Greater Manchester Green City Region. Creating a greener, greater city region differently

Bess and Bailey Sculptures

Bess and Bailey: the story behind the horse and fox on Rochdale Canal

Following article written by Juliette Hamilton...

We met at a local show called the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair where I was exhibiting. He loved my work and really wanted me to produce something for the city.   I was very happy as Manchester is my home town and place of birth, so to be asked to undertake a commission which would stand in its centre was amazing.   These things take time so it was a couple of years until I heard from him again about the commission.

He had been working volunteer group the Friends of Rochdale 9 who tirelessly undertake clean ups and environmental improvements along the Rochdale canal in the city centre.

They secured some funding  through the Council’s Neighbourhood Improvement Fund to undertake some greening projects, combined with an art installation which helps celebrate the real workhorses of the Industrial Revolution…  this where I came in.   Dave wanted something big so asked for a life-size Shire Hourse and he just loves foxes too! It was up to me to crate it how I wanted and I came up with the idea of making it look like these two creatures had just encountered each other on the two path.  They have been named Bess (horse) and Bailey (fox).

I created them both at home in South Manchester, where I have my studio in my back garden.  With the sculptures being in such a public environment I had to approach the making from a different angle than normal.  I usually just use willow and may be some ash poles in my sculptures but the base of this horse is entirely metal, bent by hand by me and welded into place by my husband.  This way the horse could be bolted to the ground to make her more secure and would hopefully withstand the weight of a human!  The willow was woven over the top.  The other thinking behind making the base this way was that when the willow deteriorates, it can be easily renewed over the permanent structure.  The sculptures have also been fireproofed as they are very close to buildings, and situated in a position that cannot be reached by foot. 

The day of installation as incredibly nerve wracking as we had to float the sculptures across the canal.  There was no other way of getting them to their final position.  Anyway, it all passed off without a hitch, much to everyone’s relief!

It is a great way to playfully and creatively celebrate and animate our canals and waterways.  The reason for the idea of the horse was explained by Dave Barlow:

“Horses were the real life work horses of the industrial revolution.  Bess is a celebration of all the thousands of horses who have passed the length and breadth of Manchester’s canals over time, working silently and tirelessly to fuel the City’s industrial age growth.

“Before the widespread development of the canal network, most goods and raw materials were hauled by horses and mules that were pulling road carts.  Suppliers realised that a horse was able to pull between 30 and 50 times more coal or iron ore on a barge that was floating on the water.  Pulling a barge along a navigable waterway did not normally require the horse to go up and down steep hills, so the work was also considered to be slightly safer for the animal.”

I have also been commissioned to produce a ‘minder’ for Bess, a man who will be controlling her with a rope but this will not happen until April 2020, when we have to float across the canal again!

Article written by Juliette Hamilton

This article was first published in Basketmakers Monthly, and reproduced with their kind permission.

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