Minor British Institutions: The Angel of the North

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The Independent Online

Pretty big, for a minor institution, this chap – and it does seem a manly sort of angel – standing 66 feet (20 m) tall, his wings stretching for 178 feet (54 m) across. When you pass the Angel on the blowy A1 not far from Gateshead you wonder how it is that this striking structure manages not to take off across the North Sea.

As angels go it is a fairly brutal affair, all rusty metal and great big copper bolts, quite a distance from the fluffy white angelic ideal of Victorian Christmas cards. It is not an especially welcoming sight, seemingly more designed to inspire awe than promise warm northern hospitality.

Still, we have come to like, if not love, Antony Gormley's most famous work since its erection in 1998, and it is impossible to imagine a Britain without it, despite the faint suspicion it might one day succumb to metal fatigue.

Though it has brought little direct economic benefit – there is but a small visitors' area at the foot of the statue – every depressed area of the country wants an Angel-like statue of its own, such as the giant horse proposed in Kent.

Perhaps, like Stonehenge, they believe the Angel has some mystical qualities, a totem that will deliver better times and restore prosperity. A guardian angel indeed.