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Sculptor Ian G. Brennan. – a proposed Journal/bio
This page shown below was initially intended to just outline the various ups and downs in Ian's career as a sculptor between the 7th May 1984 when his furniture making business burnt down to then shortly after he realised, he was now able to carve for a living. To the 7th May 2005 when he was invited to Windsor Castle to give a talk about his successful career as a professional sculptor exactly 21 years to the very day later; Ian had finally come of age.
As these various events, incidents and accidents, good and bad, and there are many, both before and after this period have shown to be equally as relevant to his career and outlook to life and continue to unfold today, whether he wanted them to or not and are now also to be included in the proposed Journal/bio.
The proposed ‘Oh What Now’ Journal/ bio, Ian is writing; sections of which are shown after this ‘Phoenix Rising’ section; Ian has written in surprisingly a rather candid and often light-hearted way, throughout both the high and low moments and up to the present day.
It is said a man who works with his hands is a labourer, a man who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman, a man who works with his hands, his head and his heart is an artist. In life Ian has been fortunate to have made a living doing all three.
Sculptor Ian G. Brennan. – a proposed Journal/bio
If only Ian could have knew on that fateful day of the fire in 1984 when he was digging amongst the burnt out remains of his furniture making business workshop just after hearing his bank had removed his overdraft facility, was trying to find something, anything that could be salvaged from the fire, to use or sell that exactly 21 years to the very day later, he would be standing in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle in front of a distinguished audience, talking about his totally unexpected new career as a sculptor for the royal household and that everything will eventually work out for the best. Things might not have been quite so worrying at the time; but you don’t do you.
Ian’s sculptures would then be placed on display in Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral, The Royal College of Arms, Museums, Government Buildings, Company Receptions, Board Rooms, Churches, HMS Victory, Cunard Ships, Public Spaces and both Stately and Private Homes all over the World.
7th May 1984 - 7th May 1995
As Ian was giving his talk on that day 21 years later within this historic medieval chapel at Windsor was also a presentation of his wood and bronze sculptures and behind him was a ‘Rising Phoenix’ image on the Altar cloth. Prior to the fire, he had no real interest in creating art work; initially woodcarving, so who would have thought that a fire that had totally destroyed his cabinet making business, would ignite his dormant and unknown natural ability to be a sculptor.
As far as this new career as a sculptor was concerned, nothing was planned, events happened as they often have a habit of doing, but in hindsight without these individual events which not only began and develop his career as a professional sculptor, but more importantly as it turned out on reflection, all happened in the right order and sequence to each other.
Ian has always believed things happen for a reason and when it does, he often has a camera handy to try to photograph or video such events, good or bad or indifferent. All of these events have in their own ways altered his career and aspirations but always believing it’s a shame if you fall, but a disgrace if you just lay there, he as many people always have you simply carry on best you can.
Five years after the fire that effectively forced Ian to change his career in his mid-thirties from a cabinet maker to sculptor, he was officially appointed the ‘Sculptor to the Most Noble Order of the Garter and Honourable Order of the Bath and has since 1989 created amongst other sculptures, all the Royal Crowns, Coronets and Crests for two of England’s oldest and highest orders of Chivalry in the World founded in 1348, more than anyone else since records began and continues to do so today.
Since the late 1980’s Ian has been invited to give Talks and presentations from Theatres to Mayors parlours; Burlington House; Home of the Royal Academy of Art and also in Windsor castle on two separate occasions. The first of his talks in Windsor was in St George’s Chapel in front of several hundred rather distinguished people and the next was inside the castle dungeons.
These talks have also extended to the somewhat more salubrious surroundings when since 1992, Ian has averaged two cruises a year giving his illustrated talks and presentations onboard five Cunard Ships and as after the talks many have said, you really should write a book about your experiences.
So, a few years ago when Ian broke his foot and was told to rest it for several weeks, he decided to do just that and has now written to date a 200,000 word and counting, yet to be edited Journal/Bio of many of the most important and often unusual moments and there have been many, from an early age that have directly and indirectly shaped his character, career and life.
Although Ian is a self-taught woodcarver and sculptor, the simple fact is, if he had not made a mistake renewing his business insurance on his furniture making workshop, which was completely destroyed the fire in 1984, he would have simply replaced all the timber, tools and machinery, moved into new premise and started again and would have most likely never had carved anything and that all his sculptures he has created for the past four decades would I fear, never have existed.
In the end as they say what really defines what we are is how well you rise after falling, well Ian has certainly had opportunities to put this to practice on numerous occasions and still does. Ian’s career path has been strewn with what would appear to be more than his fair share of obstacles placed in his path. Nevertheless, he has met all such things with determination, tenacity, fortitude and sheer dogged termination despite what the world might throw at him, especially during the oh so many times as consequence during the more turbulent periods when many financial institutions both large and small have continued to try to place him on the naughty step.
However, as these various events, incidents and accidents, good and bad, and there are many, are equally as relevant to his career and outlook to life and continue to unfold whether he wanted them to or not, are now to also be included in his now proposed Journal/bio in which Ian has briefly outline below: -
Sculptor Ian G. Brennan. – a proposed Journal/bio
I am not a big book reader and to be fair not a small book reader either, as I tend to go into a bit of a dream reading it and end up trying to write my own ending and have to start all over again. In fact, the last book I actually read from cover to cover was when I was at junior school and if I remember correctly, it was about a whale and had lots of pictures. Although I have read a fair few books over the decades since, these are mostly historical and factual books rather than novels. But nowadays when the radio is not on, I tend to listen more to documentaries, Dramas, Comedies, or Feature Films often on the small TV in the background of my studio whilst I am working, so nowadays it’s often more listening than looking. So, although I may well not be concentrating too much at this stage on exactly how this, yet to be edited Journal\bio, is supposed to be set out and punctuated, decided if I am going to try and write such a ‘Journal’ it will have to be set out in my own way, as that’s the only way I know. Not written by a ghost writer or even a living one come to that, but just by me exactly as events happened, even if it is perhaps not quite the correct way of doing things. But it will of course have lots of pictures.
This proposed Journal/bio intends to cover in detail some of the oh so many chance accidents and incidents that helped push me and my career, often kicking and screaming along in a direction I knew not where, which in hindsight looking back I really should have found on my own, confirming in life, you often tend to find something you really need, when you are looking for something else.
“You often hear people quite rightly proudly stating that they started their business ‘with just £5.00 in their pocket’. I started mine with debts running into five figures and I like many other people have had more than my fair share of Oh Sh*t moments, along with so many more, Oh Wow moments, in which I intend to endeavoured to outline in the proposed Journal/Bio in equal measure, along with many unique photographs to back them up along the way.
As far as being a professional sculptor and woodcarver are concerned being self-taught, for the first year I basically carved by the ‘seat of my pants’ and learnt on the job as I went along. After carefully researching the subject beforehand. I do not feel the need to make sketches, as I can see the potential sculpture I am after clearly in my mind within the block of timber, so it’s simply just a case of cutting away everything that doesn’t belong to the sculpture.
Having made furniture for a decade or so before I started carving, gave me the advantage of knowing my way around timbers, their properties, strength and weakness, which was a massive help when I first started wood carving. I have not had a carving lesson in my life, listened to any advice or ready any book on the subject, although I would be the first to admit such things may well have come in rather useful on more than one occasions in the past, but I have even as a young child often managed to get by in life on the premise of, if all else fails, read the instructions.
As was explained earlier, I believe everything happens for a reason but for me it appears to be happening all the time and if it isn’t, then you are kind of just waiting for it to happen. I much prefer the quiet life but with many such almost bizarre moments I will also be outlining in the journal, have fortunately kind of worked out surprisingly well, touch wood and to be fair without too much real pre-planning by me.
Most days over the weeks and months of the year I am to be found in my overalls often working seven days a week and only stopping to go for a walk through the woods to the shore or to visit family and friends, delivering sculptures to London and Windsor or otherwise each day apart from the odd incident on the way are pretty much the same which is how my wife Suzanne and I prefer it.
The wide variety of commissions for the past forty years in both subject and materials are literally sent all over the world and as such I have been issued with my own Government Export number. For the past few years as needed, unless one particular sculpture is really urgent, I prefer to work on nine or ten totally different subjects and materials often at the same time, in my three totally separate studios and workshops.
Often flitting from one sculpture and material to the other, throughout the day and often into the night, where I am often joined in the garden and also the studio by the local wildlife including deer, foxes and badgers, who often visiting from the woodland adjoining my studio and often found wander around whilst I am working.
At the end of the day for the most part it’s basically just me and a chisel but I like to keep busy so I like to pace myself and enjoy what I am doing, but still often end up having to turn down more commissions than I am able to accept. As I believed if someone was kind enough to commission a piece of my work, then call me old fashioned, perhaps somewhat naive in the modern world, but I feel I should actually physically carve the original sculpture or master copy myself or at least as much of it as practical.
It is always rather difficult to do as a freelance anything, let alone an artist so trying to keep up with the commissions means I don’t get out much. That is why giving my talks with Cunard is one way of actually having to stop working, especially as it is only a 15-minute drive from my front door to the ship in Southampton dock. I can often hear the ships whistles as they sail down Southampton water, as our house and studio are only a few miles away as the crow flies.
Apart from these trips I had been working on silver, bronze, wood, resin or silver sculptures literally almost without a proper break so a few years ago, decided to also work on my new ‘Spirit of Britons’ collection which has been created entirely from old, once discarded, but often historical British objects and materials, I have collected over the decades, which I have been working on and off. in my ‘spare time’.
Fortunately, I have always been able to work quickly even during my past life working in dockyards, building sites and factories, but more so being self-employed working for yourself for obvious additional reasons especially when you work from home and as such tend to always be working, but when Sue wants to pop in for a chat with a cup of tea the studio is literally two yards from the back door.
So our ‘holidays’ for the past twenty-five years have involved me giving a fully illustrated talk with Cunard about my work and experiences which I had been doing for Cunard since 1992, which is not too difficult to do. I don’t use notes on my talks as proper speakers do as the many photos. I kind of say it all anyway and prefer not to use a podium, except to rest my laptop on.
I also like to wear a singer’s head mike, as I tend to kind of stand on the stage waving my arms around a bit and lean against the podium or grimly hang on to if the sea is rough. I then just talk to the audience as if I am just chatting to my mates, albeit with the added advantage of being the only one with a microphone and no one else can get a word in edgeways.
My career was never planned although I studied electronics and worked on UK weapons systems and the Satellite programs in the late sixties to the mid-seventies and ended up an assistant engineer working 9 to 5 in a research lab in a large electronics company, with a good salary, pension, sick and holiday pay and when Bank Holidays really meant something, to then deciding at twenty-six to go self-employed making furniture in my garden shed with none of the above advantages.
What a difference a decade makes. In the mid-seventies trying to make a living displaying my wares from the back of my old van on a layby in the middle of nowhere with the children on the roof keeping lookout, to a decade later displaying my somewhat different wares from an old suitcase on the QE2 in the middle of the Ocean where further similarities with ‘Del Boy’ from ‘Only fools and horses’ hopefully ends. Carving my first wood sculptures literally from the ashes of my burnt-out furniture making business, to within a decade exhibiting my sculptures in London Art galleries, the QE2, Museums and in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.
Working from my studio with most of my commissions being wildlife subjects in one form or another from several workshops I built in my back garden which backs onto a nature reserve in which Deer, Foxes and Badgers for decades have visited the garden and also inside my studio whilst I am working. Working from home as many have discovered since Covid, tends to mean you work longer hours as work that just needs to be completed appears to always be somewhere in your eye line, so going having a bit of a break thousands of miles away on a Cruise ship you would think would at least elevate that particular issue, which is exactly what my wife thought and it mostly does.
However, occasionally when running late on a commission I often sneak a sculpture or two into the suitcase to work on throughout the voyage. On one occasion working in the cabin putting the finishing touches to a coronet destined for Windsor Castle. On another sat on a lounger on the sun deck on the QE2 in the shade of a lifeboat carving part of the Cunard Crest for her sister ship the Queen Victoria being built in Italy. Sat on a bench in the sun with another passenger on a cruise on the now finished Queen Victoria, caving from white marble resin the ‘master copy’ of a small ‘Lion of England’ which the foundry is waiting to make a start on casting in bronze upon my return, whilst Sue and his wife goes window shopping in Monaco.
The wide variety of around 350 commissions for the past three decades plus, are created in a variety of different materials, including wood, marble resin, silver and bronze and fortunately all go according to plan and completed on time Although to be fair I have never taken on any commission I wasn’t convincing I could do it real justice, but sometimes life can get in the way and one or two unfortunately didn’t work out as planned which will also be covered in this proposed Journal with equal vigour as both are sides of the same coin.
The wide variety of unique commissions during almost four decades have varied from creating a in fine detail a sculpture of a Hawk originally from wood to be cast in solid sterling silver, to spending almost a year carving from mahogany the starboard side entrance port on HMS Victory, creating Coats of Arms and over a hundred Crowns, Crests and Coronets in for Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle. To create an eight feet high bronze statue of a Mute Swan protecting her Cygnets for Lakeland in Florida, along with carving from marble/resin sculptures such as this Knight in armour to be moulded and cast in bronze.
Since 1989, I have been working exclusively on sculpture commissions for the royal household which tends to take an average of five months a year, every year, so it doesn’t leave a lot of time to work on other commissions let alone working on sculptures for exhibitions. The last time I exhibited in an art gallery was in 1997 and since then many of my sculptures in both wood and bronze were partially put on the back burner for decades.
For over thirty years as professional Sculptor I have been commissioned to create a wide variety of sculptures for both Private and Corporate clients, along with over one hundred and thirty unique sculptures for the British Royal Household. These commissions have included creating sculptures for over one hundred Knights, three British Prime Ministers, twenty-seven British and European Kings, Queens, Princes, Princesses, Earls, Lords and an Emperor, none of which at the age of 34 prior to my furniture making business burnt down, I had no idea I was capable of doing and soon discovered possibly the most important thing of all to be a professional carver, was the natural ability to see in three-dimension’s objects you were attempting to replicate hidden away inside a block of timber or stone. You then simply remove the excess material surrounding the subject inside and nothing else, first time, every time and if you make a mistake and remove the wrong piece carving from a solid block of wood or stone the piece is usually ruined.
With practice and care actually releasing the chosen subject intact from deep within a block is not that difficult to do really, when in your mind’s eye you can literally see the finished object hiding away deep inside the block. It’s a bit of a party trick really, but not really much fun at a party. A natural gift of seeing things in three dimension’s was obviously something I was born with and assumed everyone could do it if they wanted to and some can, but it took a fire and 34 years of age for me to realise I could make a living from it and for over thirty years have done so. Just a few examples of wooden sculptures trapped inside centuries old timbers finally being exposed to the light of day, within the first decade or so of carving.
A mute Swan protecting her Cygnets wood sculptor, enlarged and cast in bronze for Florida.
A life size Bald eagle carved from within the fork of a 100-year-old lime tree
Two blocks of lime wood used to create the Royal Crest for Prince William in Windsor Castle.
A few blocks of centuries old oak timbers removed from the hull of HMS Victory to carve a scale model of the warship
I was once kindly informed by the royal household that although they were aware if some of the often-complex designs they come up with for me to work from to accurately replicate in three dimensions decided “If the artist can paint them in two dimensions Ian can carve them in three dimensions” and so far during the past three decades and over 130 unique commission later that has fortunately all worked well without a hitch.
That was until one November in 2016 when I was standing on stage on the Queen Mary 2 about to give a talk about my work as a professional sculptor when all this natural ability to carve I had and a lot more, was gone in a flash as I had a stroke which affected my vision and then couldn’t even see the hand in front of my face, …. but that’s another story.
Er, truth be known, I fell off a ladder I was climbing in the back garden trying to cut a branch of a tree. It wasn’t even a big ladder or a tall tree come to that, but I fell off the ladder anyway which then landed under me and broke my fall and my foot, but that’s yet another story! As I mentioned I know nothing about writing a book but I do know as with any story you are constantly being told to start at the beginning, so here goes :_ wish me luck.
Possible Chapters for the Journal/BIO -
‘Back to my roots’.
‘From the Ashes to Royal Commissions’.
‘Working for the Royal Household’.
'At Home with British Wildlife'
‘The trials and tribulations creating a life size Eagle’.
‘My Moment of Epiphany.’
‘Somewhat more unusual commissions
‘Working on HMS Victory’.
‘Another Day as a Guest Speaker, but not just another Talk’.
‘The Present Day and Beyond’
Back to my roots.
I was a teenager growing up in Southern England in the swinging sixties and all that. When England won the World Cup at Wembley and it actually did come home. When Cricket was Cricket, players wore white flannels and clapped to acknowledge a batsman’s good performance, rather than cheering and high-fiving each other when they got him out. The Beatles were playing live on stage and ‘Elvis hadn’t left the building’. JFK and the Cuban Missile crisis. Man was still walking on the Moon and also on London’s Carnaby Street being Fab. When ‘Mars bars’ and ‘Wagon Wheels’ were much bigger and you could buy just one cigarette with your pocket money from the corner shop on the way to school.
When as a teenager you could make a mistake and learn from it, rather than having it brought up in a Google search years later during a job interview and getting likes on Facebook and losing your phone signal were never an issue. Trolls were something that appeared under a bridge in your favourite story book, not on your phone when you are doing your homework. Global warming was a real concern coming from wise people no one listened to and ‘Pandemic’ was just a bad Movie you could leave the cinema halfway through.
Mods and Rockers, Hippies, Peace and love, not that I saw much of any of that myself as I was a ‘Rocker’ who spent most of the 60’s trying to keep up with my Mates on a ‘burn up’ with a gang of fellow ‘greasers’ as we were often called, amongst other things! Often riding from one café to another, or to Margate or Brighton on a Bank Holiday Mondays on our motorbikes all meeting up with Mods on their scooters, one of which would often turn out to be one of your old school friends who had turned to the dark side. Not having a career or particularly wanting one as I was quite happy moving from one job to another providing it paid a decent wage which was all gone by the end of the week.
On reflection the foundations were laid to my becoming a professional sculptor really started on Good Friday when I was 18 years old. Up till then I was a labourer spending much of my day basically wandering around a massive loading shed with a sack truck working as a ‘stevedore’ in Dover Docks unloading cargo ships. Although the prospects were poor, the money was good until one afternoon during the Easter holidays on my way into town. In an instant my life changed forever as I found myself laying on the side of the road in a crumpled heap having just been knocked off my motorbike by a Van in a hurry. In which both me and the bike took a real battering, with the bike ending up 12 inches shorter than it was originally designed to be.
The collision itself although very noisy and rather abrupt was initially painless, but after a short flight over the bonnet and a rather shoddy landing, I ended up in hospital with two badly broken wrists and right arm, along with typical cuts and bruises and a recently gleaming, highly polished but now wrecked 650 cc Triumph Bonneville; my pride and joy, then lying motionless alongside me. In the 1960’s you didn’t have to wear a crash helmet and like many of my friends didn’t always do so, but fortunately for me on this occasion, as it was a particularly cold day, I wore mine to keep my ears warm. But once my wrists and arms gave way upon landing, I head butted the road and split my crash helmet.
After a few years as the furniture making business expanded, so did the space required to expand with it. So, I rented a much larger premises’ and with a decade of long hours and hard work managed to build up a successful business, designing and fitting kitchens, pubs and yachts. That was until 1984 when overnight the business burnt down and due to a mistake, I made renewing my business insurance. I had no insurance and subsequently lost everything I worked so hard for in the fire and the house that the crash built, was then seriously in risk of being repossessed.
After many worrying days and especially the nights, once again working long hours, by chance and lucky breaks along the way, I managed to create a completely new career as a sculptor working in wood silver and bronze which soon started to pay the bills and I eventually ended up creating detailed realistic and heraldic sculptures for Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral, Museums, Company receptions and private art collections all over the World and in 1989 I was appointed 'Sculptor to the Most Noble Order of the Garter and Most Honourable Order of the Bath. Since that time have spent an average of five months a year, every year working exclusively on a wide variety of one hundred and thirty unique sculptures in both wood and bronze for the British Royal Household.
If only I realised fifty years earlier as I was laying in the road with a broken bike and limbs listening to the welcome sound of the ambulances two tone horns blaring away in the distance and heading my way. Although I was then unable to even remove my battered crash helmet let alone work for a living, that despite all the hassle yet to come, life would for the most part all work out fine in the end, if you just hang in there, but you don’t do you.
So now being seventy and counting I thought I might as well try and quickly analyse, in my case anyway, what difference all or any of the incidents, accidents and hiccups, along with lucky breaks along the way which fortunately as it turned out, all happened in the correct time and sequence to each other in which all have played a part in my particular scheme of things to build a career as a sculptor I had not even thought about doing for a living before. Just to see if it all stacks up before such memories fade. Just like a diary I always meant to keep and now often refer to in the diary Sue did keep. So, I have briefly outlined just a few such moments from my past which were to have a major bearing in my future, whether I wanted them to or not.
It is sometimes said things happen for a reason and everyone has a journey to make and a story to tell and there are billions of individual stories out there. This particular story during the past seventy years and counting just happens to be one of them.As for the potential title for the Journal/Bio, well one or two titles spring quickly to mind such as: - ‘From the Ashes to Royal Commissions’ or, perhaps more appropriate considering the whole up and down Journey perhaps: ‘Oh, What now’
As for that important opening paragraph I heard from those who know about such things you must have for any book, so what about;
‘From the Ashes to Royal Commissions’
I was awoken before dawn by a loud banging on my front door. As I carefully opened the front door the waiting police officer, informed me “My furniture making business had been totally destroyed in a fire and he asked could I meet him down there as soon as possible”
Everything had been turned upside down and just then realised due to the mistake I had made renewing my business insurance, we were not even insured and had now lost everything in the fire.
'Oh, What now'
There was no fan-fare like you often see in films as I watched the Queen enter the room in her magnificent home in Windsor Castle, as Her Majesty then turned around and walked towards me.
Just weeks earlier I had delivered two of my latest commissioned sculptures from the Royal Household to Windsor castle, hoping as with my previously sculptures during the past decade, they would also be met with a favourable response, but always in the back of my mind was the thought when I was initially interviewed for the position of ‘Sculptor to the Most Noble Order of the Bath and Garter. “The Order of the Garter is the highest and oldest order of Chivalry in the world and also a personal gift of the Queen, so effectively every unique sculpture I create for this high Order must be produced ‘on time, to budget and to the very highest possible standards”, so delivering these various sculptures to Windsor was always a very anxiety time for all concerned.
As I was talking to one of my colleagues in Windsor Castle, I felt a hand gently placed upon my shoulder and an equerry quietly said to me,” Mr Brennan, Her Majesty would like to speak with you”.
I starting school at the age of five like you did in the early 1950’s and then attending twelve different schools and Colleges all over the World, even once being taught in a makeshift school set up on a troop ship sailing to Singapore.
