way for people to remember the past and celebrate the future, in a town steeped in coal mining and maritime history.
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