Angel of the North at 20: How was Antony Gormley's steel giant constructed and what does it represent?

Colossus that once wore an Alan Shearer shirt for the FA Cup Final celebrates two decades watching over the North East and its people

Joe Sommerlad
Thursday 15 February 2018 10:29
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Angel of the North turns 20

One of Britain's most instantly recognisable public sculptures, the Angel of the North, turns 20 years old today.

Antony Gormley's famous figure of a divine being, its arms outstretched in an ecstatic embrace, stands on top of Birtley hill at Low Eighton in Lamesley near Gateshead, looking out over the North East and the A1 and A167 into Tyneside.

The steel giant was commissioned in 1994 and completed in February 1998 at a cost of £800,000, much of which was provided by the National Lottery.

It stands at 20 metres tall and has a wingspan of 54 metres, its body weighing 100 tonnes and each wing 50 tonnes, built to withstand Tyne and Wear's notoriously chill winds.

The figure was built at Hartlepool Steel Fabrications under the supervision of structural engineer Ove Arup and had to be transported to its current location in three parts by convoy.

Families sledging under the Angel of the North

Gormley's design, according to the artist himself, symbolises the transition from the industrial to the information age and stands proudly as a beacon of hope for the future of the region.

Its site was chosen as a memorial to the coal miners who toiled in the dark earth beneath the hill to bring prosperity and wealth to the North East in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Now recognised as a beloved regional and national landmark, wryly nicknamed "the Gateshead Flasher" in some quarters, its original conception was met with a degree of hostility, not least from certain local councillors and campaigners.

Arguably the moment that truly enshrined the Angel in the hearts of Geordies came in the run up to the 1998 FA Cup Final, when prankster Kevin Waugh and friends contrived to hoist a mock Newcastle United shirt onto the statue bearing the name and number nine of centre forward Alan Shearer.

Shearer himself was delighted by the stunt and happily signed the 30 foot shirt in tribute.

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