My Father was a Royal Marine Commando with 23 years’ service who travelled and trained all over the world and my mother a very caring, hardworking and determined woman, insisted we as a family of three young children would try and follow him whenever and wherever he was posted and we ended up all living in many different places, including my living with a school friend for several months and then sharing a room with various relations. To then live in Bedsits, Maisonette, Flats and even on a Troopship for a month sailing to yet another different country along with in Army, Air force or Naval Barracks all over the World.
As a child I rarely lived in one place for more than a year. One month in the 1950’s I was living with my Mum and siblings sharing a room in my Nan’s second floor tenement block in the Gorbals in Glasgow. To the next living in the front room in my auntie’s council house in Dover, with a metal Bath hung outside on a hook by the back door and the only toilet was down the bottom of the often-overgrown garden; which ‘was a bit of a jungle, where I was often warned “Don’t go in the long grass, as there ‘might’ be Adders”.
To the next at the age of ten, living on the other side of the World, in a ground floor maisonette flat in a small village in Singapore, where my back garden was literally a jungle, where I was often warned “Don’t go in the long grass, as there ‘might’ be Cobras”.
Unfortunately, having always had a love of all kinds of creatures, big and small, on both occasions despite looking really hard I never found any.
Although traveling and living all over the world was very exciting and interesting, I really missed my friends and keeping them both in school and in your new neighbourhoods, but then when you do always lose my latest best friend just months later, when we moved yet again and having to try and make new ones, over and over again from the age of four to fourteen, I found rather difficult.
Starting a new school often mid-term was always something I dreaded as a child and always ended up having to sit outside in the corridor outside the noisy classroom, waiting for the teacher to ‘settle down the class, before being brought in to and having to stand at the front of the whole class to be introduce to their ‘new’ class, before being shown an empty seat next to someone who often appeared, would rather I didn’t, to a stony silence with everyone staring at you.
I much preferring the quite life, always have and being painfully shy didn’t help either, but the teachers were always kind to me as were the girls in the class, which then tended to really annoy the boys in the class, so I always ended up being bullied or pushed around in the corridors and especially the playground, but you kind of got used to and I never spoke about it to anyone and just put up with it, like you do…….
I was a bit like the two main characters ‘Marty’ and ‘Biff’ in my favourite films franchise ‘Back to the Future’ although I was more like Marty, but without the guitar skills. That was until one day at the age of nine whilst living in Malta my father picked me up from school I had just moved to. As he arrived in his army jeep, he saw me being pushed around by some of the bigger kids outside the school gates, who soon cleared off when they saw my tall tough looking Dad wearing his green beret and army fatigues approaching.
He was really not happy about it and especially my perceived ‘weak’ response to the situation and he asked me how long has this been going on. I told him it often happens especially when starting a new school midterm, but it wasn’t a problem... He said “It will never happen again Son”…………..… it never did.
“I was not interested in art at school and only really enjoyed games, woodworking and technical drawing classes in that order and that was about it, but never had any idea what I wanted to do for a living and a career was something other people had and when my ‘careers teacher’ suggested at 15 years old I should start to give some real serious thought about it and did for a while.
But I was always a bit of a dreamer and apparently as a child according to some, I didn’t really have a talent for anything that might earn a crust and provide me with a living in the real world. The only real advice I had career wise from my father being a Royal Marine Commando was; “Don’t join up Son, the only thing I am trained to do is kill, which is not much good in civvy street”.
As I was always starting or leaving school midterm in a different town or country arriving without any academic history to show my latest ‘new’ teacher, I was often put in a mid-stream class for the teachers to access my educational capabilities.
The often down side was that once I had finally made new friends at the start of a new term in another year and if I initially was placed into the ‘wrong’ class, I was often be put up to another class and had to start all over again and could then only chat to my old friends in the corridor or playground. The upside was if I was initially put in C or D stream class and then often put up for the next term, which often would enable me to win book tokens for my perceived ‘achievements’. Although I was not a keen book reader, I did like swapping the tokens for encyclopaedias and books on how things are made and work and still have some of them from both classes in both Malta and an RAF Class at Changi in Singapore.
Living in our small village in Singapore for eighteen months, I made many local friends of many different nationalities and was made very welcome. Many of my new friends couldn’t speak much English and I could speak even less Chinese and Malay. But we got by and I was always invited to join them playing football or cricket on the small bone-dry bare patch of land outside our block of flats, providing I played barefoot like they all did, which I was more than happy to do.
Having arrived back in the UK my sister and I had two further attempts at getting a secondary school in Dover, Kent. I liked my first senior school which was chosen for me and my sister, but she didn’t so we moved to yet another secondary school several miles away. When we started this school, it was mid-winter but we joined midterm having lived in Singapore for 18 months and both had really dark sun tans.
Trouble was for my sister anyway; she was pulled out in the middle of the playground in front of everyone by a rather loud teacher calling out. “You know you’re not allowed to wear stockings in school young lady” On my first day I once again had to endure the front of the class new kid on the block routine but fortunately with all the ‘life’ skills my father had taught me so I generated very little interest from the latest ‘Biff ‘character.
On this particular occasion many people in the early 60’s didn’t have a clue or care were Singapore was, but I had to stand in the front of the class, on my first day at school to tell everyone, what it was like to live in a country, the other side of the world, were the temperatures were currently in the nineties and then having to point out to everyone on the huge Globe she ‘kindly’ then placed on her table for me, to show everyone exactly were Singapore was on the globe and of course I didn’t have a clue.
I really enjoyed senior school and being in the ‘A stream’ I was advised by my teachers to stay on and take my 'GCSE's, but all I really wanted was a motorbike. Although I never knew what I wanted to do for a living, I was always aware that a job tends to take up a lot of the day so thought it best I really try and find one I enjoyed.
At the age of 15 I left school on the Friday and started a new job working in a factory making electrical meters on the Monday. Getting a job was much easy to do without any qualifications in the 1960’s and then six months later I left and become a telegram boy/ young postman and then a year after that, had a wide variety of different jobs, from a roof tiler, window cleaner and dock worker, all with various degrees of failure and success.
So, who would have thought from someone who is rather shy by nature in 1992 would find myself standing on the stage in the middle of the Ocean booked by Cunard as an ‘entertainer’ telling anyone that cares to listen during my 45 minutes fully illustrated talk, about my ongoing career as a professional sculptor, almost thirty years later then on four other Cunard Ships.
Or a decade later been invited to Windsor Castle and finding myself having a glass of wine with HM The Queen discussing my latest commission, which on this occasion was to create the carved and gilded Royal Crest and Sword for her grandson Prince William, similar in design to the ones I produced a few years earlier for her two sons, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, along with creating the gilded Coronet for the Queen's daughter Princess Anne..…like you do.
On reflection my journey and foundations to become a professional sculptor in the future, really started on Good Friday when I was 18 years old. Up till then I was basically a labourer at the time wandering around a massive loading shed with a sack truck, working as a ‘stevedore’ in Dover Docks unloading cargo ships. Although the prospects were poor, the money was good until one afternoon on Good Friday, I was knocked off my motorcycle by a van which pulled out in front of me.
The collision itself although was rather noisy and very abrupt was initially painless, but after a short flight over the bonnet and a rather shoddy landing, I ended up in hospital with two badly broken wrists and right arm, along with typical cuts and bruises and a recently gleaming, highly polished, but now wrecked 650 cc Triumph Bonneville; my pride and joy.
Ian at 18 years old
In the 1960’s you didn’t have to wear a crash helmet and I like many of my friends didn’t always do so, but fortunately for me on this occasion as it was a particularly cold day, so I wore mine to keep my ears warm, but once my wrists and arms gave way upon landing, I head butted the road and split my crash helmet.
That Good Friday crash was life changing in many ways, not only had it left me with long scars down my arm and permanent limited movement in both wrists, my right arm full of pins and a thumb I cannot straighten. It also left me with a small green disable card which the consultant handed to me to ‘keep in my pocket’.
Much of the injuries can be just power to the course for your average biker so no big deal, but being classed as a ‘disabled person’ I have to say, came as a bit of a shock to a then twenty-year-old six feet tall in my fur lined boots, long haired ‘Rocker’ in the 1960’s, but I suppose it is a whole lot better being put on a disabled register, than some of the other registers people can get placed on nowadays!
My first thought as I lay in the road unable to get up, listening to the welcome sound of the Ambulance air horns in the distance moving your way, I began wondering how I was going to get to work in the morning, not knowing I would be unable to go to work again anywhere for almost two years.
The day after the crash as both my arms and wrists were badly swollen and getting worse, so in an attempt to reduce the swelling to enable surgery the following Tuesday, when the surgeon was due to return from the Easter break, both my arms were attached to ‘hospital drip’ stands placed either side of my bed and my arms were hoisted up in the air and I was left spread eagled on the bed, when I overheard two nurses talking with one as they left the ward, ‘What a way to spend Easter.’
With both my Arms fully encased in plaster, getting to my weekly hospital visits on the bus and back home again were a real drag, but soon found the thoughtfulness and kindness of hospital staff and total strangers always prevailed. I lost count of the times, kind old ladies, children and even pregnant women would give up their seat for me on the bus and when I would ‘fumble’ around in my pockets, with both arms encased in plaster long enough ‘trying’ to find some coins for the bus fare, the conductor would almost always let me off…
Having lived in our latest council house on the top of the White cliffs of Dover very happily for six years our longest time ever in one place and finally I made lots of friends I could keep, my father was posted to Portsmouth, so very reluctantly my mother, brother and myself once again up sticks and this time we moved, for a while into a small bedsit flat directly above a dentist surgery in Gosport, having to listen to the dreaded dentist drilling noise and sometimes so much worse, throughout the day.
As I still had both arms in plaster and couldn’t feed myself properly, let alone work and take care of myself financially, so I also had to move to Gosport nr Portsmouth along with my mother and brother and we eventually we were lucky enough to be able to move into a rather nice tenth floor rented two bedroom council flat and when I opened my bedroom curtains I could see right across Portsmouth harbour across at Lord Nelson’s Flagship HMS Victory were unbeknown to me at the time, two decades later I would end up spending a year working on the 18th century warship carving from solid mahogany the replacement Starboard Entrance.
My right arm was not healing well so I was still being operated on, as a consequence I was in and out of plaster for over a year and still unable to get a job. I decided to study electronics at College in Southampton and try and find work as per the first job I had and eventually finished the course and qualified as an electronic technician and immediately got myself a good position working in an electronics factory working on MOD contracts involved with producing weapon systems and the satellite program.
Eventually after a few changes of electronic companies I worked up to an assistant electronics engineer working in an electronics laboratory, with a good pension and regular monthly salary coming in and then much to the dismay of many of my family at the time, decided in 1976 to go self-employed and started making furniture full time, just like the furniture and kitchens I had designed, built and was successfully selling in my spare time.
The other life changing result of my motorcycle crash was when I was finally discharged from hospital the compensation for my road accident eventually came through almost two years later and at twenty years of age, I was now able to buy my first house along with a replacement 650cc BSA Spitfire, for cash. Finally, I would now hopefully be able to decide when and where I moved again, if ever.
Apparently, I was the first person in my whole family ever to buy their own house, which according to my mother at that stage in my life, “was the first sensible thing I ever did”.
Buying my own house and later combining it as my place of work, when I had always lived in a Council House, if and when we as a family were lucky enough to be offered one, was something I would never have been able to afford or do without that motorbike crash as a teenager.
Two years or so later I sold the first house and purchased my current home in 1972, with a small mortgage and large garden which backed onto a nature reserve where today birds, squirrels, deer, foxes and badgers are regular visitors to my garden and also wander inside my studio whilst I am working in my studio almost fifty year later, shown here in 2020 with a pair of foxes and badgers visiting the studio as they tend to most early evenings.
Two years after I moved into my new house, I built a ‘log’ cabin’ style shed in the back garden to store my motorbikes in, but a few months later they were all moved outside and I started to make furniture in it. A decade later I built a much larger studio several yards away to work on my sculptures and have continued to do so forty years later and work from home, something in 2020 due to the Pandemics the government is encouraging everyone to do.
To be continued:
Working for and with the Royal Household.
One of the really nice things creating sculptures and working for the Royal Household which I have been doing for thirty-two years and there are many is, not only able to create a wide variety of totally unique sculptures in a wide variety of materials and many of which are then placed on display in amongst such prestigious places, as the College of Arms in London, placed in position for Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle.
Being awarded the Order the Garter by HM The Queen is the oldest and highest honour the Queen can bestow and is a personal gift from the Queen. Along with this high honour their own personal achievements are commissioned and once complete they are then placed on display above their stall (seat) in St George’s Chapel.
A King and Queen has a replica of their State Crown created. British Prime Ministers and the latest Knights of the Garter have their Coronet or Crests created in three-dimensions. All of which I have been producing for the past 32 years. However, I once heard it said that one of the best parts of being made a Knight of the Garter, is that you get your Crown, Coronet and Crest created in three -dimensions by me………………well that’s Mums for you!
Not only are these sculptures created to be placed on display prior to these State ceremonies, but I am also kindly invited to attend these ancient historic ceremonies. So, when I am invited to London, Windsor Castle or Westminster Abbey for whatever reason and having to wear my suit so it is a real adventure for someone that doesn’t get out much and is mostly found in his studio wearing his dusty overalls.
One on such occasion I was invited to the Instillation of the latest Knights of the Bath ceremony which is held in Westminster Abbey every four years. The newly installed Knights are then installed in Henry V11 medieval Chapel by HM The Queen along with the Prince of Wales. These Knights then sit beneath one of the eighty plus colourful carved and painted and gilded Crests I made for over the decades.
On one particular occasion, a beautifully handwritten vellum envelope arrived at my house with my invitation to the installation of the latest Knights of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath service in Westminster Abbey, shortly to be held. This particular invitation was slightly different to the usual ones I have received from the Abbey. It had as usual the dress code, but this invitation also had printed on the back, details of exactly where my chauffeur could park!
I have often seen very distinguished looking people proudly holding their distinctive looking invitation entering Westminster Abbey, through the magnificent West door rather than the side entrance I often enter the Abbey, when I am visiting or delivering the Knights Crests.
As this ancient installation service is attended by Royalty so the normal security precautions can slow things up a bit. I usually travel up to London by train and then catch the tube. I had left earlier in the morning and managed to get to the Abbey a bit earlier than I thought I might.
Having shown my invitation at the police cordon, I was allowed past and then walked towards this magnificent West door approximately 300 yards away where a large group of very well dressed ladies and gentleman were milling around and in polite conversation.
The gentlemen were either dressed in morning suits or in very smart dark military dress uniforms and helmets displaying blooms of white feathers, all displaying a neat row of medals, their left hands firmly holding the hilts of their polished swords which were glinting brightly in the mid-day sun.
Their accompanying Ladies looked equally amazing and with their large floppy brimmed hats, they looked like they were all going to Royal Ascot. Although my wife said I scrubbed up surprisingly well in my new suit and tie, I must admit I still felt a little out of place amongst all the wonderful finery on display in front of me.
I started to walk towards the main entrance when two rather well-dressed military officers swiftly matched past me in perfect step. I almost instinctively picked up my pace somewhat and with a brief skip found myself almost marching in harmony with them just a few paces behind and then perhaps a little sheepishly, started to follow them as we walked the two hundred yards or so towards the magnificent West door of Westminster Abbey.
When I was five years old, I lived for a while in Royal Marine barracks in Deal high up on the balcony on the first floor that ran alongside our living quarters where you could clearly see out onto the parade ground below. The Royal Marines were often undertaking drill and marched in perfect formation, their dark blue parade dress uniforms contrasting well with the white pith helmets. The immaculate uniforms were complemented well with gleaming highly polished boots and brass buttons. With their rifles resting firmly against their left shoulder their arms swinging back and forth as they all marched in perfect time.
All such images clearly remembered all these years ago are now to be re-enacted as I also marched behind the two officers towards the Abbey. These two military officers left hands held tightly on the hilt of their sword, the right hand rhythmically swung to and fro.
The only thing you could hear as I marched a few steps behind them was the loud sound of their highly-polished boots as they walked on the medieval stone flooring and the jingle of their silver stirrups attached to their polished leather boots and then realised the only thing, I really had in common with them, was the rather loud noise my leather soled shoes were also making as I followed them across the ancient flagstones.
In the distance, I noticed the two magnificent oak doors were slowly being swung open together and the great and good then began to also walk towards them into the historic Abbey. I felt very proud to be joining them however I have to say being the only person dressed in a lounge suit, I did feel maybe I was actually going the wrong way and thought any minute now I would politely be told exactly where to go.
So just in case, I allowed myself to get towards the rear of the group of distinguished guests who began to slowly process through the West door now about 50 yards away. I then noticed one of the smartly dressed ushers with his flowing robes staring right at me as I approached him. He then started to walk briskly straight towards me. Here we go again I thought and although I know my place, it now looked as if, so did this gentleman.
It would appear the indignity which happened in New York airport in the immigration hall after flying in to join the QE2 for one of my talks on board the liner, was about to happen all over again. What is it with me and officialdom? I was carefully watching the other people in front of me with their quite distinctively marked invitation held high as if they were hailing a taxi cab and they just walked right past this gentleman, which seemed to do the trick and I quickly did likewise and held my invitation high in the air.
It didn’t work; he was still locked on and kept on coming. I thought I just knew it; I must be the wrong place and it must have also been quite obvious to everyone else as well. He then stopped right in front of me and said, Sir your collar is turned, may I and he promptly adjust my suit collar.
Oh no how embarrassing, it must have happened on the train, or possibly the tube which came to think of it was rush hour and it was really crowded, that must have been it, mind you I would have thought someone would have noticed and mentioned it to me at the time. Never mind next time I will use my chauffeur as was suggested on my formal invitation.
He smiled, turned and then walked back and I quickly followed him into Westminster Abbey, so against all the odds and despite my humble attire I had managed to make it past the discreet security, through the huge door and once inside I started to relax a bit and began to enjoy the whole grandeur of the occasion.
I appreciate I don’t get out much but when I do, I am usually the person standing on the wrong side of the barriers happily watching the world go by. This time I was on the right side of the barrier looking out at people just like me. Not only that but to those in Westminster Abbey anyway I was treated just like Royalty as it would also appear I had my own personal dresser.
On my invitation alongside my name was a large number 1, which was boldly printed in red right in the middle which I assumed was the aisle number. I walked into the Abbey past the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, towards the line of seats neatly laid out six deep down either side of the aisle. Which ran right down the entire length of the Nave.
Now where do I sit, I thought, at a quick glance none of the seats appeared to be numbered, however the first three lines of seats neatly placed either side of the aisle, all had tickets on them, but with people’s names neatly typed on the crisp white card.
There were several smartly dressed ushers now all leading, two by two, the distinguished quests as if they had remembered each of their names and exactly where they should sit and quietly so very efficiently as you would expect, to their correct seats.
However, on the fourth, fifth and sixth row of the reaming line of seats either side of the aisle had no names on them, ah that will be it I thought, one of those must be mine and not waiting for help and guidance from the ushers, I promptly found a seat with no name on it, but still with a great view alongside a huge stone pillar and sat down and began to watch all the immaculately dressed guests slowly arriving.
A half hour before the procession was due to begin the Abbey was full and the Great West doors were quietly closed behind us all. I was now completely surrounded on all sides by the very polite distinguished potential ‘Royal Ascot’ crowd, but although I still felt distinctly out of place, I was still enjoying the rather unique atmosphere and looking forward to this historic ceremony which was just about to take place. Everyone was now seated and all you could hear was the gentle chatter of well-spoken people quietly talking to each other, drifting down the whole length of the centuries old Nave and nothing else.
Once again, I spotted the same usher who kindly turned down the collar of my suit earlier. He was slowly walking up and down the aisle from side to side carefully looking at all the people's faces. I looked down at my program and noted the names of the latest Knights shortly to be installed. I recognised most of the names of the Knights in the program and was obviously very familiar with the design of each of the Knights Crests as I had carved all of them some weeks. months and even years earlier, so for the first time I will be able to put the face to the crest I spent months producing, as the owners would soon be walking right past me down the Nave and into the Lady Chapel to sit beneath their Banners along with my Crests.
I thought it cannot be long now as more very smartly dressed people in their flowing red robes were now all standing around by the huge closed West door. The usher I was watching earlier looking for someone, was now walking back down the aisle towards where I was sitting near the back. I thought I wondered if he found who he was looking for and just at that very moment he caught my eye, stopped walking and smiled. Oh, what now I quickly felt my suit collar and no my collar was in order, so that cannot be it.
He then walked right up to the front of the three rows of seats directly in front of me and said, I am so sorry Sir but would you mind joining me, I like others in front of me looked behind, but deep down I just knew it was me he was talking too, so did everyone else. He then said, I am so sorry Sir please follow me and I will like to direct you to your correct seat.
The quite chattering amongst the other invited guests stopped almost instantly and all these highly-distinguished people who were quietly sitting in their plush seats, medals, swords, large brimmed hats, many with ostrich feathers hanging down, all slowly turned around and looked directly at me in the now totally silent Abbey.
I have to admit as soon as I walked in, I felt a bit out of place, I mean I know my place, I always have and this wasn’t it. Although everyone around me was very friendly, even in my new suit and polished black real leather slip on shoes, I admit I did rather stick out a bit, being so obviously underdressed the way I was. It was a fair cop I thought and felt was good while it lasted but I thought when I tell anyone who cares to listen back home how I got on; I would most likely miss out this bit.
I have like most people have more than one embarrassing moment in my life, but this I felt was now going to be a real gem, as it was to be acted out in front of hundreds of the great and good. I usually dealt with such things by thinking, oh well I will never see any of these people again, so it doesn’t really matter. But I have been carving all the Crests for the Knights of the Bath for over twenty years then and a lot of people in the Abbey know exactly who I was, so I thought that wasn’t going to work this time.
I thought pretending to look down and read the program and make out I didn’t hear him, but knew that wouldn’t make it all go away either, as he might talk louder and anyone who missed the first call, would not miss the next. So, with as much dignity as I could muster, I very reluctantly stood up and tried to get it all over with as soon as possible. The trouble is I was four rows back. On the right side of my seat was a huge granite pillar with a medieval image of Christ on it, which was obviously going nowhere.
Directly behind me was two more rows of seats full of smartly dressed people and to my left a line of twenty or so people all of which were quietly looking right back, all in the now total silence of the Nave. I meekly smiled and attempted to get out with as much dignity as possible and hopefully also being able to avoid knocking off the wide brim’s hats or tripping on any of the gleaming swords, stretching out in front of me, hampering my every move.
Everyone in my particular row got up and graciously let me squeeze past and watched me attempting to step over their swords, eventually after a few agonizing minutes I managed to reach the relative safety of an aisle, which was at a 90-degree angle to the main aisle which runs throughout the Nave into the Choir 100 yards away.
I then realised to my horror how really noisy my brand-new squeaky leather soled shoes were and despite my best efforts to walk quietly, they made a loud clip clop sound which now began to echo all around the totally silent historic Abbey walls, As I walked along the marble floor, obviously with everyone looking, towards the usher who was patiently waiting for me to join him.
When I reached the edge of the main aisle, I briefly looked to my right, I could clearly see right down the entire length of the Nave lined twelve deep either side with once again very smartly dressed people whispering to each other all of which were now also looking right back at me, the only show in town.
