The Rise of Northwood Slindon Sculpture
This is a quiet corner of the South Downs, precisely the reason why I find myself returning time and time again for my weekend walk. I know the area well, and indeed wrote a post about my fondness for it. It boasts a little of everything, charming secluded woodland, views to the English Channel, open space and being away from roads, silence is rarely broken save for a passing breeze.
However, over the past year, it has become a little hive of activity and is making the news for various reasons. Firstly, there is the unwelcome prospect of potential holiday homes being built in Houghton Forest. Why this is even being considered I have no idea. Taking a step back from both sides of this argument I view it more simply, in that the South Downs is an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a designated national park that with very few exceptions, shouldn’t be messed around with. Those two reasons, for me, are more than enough to refuse any application.
Thankfully, whilst we attempt to destroy one part of the South Downs, two other welcome distractions provide me with some form of positives in the human spirit, and are welcome.
The Rise of Northwood is one such soul lifter. The National Trust’s Slindon Estate is returning one area up in the hills to how it used to be. As I may have hinted above in relation to the possible development in Houghton Forest, I don’t like people messing with the countryside, particularly the stuff on my doorstep. Leave it be is my usual mantra but Northwood is a worthwhile exception.
Much of Great Britain was once covered in wood and forest, and the South Downs is exception. So, when I first heard of the plans for the Slindon Estate I breathed a sigh of relief. For once, a group of like-minded individuals are restoring the land to how it once was by planting some 75 hectares (185 acres) of arable land with trees, returning the land to how it was before the First World War, and for thousands of years before that.
More on this and Houghton Forest in future posts but for now, I want to concentrate on another phase connected to Northwood, and not the shaping of land, but stone.
A sculptor, Jon Edgar, has been chiselling away at a large block of Portland Stone for the best part of a year, to celebrate the National Trust’s vision and a bequest that made it all possible. The stone’s character has slowly and naturally progressed over this period, using Jon’s unique, ambiguous approach and improvisation in his work. Or, in his own words:
‘The plan is no plan’! After 20 sessions I was starting to get a vision for how the random masses would re-aggregate, but I am still unsure of how it will appropriately honour Northwood
This somewhat unusual approach is further developed because it is not only Jon surveying and chipping away at this chunk or Portland stone, but the general public as well. It’s been moved between varying locations over the course of the year and passing walkers, bikers, horse riders and everyone else has seen it’s uprising from a humble block of chalk coloured stone, to something with an identity and character. People have therefore become rather attached to it, the story behind it, and the excitement behind the pending, finished piece.
‘Portland stone is akin to chalk 50 million years further on in geological time; it is more compressed so can better cope with the weather.’
Furthermore, everyone has a unique chance to be part of it. On days when Jon is honing his art, he welcomes everyone to pick up the tools of his trade and make their own mark. It’s a nice touch and begs thoughts of people strolling past in years to come, running their finger over a certain nook or cranny, turning to their kid, wife, husband or whoever and saying rather proudly,
“See that bit there? I did that!”
See the dates and location below if you want to make your mark
‘The improvisation process is heightened when others contribute, as well as helping to spread the word as it becomes “their stone”, perceptually. It just arose through my development of process; it works for me as the process becomes more gregarious, to help you to get through the low, lonely times. The uncertainty of exactly how the block opens up gives more richness to the imagery which emerges.’
The Rise of Northwood Sculpture will move to its final resting place, somewhere in the planting area (pending planning permission) around Christmas time. In the meantime, if you want to meet Jon and make your own mark on the stone, destined to be in this little corner of the South Downs permanently, then here are the few dates left:
Northwood tree planted area (grid ref: SU959111)
27th October onwards
1 mile from Northwood car park (grid ref: SU959099)
Sunday 8th November
Sunday 22nd November
Sunday 6th December
Sunday 13th December
It’s thought provoking when I happen across an old building in the countryside like a folly, perhaps an arch or even a sculpture. Especially if it appears to have been there for some time, centuries perhaps. They have stories, have experienced the passage of time, and have seen people come and go.
It’s gratifying to be part of this small sculpture, especially as I have made my mark on it. I wonder, if in 300 years’ time, that others will pass this sculpture and wonder the same thing?
You can read the Journal of the stone here.
The National Trust’s website, with more information on The Rise of Northwood is here.
The re-planting scheme is detailed here.
The National Trust’s largest ever planting project, returning part of the South Downs to how it once was? Yes, definitely.
An improvised sculpture hewn from a natural material by a master craftsman, embedded with the character of hundreds of individuals? Great idea.
A holiday park, complete with a blaze of tarmac scraped into pristine woodland in a National Park? No, I didn’t think so either . . .