In a few moments, the royal procession was about to arrive and I would no doubt have to walk right down the aisle past them all staring. It looked as if I was to be, albeit very reluctantly the warm up act for the historic service to come.
The thought of my now having to walk all that way down the whole aisle under close escort to goodness knows where, in the noisiest shoes in the world only to be shown to my correct seat was something I wasn’t looking forward to at all, but walked. I then thought to myself, I’m glad my family weren’t here to see this.
The smartly dressed usher walked towards me and in a soft voice said, Sir I am so sorry about this, would you mind kindly follow me and then in front of my still very attentive audience, he actually turned left towards the huge oak doors at the entrance where I came in earlier and the small group of people wearing their flowing red robes waiting alongside them, not to turn right as I was dreading right down the long noisy walk through the Abbey,
Oh well I thought, at least I am being thrown out at the front door not the back, so it cannot be all bad and duly followed still clutching my beautifully large red bound order of service program I was given, the fifteen yards or so down the aisle and then I spotted an empty chair right at the start of the aisle, in the front row; the first chair you come to as you walk into this magnificent Abbey.
This is your seat sir, with a card with number 1 embossed on it, we are just about to start. I do hope you enjoy the service, he then turned around and walked towards his associates who were just about to open the huge oak doors of the historic Abbey now directly in front of me.
A few moments later the imposing doors opened to a wonderful fanfare as two abreast the line of the Knights of the Bath led by HRH The Prince of Wales wearing all their long scarlet capes and ostrich feather brimmed hats, all slowly walked through these oak doors into the Abbey
The procession through the Abbey which usually consists of HM The Queen, the Princess of Wales and the Knights of the Bath slowly process to the magnificent medieval Henry V11 Chapel they then sit beneath the many Knights Crests I have been creating since 1984.
Henry VII, Lady Chapel
At the sound of this Fanfare everyone else in the Abbey stood up, the procession continued to slowly process into the Abbey right up to the beginning of the aisle where I was now standing and then they stopped. There standing right alongside me a few feet away was the Prince of Wales, he gave a gentle smile and then the whole procession, slowly began to walk down the aisle towards the choir.
It turned out I now had one of the best views of the service in Westminster Abbey. I then thought to myself, I wish my family were here to see this.
On occasions after such grand ceremonies there is usually a Champagne reception held by the Royal Household and this particular day was no exception. Before I left to catch the tube and train home I just happened, as you do, walk past one of the grand rooms where many members of the Royal Household were gathering eating canapés and drinking Champagne.
I was then spotted by severely members of the Royal Household I knew well who were also part of the Royal escort in the Abbey still all smartly dressed in their red and gold uniform.
They spotted me and quickly invited me into the magnificent ancient Hall and then despite my ‘reluctance’, continued to ply me with Champagne and delicious canapés for most of the afternoon.
With my day out done and dusted, the next one planned was for the installation of the Knights of the Garter at Windsor Castle in June. This annual installation of the latest Knights of the Garter in St George’s Chapel should be fine as my wife has attended a few times so we know the routine well.
This time our car also had its own pass and was also invited and we were told we were to drive down the ‘long walk’ and enter the Castle via the Queens entrance. Unlike my usual way of entering the castle via Henry V11 gate so it was rather exciting. At least I will not have to travel to a royal instillation ceremony via the train and tube this time and now being in my car and not the tube and risking a wardrobe malfunction would mean I would now be able to give my ‘dresser’ the day orf.
A few weeks earlier I had delivered the Coronet I had just completed for Princess Anne; The Prince Royal as she was being installed by the Queen into St George’s Chapel in the castle, when just a few weeks ago it was being polished in my studio. So, it would be rather nice to be able to see what it looked like placed in position above the princess’s stall, alongside some of the seventy plus other Crowns, Coronets and Knights Crests I have also produced over the decade’s, shown here.
The Garter Day in June is always a rather busy, exciting time at Windsor especially if you are driving as the roads are all blocked for security and access is only allowed with your special sticker on the car and invitation, again for someone who don’t get out much a real change from my normal day in my overalls swinging a mallet around with the television on in the background, no doubt watching in the background some old movie.
Having past the police security for what would appear to be the last time past the roped off ‘area. I was now driving down the ‘long walk’ through the gates down the bottom and started to climb the several hundred yards or so up to the private entrance to Windsor Castle onto the gravelled quadrangle alongside the royal apartments. You realise the centuries of real history within the castle and what you are actually doing.
Since 1348 when the Order of Garter service first began, Royalty, Knights, Gentlemen and their smartly dressed wives and wide brimmed hats in horse drawn coaches, would have followed this very path we were now traveling with my wife alongside, who was equally well dressed for the special occasion today, albeit the mode of transport has changed somewhat.
Often when I go to Windsor Castle and show my pass at the gate to enter the castle, the policeman at the entrance tends to do a double take and when I drive into the castle, as my old car looks a bit out of place parked next to the gleaming very expensive limousine.
Although in my early days I used to enjoy driving a number of sports cars, I tend to not bother nowadays what sort of car I drive and if I cannot throw a tree in the back of it, it’s of no use to me. So, they can often get into a bit of a state in fact to be fair I wouldn’t buy a car from me and they tend to only get cleaned and polished once a year, whether they need it or not, apart from these special trips out. Years ago, when I was making my furniture, I was ‘white van man’ but now as a sculptor I had risen to the dizzy heights of ‘Mondeo man.’
At the end of the ‘long walk’ we reached the castle and either side of the small entrance close to the royal apartments we noticed two Grenadier Guards in his smart red uniform tunic and black busby hat, quickly stood smartly to attention and gave us the royal salute, as we slowly drove past, which for us was unexpected but rather nice and quickly took this photo as we slowly approached the private entrance to the castle.
Truth be known the soldiers dutifully now saluting us were probably really saluting the car as it would not be possible for them to notice who the occupants inside were as they drove past. They probably wondered why, rather than a gleaming black saloon which would be the norm going past they were now saluting a rather old blue and rust coloured Ford Mondeo, when I then thought to myself, phew thank goodness I had taken the roof rack off.
Fortunately, when we are kindly given invitation to such royal events, we are also given great access so we can see close up all the Knights and various members of both British and European royal families attending and all what is going on.
A short drive into the castle grounds looking for somewhere to park, when a gentleman in a smart uniform, motioned me to stop and said “Good morning Sir, please leave the keys and allow me to park your vehicle for you”. Oh, yeh, I am not falling for that one I thought, but he looked OK to me so I took a chance and we got out.
As we walked towards St George's Chapel along with the great and good, another equally well-dressed gentleman approached and glanced at my invitation and said “Welcome to St George's Chapel Sir, please allow me to show you your seats.” After taking our seats we looked around the magnificent medieval chapel just feet away from the Nave where the latest Ladies and Knights of the Garter will shortly be installed in the service that first originated in 1348.
As we waited for the installation service to begin, we could hear the band playing just outside when one of the Guard officers called out ‘royal salute’ so we knew the procession was really near. Shortly afterwards a fanfare sounded around the medieval chapel walls as the Queen, the Prince of Wales and other members of the royal family, as well as all the Knights of the Garter, in procession were slowly walking our way………….
To be continued:
Phoenix Rising’/ ‘From the Ashes to Royal Commissions’.
A quite remarkable true story about Ian G Brennan's determination to recover from losing his furniture making business in a fire in 1984 when he was 34 years old; to then discovering to his amazement that he had a completely unknown, natural ability to be a sculptor. Within five years of the fire Ian was officially appointed the Sculptor to the Most Noble Order of the Garter and Honourable Order of the Bath, since then Ian has been commissioned to create 134 unique sculptures in both wood and bronze for the British Royal Household.
Ian G Brennan has now been a professional sculptor and woodcarver for over thirty-five years and is one of those rather rare sculptors that both carves and casts and although he produces limited bronze editions of his realistic sculpture, the vast majority of his work is involved with a wide variety of highly detailed original commissioned sculptures depicting many different subjects in a variety of materials including wood, resin, marble, sterling silver and bronze.
Ian is one of those rather rare sculptors that both carves and casts, his highly detailed realistic, naturalistic and heraldic wood carvings, bronze and silver sculptures have been commissioned for Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral, Museums, Government Buildings, Churches, Company receptions and private art collections all over the World.
These commissions are as diverse as producing sculptures designed to suite the history and splendour of centuries old buildings such as Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral were his rather unique skills in reproducing wood carvings and bronze sculpture from a by-gone age are often required; to the more modern surroundings of Company receptions and more recently the elegance and grandeur of the Grand Lobby of the Cunard Liner Queen Victoria.
St George’s Chapel Windsor
Grand Lobby Queen Victoria
St Paul’s’ Cathedral
The Lady Chapel Westminster Abbey
During the past decade Ian's had been working almost exclusively to commission therefore exhibitions in art galleries became a rather a rare event. Exhibitions of Ian’s wood carving, silver and bronze sculpture he has collected over the past twenty years have therefore been almost exclusively set in the somewhat more formal surroundings of Museums; The Queens Room onboard the Cunard Liner QE2; Carpenters Hall in the City of London, Burlington House, Home of the Royal Academy of Arts and within the magnificent historic setting of St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, where Ian has also been invited on a number of occasions to give fully illustrated talks about his work and career..
In 1989 Ian was officially appointed the 'Sculptor to the Most Noble Order of the Garter and Most Honourable Order of the Bath' and since that time he has spent an average of five months of each year working exclusively on a wide variety of unique sculptures for the British Royal Household.
Initially these commissions for the Royal Household were mostly traditionally heraldic in design, often involved with creating the original carved, painted and gilded Royal Crowns, Coronets and Crests for the newly installed Ladies and Knights of the Garter, along with the carved and painted Crests for the newly installed Knights of the Bath.
However from 1993 onwards these commissions for the Royal Household also included creating a wide variety of private sculptures in both wood and bronze. These private commissions now account for around a third of the time Ian spends working for the Royal Household.
Many of these private commissions for the Royal Household are far more realistic in design than some of the more traditional sculptures commissions Ian also receives, all of which are created in fine detail. The subjects also often vary from the more traditional heraldic sculptures, such as Royal Lions, Griffins and Unicorns; to subjects more naturalistic in style and include lifelike sculptures of Dogs, Pheasants and Horses, as well as wide variety of sculptures depicting the human form.
For the most part these commissions Ian receives for the Royal Household are usually quite evenly spaced out throughout the year and he is often found working on several totally different sculptures all at the same time, however on occasions one of these sculptures is required more urgently and therefore has to take precedent over the others. Although the sculptures are usually commissioned well in advance on one recent occasion in particular, a sculpture was commissioned in late February for a service to be held in a few months time in Westminster Abbey and was completed and delivered just days before the service took place.
Seventy three of these one hundred and seven commissions Ian has received to date from the Royal Household are currently on public display in Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle. As well as commissions for the British Royal Family, there have also been a wide variety of unique commissions for other Royal Families including HM King Juan Carlos of Spain, HM King Harald V of Norway, HM Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and His Imperial Majesty Emperor Akihito of Japan.
These diverse commissions for the Royal Household can also be well illustrated when Ian’s was recently commissioned to create sculptures of a Stag, Labrador and a Mute Swan along with the Royal Crest and Sword for HRH Prince William of Wales; The Duke of Cambridge. Ian was also informed by HM The Queen at Windsor Castle that HRH Prince William was now to become the 1000 Knight of the Garter to hold this the highest order of chivalry, since 1348.
Ian G Brennan's has also received commissions for other members of the Royal Family include a pair of similar sculptures created for HM The Queen's two sons, HRH Prince Edward, The Earl of Wessex and HRH Prince Andrew, The Duke of York when they were appointed Royal Knights of the Garter along with the gilded Coronet for HRH Princess Anne the Princess Royal when the princess was made a Lady of the Garter..
To view the short 11 minute movie showing Ian at work, please click here
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What a difference a decade can make; after ten years of hard work Ian G Brennan had built up his own successful furniture making furniture, however with a full order book, plans to expand and about to take on new staff this was all to dramatically change when his workshop and the contents were totally destroyed in a fire. Worst was to follow when Ian later discovered there was a problem with his insurance cover which meant he was uninsured and had lost everything in the fire.
This problem with the insurance proved to be just the start of Ian's troubles, although his customers who's orders were lost in the fire were very understanding and were prepared to wait for their furniture and new kitchen orders to be replaced, his Bank who he had an account with for nine years were not. Ian's first task was now to try and find a new Bank who would consider taking over his overdraft facility and also give him a bit of a breathing space to enable him to stay in business. Without any assistance from his own bank he obviously could now no longer afford to replace his tools and equipment, pay his bills let alone now try and find the rent for a new workshop. Ian simply had no choice but to clear him a space amongst the rubble, borrow some electricity from a friends adjoining workshop, replace the burnt out telephone, hire some tools and start again.
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Coming of age:
At 4.47am on the 7th May 1984, Ian G Brennan was awoken just before dawn by a loud banging on his front door. A police officer had come to tell him that his business had been totally destroyed in a fire and could he meet with him as soon as possible at the workshop. When he arrived at his workshop shortly afterwards which was just a few miles from his home there were two fire engines an ambulance and the police office in his car, parked near to where his workshop once used to be.
The whole building had been burnt completely to the ground, although his heavy woodworking machines were still there they had partially melted in the intense heat and was still glowing red hot in the dawns early light. The large caravan which had been parked alongside Ian's workshop for many years which had been used by the all the small businesses near his workshop as a rest room was believed to be the source of the fire, someone was believed to have left the electric fire on over night which subsequently set fire to his and an adjoining workshop.
All his completed furniture, designs and templates, machinery, tools, prepared timber and a completed solid oak kitchen awaiting delivery had all been destroyed in the fire. Worst was to come, as he was later to discover there was now a problem with his insurance cover for the workshop, which meant he was uninsured and had lost everything in the fire. Ironically as it turned out the new workshop Ian was planning to move into just four days later was fully insured but empty.
The remains of the fire damaged workshop and what £25,000 worth of completed furniture orders, designs, machinery and tools look like after a fire.
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Some of the furniture Ian had been working on just before the fire had fortunately been removed earlier from his workshop and delivered to the customer. These included the majority of the solid mahogany units Ian had built for the Galley of the J Class Yacht 'Velsheda' which was shortly to take part in the Tall Ships race, although unfortunately some of these mahogany units for the Velsheda’s galley were still in the workshop awaiting delivery and were consequently destroyed in the fire. Several weeks earlier Ian had decided to removed the two huge cedar logs that he had been seasoning inside the workshop outside, to give him a bit more room so he could not only set out the Velsheda's galley but also the solid oak kitchen he had also been working on.
These hundreds of square feet of high quality cedar wood timber were fortunately now seasoned and safely stored away, as it turned out far enough from the workshop and although a little charred on the edges, were undamaged in the fire. He at least still had a supply of timber to use for many of his projects, even if he now no longer had the tools, woodworking machinery or most importantly a workshop to put it all in.
Part of the mahogany units Ian had built for the galley of the J Class Yacht Velsheda
"During the early afternoon on the day of the fire, the remains of the workshop had cooled down sufficiently enough so we could start scouring through the debris on the floor of the workshop trying to salvage anything of value that I either use or be sold as scrap metal. I then noticed to my amazement although many of my tools and heavy metal woodworking machinery had melted or were bent and twisted in the intense heat of the fire, a small section of a the remains of a wooden roof beam although charred on the outside had strangely burnt to a rough shape resembling a leaping dolphin, after showing my wife the unusual piece of burnt wood, I put it to one side for a moment and continued to search through the rubble".
When Ian eventually got home one of the first things he tried to do was to contact as many of his customers he could to inform them of his current difficulties and that unfortunately there would now be a delay in re-making their orders. He managed to contact all except one of these customers who with out exceptions were very sympathetic and just as importantly were willing to wait for their furniture orders to be rebuilt. "After contacting the customers and subsequently securing these orders knowing I still have work and potential money coming in. I made an appointment with my bank manager who fortunately I had good working relations with for many years. I was not asking to borrow a lot more money, I was just hoping to borrow enough money to enable me to hire some tools and materials for a few weeks and also if possible perhaps for the bank to honour my standing orders just for a few months until I could get things sorted out."
The bank manager at his local branch was like his customers, very sympathetic and said he is however obliged to inform the banks head office and would get back to him shortly. Whilst Ian was waiting to hear back from the bank he and his wife Suzanne spent the next few days continuing to shift through the remains of his burnt out workshop trying to find anything they could salvage from the fire.
Just a few days after the meeting with my bank manager the eagerly awaited letter from the Banks head office arrived at my home. On opening the letter, initially the wording of the letter appeared quite sympathetic however the letter soon became less than friendly with the more sinister undertones quickly becoming apparent. The letter concluded with the very clear message which basically meant, as I would appear to be know longer in the position to honour my monitory obligations to the bank, that if all my borrowings now owed to the bank was not repaid within seven working days, the bank would start proceedings without further notice to reprocess my home.
After losing his workshop in the fire, then discovering he was no longer insured and consequently having no money and obviously now no support from the bank, any thoughts of moving as previously planned into another workshop quickly disappeared.. The person who Ian was renting the workshop from decided he would not rebuild it and he would instead, once the site was cleared of the debris, use the space for much needed parking for the nearby businesses. He said however he was in no particular hurry and I could stay there working for a while if I wished, however he said if I did decided to rebuild a workshop on the site he would have to charge rent for it, which was fair enough.
Ian working alongside the two surviving stacks of Cedar wood timber
"The owner of the site of the workshop was also quite happy for me to build some sort of make shift shelter leaned up against the neighbouring workshop wall for a time which was most helpful. The adjoining workshop dropped over an electrical cable so that I now had light and power which enabled me to then hire some wood working power tools to start again. The destructive power of the fire was however total, virtually nothing usable remained intact. The whole contents of his workshop were worth around £ 25,000, a rather large amount of money today, but over twenty years ago more so. Everything including the many huge three phase wood working machinery was worth just £ 96 in scrap metal"..
The following morning Ian was up early to the site as the scrap dealers were due to start collecting the remains of the heavy machinery, a few hours later the burnt out machines were gone and anything worth salvaging was either sold as scrap or stored away in a friends nearby workshop. The £ 96.the scrap dealers had given Ian was not a lot, but it was enough to be able to now hire some wood working tools which would enable him to start work on producing the customers orders once again..
Although Ian had tried on several occasions the one customer he had not yet not manage to contact about the fire, was the married couple who had patently waited for their hand made oak kitchen to be completed. It had taken Ian many months of work to complete all the beautifully crafted solid oak kitchen units and work surfaces. The customers had seen the kitchen a few days before the fire, which was completed and awaiting delivery and fitted in their home the following week. As with most of his orders Ian received a deposit and stage payments which enabled him to not only to purchase the materials, but to also work on constructing the fitted kitchen.
This particular customer at this stage had paid Ian £ 3,000 in stage payments out the £ 5,000 total cost of the oak kitchen and the customers were obviously eagerly awaiting Ian to deliver and install their brand new kitchen. As Ian was busily erecting a small corrugated iron roofed shelter to be used as his temporary workshop, a car slowly pulled up alongside. The man in the car was in fact the same man who a week earlier was admiring his completed oak kitchen. He stopped the car and after looking at the ruins of the workshop, wound down the window and simply said "It wasn't in there was it?" I replied "I am afraid it was". As he got out of his car and walked towards me he asked me what was going to do now. I explained the problems I was now having with the bank and the insurance, but just as quickly I said that if he would again be patient and allow me the time, I would rebuild his new kitchen as soon as possible.
"I was at this stage no doubt just like the customer, acutely aware of the £ 3,000 deposit he had already paid and he had the receipts to prove it, along with my intention to complete the kitchen about this time. He turned around without saying a word and walked back to his car, after a few moments he retuned and handed me a piece of paper. He said " I see you have a few problems so here is a further advance towards our kitchen,. it was a cheque for £1,000. he continued "we are prepared to wait for the kitchen a bit longer, hope this might help keep the bank of your back for a while." I was completely taken aback, here was a relative stranger handing me a £1,000 life line and the bank I have been with for almost a decade were desperately tying to do the complete opposite.
One of Ian's early carvings being carved in the remains of his old workshop
"Although I still had a full order book with many months of work as the bank was being very difficult I knew I would have to try and finding another bank, although it was obvious under the circumstances trying to find a new bank which would take over my overdraft would prove to be difficult". In the nearby Town Ian decided to make appointments with as many different banks as possible all on the same day, starting from one end of the Town to the other. These appointments were evenly spaced out at roughly hourly intervals starting at 10.00 am, with the last appointment which he hoped he would be able to cancel at 3.00. pm.
"Some interviews with the different bank managers turned out to last longer than others but the results were unfortunately still the same, "I am sorry but we cannot help you", it appeared a lot of British Banks only lend you money if you do not need it. After several disappointing interviews things started to look rather bleak, fortunately however the second to last Bank left on my list finally agreed to take over my overdraft and just as importantly allowed me a three months break from loan repayments. This would enable me the vital time needed to try and sort the business out.
"On tidying up the last pieces of his old workshop amongst the rubble on the workshop floor I once again came across the old burnt piece of wood which I had found on the day of the fire. Using my pen knife and one of my old wood rasps its wooden handle I had found on the floor early, I soon cleared away the burnt wood on the beam and eventually complete what the fire had started." Ian explained, I had never tried to carve anything in wood before, but before to long the dolphin was completed. My wife suggested perhaps I try and carve and identical dolphin to see if the first carving was just a fluke."
"I found working on the carving quite therapeutic it helped to take your mind of things a bit. My wife reminded me that I had a set of carving chisels somewhere in the garage at home that might now be of use, these chisels were purchased in a job lot of woodworking tools at an auction some years earlier but I had never found a use for them. Although they were old and had see better days, they were of good quality and soon sharpened up well. They were proving to be very useful and soon got used to working with them, especially as they were now the only woodworking tools I possessed..
Ian's first two woodcarvings
The first wood sculptures Ian carved were a pair of' Leaping Dolphins ' at 6 inches high and an Otter at 8 inches high, both of which he has retained. Although Ian obviously does not consider these first sculptures his finest work, they are however his first attempts at woodcarving which was to become the beginning of his new career as a sculptor, now working in wood, marble, resin, sterling silver and bronze.
Further woodcarvings quickly followed simple sculptures at first but soon much larger and more complex pieces started to appear, now all being carved from a single piece of wood. During the first year or so Ian was obsessed with carving almost anything and in any material he could find. It felt as if he was almost trying to make up lost time perfecting his new found skill, even when he got home this experimentation even extended to producing a simple 'Donald duck' sculpture made from snow in his front garden.
Snow carving of 'Donald Duck'
Ian continued to push his then unknown wood carving boundaries forward all the time limited only by his imagination and the size of timber he could find and afford. He soon discovering that he would appear to have a natural ability to see three-dimensionally and therefore see the finished subject trapped inside the block of wood or stone, he just simply set them free. He always had a particular passion for wildlife especially after spending so many happy times when he was very young wandering around the jungle near his former school near Changi in Singapore and shared his pack lunch with the wild Gibbons that over the months had gradually grew in confidence to come close enough to share his lunch. Ian's father was stationed in Singapore whilst serving in the Royal Marines
As Ian was totally self taught as a wood carver he had to try and learn how to use carving tools and also the various techniques required, simply by trial and error. Particularly difficult was the challenge of trying to carve many totally different subjects in fine detail all from a solid block of wood which leaves no room for mistakes. Two of Ian's early experimental wood carvings were the 'Serengeti scene' which was a sculpture depicting many types of African animals which were all carved together from a solid blocks of lime wood, these animals included lions, hyenas, hunting dogs, vultures etc. The other experimental wood carving was to be a version of Michelangelo's David, both were chosen not only as the subjects were totally different but also the technique required to work on both sculptures would require a totally different approach.
'Serengeti scene' - lime wood 34 inches long David - lime wood 30 inches high
Ian started taking more interest in some sculptors work from long ago particularly he feels the best sculptor of all Michelangelo. He found the detail such renaissance masters achieved in their work most inspiring. After visiting a local saw mill seeking their advice on the most suitable timbers to carve, Ian was given a couple of large blocks of lime wood timber to practice on. As he had a photograph of Michelangelo's famous David sculpture he thought he would try and make a copy of it as best he could at the time.
Obviously as he hadn't been carving very long so was a rather ambitious project, but he found he could learnt a lot trying to discover the technique used in carving from a solid block with his new found carving chisels. As working on reproducing the David sculpture was meant to be a carving exercise and if completed could never be anything more than a rather amateur copy of someone else's rather special creation, eventually with valuable carving lessons learnt work on both the David sculpture along with the carving of the 'Serengeti scene' were eventually abandoned unfinished and now both carvings gather dust at the back of Ian’s studio.
"Throughout this first year I had managed quite well in my new 'open planned' working environment although It was rather exposed to the elements the weather did not effect my work to much apart from a few weeks of snow, which unlike the rain managed to get in everywhere and then simply melt underfoot, I didn't help either as I have never been able to function very well in cold conditions. Although I got used to working under the temporary shelter after a while, I badly missed my woodworking machinery especially the large woodplaning particularly a few weeks earlier you could simply place a roughed out piece of timber into one end of the planer a few seconds later with one just pass through the machine the wood was totally smooth.
The same process especially making table tops now took me many hours to complete planing the wood by hand. When I first started my business I didn't have any good wood working machinery and was quite used to working entirely with hand tools, however once you had scrimp and save for many years and finally managed to get together some good woodworking machinery only then to lose them this way and then having to go back using hand tools, somehow made it feel much worse.
Without a proper workshop or indeed a showroom and having now completed the customers orders that were lost in the fire, I had to find other outlets to exhibit my newly completed furniture, although the replacement phone now fixed to the remains of my workshop wall would still ring with new potential customers, obviously inviting these customers around to my burnt out workshop would not exactly help to inspire the customers confidence in my ability to be able to complete their order, so I had to find some other way to exhibit my furniture.
"I decided to work from Monday to Friday making the garden benches, coffee tables etc, under my make shift shelter and on the Friday evening before setting off home I would load up the van for an early start the following morning. We would the drive into the country side and try and find a suitable lay-by alongside a main road to 'set up shop' for the day. Fortunately with all the passing traffic this often proved quite successful in re-generating sales and orders for my furniture ".
'Setting up shop' for the day in a lay-by alongside a main road
Whilst waiting for customers to appear with all our furniture set out along the side the road, Ian could often be found sitting inside the van carving the animals and birds from any old pieces of wood he could find.. Eventually when he had completed a few carvings and slowly began to gain a little confidence in his new found skills as a woodcarver he agreed to his wife's repeated requests to display these woodcarvings amongst the coffee tables and garden furniture. Slowly these wood carvings on display also began to generate interest and woodcarving commissions were starting to look a distinct possibility, unfortunately however the perceived distinct lack of experience as a wood carver from many people at the time did cause some difficulties with their confidence in him being able to undertake or indeed complete a potential carving commission, which was quite understandable considering he had only been carving for a few months.
Ian spent all his 'spare' time carving and soon found he could carving quite quickly and soon managed to build up a display of different wood carvings. This collection of carvings soon led people to believe he had in fact actually been carving for a quite a few years which were something Ian was quite happy to go along with as soon as the wood carving commissions started to come in. Once work on his furniture orders were complete for the day when he got home Ian couldn't wait to start working on his wood carvings even to the extent of sitting in front of the television in the lounge in the evening often to the early hours of the morning witling away on some small block of wood.
A larger order for furniture and various wooden fittings was then received to completely fit out a new 'Wine Bar' with all the wooden tables, chairs, benches, bar stools, garden furniture, bar top and even carving the sign for the Wine Bar. This order soon enabled me to move into new premises not to far away from my old workshop. I could also now start to try and replaced a lot of the lost tools and wood working machinery destroyed in the fire, including one of my first purchases a good second-hand planing machine.
Ian was then able to move away from the various lay-by's and started exhibiting his furniture along with his woodcarvings in his new workshop, Country Fairs and Shows throughout Southern England which proved to be very successful; "However these new found skills as a woodcarver had started to take up much more of my time and interest. It was then the local press, Television and Radio, who fortunately rather liked the 'Phoenix from the Ashes' type story and how he first got involved with carving.
This media interest started to generate a large amount of free publicity which helped considerably in receiving new commissions for my woodcarvings. I soon started to get far more inquires for my carvings than for my furniture, so although I had now rebuild the business my interest in making furniture had begun to second place to my woodcarvings so I decided to let the furniture making side of my business run down naturally and to try to concentrate all my efforts on making a potential new career as a woodcarver."
"It was tough going over the next few years; I sold some of the wood sculptures and just survived. Being self-taught meant I had to learn from my mistakes and consequently I soon learnt a lot, but as I have always spent my life working on the premise ….‘if all else fails, read the instructions. I felt I was quite well equipped to cope, I certainly hoped so". A local newspaper ran a full feature about Ian's work which was spotted by a Gallery owner visiting friends in the area who asked to see his work and consequently invited Ian to exhibit his wood sculptures in a top gallery in Mayfair, London for a pre-Christmas showing, Ian's first exhibition in an Art Gallery. This exhibition fortunately generated a lot of interest and was extended for a further six months.
Trying to get hold of a good selection of carving tools especially good quality wood carving chisels due to the high cost was still a major problem and holding up Ian’s progress somewhat. A friend told him she knew someone that had recently retired and had started wood carving as a hobby for her retirement and that for Christmas her husband had bought her over 200 hundred high quality carving chisels of almost every size and style you could possibly imagine along with vices, mallets, strops and a variety of sharpening stones.
Apparently after several months of effort the lady decided that wood carving was really not for her and as she had seen an article about Ian’s work in the local paper and how he started carving after he had a fire, asked her whether any of the carving tools would be of any use to Ian. Although everyone was quite aware of the value of the tools many of which were still in the box and had never been used the lady insisted she would only except from Ian what amounted to a rather nominal sum of money for the whole lot, it was indeed a most kind and generous offer which was accepted by a very grateful Ian. Ian now had all the carving tools he could ever dream of so he could now really concentrate on quickly building up a collection of his wood carvings.
As the commissions for his woodcarving continued and making furniture quickly became a thing of the past it was clear to Ian if had not had the problems with his insurance for the workshop that burnt down , he would have simply moved to another workshop, replaced all the tools and materials lost with the insurance money, put the burnt piece of wood shaped like a dolphin to one side for a moment and would have then no doubt promptly forgot about it in the frantic effort to get back making furniture and would probably still be making furniture today and would not have carved anything.
Sleeping Lioness' 'Mother Nature' - Scots Pine Log
Early wood carvings
Further exhibitions in many prominent art galleries thought England followed and a few years later the Museum Service toured a larger collection of Ian's realistic wood sculptures to many different Museums across Southern England. This one man exhibition of Ian's work were mostly of wildlife subjects all carved in fine detail with many of the sculptures being life size, such exhibitions helped to get Ian establish in the Art World.
"Woodcarving can and often is a relatively slow process just using hand chisels and a mallet, although Ian initially starts work on a large sculpture with a chainsaw to remove as quickly as possible the larger sections of wood, it still often takes quite some time to produce a large sculpture, therefore collect together a good exhibition of wood sculptures which can show all the various aspects of my work takes time and therefore money to build up." Although working on commissions was and still is where most of my time is spent, in the early day it did prevent me from getting a large collection of different sculptures together for such exhibitions. The only way forward was now to try and reduce the amount of commissions I undertook and try to concentrate spending more time on building up some special exhibition pieces.
Ian and his wife decided in the end that the only way he could possibly get a large collection of wood carvings together for exhibition was to basically take two years off, work around the clock on the carvings and as the carvings were not going to be available for sale until after the first exhibition, in effect try and work without any money coming in and simply go for it.
"This idea of no longer making the time available to produce furniture, cutting out commissions and consequently having little or no income unfortunately eventually began to use up the patience of my latest bank manager, so the search was on yet again to try and find another Bank who would possibly help out. Fortunately eventually, I found a new bank manager who agreed to allow me the time and resources to work on producing a large collection of wood sculptures for a major exhibition which had now been planned the following year in London."
On occasions during this period, it was sometimes still necessary to use some of the remaining supply of seasoned timber and quickly make some garden furniture to sell to desperately try to make ends meet. As the Transit van was sold many months earlier to raise some money, my car an old Triumph Stag was quickly pressed into service for a few months to take over the deliveries of these occasional items of furniture, until this much treasured car also had to be sold to help raise some much needed cash.
It took almost two years of working long hours, with no holidays or days off before he finally managed to put together this large and varied collection of wood sculptures. These sculptures were again mostly of wildlife studies with many being life size, these included an Osprey catching a Trout, a pair of swimming otters, a running cheetah, a sleeping lioness, an Owl in a log and a pair of golden eagles, one of which was in full flight, all beautifully carved in very fine detail from Walnut, Tulip, Cedar, Willow and Lime wood.
Several weeks to go before the all-important London exhibition this large and varied collection of sculptures were finally completed. Ian was then asked by two local art Galleries owners if he would be prepared to loan these sculptures, one for a newly opened gallery in Bournemouth and also a gallery in Romsey, prior to his exhibition in London. They thought the sculptures would be a nice contrast to the wildlife paintings and other sculpture they had on exhibition, they also hoped it might help generating some extra publicity for the art Galleries.
The exhibitions certainly did manage to generated a lot of Media attention both pre and post exhibition; however not all in the way any of us had hoped for. In the early hours of the morning the day the exhibition was due to open, Julie the owner of the Bournemouth art gallery phoned Ian to tell him thieves smashed down the heavy plate glass of the art gallery broke in attempted to steal the sculptures. Those wood sculptures that were not damaged when the galleries heavy plate glass windows shattered and fell down on top of them were then promptly stolen.
The vast majority of the collection he had worked so hard on producing had now been either stolen or were badly damaged, all those years of time, effort and expense Ian had put into his work had once again overnight come to nothing. The police however who were on the scene very quickly were very supportive and said they would do their best to try and recover the sculptures.
Local newspaper cutting
After getting over the initial shock Ian of two years work being lost Ian then had the unenviable task of having to contact the London Gallery to explain the situation and that the large collection of wood sculptures he had promised them for their exhibition in a few weeks time were no longer available. The London gallery although sympathetic were quite understandably rather disappointed. This was to put back Ian's plans on a further major exhibition in London again for a quite a few years to come.
Fortunately however Ian’s centre piece of his wildlife exhibition was a newly created life size wood sculpture of an ‘Osprey catching a Trout’ carved from a single piece of wood was not on view at the time in the Bournemouth art gallery and was fortunately not stolen.
Osprey catching a Trout – lime wood - 54 inches wide
Weeks later the Bournemouth Police who had done an excellent job were good to their word and contacted Ian to tell him they had indeed managed to get some of the stolen sculptures back and quickly returned the large swimming otters which were a particular importance to Ian as they had each taken a long time to carve.
Although Ian had lost most of his exhibition pieces he did at least now have some carvings namely the Swimming Otter and the Osprey catching a Trout which were then made available for the forthcoming exhibition in the art gallery in Romsey.
After all the worry and disappointment of the Bournemouth exhibition the Romsey exhibition opened with a great fanfare with the various exhibits created by a number of different artists fortunately being met with great enthusiasm. Everything was in place for hopefully a good exhibition by all when in the early hours of the morning during the first week of the exhibition thieves managed to break into the Romsey art gallery and remove many of the exhibits, including once again Ian’s Swimming Otter and for the first time they also managed to steal Ian’s centre piece, the sculpture of the ‘Osprey catching a Trout’.
If it wasn’t bad enough that two years work was lost, but now it transpires that although Ian had purchased insurance to cover such losses, the insurance company decided that it would in effect only pay out for the "costs incurred when reproducing the sculptures, however this does not include the profit element on your labour" ….. how much for a piece of wood.!
Ian said "You couldn't help begin to think that perhaps after all these years I should give up trying to work for myself and get myself a proper job".
Copy of insurance letter
"With two years work on what amounted to my entire collection of wood sculptures now either stolen or damage and now with the prospect of no insurance cover it did make things rather bleak. It also put a rather heavy strain on my latest bank manager, who once he was made aware of the situation promptly advised me to take my overdraft elsewhere".
The search was once again to find a new bank manager this time a bank manager who not only had a lot of optimism and deep pockets but also a great sense of humour, a rather daunting and unlikely prospect but one that had to be achieved with great urgency.
Fortunately however several weeks later and after many phone calls and letters, the insurance company finally relented and paid the insurance claim which helped the situation considerably. Although Ian badly missed not having his large collection of sculpture available for exhibition which would have enabled him not only to help get his work recognised but also hopefully to get some commissions, it did however allow him the respite of continually worrying about trying to pay bills and also having to continually write reassuring letters to his bank manager.
Some time later the insurance company contacted Ian and told him the police had once again recovered the four feet high otter wood sculpture and that they would also agreed to Ian’s request for him to buy the otter wood sculpture back from them.. Unfortunately however the’ Osprey catching a Pike’ and the ‘Owl in the Log’ wood sculptures are still out there somewhere…...
"Up to this stage the size of the wood sculptures I produced were limited by the size of the trees I could find and obviously afford". Also the largest of these trees I had hoped to develop my skills on would have had preservation orders on them which prevented them from being felled anyway. However fate was again to lend a helping hand when Southern England was hit by Hurricane force winds, which uprooted millions of trees. Overnight I had been given a large supply of massive trees, many of which were donated free of charge by the local councils 'if I got them of the road'. With help from a friend and by hiring a lorry with a crane this task of hauling away the best of these fallen trees kept me very busy for weeks, once they were all stored away for seasoning, the timber was to last me for many years to come."
"Up to this stage The size of the wood sculptures I produced were limited by the size of the trees I could find and obviously afford ”. Also the largest of these trees I had hoped to develop my skills on would have had preservation orders on them which prevented them from being felled anyway. However fate was again to lend a helping hand, in October 1987 Southern England was hit by Hurricane force winds, which uprooted millions of trees. Overnight I had been given a large supply of massive trees, many of which were donated free of charge by the local councils 'if I got them of the road'. With help from a friend and by hiring a lorry with a crane this task of hauling away the best of these fallen trees kept me very busy for weeks, once they were all stored away for seasoning, the timber was to last me for many years to come."
Bald eagle carved from one piece from within the fork of a Lime tree: - please click to enlarge
The first of these larger sculptures Ian started to experiment on, carved from one of these huge fallen trees was a 10 feet high Life size Bald Eagle in flight carved in one piece from within the fork of a 150 year old lime tree.( shown above ) This sculpture was initially shaped with a chainsaw where it had fallen as it was far to heavy to be move as it was to far away from the nearest road, the tree having fell on the side of a hill didn't help much either. Ian spent the first week working on the sculpture during a freezing cold and wet January, trying to reduce as much of the weight as possible so he could eventually carry the massive roughed out eagle sculpture back to the comfort of his studio for finishing off.
“ I built up a picture in my mind what the particular sculpture should eventually look like, obviously the overall design of the carving is restricted within the parameters of the log, however I tend to try and adjust the particular pose the sculpture should take as I go along, not only to try and give the sculpture a more flowing movement but also to enable me the freedom to re-position the carving within the log if a flaw in the wood suddenly appears deep down in the wood or, as is sometimes the case you suddenly find a piece of rusting metal from some long lost fencing or washing line hiding in the wood. Usually the first clues of this obstruction is the rather pretty shower of sparks you see as the hidden metal object quickly strips away the sharpened teeth of your chainsaw
"Although I didn’t have a customer for the Eagle and had not attempted anything this size before spending a lot of time on the eagle didn’t really make a lot of sense to most people, but I thought having been given the tree to play with I just wanted to see if I could do it. As a chainsaw was not in my carving tool kit I hired one from a local tool hire company and early on Monday morning I started work cutting up the tree, I soon began to realise it was going to take me a lot longer than I thought and the cost of hiring the chainsaw for a few weeks was simply not something I could possibly afford to do, therefore not being able to finish it was now a distinct possibility, which was a great shame really because I thought it had potential and I was really enjoying working on it.
At the end of the day as I drove towards the Tool hire company at the Sedgensworth industrial estate in Hampshire where I hired the chainsaw from I could see smoke rising in the distance in the direction of the tool hire company, when I got closer the road was cordoned off by the police and I could see fire crews damping down a building in the industrial estate, I then found to my astonishment it was the tool hire company which had caught fire.
I parked the car up, grabbed the chainsaw and walked towards the remains of the hire company. The actual part of the building were all the equipment, tools etc was stored was completely gutted however the office alongside was relatively undamaged. I was then approached by the manager of the company who was walking out of the office at the time and seeing me standing there with his chainsaw in his hands said "As you can see we have got a bit of a problem here would you mind hanging onto the chainsaw for a bit as we obviously haven’t got anywhere to put right now. We will have all your details and I will phone you when you can bring it back, would you mind." Well what can you do if you someone is having a bit of trouble you try and help out when you can, so I said "Sure thing just give me a call when you are ready I will bring it back, best of luck."
"It was over a month before the call came for me to return the chainsaw which by now had not only had helped me to prepare the bulk of the bald eagle which was now drying out in my workshop, but enabled me to rough out the shape of several other large sculptures I had begun working on from some of the other large lime trees that had been blown down in the storm winds I had also been given."
"Carving anything from a single piece of wood let alone a 10 feet high eagle in flight, especially as I had not done anything quite like it before takes a lot of concentrated effort, one mistake and a potential vital part of the sculpture could be lost. It eventually took several months work in my studio before the carving was finally complete in all its fine detail, fortunately without any feathers missing. The eagle was then bleached and stained to give a more true to life Bald eagle appearance". ( For the various stages in carving the bald eagle sculpture; from the tree to the completed sculpture; please click this link.)
Birds of Prey sculptures, particularly eagles are Ian’s favourite subjects to work on and are produced extremely realistically especially when they are carved life size, attention to detail is rather extraordinary especially to the flight feathers which can take hours to carve almost paper-thin, patience is essential as there are obviously hundreds of feathers on each bird sculpture. To relive the tedium during this stage he always tends to work on completely different style of carving at the same time.
Ian’s life size Bald Eagle wood carving on display alongside Lord Nelson's Flagship HMS Victory
As well as a few setbacks he also had some rather lucky breaks which he feels tends to even things out quite a bit in the end." One of these lucky breaks was when the London Times newspaper ran a feature about Ian's work which was also appearing in a London gallery. A member of the Royal Household saw his work and was so impressed by the standard of Ian’s carvings he was invited to London to discus a variety of unique commissions for Henry V11 Chapel in Westminster Abbey and St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, two of the most historical and widely visited buildings in England.
From that moment Ian never looked back, within five years from the fire Ian was appointed ‘Sculptor to the Most Noble Order of the Garter and Honourable Order of the Bath’ and now spends around four months of each year on a large and variety of commissions in both wood and bronze for the British Royal Household
HM The Queen with the Duke of Edinburgh processing towards St George’s Chapel for the annual Order of the Garter service at Windsor Castle.
In 1989 Ian was officially appointed 'The Sculptor to the Most NobleOrder of the Garter and Honourable Order of the Bath ' and spends on average five months of each year on a wide variety of unique commissions for the British Royal Household. These commissions include, forty eight carved, painted and gilded Crests for the Knights of the Bath which were then placed in Westminster abbey, along with thirty nine Royal Crowns, Coronets and Crests for the Order of the Garter, which were then placed in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle when the latest Royal Knights, Ladies and Knights of the Garter are installed in St George’s Chapel Windsor in June of each year, in the Order of the Garter service, which is also attended by members the Royal Family.
One aspect of his work Ian particularly enjoys is the frequent invitations he receives to both Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey, to also be able to attend these historic ceremonies and to be involved in a tradition that has been going on for almost seven hundred years. "I often either get a letter or phone call from the Royal Household to tell me who the latest knights are to be installed, but HM the Queen informed me herself about Prince William’s being appointed as a Royal Knight of the Garter, when I was invited to Windsor Castle. We also had a long chat about many things in particular the Order of the Garter – Her Majesty is very knowledgeable. When I think about it, for twenty years my father was a Royal Marine, I was brought up in many council estates and military barracks all over the World, and here I was chatting away to HM the Queen over a glass of wine in her own home at Windsor…. It’s just amazing."
Ian and members of the Royal Household at a champagne reception after The State Opening of Parliament by HM the Queen
Heraldic sculpture is like a picture language, full of signs and symbols that reflect someone’s life and career,’ Ian says. ‘For example I carved a phoenix rising amid flames from the Tower of London for Lord Inge, a former Constable of the Tower, when he became a Garter Knight, and a blue badger for Lord Butler of Brockwell – brock being the name for a badger.
The Order of the Garter is the oldest British Order of Chivalry, founded in 1348 by King Edward III and reconstituted in 1805 and 1831 It’s restricted to the sovereign, members of the Royal Family, 24 Knights or Ladies Companion and certain foreign royals and is given as a mark of personal royal favour to honour people in public office, those who have contributed to national life or have served the Queen.
‘The technique Ian uses to carve his heraldic sculptures is totally different than his more realistic sculptures which are mostly carve from a single block of wood. The crests are made hollow when possible to try and keep their weight down as they have to be carried up a 20 feet high ladder one handed when they are put in in position upon the Knights helms in Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey.
Delivering the Princess Royal’s Coronet - HM The Queen at the Order of the Garter Service at Windsor Castle
It takes Ian three to four weeks to carve each particular crown, crest or coronet in his studio, working from the beautifully painted one-dimensional water-colour designs he is given, which he then transforms into an impressive three-dimensional lime wood carving designed to last for centuries.
"One of the main criteria I was given by the member of the Royal Household when I was first asked to produce this work, was that ' the commissions will all be totally different so I must be capable of carving anything' a rather daunting prospect at the time I recall, as I had only been carving for just a few years". Also an added pressure was the sculptures obviously had to be carved to the very highest standard but also and had to be completed and delivered on time, as these Crowns, Coronets and Crests were an integral part of the State Ceremonies held at Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey". Fortunately Ian has risen to the task since 1989 although his ability has certainly been well tested as each one of these commissions to date from the Royal Household is indeed all totally unique.
The first of these sculptures for the Order of the Garter was to be the carved and gilded Crown for HM Juan Carlos I of Spain to be placed in St George's Chapel Windsor Castle this commission was quickly followed by a carved and painted life size Heraldic sculpture of a Cockerel for an Admiral of the Fleet for the Order of the Bath which was then placed in Henry V11 Chapel in Westminster Abbey, these were the first two wood carving heraldic commissioned from the Royal Household. One of the more recently commissioned carvings he produced for an installed Knight of the Garter was a ‘Phoenix rising from the flames’, quite ironic really considering how Ian first started carving.
Ian delivering his first two commissions for the Royal Household – the King of Spain’s Crown and the Cockerel
These commissions for the Royal Household are often as varied as carving, Regal Lions to Mythical Unicorns and State Crowns and Coronets for Royalty and the Nobility from all over the World. Carvings also range from Majestic Eagles, to Busts of Men and Woman for Field Marshals, Admirals of the Fleet and Marshals of the Royal Air Force. These designs also include other Animals, Birds and Flowers for Prime Minister and other Heads of State, more recently these commissions have included producing the 20 inches high carved and gilded Chrysanthemum Crest for His Imperial Majesty Emperor Akahito of Japan.
On 23rd of April each year on St George’s Day, Buckingham Palace officially announce who is to be the latest recipient of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, the highest honour the Sovereign can bestow, a short time later Ian receives the detailed coloured drawings to work from. These carvings for the Knights of the Garter are then required to be completed in time for the annual Garter service held at St George’s Chapel Windsor Castle in June the following year.
Fortunately these sculptures are usually spaced out quite evenly over the year enabling Ian to work on his other private and commercial commissions, however during HM The Queens Golden Jubilee year in 2002, fourteen commissions were received from the Royal Household all within weeks of each other which kept him extremely busy as they all had to be completed and installed in time for both these historic services in Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey.
A small selection of the over eighty five Royal Crowns, Coronets and Crests that have been carved and painted by Ian G Brennan, before they were placed in both St George's Chapel Windsor and Henry V11 Chapel in Westminster Abbey for the Knights of the Most Noble Order of the Garter and Most Honourable Order of the Bath.
top row - Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk - HM King Juan Carlos1 of Spain - Baroness Margaret Thatches - Lady's and Knights of the Order of the Garter
bottom row - Lord Beetham - Sir Frank Cooper - Sir Henry Leach - Knights of the Order of the Bath.
These carvings produced by Ian during HM the Queen's Jubilee year included a sculpture of an Ostrich, Bobcat, Cornish chough bird and a Boar again all carved from lime wood, painted and then gilded for the Knights of the Bath. Commissioned for the latest Knights of the Garter was a Phoenix rising from the Tower of London, a Hawk standing on a gauntlet and the carved and gilded Crown for HM King Harald V of Norway,
A selection of the 39 Crowns, Coronets and Crests carved and painted by Ian G Brennan between 1989 - 2009 for the Royal Knights, Knights and Ladies of the Most Noble Order of the Garter which were placed in St Georges’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.
Shown top to bottom – left to right
Sir John Major - HRH Prince William of Wales - Sir Edmund Hillary
Baroness Margaret Thatcher – The Duke of Devonshire – HM King Harald V of Norway
Lord Butler of Brockwell – His Imperial Majesty Emperor Akihito of Japan – Sir Edward Heath.
Carved, painted and gilded Coats of Arms
Just over a year after the fire destroyed Ian’s furniture making workshop, although he had finally rebuilt his business, his newly discovered woodcarving skills began to take priority over his furniture orders and slowly he began to wind down the furniture making aspect of his work to concentrate fully on woodcarving. In 1994 however on one commission, Ian was to combine both his previous furniture making skills along with his carving expertise when he was asked to produce the Pascal candle stand in carved in oak for the Alter in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.
HM The Queen's daughter, The Princess Royal taking an interest in the relief woodcarving of the village of Warsash in Hampshire UK which was placed above the Vestry in St Mary's Church Warsash.
( lime wood 10 feet wide )
Please click to enlarge
Although Ian much prefers in creating original sculptures in a variety of materials he has also been pleased to be able to be involved in a number of rather special restoration projects, none more so than when Ian spent almost a year carving from mahogany the replacement starboard side entrance port on board 'Admiral Lord Nelson’s Flagship’ HMS Victory'
Ian’s entrance port then placed on the starboard side of the middle gun-deck of this historic 104 gun First Rate Warship which was originally built in 1765.
Lord Nelson’s Flagship HMS Victory with the replacement scrollwork carving
HMS Victory was Admiral Lord Nelson's Flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar and is the oldest commissioned Warship in the World. During 1989/90 Ian was invited by The Royal Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth in Hampshire UK to carve from huge solid blocks of mahogany an exact replica of the original Starboard Side Entrance Port on this historic warship HMS Victory, who's restoration is near completion..
A NASA space shuttle crew visiting HMS Victory
It has long been said amongst Ian’s family many of which including Ian’s father, have served in the Royal Marines and that one of his ancestors Marine John Brennan was killed onboard Nelson’s Flagship at Trafalgar. Although Ian was born in England his father was from Glasgow and a proud Scot, his ancestors however originated from the Irish republic and lived in and around Shannon the home town of Royal Marine John Brennan. It was therefore quite ironic that in October 1990 Ian was commissioned to replace the starboard side entrance port on Lord Nelson’s Flagship HMS Victory which is now in dry dock in Portsmouth Naval Dockyard.
During 1991 whilst Ian was working onboard replacing the starboard side entrance port amongst others, two large very old oak beams were removed from the lower gun deck of HMS Victory during the restoration program. As these beams were deemed in too bad a condition and therefore totally unsuitable to be restored and returned to the ship these oak beams were given to Ian by the ships crew to see if it were possible for Ian to produce ‘anything useful’ from any of them, although they still contained within the remaining sound oak, old hand made iron nails and copper bolts.
Over the coming years various woodcarvings and carved relief panels showing the Victory in full sail were then carved in relief by Ian from pieces of these oak beams and then donated to the crew to help raise money for various charities supported by the ships crew including the BBC Children in Need program.
Out of one of large oak beam Ian carved a four feet long Battle of Trafalgar scene depicting HMS Victory about to break through the French and Spanish allied line which is now on displayed on the middle gun deck onboard HMS Victory. The other large oak beam removed at the same time was used to carve the HMS Victory sculpture ‘Running before the Wind’ and although this model has taken over 5000 hours of carve and looks very fragile being made of old seasoned oak it is exceptionally strong.
‘Breaking the Allied Line’ now on exhibition onboard HMS Victory – The HMS Victory sculpture
One of Ian’s recent commissions from the Royal Household was to produced the carved and gilded Royal Crest and Knights Sword for HRH Prince William when he was made a Knight of the Garter in 2007, a piece of HMS Victory oak taken from the Victory sculpture was placed into the hilt of HRH Prince William’s Garter Knight sword which is now on display in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.
HRH Prince William’s carved Knight of the Garter Royal Crest and Sword
Traditionally since 1348, the latest Knights of the Garter have their carved and gilded Crest and Sword created and they are then placed above the stall (seat) were they are entitled to sit in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. Ian was officially appointed the sculptor to the Most Noble Order of the Garter and Order of the Bath in 1989 and has since then been commissioned to create all the Royal Crowns, Coronets and Crests for the Ladies and Knights of the Garter and Knights of the Bath .
Other restoration projects Ian has also been involved with include working in ''Southwick House" at HMS Dryad, which was General Eisenhower's Allied Headquarters in Southern England for 'Operation Overlord ' during WWII (where D Day was planned). During the recent restoration of this historic building Ian was commissioned to repaired and replace all the missing finely carved mouldings and detailed woodcarvings on the huge antique mirrors and picture frames which have hung on the walls in this magnificent historic mansion for centuries.
Ian was contacted by a prop’s buyer for the Granada TV company making the ‘Cracker’ Television series who were looking for a wood carver to produce an accurate woodcarving of a full size Falcon which was due to be filmed in few months time. The props buyer said that the Falcon had to be carved in a very specific way, as the script required the actor describing in great detail the various aspects of the bird whilst he was working on it. As the Falcon was required to be produced accurately, Ian started try and find preferably a real falcon to look at or at least finds some good close up photographs in the library, unfortunately without much success.
One morning Ian heard a real commotion going on in his back garden and looking through his studio window he saw a flock of Rooks swooping in and out of the oak tree in his garden and making an almighty racket. On looking up high in the tree Ian could make out the shape of a large bird caught up in the tree, on closer inspection to Ian’s great surprise it looked very much like the type of falcon Ian was desperately looking for as research for his carving caught in the branches by the Jessie attached to its leg.
What to do… The Rooks eventually left the falcon alone and as it was clear the bird was going nowhere Ian phoned up the RSPCA and asked if anyone had reported a Falcon missing, they took Ian’s phone number and said they would get back to him. A short while later the RSPCA phoned back and said a falcon had indeed been reported missing a few days earlier and they asked could the owners come straight over and have a look.
An hour or so later the owners of the Falcon arrived at Ian’s home and on looking up into the oak tree to their obvious delight they realised they had at last found their missing bird which they said days earlier had not returned from an exercise flight in the country side.
The problem was the bird was well and truly caught high up in the oak tree the Jessie that was attached to its leg and couldn’t be reached without assistance. The owner said would you mind if I use the phone and see if the local Fire brigade could help in any way. Although they knew it could not be classed as an emergency the fire brigade kindly offered to come over and help rescue the bird, they said graciously they would use it as a training exercise. With the falcon safely rescued, the delighted owners said I could now have as much access to their bird anytime to help with my research for the carved falcon commission.
The near completed carved lime wood Falcon – The actor working on Ian’s Falcon
Over the years many Art galleries particularly those in London had suggested perhaps Ian might consider producing some bronze sculptures to exhibit alongside his woodcarvings as the contrast between wood and bronze would be rather effective in future exhibitions. Also the prospect of being able to produce several limited editions from one sculptures rather than a one off wood carving made perfect sense especially for the art galleries. Although the though had a curtain amount of appeal to Ian, he was so busy producing his woodcarvings the idea of stopping his rather hectic carving schedule to experiment with a totally different medium did not really appeal to him at all and the idea of him also working in bronze was eventually abandoned.
"However fate was again about to take hand, almost literately one afternoon when in 1996 Ian had a moments carelessness putting the finishing touches with a chainsaw to the crest of the wave on the base of the 'Osprey catching a pike' wood sculptures he was working on which caused serious injuries to the tendons in his left hand. The severing of the one of the tendons and seriously damaging another prevented him from holding carving chisels and therefore working for several months. The blade of the chainsaw hit the back of his hand and then quickly bounced of the metal casing of his watch which fortunately prevented more serious injury to the hand. Although I am right handed the left hand is the clever one that holds and moves the chisels the right hand merely holds the mallet."
Ian was quickly taken to the hospital were luckily the exceptional skill of the surgeons and staff in the local hospital after a three hour operation eventually repaired the damage. Ian then had to attend the hospital for three days a week physiotherapy treatment throughout this period which eventually enabled him to fully regain movement in his hand, part of his treatment after his physiotherapy was also spent in the occupational therapy unit workshop which was attached to the hospital.
The wood sculpture of the 'Osprey catching a Pike' carved from a single piece of lime wood
Amongst the equipment in this workshop at the unit was a wood turning lathe something he had never used before, the subsequent lessons given by a member of staff at the hospital showing him how to use this lathe proved most useful, not only in helping him to gradually over the months get the flexibility back into his hand which is the prime purpose of the machines at the unit, but also learning how to make with the lathe potentially wooden crowns and coronets for the future. These crowns were made from the blank pieces of lime wood Ian started take with him into the hospital therapy unit most mornings. "I originally used to carve all the crowns and coronets by hand, but to suddenly now to have a wood turning lathe and an expert to show me how to use it properly whilst I was undergoing treatment was too good an opportunity to miss.
The blank pieces of lime wood before and after
"I am afraid however I soon discovered, as also did the staff and fellow patience in the unit that not all woodcarvers make good wood turners. "As much as the instructor tried to show me the correct way to use the lathe, after a while I would as often as not just for a moment loose concentration and return to my old carving ways and try to plunge the chisel in the spinning block of wood far too deep, with often rather unfortunate consequences, a terrible bang was quickly followed by frequently damaged pieces of wood or the occasional broken chisels flying at alarming speed around the hospital unit."
Eventually Ian's wood turning skills gradually started to improve and over the weeks and months that followed, these blank blocks of lime wood which he took with him each morning to the hospital unit, built up to a rather large collection of wood turned to the rough shape of Crowns and Coronets for future potential commissions for both Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey.
The first completed coronet Ian made from the lime wood blanks he turned on the lathe was the coronet for former British Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher when she was made a Lady of the Garter, the coronet was then placed on display in St Georges Chapel in Windsor Castle.
Baroness Margaret Thatcher’s carved coronet – The coronet in Windsor Castle
The technique and tools required for woodcarving is also total different to that required in producing bronze sculptures. In you frequently start with a solid block of wood or stone and then slowly remove everything that is not required for the particular sculpture, obviously taking care not to remove something you shouldn't until you accomplish the desired result. With bronze sculpture you start with nothing but pieces of clay, wood, wax or plaster and slowly add the material together to eventually create the sculpture you are after and if you were to make a mistake you can simple add another piece of material on.
Being unable for the time being to again earn his living as a wood carver once again started to prove rather difficult financially. Ian had until then finally managed after many years of hard work to at last escape the financial burdens of the past, now once again being unable to work things again started slowly to revert to the bad old days. An article in a local paper however was drawn to his attention it was a competition for artists in the area being run by Portsmouth's City Council. Ian had never before exhibited any of his work in a competition before and rather unconfidently was reluctant to do so now, however the first prize of £ 500.00 especially at the present moment sounded rather attractive.
After completing the application form the sculpture was delivered to the museum and was put on exhibition alongside many other art works by some very fine artists. A few days later much to Ian's great surprise and obvious delight the Osprey sculpture which had been the cause of all his current difficulties, won the first prize. The Osprey sculpture had suddenly started to now earn its keep not only as a wood carving but later as it would turn out as a limited edition bronze.
The accident to Ian's hand however had changed everything he simply had no choice but to follow the Doctors orders and to put on hold his many woodcarving commissions and therefore almost as a therapy try to work in a much softer more malleable material which was more suitable for his current situation. This way of working also helped Ian to slowly regain full movement back into his hand. The first of Ian's bronze sculptures was a small 'Elephant and calf ' made from clay which could easily be modelled with one hand.
Ian was told by the doctors that although the injury to his tendons were healing well and should eventually lead to a full recovery must still not try and work again holding carving chisels with his left hand for several months. As any savings he had were now long gone the possibility of having these clay elephants now cast in bronze were very slim, it is a rather expensive process having such 'master copies' moulded and then cast in bronze, he thought it therefore rather pointless tying to build up a collection of clay sculptures only for them to be left to eventually dry out, crack and fall apart in the corner of his studio.
He was then given the opportunity offered by the local foundry to watch the various foundry craftsmen in their work preparing other artists work, observing the clay master copy slowly being transformed into a superb bronze casting. The techniques used to produce the flexible mould and subsequently the replica in wax which after many weeks in the foundry was eventually transformed in bronze. All though he was unaware of it at the time all the knowledge gained in the foundry process was later to prove invaluable in preparing his own future bronze sculptures.
Ian's original clay sculpture - 10 inches (24cm) long
10 inches (24cm) long
Several weeks after Ian's accident, friends of his Terry and Judy Elson, who over the years had purchase a number of Ian's larger wood sculptures arrived unexpected to his studio see what he was currently working on. Ian explained why he had his hand in plaster and that as he was obviously unable to carve at the moment, however he take the opportunity to try modeling in clay instead and perhaps one day also produce his work in bronze. Terry jokingly said when they win the Lottery they would pay to have all Ian's wood sculptures they now owned and the other sculptures Ian still had in his studio, moulded and cast in bronze.
A few weeks later Terry and Judy retuned to Ian's studio and explained to his total amazement they had indeed just won the lottery, five numbers and the bonus, and true to his word they said they now would have Ian's sculptures moulded and produced in bronze. The following day a collection of Ian's original wood sculptures along with the elephants were taken to the 'Phoenix' foundry in Southern England and moulds were produced. Within a year Ian's had now built up a large potential collection of both wood and bronze sculptures.
Elephant with calf - Osprey catching a Pike
Ian's first two bronze sculptures
The first sculpture Ian had produced of his work cast in bronze was the small clay elephants, this sculpture were then followed by the Osprey catching a Pike. The normal process in the art foundry is that the artists original master copies which are usually produced in clay are once moulded discarded as the moulding process often damages the clay original. Ian's sculptures however apart from the elephants, were all carved from a single piece of hard wood and he was rather reluctant to say the least to have this original wood carving destroyed during the foundry process.
The original wood carving of the Osprey along with the first of the bronze limited editions
The skill of the foundry mould maker in particular was however superb and over many months the craftsman managed to produce the necessary high quality plaster and rubber moulds using my original wood carvings as the master copies, all without damaging one single wooden feather. This left Ian now with the rather unique position of having both the bronze casting along with the intact original wood carving ,a process Ian has repeated on many occasions on his other wood sculptures
Osprey catching a Pike - Leaping Panther - Swimming Otter - Swan with Cygnets - Sleeping Leopard - Marsh Harrier
bronze bronze bronze bronze bronze sterling silver
66 inches (188cm) high - 45 inches (115cm) long - 43 inches (119cm) high - 27 inches (69cm) high - 20 inches (51cm) high - 15 inches ( 38 cm) high
All six wildlife sculptures above three of which are life size, were originally carved from a single piece of English lime wood or walnut moulded and then cast in bronze or sterling silver.
The bronze and occasional silver sculptures collection now also included many life size sculptures including swimming otters, a mute swan and cygnets and leaping panther'. Smaller sculptures included a leopard sleeping in a tree and a pair of golden eagles'. One minute Ian had built a reputation with his highly detailed wildlife woodcarvings the next he was now able to build up an equally impressive large collection of bronze wildlife sculptures. When appropriate Ian still prefers to produces the original master copy for the bronze casting from wood which is then moulded to produce the bronze sculpture. This highly detailed original woodcarving 'master copy' can after moulding be cleaned, polished and then retained.
Leaping Panther carved from Walnut, cast in Bronze
Many hours of researching the subject are undertaken using live studies whenever possible, but he also uses videos and books until he has built up a complete picture in his mind of what the intended sculpture should look like. Ian has a natural ability to see things three dimensionally, which is extremely useful when he is carving one of his life size sculptures from within the trunk of a massive tree.
The six feet high Osprey catching a Pike Bronze - the Risen Christ statue and the 'gold tooth'
Ian’s over 300 commissions to date have been as diverse as carving a ten feet high Bald Eagle for an American Corporation, to a life size statue of the Risen Christ for a local church, a five feet high Lion for a Museum, to then carving 2 feet high gilded tooth for outside a Dental Surgery. Ian has also been commissioned to produce various ornate Trophies which include the Scottish Amicable Rugby final Trophy held at Murryfield between Scotland and the Barbarians and more recently a solid sterling silver trophy of a Marsh Harrier for the Royal Navy.
The Scottish Amicable Rugby Trophy 18 inches high - Marsh Harrier silver 15 inches high
It is quite understandable why Ian particularly enjoys producing his wildlife sculptures, when wild Badgers, Foxes, Squirrels and Deer are regular visitors to his studio often whilst he is working, on occasions they also bring their young with them who can then be found running around his studio. These visits also gives Ian the rather unique opportunity of studying the wildlife close at hand which is often the subject of his sculptures, the studio being built at the edge of woodlands in a nature reserve.
Wildlife both inside and taken outside Ian's studio
Although Ian's furniture making days are long gone the old skills learnt are occasionally still put to good use, as he was commissioned to make the Pascal candle-stand for St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. Made from oak and designed to suit the splendour of this Medieval Chapel, the carved and gilded oak Pascal candle-stand was completed in time to be lit in a special ceremony by HM the Queen during the service at Windsor Castle before it was placed in front of the High Altar in the Chapel.
The Pascal Candle Stand commissioned for the High Alter in St George's Chapel Windsor Castle.
carved and gilded Oak - 65 inches high
Ian now often works on a number of different sculptures in two separate studios built alongside each other particularly when he is working in plaster which generated a lot of fine plaster dust which gets just about everywhere. This process going from one totally different sculpture to another throughout the week enables him to see each one afresh. "The total contrast between perhaps one day working on a crucifix made from plaster for a bronze, to then perhaps carving from wood a gilded jewel encrusted Crown for Royalty is what makes his work so enjoyable".
The carved plaster 'master copy' for a bronze Crucifix
St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle
Ian G Brennan was invited to Windsor Castle to give a talk about the various aspects of his work as a sculptor. The informal talk which took place in the centuries old nave of St George's Chapel which is not only one of the most revered hallowed Royal shrines of the British Monarchy, but also one of the most beautiful buildings of its kind in the world, rich in history and a place of prayer.
This subject of Ian's talk was to be not only about the large variety of different sculptures he has produced for the Royal Household, but also how he was first to discovered his by then unknown ability to be able to carve, after his business was totally destroyed in a fire and that he was totally self taught as a wood carver and sculptor. Although many members of the audience in St George's Chapel at Windsor were aware that Ian had created over thirty of the sculptures placed around the walls of the Choir in the Chapel, very few were aware of how his career as sculptor first started.
This subject of Ian's talk was to be not only about the large variety of different sculptures he has produced for the Royal Household, but also how he was first to discovered his by then unknown ability to be able to carve, after his business was totally destroyed in a fire and that he was totally self taught as a wood carver and sculptor. Although many members of the audience in St George's Chapel at Windsor were aware that Ian had created over thirty of the sculptures placed around the walls of the Choir in the Chapel, very few were aware of how his career as sculptor first started.
A small selection of the variety of wood carvings and bronze sculpture by Ian G Brennan on exhibition in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle
After being introduced to the audience in the Chapel by the Dean of Windsor at 2.00 pm, Ian walked to the centre of the St George’s Chapel to begin his talk; he then suddenly noticed in front of him a beautiful ancient fabric frontal which covered the Alter; this Alter cloth was richly embroidery with a stunning image of a Phoenix rising from the Ashes.… the date Ian was invited to give his talk at Windsor Castle also happened to be at 2.00 pm on May 7 which was exactly 21 years to the very minute he first discovered the beam that was burnt into a shape of a leaping dolphin lying amongst the rubble of his workshop….... Ian had finally come of age.
Please Click image to enlarge
The ‘Phoenix Rising’ Alter Frontal in St George's Chapel Windsor Castle
It is said that some success comes easily, to others they have to work hard for it, but to Ian it came as such a great surprise. No one, especially Ian who had no interest in art at school, would have thought that a fire which totally destroyed his business would at the same time release his dormant and then unknown natural ability to be a sculptor, all quickly followed by many unusual and unexpected twists and turns and not forgetting lucky breaks. He would then go on to receive 134 unique sculpture commissions in both wood and bronze from the British Royal Household and that his sculptures would then be found in Castle, Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral, Museums, Carpenters Hall and private art collections all over the World....
So if you also then add these amazing lucky breaks, a great deal of determination with an unusual natural ability to be able to teach himself to carve and cast a wide variety of different subjects in many different mediums, Ian has now managed to achieved things which he never realised he was ever capable off…. If only Ian could have realised on that fateful day of the fire when he was digging amongst the burnt-out rubble of his business trying desperately to find anything he could salvaging, that exactly 21 years later he would be standing in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle in front of such a distinguished audience, talking about a new and totally unexpected career.
Phoenix Rising by Suzanne Cavill
2020 not only the year of Covid 19, but also the year we had the return of the Star that guided three wise men to Bethlehem, first alignment of Jupiter and Saturn in 800 years, the phenomenon on December the 21st when the planets appear to overlap in the sky, almost like a beacon of light and hope to eliminate the darkness.
In Warsash, on a typical rainy ‘rainbow’ weather day, you can always guarantee, if there is to be a rainbow in the area, it is always in the same place, every time, directly over the Church. It could all be just a coincidence of course, who knows, certainly not me, I’m just an old man who doesn't get out much, but I have done and do know one thing, through these rather trying times things will get better…... they usually always do.
This photo is one the easiest photographs for anyone to take, you just need to be there, on a ‘rainbow’ day, with a camera and a brolly of course, but it does make me wonder what came first. When the Church was built in 1870, they chose that exact spot to build the church, as rainbows, a symbol of faith and hope always appear there, or did the rainbows now appear almost like a ‘protective bubble’ over the Church.
Being positive really does help you get through the day and especially the night.
'At home with British Wildlife'
The only thing I could see doing a 'drive by' on my BSA Spitfire was of the average three bedroomed house I had recently purchased was just an outline house shape deep trench. These foundations had been dug into a recently flattened area backing onto a large woodland which still had the suspected culprit, a large yellow JCB digger parked on it with the driver rather blazingly still loitering around inside the cab. The large muddy recently levelled area had metal poles with orange tape hanging from them to mark out each of the individual housing plots and according to the A3 size folded paper I had been given by the lady in the estate agents indicating a large south facing corner plot of land which, would appear to have encroached over a 50 feet deep wide strip into the edge of the forest, were unbeknown to me at the time the wildlife would move back into this strip of land almost from the moment I covered it in turf. Everything you would expect from British woodlands, various birds and Mammals both large and small ranging from tiny field mice to large deer, Squirrels to badger and foxes moved back onto the space of land they once occupied and often inside my studio and workshop they didn’t occupy, but they do now.
I soon noticed how silent it was, admittedly it was lunch time and the builders were all on a break, but there was no traffic noise anywhere as any main road was at least a mile away. No sound of aircraft as we were nowhere near any flight path although I later realised that once a day one aircraft not known to be the quietest aircraft, Concord often flies right over the house around breakfast time most mornings after leaving the USA and crossing the Atlantic, on its way to Heathrow airport. That was in the good old days when Concord was allowed to fly anywhere!
I parked my once gleaming BSA but now with its now muddy tyres alongside the digger and had a quick chat with the guy sitting in it who was enjoying a huge mug of tea. He told me “The lads were shortly going to pour the concrete into the deep trenches he just dug, when the concrete mixer truck eventually turns up! They then intend to start actually building our house and the one next door in the morning” he explained. I looked around and noticed just a few feet away a robin busily digging around in my potential new ‘back garden’ working away for his next meal. Something unbeknown to me at the time I would also be doing at that very same spot, as I then had a 'proper job' working eventually as assistant electronics Engineer in a research Lab in an electronics company twenty miles away. I would end up doing for over forty years in as a professional wood carver and sculptor.
Riding down my yet to be laid driveway on my Spitfire, which I later also found out was a mere nine second flight from that very spot the Supermarine Spitfire factory where my bikes historic namesake the WW2 aircraft was designed and built. This site of the former Supermarine Works’ which were heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe during 1940 and still today often as a privately owned Spitfire would often fly down the Solent and over the garden as it was based at a small airfield a few miles away.
Photographs quickly taken a few years later of both the Concorde and Spitfire flying over the back garden.
Six months later the house was all done, dusted and painted and I moved in lock, stock and gleaming motorcycle into the house with a large garden and a small mortgage all from the compensation received for injuries having been knocked off my previous motorbike. The house was initially just going to be just a starter home, but it also ended up bringing out my nerdy side as I had settled into my new surroundings and as both me and the local wildlife and have all got on really well over the decades having got used to each other’s strange ways and needs. Although rather gingerly at the start but over the years and successive generations have come and gone, as the wildlife stayed and thrived so did, we and as a family have lived and grown up in this same house ever since and don’t intend leaving anytime soon, except for and a big wooden box kind of springs to mind.
The contrast of various creatures in the sky above the roof, from herons and hawks, to hundreds of noisy crows, rooks and magpies nesting far too close to the back garden for my liking. With song birds to owls, hummingbird hawk-moth to Hawks and buzzards both near and far and we are still waiting for our first sighting of the huge white tailed fish eagle which apparently has recently been released in the Isle of White just a few miles away. The last house I lived in as a teenager was a small three-bedroom terrace council house built on the top of Shakespeare Cliff in Dover, where you could leave your front door open and the kind neighbours had your back and one of them would always share his catch when he often went pleasure fishing in the Channel. Where the only birds we had in our small back garden covered with a vegetable plot were hundreds of garden sparrows and flying above were hundreds of seagulls and pretty much nothing else. Where the only Fox I saw was when once caught the bright eyes and outline shape in the headlight of my motorcycle riding down a country lane and the only badger, I ever saw was lying by the side of a similar country lane and the only Deer I ever saw was an equally rather unpleasant image of haunch hanging up inside the butchers in the High Street.
In 2021 the house and I are both celebrating our golden anniversary and although one may well have aged a tad better than the other, both have looked after each other as best we could. Having always felt like many parents and guardians over the millennium, my overriding role and in my case as a husband and very proud father of three children and five grandchildren, has always been to put food on the table, keep a roof over our heads and guard the entrance and I like to feel have been fortunate enough to have been able to achieve this very basic role. Although many of our early neighbours who also bought their houses around the same time had moved away many decades ago to bigger grander houses. When we see many of them today, some of them are now looking for, or already have downsized to say, well houses just like this one. So, it would appear staying where we have saved us all that hassle and cost involved with moving elsewhere.
Anyway, I had enough of moving around from place to place as a child and decided once I found the right place to put down foundations I will stay put, so having watched these actual foundations being laid, that is exactly what I have done. The kind neighbours here also have your back, along with the keys to your house, As do the children with their own families often using the house as a holiday home when we go away, to watch over it and to continue to feed the wildlife you help out in the back garden. Where there is a complete absence of house sparrows and sea gulls but the deer badgers and foxes you do have instead, are very much alive and kicking and the badgers and foxes will quite happily walk into your house, if you let them, which apparently, I tend to do far too often and all the animals and birds that visit you in your garden or fly low over your roof or even today have just found out build a nest in the loft, could fill a ‘what to look out for’ in your comprehensive British wildlife handbook.
The studio I built in the back garden to work from for the past 40 years along with the workshops alongside was indeed built upon the very same spot as the robin was pecking away in the mud in 1971, but it now has large picture windows that were once all ‘fly tipped’ onto the remains as my burnt-out workshop in 1984. Were subsequently put to great use during the past four decades and through these same large windows whilst I work both day and often the night have observed so much of the wildlife’s natural way of doing things, raising their families with both tenderness and tooth and claw.
They take no notice nowadays of my presence, as can be seen with just a very small selection of these images taken either through the windows or in the garden. My studio and two workshops are not the largest out buildings in the world built for such a purpose but large enough for me to work from on my own, along with the birds, foxes and badgers that frequently join me inside if they have a mind to do so, which tends to happen more often than not. Typical views through the both sides of the glass of the 'plaster/wax room' workshop alongside and inside my studio whilst I am working, with deer, foxes and badgers often arrive at the same time to feed, sleep, rest and play, or simply just being nosy, often a pair of foxes and badgers wander around because they can.
A pair of foxes and badgers in the studio following their natural instincts to explore. Along with a badger and fox simply following their noses.
When I first started carving for a living in 1984 it made perfect sense for me to concentrate on creating wildlife sculptures, both birds and mammals as they were around me as I worked. Although it is a relatively normal size house as both a family home and a place to work, this secluded south facing back garden backs onto an even larger bluebell woods and open fields with horses and cattle which in turn leads onto the Hamble river and Southampton Water less than a mile away, where unbeknown to me at the time I would end up also sailing along for almost thirty years on five different Cunard Cruise ships having been invited to give presentations and talks about my work as a woodcarver and sculptor. None of which I had dreamt of doing before from the house that the crash built.
Cunard ships Queen Elizabeth – Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2 just beyond the woodland on Southampton water and a small part of my workshop area.
In the garden on a sunny day there is hardly a day goes by when you cannot catch a glimpse of a pair of buzzards circling overhead catching a thermal, calling out to each other. Or to get a foreboding of bad weather to come as a flight of swans or geese flying low over the roof in a neat V formation squawking away to each other, as they fly away from the shore where they spend most of their time, to the lake nearby for shelter. After all the years, I have observed Swan and geese loudly calling out to each other as they fly past, I am still not quite sure who is calling who. Or in the garden there are always various creatures both large and small wandering around either for a visit or perhaps just simply reclaiming the back garden as then having taken it over decided to also join me inside in the home and studio. Everything from the humble, toad to stag beetles, birds large and small, none of which I actually encourage to enter, but if it’s safe and the doors and windows are left open for long enough, they will explore.
Sometimes birds and once even hundreds of wasps moved in when some decided to make a nest between the outside and internal walls of my studio a few years ago. There was no problem with any of the wasps providing I left them alone and I certainly had no intention of upsetting them. They came and went quite happily from a hole in the outside walls of the studio through the spring and summer months the only times our flight paths crossed was one evening whilst I was trying to catch up on some work during the early hours with the studio lights on, which woke them all up and the loud buzzing noise of a few hundred confused wasps flying all around me in the studio was unbelievably loud again, no harm came to either of us during the night. But at the end of the year the nest was abandoned so I sealed up the hole in the wall and removed the 15 inches wide wasps’ nest from within the internal wall, made a box for it for my daughter to take to school to show the class, displaying the amazing natural skill of the wasps to create their own home.
What I have found over the years with any animals wild or otherwise no matter what part of the world we were living at the time, none of them have ever attempted to do any harm providing I didn’t try and harm or impede their potential escape and over the years and various countries I have bumped into many creatures from with jungles thousands of miles away to woods and gardens closer to home. Some wildlife either by design, others by chance have found I could often get really close to them and all was fine. In all the many years I have been on this planet there was only one time I had any problem with wild animals was when as a teenager when I was chased by a pack of wild dogs.
Well, the dogs probably weren’t really wild in the wild sense, but perhaps just a bit miffed really I suppose because they couldn’t quite run fast enough to catch me riding my Post Office ‘detuned’ really slow BSA Bantams us Telegram boys had to put up with riding in the mid 1960’s. My legs then high up on the motorbikes leg shields, well out of the way of their snapping teeth, all through a large housing estate much to the cheers and laughter of the local residents as I was literally run out of town. In those days it was a rather common sight to see lots of pet dogs running around in packs, but fortunately despite their best efforts I managed to out run them…that time.
Having always lived in towns and busy cities, high rises and bedsits I used to think it must be really nice to live in peace and quiet of the countryside, however this concept like most things in life also has its contradictions. What with the noisy daily Dawn chorus which I often feel tends to go on for a lot longer than you would think is absolutely necessary. To crows and magpies arguing over the remains of your breakfast you’ve just thrown onto the lawn. But on the upside the wonderful bird sounds emanating throughout the day up until it starts to get dark and you look forward to the stillness of the night, which is just about when in the distance on the shore line you can see the wonderful murmuration of starlings and then the crows and rooks are back, filling the sky’s flying low over our heads on a fly past from there day out back from goodness from where and start to roost in the oak trees not far enough away from the back door and once again begin to argue over the best place to settle for the night, which you would have thought they would have sorted that all out the night before and then finally having found a perch, squawk loudly about their day and slowly the deafening sound of silence breaks out.
Albeit for what appears to be a fleeting moment and then sounds rather fitting in hammer horror films break up the peace and quiet, as the Owls start up just moments before a looking for love dog again fox decides to call out for a mate usually just behind our garden fence or worse in the back garden beneath our window and with what seems like an eternity. A vixen with a keen hearing which always appears to be miles away in the distance begins to call back and the calling to and fro appears to last forever before they finally meet up. On a foggy night, you can hear the Fog horns throughout the night from the Tankers, Cargo Ships and Cruise liners plying their wares up and down Southampton water just a mile or so away as the crow flies and they fly around a lot. But all these sights and sounds of the wildlife just being wildlife, both night and day is simply priceless and to be fair, after all these years I would find it difficult to get to sleep without the simple sound of nature all around.
The relationship we have Particularly with the badgers and foxes is rather special for us as they are still wild animals that come and go as they please and especially in the late Spring when the cubs are let out into the big wide world for the first time, as one of the first places the cubs’ visits as I am often left wondering how many more cubs are there each year just waiting for me to look after. Once the fox and badger cubs are eating solid food, they tend to get a bit more interested in their surroundings, or should I say usually our surroundings and will go almost everywhere given half the chance exploring, especially if we leave any door open as they all know us so well. They will just walk right into the garden, unless there are people around, they don’t know, which we tend to actively encourage as this natural caution for anyone they don’t know for obvious reasons.
Sometimes Deer would arrive at the bottom of the garden and the Doe would leave the young fawn sitting quietly in our garden for hours on its own before eventually returning to collect it before they then casually wandered off back into the woods together. One particular afternoon ‘Bamby’ was again left relaxing in the garden this time however for much longer than usual. It still hadn’t moved from exactly the same spot it was left for hours which did start to concern us a little and thought perhaps we should feed or water the fawn as mum hadn’t turned up most of the day, but it remained just were it was left and we thought perhaps history was repeating itself just like in the Disney film and Mum wouldn’t be coming back. Then a very long four hours or so later, Mum casually returned and walked into the garden right up to her and they both quietly wandered back into the woods together
The vixen sometimes does a similar thing with her cubs and leaves them to wander around, playing or just sleep in the garden and if I am around just leave them with me to look after and just disappear for a while. I appreciate foxes today can be rather common in in certain parts of the UK and not to everyone’s liking and sometimes mine, especially when I find something rather unsavoury one of them has left on the lawn during the night, stuck to the bottom of my slippers after I was in the garden topping up the bird bath. You also hear all these stories about foxes and things they may or may not get up to, no doubt some are quite true although none of which we have observed from our foxes in our small patch of mind. But in my observations of the decades, I have noted there caring and attentiveness towards each other and their young rather amazing, despite different vixens over the past decade in particular, their choice of temporary carer for their precious cubs may well feel to some rather unorthodox when the occasionally leave one or on one occasion two of their youngsters to, well it has to be said someone although well-meaning and will always give its best shot, is less than qualified for the task in hand although will insure the cubs are looked after and kept safe at all times, so fortunately it appears to work out well for everyone in the end.
One afternoon a Vixen appeared. It was one of our regulars. She had a good look around, notice it's only me in my overalls wandering around as usual. She then disappeared for a few moments and walked back into the garden with a really young cub in her mouth, just like you often see a lioness carrying their cubs in the Serengeti or like me watching it on the television. The Vixen then brought the oh so cute but so very young cub right up to me whilst I was in the garden and dropped the cub at my feet without a by or leave and then wandered off again as the bemused cub and I watched her leave with the Vixen giving just a fleeting backward glance and disappeared into the woods again for around twenty minutes, but it felt so very much longer to me as a rather inexperienced new but keen fox-cub sitter.
I mean I have never been that good at small talk at the best of times even with a youngster in my charge. It’s one thing looking after young children playing games, doing Lego, hide and seek. Well, I’ve been there, done that, probably even got the tea shirt hiding somewhere, mind you I wouldn’t be allowed to wear it whilst I’m working as I apparently, I always get glue, paint or resin and other things which Sue says she just cannot get off, on it. Although I must admit something I do have a bit of form doing that so fair point I suppose. But young fox cubs first day out from the set left on its own with just me to amuse it, probably the only other life form he has seen apart from his foxie family in his oh so short life so far, the poor thing. Oh, the responsibility and then eventually the Vixen wandered back into the garden right up to us still sat there on the grass, both of us looking bemused, but also no doubt relieved that mum had finally turned up.
She carefully picked her cub up by its neck once again and still walked rather awkwardly, carrying her young cub and disappeared, back into the woods. I quickly walked in the opposite direction just in case she was about to bring another cub up and got on with my proper job, which was not meant to be babysitting the local wildlife. Although it would appear none of them had the memo as it tends to happen a lot of the time nowadays. A week or so later mum was back this time with two slightly larger cubs who followed her right up to the lounge window and they looked in at me having a tea break on the settee, she then left both of them on their own on the lawn by the window and once aging wandered off. I picked up the tub of meaty dog chews we always have to hand and went outside to join them, as my wife Sue photographed them both watching me approaching them down the side of the house. As I got closer to them and then dropped some of the meaty chunks for them, they both settled down as they obviously had been weaned and soon finished them off. They then had had a loud growling play fight rolling around on the lawn, taking turns as which one was the more aggressive one and which one was the passive one and then chasing each other around the garden for a while before they laid down in the sun until mum rounded them both up around 35 minutes later and once again, they just wandered off back into the woods this time my not getting any backward glance.
In 2018 after living in our house for over four decades and having seen all sorts of British wildlife visit our back garden, one species you might expect especially when there would appear to be hundreds in the fields and lanes half a mile away in the countryside behind the back gate, is rabbits. Not something which we not would actively encourage in our small but verging veg patch I hasten to add, but one evening late spring, one the first one ever turned up and stayed for most of the day. I tried to catch it a number of times so I could release it back into the fields beyond, for its own protection from our somewhat larger more regular visitors, where it should really be making its living. but it was always far too quick for me, until later that evening after hearing a bit of a kerfuffle in the garden with a fox or badger and alas it visited us no more.
Over the years’ different generations of your typical British wildlife, such as deer, squirrels, foxes and badgers are so used to us be in the garden they can be found on a daily basis wander around the garden whilst we are gardening or just sitting around in a sun chair, or even often visiting me inside my studio whilst I am working. The wildlife is not too bothered about our presence and just get on with their day, pretty much as do we. Although to be fair on many more than one occasions the deer’s frequent visits and appetite for the flowers in bloom in the garden during this period can be rather problematic especially for Sue, the gardener. We are both aware and have been since the first time the Deer appeared in the garden that although a joy to watch as they quietly walk past us sitting in the garden chair, the moment they began eating the flowers and leaves from the weeping cherry tree which despite its name has never had any cherries on it, where the deer will regally harvest all the leaves and anything else that they could reach in the garden that took their fancy, so we always had a bit of a problem with them and their constant eating habits and had since watched countless generations of Deer come and go as they please and they have pleased rather a lot over the years.
Although badger’s deer and foxes can tend to pretty much all look the same probably as do, we to them, but when you get really close to them and care to notice these things, they all have very slight subtle difference, be it markings, looks or characteristics to enable us to tell them all apart. I have also proved conclusively that badgers’ foxes and deer can also tell us all apart and have proved it on numerous occasions especially when we have friends and family who have tried to get close to them to take a good close look as they then tend to run off. I was once asked if I know each individual animal to which the rather obvious replied. was “Yes, I do know them all well, but not to talk to. But as I am often on my own in the garden or studio with them wandering around all the time, I will probably not totally rule that out!
The wildlife that has been visiting us through the day and often the night is probably one of the main reasons we have stayed in this particular house for so long. Some days it is impossible to keep up the comings and goings of the wildlife in and around the garden and studio and although I try not to get in their way, they all don’t appear to mind that we also share this part of the world with them. If it’s not a Tawny owl who has moved back into the owl box I put in down the bottom of the garden, it is a lone Bat is using a hole I meant to fill in many years ago right under the window sill, using it as a pied-à-terre when it flew into it one afternoon, but it was literally just a flying visit for just a few days and moved on probably to somewhere a tad grander, which was a bit of a shame.
All the wildlife big or small on the ground or in the air have always been made welcome to visit the garden if they choose and although their range for foraging for food is vast and as we happen to be rather close to the foxes and badger’s sett, so I suppose it makes perfect sense for the wildlife to visit us first looking for the odd early warm up snack if it's available, before they start their natural foraging in the woods beyond begins, so it is quite an idyllic place to live and work from really. In the summer months over the decades the wildlife has slowly taken back the garden alongside the woods and tend to treat it as their own and many return to the garden to rest or just sleep in the sun. On one occasion a large rabbit wandered onto the lawn for a rest whilst a pair of friendly pigeon’s shared the Bath together, but not all wildlife dares to rest, bathe and sleep together on the lawn, especially the birds and smaller mammals when the foxes are around.
This scene is quite normal for us and the wildlife in this tiny part of southern England we share with them but occasionally there is a no show from most of the larger mammals in the garden, which normally means there have been people around enjoying walking around the extensive woodlands beyond the back fence, some with their dogs running around here there and everywhere, just like we used to do with our dogs and our children still do today when they visit. Although the Deer, Badgers and Foxes then keep well clear of such activity and tend to only visit us once it’s all quiet and the coast is clear, so who can blame them.
Since I moved into this house successive generations of animals and birds have learnt that the garden is a safe area for them to visit and it also no doubt helps that we have often fed them with table scraps and other foodstuffs through that period, sometimes considerably more if one of them appears to be in need so we never have any food waste as all such food is naturally recycled through the wildlife, which can often help get them through the leaner times when food is scarce. For over four decades this small part of an England country garden has been many things to a wide variety of British wildlife doing what comes naturally to them and we have been fortunate enough to be able to observe the comings and goings real close at hand both day and night, for all the local wildlife they have also found in this small plot of land we call home which for the wildlife is a place of refuge, a food station, a creche’ and occasional field hospital, somewhere where the local wildlife can relax, chillout and catch some rays in total safety, peace and quiet, which I suppose we all would like to do really.
Although we make no real attempt to tame them as I feel they still need to be wary of some of us unfortunately, but it's rather nice to be able to get so close and literally look a wild animal right in the eyes as I suppose they are like the rest of us, just trying to get by, best they can. Mostly the wildlife simply lay in the sun on the lawn and fall asleep for an hour or so during midday, again a bit like us if we can, before once again disappearing into the woods often returning early evening for any remains of lunch and dinners, unlike us. I don’t think it's cupboard love they visit as I tend to wear dusty, paint and plaster splattered grubby overalls in which I have often been swinging a heavy wooden mallet around all day, so you would have thought nothing, would eat anything that came out of my pockets, I mean would you? well, I wouldn’t anyway……. oh, I don’t know, it depends I suppose.
I used to top the bird table up when it got dark so the birds could have an early breakfast however in the morning regardless of how much bird seed and nuts were piled up on the table for the birds but first thing in the morning all the bird food had gone. One afternoon we then spotted a pair of foxes taking turns standing on the bird table eating all the bird food. They both simply leap onto the bird table then jump off again when they had finished. A few weeks after we watched the foxes eating from the bird table and then one evening in early May we spotted a badger on top of the bird table doing exactly the same thing as a fox waiting below for its turn.
Carving from home thought the day and often working on the less energetic painting and gilding side of my work during the night when required, I have observed the comings and goings through all four seasons of the year, either around my feet or through my large picture windows in the studio, workshop or lounge and observing many species of birds and other wildlife in an almost totally natural setting. From the day we moved in the wildlife were not only looking back at us through the windows along with the occasional bee and bird for some reason insisting on flying into it and more recently a young fox cub for reasons only known to himself ran right into the glass and nearly knocked itself out. But if I 'accidentally’ 'left the studio and workshop back door open the foxes and badgers often accompanied by their young would all simply wander in often unannounced and have a quick look around following their noses and are more than happy to follow me inside the house given half the chance. A great deal of trust with the wildlife has been built up over four decades which does appear to confirm; If you build it, they will come!
As all the wildlife that visits are all quite used to seeing me in my natural environment which just happens to us to be living right alongside theirs. When the badgers and deer in particular arrive at the edge of the garden they tend to have a good look around and sniff the air before entering the garden and then walk around at their leisure, regardless of whether I am around or not and often end up to my studio where my sculptures are mainly worked on or in the ‘clean’ area where the detailed painting and gilding goes on. For the most part in Hampshire the squirrels are the grey kind not the native red squirrel which is a bit of a shame, although there are still some red squirrels surviving in isolated pockets in England especially a few miles away across the water at the nearby Isle of Wight.
Charming to look at as they are. although some people perhaps rather unkindly class the Grey squirrel as just a rat with a bushy tail and good PR but when frightened tend to sit on a branch looking down to the antagonist waving their tails around and imitating when you think about it, sounds like a duck which I also think tends to go on a lot longer than you would think should be entirely necessary. They are however very clever, exceptionally agile creatures and very adaptable and I have found watching them without too much effort making their way into a top of the range ‘squirrel proof container and eating the bird nuts inside the containers always fascinating. For the most part in Hampshire the squirrels, one of the favourite meals for both the badger and fox if they are quick enough but more likely meet up with a youngster just out of the dray. The young squirrels are fascinating to watch when they climb down the tree and gingerly touch the grass for the first time, they are usually so engrossed putting the front paws up and down on the grass almost if they are testing the firmness of a new mattress and often they get so engrossed with examining their new surroundings that is when they are more vulnerable when a fox is around.
Our daughter’s cat she had decades ago, did on the odd occasion find living alongside woodlands sharing the garden with the local’s wildlife was often not all it’s cracked up to be. She learnt from an early age she was not allowed to catch or chase birds in the garden and would often wear a flea collar with a bell on it to help remind her. We would often throw the cat’s stale food onto the lawn for some animal to eat at some point, something the hedgehog in particular was rather partial to. Although the cat certainly didn’t want any of its old food, and watching the foxes through the lounge window decides it doesn’t want anything else to have it either. So occasionally the cat would guard the stale food for as long as it takes or until it got bored. On this occasion mid-afternoon a very young cub wanders into the garden on its first adventure away from its protective parents who were quietly watching its every move at a discreet distance at the bottom of the garden.
The cat arched its back and so did the young cub as the both stared at each unblinkingly and slowly walked back and forth round and round with the backs arched up. The standoff lasted for several minutes until they both got tired of it all and the cat laid back down on the lawn were the standoff initially started and watch the cub finish of its old stale dinner anyway. The dog fox and vixen continued to watch from the side-lines thirty feet away without interfering in any way until their cub had finished its meal. Our cat thoroughly bored by now walked back indoors to each it’s preferred anyway much fresher cat food in its bowl. The fox cub satisfied with its first successful foraging on its own in the big wide world it founds itself in, promptly rolled over and had a nap in the hot sunshine on the lawn alongside my studio window.
All the time its parents were still patiently waiting at the bottom of the garden, tenderly watching before the young cub got back on its feet and ran towards them and all three-wandering back into the woods together. Our small cat which must have been the runt of the litter and although small it was never intimidated by our dog or the fox either. I once happened to see the cat literally give an adult fox a right hook that the legendry Muhammad Ali would be proud of as it got to close to its old food on the lawn, which made the fox jump back and quickly retreat unhurt but no doubt a tad embarrassed by the whole experience. Topaz was 16 years old cat at the time which I think in cat years is well over 70; I just hope I am that feisty at that age. If only I was quick enough to video not just photograph the whole sequence it might have dispelled some of the stories you sometimes hear about foxes attacking cats, or maybe it’s just that foxes around our way are all a bit of a wuss.
Like most things in life, sharing the garden with all the wildlife is not always sweetness and light, it also has its darker moment’s. You can sometimes wake up in the morning, pull open the curtains to let in the early morning sun and find a vixen with her cub sleeping by the window waiting for service or the recently mowed lawn has disappeared during the night, perhaps not completely disappeared just huge great holes have been dug in it as a hungry badger or three have decided that X marks the spot right in the middle of the lawn were juicy worms or even better ‘leather jackets were hiding somewhere below the grass, if you dig deep enough to find them! The flower borders however are another story, plants to the Deer are apparently fair game, but to have Deer wandering around the Lawn is rather nice having spent most of my young life not ever having a back garden to sit in let alone full of wildlife. So, we just kept putting in new plants and the Deer kept eating them.
Even coming home after a holiday has its moments, when most people with a garden first thought may well be to cut the lawn, ours sometimes is to relay it, as the badgers have once again been digging it up looking for dinner during the night, but after a few hours stamping the turf down and putting the bulbs back in the flower borders, even the badgers are always welcome. Foxes likewise although they have their moments when in a moment of weakness because you should know better if you leave a rubbish sack by the back door for just for a minute, with the containers of last night’s takeaway still inside, the fox will soon relieve you of it and then spread the contents all over the lawn trying to find the source of the aroma as it rips open every single bag and spreads them all around the newly mowed lawn hoping he will find something tasty and then runs off with a gleaming silver but still empty takeaway container which it then just dumps in the woods somewhere, anywhere for me to now have to try hunt down and dispose of properly, as if I hadn’t got enough things to do already.
If there is a less than attractive reason for living alongside woodlands it is as we enjoyed having for over a decade a pure white Afghan hound as a pet and less than half a mile away in the wood’s marshlands which an Afghan hound on full song she can reach in no time at all. Since I moved into the house fifty years ago it has been shared with many creatures including the occasional hungry, injured animal or bird who arrives in the garden or we find in the woods which we can try and nurse back to health or if not run them down to the professionals to take care of. To the more conventional varieties such as your standard guinea pigs, rabbits in hutches outside. With fish, love birds, cats and dogs inside. The last two dogs were a wonderful golden retriever and Afghan hound thirty years ago. We then decided it was only fair to stop keeping dogs when the larger mammals out of the woods began to make regular visits into the garden.
The marshlands and Cleo the Afghan Hound appeared to have an irresistible attraction towards each other especially after she had come back from the dog groomers looking wonderful but it has to be said it was not a look she was always too enamoured with. Such regular events began to be my ‘black dog’ moment, possibly not quite the same as the one former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill frequently complained about, but one that appeared to happen all too frequently. The moment she was delivered back home clean and white by the dog groomers that was the signal for Cleo to make a run for it and believe me Afghan hounds if they choose can certainly make a run for it. An hour later she would wander back looking somewhat sheepish but nevertheless always rather pleased with herself with her obviously much preferred lived-in and also rolled in it look. Although Cleo didn’t like anything to do with being groomed, she was rather keen to put it mildly, travelling around with me in the van where she went everywhere with me as the ‘drivers’ mate’. She also really enjoyed riding in the back of our Triumph Stag car we used to have, especially on a summers day when the cars roof was down, in fact we were never able to leave home without her, it felt if I just happened to look at the car or van keys she was always the first to the front door. Even if I was working in the front of the house she was at her happiest watching the world go by sitting in her ‘kennel’ on the back seat of the Stag. for almost twelve years we took Cleo everywhere with us, admittedly it was rather difficult to do, otherwise she just loved the wind blowing in her long blond hair as we drove along looking so aloof like Afghans hounds do so well.
Although we like many people, put seed and nuts out for the birds, the most popular thing we provide them with is blocks of lard from the supermarkets warmed up and simply squashed against the oak tree. Everything that can reach the lard will eat it and if it is placed too low down the tree that includes the foxes and badgers. One of the many species of birds include the Great spotted woodpeckers which in the early summer can often be seen picking up pieces of the lard in their beaks, climbing up the length of the tree and then placing it in various gaps in the tree bark for their newly fledged youngsters to ‘discover’.
Foxes have a similar feeding technique when they first bring their cubs out as we have left some meaty chunks of dog food out just before the Vixen brings the first cub out onto the lawn. She would grab a huge mouthful of the meaty chunks and individually place them all over the lawn and then teach the cub to zig zag back and forth to cover the whole area looking for something to eat.
Foxes will eat most things, but a badger has a massive appetite and will eat almost everything and won’t stop until it’s all gone. Badgers for the most part are passive and gently creatures and would rather run away than from potential trouble, unless like everything if threatened or cornered it will defend itself and with its large teeth and long powerful claws it uses to dig deep into the ground to build its set, it would indeed also make a formidable adversary if cornered and threatened. but it has to be said cute as they are not the sharpest knife in the draw.
I recently filmed one of them, a sow we know very well who turned up at the back door as usual one early summer evening whilst I was washing up and left the kitchen door open. It just looked like all the animals tend to do; no doubt having followed its nose with the remnants of the evening meal still drifting downwind. So, I gave her a handle full of bird nuts I had ready to put out in the morning and then thought I would treat it to one of its favourite snacks, a large chicken egg straight from the fridge.
I placed the egg directly under her nose and she left the egg on the doorstep and she began eating the peanuts, as I carried on washing up because I know my place and the badger who kept on eating the nuts as did the badger. Just then a vixen also popped her head through the open back door, noticed the egg, looked up at me and over to the badger and calm as you like, slowly walked right past the still eating badger, right up to the egg and stole it literally from right under the badger’s nose and the badger didn’t notice a thing. To save the badger's disappointment I quickly replaced the egg and five minutes later the same thing happened, but this time the vixen had reinforcements, her first cub of the year no doubt showing it the ropes and they were both gone quietly into the night, along with the other egg.
Day one; Unexpectedly feeding the Fox!
Although the badger again hadn’t appeared to notice anything as it continued enjoying its peanut breakfast, so I quickly then made up a pate’ sandwich for the badger, like you do, only the very best for my little furry friend who won’t mind in the least the pate’ was past its sell by date just a little bit and then again placed the meaty sandwich on the doorstep right under her nose for her to take away with her instead as I continued filming. She looked up at me and watched me do it, so she knew it was there and continued hoovering up the peanuts which she is so very good at. But the vixen was also looking from afar and walked back down the alley way and then the pate’ sandwich was also in the fox. I closed the back door and I continued washing up and the badger continued eating the peanuts.
As for the Fox it no doubt sat somewhere at the bottom of the garden with its new cub tucking into their ill-gotten gains. As far as the badger should be concerned, to have your favourite snack literally taken from right under your nose. Once is unfortunate, twice is careless and three times, well that’s downright embarrassing. Fortunately, all three events of the boar badger and vixen were picked up on the video camera and I ended up this time with three totally different two minute’s video clips, along with these sets of photos taken from the clips, all basically showing the same outcome.
First egg on day two was again set up on the back step alongside the boar badger and soon went the same way as on day one, inside the ever-present Vixen, as she now had a new family to feed and was right on it as per usual as this time she was waiting in the back garden for the badger to turn up and then followed the Badger up the pathway between my studio to the back door and when I opened it both animals were already outside the back door sat alongside each other, like a pair of obedient dogs patiently waiting for me to open up shop and it would appear with no social distancing attempted by either party To me this was almost at the end of my working day, but to my nocturnal friends this was the beginning of theirs and they were both hungry and knew a soft touch for a snack when they see one and were looking right up at him as I was once again began rooting through the fridge to see if there was anything that might interest them both, like you do.
I then could hear a real commotion in the garden so I thought badger had finally had a quick word with foxie regarding the absent eggs business so started filming straight away as I could hear the row was heading my way down the path in the darkness. It was actually the Badger and his mate arrived instead and then she had a right go at the boar no doubt as the male had recounted the disappearing eggs and pate’ saga to the female and how none of it was his fault and then the bickering stopped right at the open back door as they saw me watching and filming just feet away, Awkward. They both then looked right up at me as if to say well! but I kept on filming like a true pro regardless literally inches away from them both standing there in the kitchen, in my pajamas and slippers, see it’s not all glamour for us wildlife photographers. The pair of badgers stopped having their domestic, long enough for me to place the last remaining egg down right in the middle of them both, not wishing to pick sides this time and stood back a bit to carry on filming and watched as the sow carefully rolled the egg off the step onto the path with her paw and broke it open with her formidable teeth and finally, yes finally an egg was now in the badger. Wrong badger of course but hey a mere technicality as the egg was still in a badger and not a fox, so that will have to do as I have now run out of eggs until the next food delivery arrives in a few days’ time, all this whilst the Boar Badger the egg was destined for, continued with her peanuts and now dog meaty chunks breakfast.
At least Badger ‘Speedy’, yes, we do have names of a sort for all the larger mammals as we watched ‘speedy’ shoot across the lawn and very nearly caught a young squirrel once before it escaped up a tree. ‘Patience’s one of the latest Vixen’s, ‘Scratcher’ her partner, he is often first at the window in the morning scratching the glass with its claws waiting for service, ‘patch’ and more recently Junior, ‘Newbie’ a young half-starved fox, to name just a few, but at least ‘Speedy’ had her raw egg breakfast, to make a nice start to her day/night foraging as I close the back door as the pair of them as they started their night and their constant quest for a meal on their own. You know thinking about due to the obvious difficulty involved trying to get an egg in the badger’s mouth game, might be a good idea for one of the traveling fairground sideshow games as a child I enjoyed so much, I would at least get one of those cuddly toys or something for all my efforts.
Watching a badger eating an egg without spilling it has always fascinated me. That is why I was rather persistent on this occasion. For the most part the fox will simply pick it up and run off with the egg so you miss all the action. The badger cannot be bothered to do that unless it’s to take it back to the set for the sucking female to eat, so it will just open the egg up right in front of you. Firstly, it will carefully nobble away across the centre in a sort of dotted line of small holes in the egg shell with its long sharp incisor teeth gently but firmly gripping the egg in vice like grip between its two sets of front claws and then carefully prise it open like a clam using these long claws into the two halves, still not smiling much, if any of the egg’s contents and then lap it up from both halves, all of which on my last egg I managed to film literally just two feet away, Yeh I know get a life springs to mind, but I don’t get put much but it’s still rather clever, you try it with a slippery egg, rolling around all over the place on a hard surface, then open it with just your teeth and still not spill a drop!
Meanwhile while the badger was finally eating its egg, but now the same Vixen was back and had missed the opening and was now watching and resenting every mouthful, trying to work out how she could once again steal the egg, somehow, but foxes are not daft and stealing an egg from right under the nose of a badger is one, thing, but trying to steal an egg whilst it is eating it is another, so she rather wisely also knew when to give up.
Although I had sacrificed several eggs to the cause which to be fair I found at the back of the fridge and we weren’t to sure how long they had been there and as we do not have any pets of our own to feed, I felt it cheap at twice the price and on the upside at least I managed to get nine minutes of video footage in full surround sound and colour vision for my troubles which more or less demonstrates that brains for the most part will often defeat brawn, even in the animal world, but being careful and choosing the right moment equally so.
During the spring months, I sometimes take my larger wood sculptures into the garden to work on with a bit more space out in the fresh air. One day the consistent rhythmic tap, tap, tap, with the chisel working on in this instance was the large Bald Eagle in flight sculpture standing upright at the bottom of the garden caused a great spotted woodpecker to take a rather special interest in my wood carving technique. Every few taps of my wooden mallet upon the chisel were met in the distance with an equally loud tapping sound from the ‘other’ woodpecker. The woodpecker would stop tapping for a moment which was my queue to started tapping again. As it slowly flew closer to its rival or who knows a potential new mate. This mutual tapping sound went on for a while until the woodpecker finally landed on an oak tree just a few feet away. The woodpecker having now made the last series of tapping sounds took a quick look around, couldn’t see anything apart from myself and the Eagle sculpture and having obviously seen off its potential territorial rival or possibly thought it had missed the woodpecker of its dreams. Had a casual drink out of the bird bath and then flew off back into the woods.
Most of the wildlife whether they are normally expected to appear during daylight hours or are indeed nocturnal mostly stick to the script, but occasionally they don’t. One such occasion in mid-March in 2016 a very thin, haggard, tired, looking female one of us we know rather well as ‘patch’ who very slowly ambled into the garden and appeared a rather sad image desperately looking for something, anything to eat. This behaviour is not too unusual for the deer or foxes who often turn up during the day time especially if they are feeding their young, but this sow to do so mid-day wandering around all over the garden just like our dog used to was a tad more unusual at this time of the year as the sow is usually holed up in their set suckling there young.
She looked really tired and emaciated and just laid down alongside the bushes on the lawn and didn’t move. A few moments later a Crow landed in the garden alongside her, shortly to be joined by another and unfortunately, they both started to take far too much interest for my liking to the now completely motionless badger. The crows then started to make that rather unpleasant loud shrill noise only crows can make, calling out for reinforcements which duly arrived landing in the trees close by. Fortunately, at this point the show began to move and then eventually got up and slowly began scrabbling around in the borders of the garden turning leaves over obviously desperately looking for grubs or something, anything to eat. Before once again appearing to be totally exhausted and just laid in the flower border sheltering out of the sun under the Camellias tree.
As we watched the pair of crows on the lawn were becoming more brazen, hopping closer each time to the now motionless badger. One emboldened crow literally got within pecking distance from the badger head and although I am aware they were only doing what comes naturally to a crow, felt they certainly weren’t going to do it in our garden, with one of our regulars especially on my watch, so I quickly tapped on the window just to scare the crows away and then walked out into the garden to see if the badger was injured and if I could do anything to help. She looked painfully thin and emancipated with very patchy missing fur and looked in such a bad way and getting up close it also looked like she was suckling some cubs. Which being springtime was now a real added concern. I know all this ongoing drama is nothing but the circle of life, but in this case as far as I was concerned ‘life’ being the operative word.
As she wasn’t having much luck food wise around the flower borders, so Sue and I decided to give her a bit of a hand. First with a pile of bird nuts her favourites which I literally placed right in front of her nose, so she didn’t have to move. We know badgers love peanuts which she quickly got through, along with a string of sausages Sue had also brought out we were planning to have for our dinner, which also quickly disappeared as she just lay there. This was followed by bacon and some broken eggs in a shallow dish. In fact, she ended up having a large full ‘uncooked’ English breakfast for lunch.
In fact, the whole contents of the fridge took a bit of a beating that afternoon and the badger still laying on the lawn barely lifted her head once to look up as we set the feast out right in front of her. This garden picnic later included a bowl of water and milk before she finally got up, took a quick look up at me and then headed back towards the hole beneath the fence no doubt on her way back to her set. A few pounds heavier and no doubt a tad more pace in her step than when she arrived. The Crows were still close by watching it all in the trees still making that dreadful noise, moving from branch to branch at the bottom of the garden and the original two crows were back still hoping about on the lawn but a bit further away now as I was around. The badger eventually scrambled under the fence and out the other side and started to make her way back home deep into the forest. As the crows were still rather boisterously hanging around in the branches above her. We were still not sure if she was strong enough to make it all the way back to her set which was around 500 yards or so away, without being molested by one or more emboldened adversaries still hanging around above.
We then naturally did what any person would do in similar circumstances especially as we were now fully aware how important it was for the suckling mother to reach home safely. It would be a long walk for her through the dense woodland just as it was about to get dark and she was all on her own. In normal circumstances no one in their right mind would mess with her, but she was obviously not in the best of health. She was weak, vulnerable and unable to put up a good defence and the ever-interested parties were all still lurking around in the trees above and were fully aware of that and given the opportunity would no doubt try and take full advantage of the situation, just waiting for the chance to make their move. Our obvious task would be to see her safely home, which in dense woodlands with the female just a few feet tall walking slowly but purposely right in front of you wasn’t that easy as she would easily walk right under the bushes along her well-worn route, whereas her somewhat taller companion had to then quickly find another way round to try and keep up with her.
The noisy undesirables were still all around and had not totally given up, with the constant calling out to their friends watching our every move as we travelled deeper into the forest. What day light remained was now being obscured by the dense tree canopy above and the thick undergrowth all around. Our pursuers were still following although you couldn’t see or hear them but you could just feel their presence. Although not being asked I still felt obliged to see her safely home. Fortunately, I knew where she lived but still kept a safe distance throughout, not daring to get too close and still in total silence having finally reached her home, she quickly went inside with barely a backward glance. During my long walk back home I began pondering the thought that although she had appeared completely uninterested in my presence, I hoped she was OK and perhaps I might see her again and thinking that maybe I really should have done more, but being very inexperienced at such things, not really knowing quite what.
The first thing I really noticed after the badger was safely inside her set was how quiet it all was in the woods and especially no sound from any crows which I assumed had now given up and moved on. Hopefully the massive food parcel the badger had somehow managed to consume in one sitting that afternoon and the fact she could still walk home unadded was rather encouraging. But we then kept up a regular feeding regime with enriching badger foods stuffs along with visits to the local pet shop and butchers for supplies which were then put out each evening, initially close to her set and then later left in the back garden all of which were gone in the morning, although I was also fully aware these food drops could just as easily be picked up by one of the marauding foxes. Several weeks later we noticed the very so much healthier rejuvenated ‘patch’ was back in the garden now with three healthy looking cubs in tow, unfortunately, however it appeared to be without her other half, so perhaps something might had happened to the male badger all those weeks ago and mum was left bringing up rather well I thought, her three young cubs on her own.
Not only did this female survive, so has her young, one of which is now also a regular visitor inside my studio along with his mate as both of them wander around in my workshop and studio and also in the house if you leave the back door open, given half a chance. With many such visits being picked up on the CCTV. Having seen ‘patch’ with her three cubs arriving into the garden I scattered a few handfuls of the meaty dog treats to help them start their night time foraging. She left her cubs in the middle of the lawn and wandered down the side of the house towards my studio and met up by the back door for a few moments. I was relieved to see here looking so well from the last time we met this close up and then held out the leg of lamb bone I had in the fridge from the Sunday roast a few days earlier just in case such a moment might arise. She gently took it from my hand and ran back into the garden past her young who unstintingly followed and you could hear them all literally crashing the way like a herd of elephants back through the dense undergrowth in the woods.
There have been many studies by various experts regarding the favourite foods of badgers in the wild, many such experts have often studied such things, earthworms being high up on the list, especially those dug up in the middle of our lawn after a damp evening in our own study! But one meal badgers prefer I would put right at the top of the list would be King Prawn chop suey and special fried rice a Chinese as early evening having over ordered to much of a family Chinese takeaway, I put out what was left of the meal on the lawn alongside a wide variety of other typical ‘badger’ natural foodstuffs and given the choice in the wild. Soon discovered the preferred meal of a badger was actually a Chinese , something rarely mentioned by the wildlife experts I feel. Badgers tend to be very gentle eaters and do not bolt down their food like some dogs we have had over the years and although it took her a half an hour or so until she had eaten the whole Chinese meal in one sitting, she had finished it all and then wandered off again but true to form she was back in half an hour or so looking for more!
I have also heard it said from experts that one of the favourite foods for badgers is slugs, something I have never found in our garden. On one occasion several slugs were feeding on some scraps of food we put out for the fox and badger. When the badger eventually turned up it finished everything off in that container, everything except the slugs as we watched him nose them all out of the way to get to what’s left of scraps and then wandered off for me to pick up and get rid of. So, it’s all about choice for the wildlife prepared food or something a tad more natural found out in the wild. A nice dish of Chinese or a dish of fresh slugs to go, let me see, tricky eh, but of course the animals can still have both dishes to choose from if they wish.
A week or so after that we saw ‘patch’ arrive again at the bottom of the garden and at the same time answering one of the questions I have often been asked in the past. “Can badgers climb trees” It would appear they can as this afternoon I watched this now fit and healthy-looking badger rather easily climb the oak tree to get onto the bird table and began eating the newly laid bird seed. I was around twenty feet away and quickly grabbed the camera as I always keep handy for such moments and could get close enough to confirm, it was indeed the same badger who had arrived hungry, tired, weak and emaciated a month or so earlier, she was fit and healthy-looking results of a good healthy diet and plenty of it and her fur had also grown back, thick and long. The Sow then stopped eating and just stared straight at me for a few moments and then casually carried on eating and eventually having finished, half climbing, half falling off of the bird table. She then had a quick rummage around in the flower borders for a while and then ran off with a thick crust of bread smeared with peanut butter, another favourite snack I had just given her.
The following year white patch was back again with a new male in tow showing him the ropes and also wandered into the studio as per normal bold as brass although her new companion although somewhat more reticent to start with, soon realised they have nothing to fear. All proving our rather timely intervention with the crows made a real difference to this young family anyway.
As for the gang of grows denied a tasty meal that late afternoon all those years ago, on similar scenarios with the thin badger, well I appreciate crows also have to also make a living and provide for their young, so it was nothing personal so the next day I put some snacks out for them including a chicken egg which they soon swooped down, somehow managed to get the egg into its beak and took off with them I appreciate it wasn’t fresh badger meal but it was something. But the Crows do tend to keep me awake at the loudest noise during the dawn chorus and have done so for years so what comes around goes round eh! Anyway, crows are usually the first creatures to arrive onto the lawn to pick up the remains of our breakfast or the soft meaty dog treats we occasionally throw out for the animals, which they tend to promptly dropped into the bird bath I have just cleaned out from the mess they left in the water last time trying soften them up before collecting them again and flying off to their nest built alongside all the hundred other crows and rooks’ nests, which I still feel they have all built nowhere near far enough away from the bedroom window for my liking. So, the crows and rooks, despite being often unsociable by nature early in the mornings, are also all OK living alongside us, despite everything.
I also appreciate some giving the wildlife a bit of a helping hand now and again, might be interfering with the natural way of things, if and when, but I have to admit I have a bit of form when it comes to such things. We try to make our garden a safe haven for all forms of wildlife both in the air and on the lawn, although we have found the lawn which is set at the edge of dense woodland can on the odd occasion be a killing field. As one branch on an oak tree in the corner of the garden was a favourite perch for one particular bird of prey. A female sparrow hawk that would frequently launch off the branch and swoop down on to an unsuspected smaller bird minding its own business on the lawn which then more often or not, starts a tremendous commotion following such a surprise attack. The kill to me anyway would unfortunately appear to be not quick enough, particularly when on one occasion it caught a blackbird right at the edge of the lawn. The commotion went on for quite a while until in the end I just had to walk over to it.
The dilemma each time is, do you interfere or just turn away. It is nature after all but it is also very uncomfortable having to watch or listen to it all going on right in front of you as you are trying to work. On this particular occasion the Sparrow hawk in the confusion allowed me to get really close to it and without my actually doing anything, the Hawk then loosened its grip for a second and the Blackbird escaped and flew off into the woods still squawking none stop very loudly as it disappeared deep into the woods. Days later we watched the hawk rather more success taking a pigeon and then to make matters worse it then began plucking it on the bird table and a day later caught another black bird this time with a bit more success than the other previous victim and flew off with it, so I cut the offending branch off.
Another Hawk shown here lurking around at the bottom of the garden during the winter without the normal summer cover of leaves just outside the fence waiting for the right time and opportunity in the garden looking for its next meal to arrive. Such drama it has to be said is not confined to birds which are designed to hunt others and I won’t even go into the comings and goings of the magpies with the ground and bird table feeders; such dramas surprisingly enough extend to the. ‘Ah look it’s a woodpecker’ as the grandchildren tend to call out, when they spot one on the tree. As we have recently discovered involved the rather ‘cute’ woodpecker of all things one of our other daily visitors to the garden to feed on the fat we squash onto the bark of oak tree. One spring morning a woodpecker began turning its attention to the blue tits nesting box placed under the upstairs window.
But on the other side of the oh aren’t the woodpeckers cute divide we had been watching and listening to the coming and goings of the pair of blue tits for weeks building the nests and eventually taking turns on feeding their rather noisy young no doubt also rather cute chicks eagerly waiting inside. When we watched in horror as the woodpecker pounced on one of the blue tits on the lawn and held it down to the floor spread-eagle, standing on the poor hapless adult blue tit as the woodpecker was pecking it furiously no more than five feet from where I was having breakfast and continued to do so up until I got and stood up to the glass and as the woodpecker was looking up at me it also lost its grip on the blue tit. which flew off as far as I could tell unhurt into the shelter of the trees in the woods beyond, quickly followed by the squawking woodpecker.
Unfortunately, the drama didn’t stop there as the moment the other blue tit returned back to the hole of the nesting box and ‘safely’ disappeared inside with a grub in its beak. A split second later the woodpecker landed with a load crash onto the front of the nesting box, poked its head inside and started to thrash around with its long beak and started to pull out whatever it could reach. The first to be pulled out was the bedding material which we watched gently fluttering down onto the lawn below. This activity continued throughout the day and into the following morning with only the night giving the bird box some rest bite. Having looked up this activity on-line we discovered this was quite a normal thing for woodpeckers to do with blue tit boxes
Although the hole is far too small for the woodpeckers to get right into the bird box as it was like most anther just a few cm’s thick so woodpeckers simply put their head in the hole inside in an attempt to catch either the adult birds or chicks with its long beak, which they then fly off with. Unfortunately, we didn’t observe any of the parent birds visiting the bird box the following morning, or hear any of the chicks ever again that Spring so we assumed the woodpecker was successful in its endeavours. I appreciate again its natural tooth and claw as they say, but it is no fun to use as we sit longer watching the whole sequence unfold before our eyes. So, I made a bird box with much thicker sides so unless woodpeckers begin to evolve with necks like a giraffe, future blue tit chick in the newly adapted bird box can actually nest in peace, and they have.
As if day time noises are not enough such sounds often emanate through the night as yet again, I was persuaded to interfere in the natural way of things when our sleep was disturbed by what can only be described as a ‘screaming’ sound coming from the bottom of the garden. This very loud high pitch’ screaming’ sort of noise went on for several minutes before I just had to go outside and investigate. Being half asleep in my dressing gown and it was pitch black having no idea what I might find so I made my way down towards the sound still going on in the corner of the garden and about ten feet away I could now make out the image of a male badger wrestling with something in the bushes. So engrossed with its task I could walk right up to it although we were all now brightly illuminated by the security lights in the garden.
This particular badger the day before was in my studio, stopped what he was doing, turned around and looked at me for a moment and then continued its noisy task, the subject of the badger’s attention making all the loud screaming noise was actually a hedgehog. I have lived alongside these particular woodlands for almost forty years and had seen many hedgehogs come and go but simply had no idea they could make such a racket. The hedgehog was curled up tight in a prickly ball as nature intended and the badger was basically trying hard to pry it open with its long claws like a clam, as the terrible screaming sound continued unabated. The badger is so used to me and seems to know I am no threat to them, so I didn’t want to break the bond of trust by scaring the badger off, but as the badger just wasn’t getting anywhere with its arduous task, I felt I just might have to.
Fortunately for both of us just at that moment the boar stopped trying to prise open the hedgehog and stepped back a bit and it looked back towards me as if to say, alright you have a go then. The screaming sound emanating from the hapless hedgehog then stopped, I took full advantage of this lull in proceedings, bent down and tried to pick it up which was certainly not the first silly mistake I have ever made in my life and would unfortunately no doubt not be the last. In my defence it was before dawn I had just been woken up and then had the bright idea of trying to pick up a frightened agitated hedgehog with no gloves on, as the last thing the hedgehog had seen before it rolled up into a tight ball was a hungry badger no doubt baring it quite formidable teeth coming towards it. The moment I picked the hedgehog up its high-pitched scream started up once again and just as quickly it forcibly flexed its exceptionally sharp quills right into my unprotected hands so it instantly went down from whence it came and the noise once again stopped.
The badger just looked at me having no doubt thought I had deprived it of a good meal and obviously had enough, slowly ambled off back into the woods. The hedgehog after waiting for a while slowly opened up and after having a quick look around casually moved off in the opposite direction and appeared completely unmoved by the whole experience. I have to admit I felt a bit guilty of depriving the badger of its quite legitimate meal so before I returned to bed, I took the remains of the chicken carcass I was going to put out the following day and left it right where the hedgehog was. In the morning, although the carcass had gone the hedgehog hadn’t, it was still wandering around the lawn without a care in the world now looking for its own breakfast.
Its rather easy to get all these different images of the wildlife both inside the studio or and outside in the garden as they are mostly automatically captured by the various CCTV cameras or for the more selective images I simply set up a camera on a tripod stand at the entrance to my studio and just get on with my work and when the fox or badger appeared they would just wander in through the legs of the tripod camera stand and I simply took the photo remotely without even having to stop working. The wildlife is quite happy to pose for a photo just like our dogs used to do. But if they were looking for something to eat, the fox would often scratch at the lounge window and the badger does exactly the same thing scratching at the back door, the house having surround sound!
Over the years I have been able to closely observe the pecking order of the various larger mammals that live alongside us. The top of the food chain in the garden is the Badger. They will often be happy to share the available food with a fox providing there is enough to satisfy the badger's massive appetite, but once the food supply is less plentiful and the fox begins to take more than its fair share, this all changes.
The badger will give the fox a warning growl, followed by a mock attack and if that doesn’t work, snap at it rather aggressively, but never in all the occasions I have witnessed this the badger never once actually physically attack the fox, but it doesn’t need to as the Dog fox quickly lays down very low to the ground and passive like occasionally wagging its tail side to side and then stays right where it was put and on this occasion has to endure the sight of the food disappearing into the badger and only gets up once the badger moves away. I even filmed a pair of foxes the large Dog fox and one of its almost as large cubs tried to gang up on a badger right on the middle of the lawn eating, who quickly showed them who was the boss as it went for both foxes and made each fox lay down, around six feet apart and when the slightly feistier younger fox got up again, the badger quickly brought it to heal as the badger walked back and forth to each fox in turn to insure they remain down, with moves and total obedience that a Lion tamer of old would have been really proud of, without a whip in sight.
The badger with all its long winter fur on looks like it has short legs, however they are long enough to propel the rather small rhino looking bulk with great speed anywhere it chooses over the lawn or crashing through the bushes allowing nothing to get in its way. This particular badger shown above is our old friend ‘patch’ although four years or so older than she was when she wandered into the garden half starved, now totally up to speed and ready to defend her food supply if need be and the foxes know it.
After observing Badgers and Foxes real close up for Decades they are very caring protective parents and many remain as a mating pair over the years. Both individual species then takes turns on looking after the first cub as it is introduced to the garden and one by one as its siblings eventually joins it and it is shown the ropes and sometimes, we end up have a garden and studio full of furry animals of both species running around getting up to mischief all whilst I am trying to work. Once I caught on video a young fox jumping onto my work bench as I was working and somehow managed to nimbly walk around all my separate smaller sculptures laying around without stepping on any of them before jumping down and running back out of the studio with mum quickly following behind.
The caring and attentiveness of both the male fox and badgers, during spring, if you put small pieces of food that is not easy to carry away with them, it is often eaten on the spot. Larger pieces of food which can be carried away for the female is taken back to the set. Chicken Eggs, carcasses, bones, and the occasional stale current bun will always be eagerly picked up and carefully carried back to the set by either of the badger or fox, to be consumed by the suckling female. I have observed and studied the coming and going of British wildlife for many decades now, real close to. Sometimes admittedly often the British way on the lawn in the summer with a cup of tea, or inside the studio whilst I am working around my feet or in the comfort of the armchair in the lounge looking through the window with the TV on surrounded by all the home comforts.
Not quite as impressive as your average professional naturalist working out in the field I suppose. Being a bit of a fan the BBC Spring watch program and have watched many eminent naturalist and researchers having spent many hours in adverse conditions in all weathers often hiding in a tree attempting to observing and film many creatures including the badgers often in infrared film for the often-live program, whispering to their colleges hardly daring to breathe trying not to disturb the subjects if and when they did turn up. Just as one of our more obliging badgers and foxes wanders past the back of our TV whilst the presenters share their dilemma of a no show for the badgers, when you might be tempted to call out, they are behind you.
My wife Suzanne loves gardening, she’s very good at it, knows all the flowers names and spends a lot of time carefully working at it, tending there earned and requirements and if she needs the watering hose out, I’m on it as we both watch most of her efforts come to fruition, sometimes! But be fully aware that sharing your garden with the wildlife who apparently just sees the garden as a safe extension of the woods also has like many things in life a bit of a down side. I try to help out when I am required mainly employed as a gofer and casual labourer, lifting heavy bot plants and sacks of compost around and the like as apparently my weed or even good young flower plants identification skills, are left wanting. I used to also help out a bit of mowing the lawn, that was until cowslips started to appear from nowhere in scattered clumps around the lawn which to me looked too much like buttercups to me which were just fair game for my hover mower and despite strict instructions NOT to mow over the cowslips, I often forget so I now mainly tasked to help Sue by keeping out of the way.
A weeping Cherry in early spring – A pair of hungry Deer and all in a Days work
Sharing your garden with the wildlife who apparently just sees the garden as a safe extension of their woods, has like many things in life a bit of a down side. We then both patiently and with great anticipation wait for these plants and especially the flowers to appear in full bloom in the spring and throughout the summer, unfortunately, so does the Deer. The timing of the deer is fascinating they appear to almost have a sixth sense as the moment the flowers bloom as a moment earlier a pair of Deer were once again in the back garden this time once again making for Sues prised chrysanthemums, we have been waiting all year to bloom<But as I say I am no gardener although I really do appreciate the work of those who are, but fortunately it was only all the heads of the flowers they took not the whole plant so I suppose no real harm done. First photo of the deer eying up the chrysanthemums with its companion working the other end of the garden. The next was the lone Deer walking between them both who made its move on the flower border.
Well, I was now on a roll with the photos as the next photo with the deer, real cute like gently smelling the bloom, you want to make sure the bloom was at its best I suppose. The next photo is the Deer actually eating the head off the flower. The best, possibly moment, to some the worst to others depending on your point of view of course. But these were our Deer and I have known them as youngsters as I have often deer-sat them during the day in the garden, we knew them well and they knew us and now they had grown up and brought their young to enjoy our flowers and who knows maybe even our company. For Sue the gardener who also loved having them around in the garden but to her the Deer were also the destroyer of plants, but it has to be said and Sue has said it on perhaps more than one occasion, several Deer arriving into the garden is almost like having a pretty plague of locus arriving with the flower and leaf removal service they regally provide with aplomb and endless style and a certain amount of charisma all without charge I hasten to add, can be total, given the scope for them to make a day of it.
The Buck rarely comes into the garden unlike the fox and badgers’ males, but when he does it is a magnificent sight but rarely eats whilst it’s there, often accompanied by its family who eats for him. He just casually wanders around the lawn grandstanding over all its surveys. It then casually turned around and walked back towards its family who were by now just finishing off the last of the leaves on the weeping cherry tree. The upside and it is a big upside are it is rather nice if you happen to be just sitting in your garden when three or four deer quietly and rather majestically totally unfazed by your presence and wander slowly past you without a care in the world albeit it on the way to demolish your flower border right in front of your eyes. They know they are going to do it, we know they are going to do it, to us it’s a beautiful flower border but to the deer it’s nothing personal, but it’s all just a tasty snack to them.
Some serious gardeners have intimated the only Deer they like to see is in a freezer cabinet, which is not a view we share with our deer, despite the damage to the leaves and plants. But I have to admit I had partaken in on occasions. We are happy, perhaps happy is not the right word to allow them access into the garden although we have lived here for over forty years the wildlife was here first. Over the decades Deer both young and old not only roam around eating the flowers just feet away from where we are sitting. Or a pair of foxes sleeping or sunning themselves in the middle of the lawn as we are resting on a garden chair in the sun taking a nap or drinking something cold. It is just like having family pets around but without the responsibility and worry of looking after them although we still always look out for them.
A wide variety of British wildlife and birds, from finches to owls, blackbirds to Jay’s, doves to woodpeckers, sparrow hawks however, none of this would appear to have disturbed the robin, perhaps might even be a far distant relation of the robin I once met working my recently bulldozed back garden to be in 1971, who decided to build its nest at the back of my workshop and when one of its offspring did a runner and lived with me for a week on a rather duty shelf just a few yards away, but still being fed by the parents who regularly visited it totally oblivious to my comings and goings before it fledged and finally moved out, to then enable me to start up my saws again. Unlike many years before, Starlings did a similar thing building their nest in the garden when one chick fell out and landed in the bushes. The nest was far too high for me to reach and put it back, but they also came down onto the bush and tried to care for it but it didn’t work out and later on the day abandoned it. When it got dark, I placed the chick in a box overnight and put it back where I found it first thing in the morning so I ended up rearing it for them which wasn’t easy it being so young, but I managed to do so whistling to it every time food was on its way so it would open its beak for me and it opened its beak a lot.
It then lived with me in the studio until it was fully fledged and then I used to leave the window open for it so it could stand on the edge, flap its wing before it had its first flying lesson around my workshop which then all I could do to help was to duck now and again. And one morning it was ready to leave and did so but it always came back for fresh worms which I dug up before it eventually flew off and joined its pals in and around the garden and beyond but when they were on a fly by if I whistled it would soon fly over and land on my head for a juicy worm or three, I just happened to have about my person, like you do.
The only wildlife we don’t appear to try and get in the house and studio, fortunately, are mice. The only time we regularly had mice in the house was when we had a cat. The cat would often catch the mice outside bring them in the house when I am not looking and just play with them until she gets bored and simply walks off leaving them to scurry away and hide somewhere, leaving me trying to catch them often during the early hours after being woken up by the cat scuppering up and down the hall chasing them when they came out of hiding. I then eventually caught them and put them outside. I even once found a field mouse first thing in the morning when I put my slipper on, I don’t know which of us was more shocked, er possibly me, I think.
It is often said you are never more than a few feet from a rat, well if that is the case it won’t be in our back garden for long as rats are fox and badgers favourite meal. Mind you we did see a rat once who had wandered into the garden feeding on what had fallen off from the bird table, but it wasn’t there the following day no doubt after the foxes and badger’s regular patrols. The badgers and foxes who visit us are given an Access all Areas’ pass to the garden workshop and studio and so they can and wander around inside particularly a young fox with its speed agility and sensitive nose are far more efficient than our daughters cat at hunting for any rats and mice used to be and if a rat is trying to move in to my workshop were I store the bird seed and nuts under the bench and start to build a nest inside and living alongside woods, the rats and mice probably think about it quite a lot. If I find a hole appearing under the workshop despite my best efforts to stop them I obviously cannot use rat poison or traps. So, I only have to move anything fragile away and leave the door open, as a fox left alone to its own devices if it's there, it will always find it.
A friend knowing the wildlife tends to follow me around as you see them all the time, you discover like us they all have their own individual unique features and characters that are slightly different, so, we can actually tell them apart, a bit like us really but to him the deer, foxes and badgers all look the same, so he asked do I know each of them. To which the rather obvious replied. was “Yes, of course I do know them, but not to talk to. But as I am often on my own in the garden or studio with them wandering around, I will probably not totally rule that out! Having deer, badgers and foxes around your feet all the time in a way at times is just like one big petting zoo really. But without any captive wild animals and of course any actual petting going on, which on reflection perhaps not a bit like a petting zoo, I suppose. Although I do not attempt to hand feed any of the wildlife, on just one occasion I broke my own rule as a way of an experiment after we had a barbeque in the garden with some chicken drumsticks left over. Both the fox and badger had different approaches to getting the chicken drum sticks when they realized this time, I wasn’t going to simply drop it close to them as is normally the case. The fox gingerly approaches me holding the chicken drum stick, never taking its eyes off me and then quickly snatches it and moves several feet back to eat it. The badger however approaches me holding the chicken drumstick and never taking its eyes off the drumstick and then gently takes it from my hand and sits at my feet to eat it.
The wildlife is however quite used to seeing me around in my natural environment which just happens to be living right alongside theirs so it’s not unusual to have all the different species of wildlife wandering around your feet. A more recent video shows the boar and sow badger literally walking by my feet in one end of the studio just as a vixen a two of her cubs walk in the door at the other end, none of them taking too much interest in the other all whilst I just carry-on carving. They all fully know I am no threat to them and especially their young as trust has been built up over several generations and decades. So, they are also quite happy to bring their young along with them and show them the ropes as they have done many years before with their own parents.
During late Spring the Vixen often returns during the day to the garden probably to get away from this year her three youngsters, for a bit of a breather each time often looking exhausted and a tad thinner and then looks up at me through the studio window, with only a look that a wily fox gives to a bit of a soft touch like me for something to eat which I am not ashamed to say kind of works every time so I put a few handfuls of nourishing dog meaty chunks out of the window to feed mum and it would appear more indirectly now feed her three to me not so young cubs, so four for the price of one.
In the space of just ten minutes, simultaneously there was a Vixen feeding two of her cubs simultaneously and then tries to take a quick break for a few minutes, but she remains where she is. Whilst the two cubs create mayhem running and fighting on the lawn before both cubs quickly return for more milk. Just as the Vixen spots a boar badger walking towards her with his mate. One of the two tiny cubs then attacks one of the badgers just feet away to ‘protect’ his mother. Fortunately for the cub’s sake the badger takes little or no notice. The young cub then returns to feed on the no doubt rather proud Vixen, as both badgers eventually wander off again no doubt board with it all the hassle, all this disturbance was going on whilst I was trying to listen to Red Bulls F1 driver Max Verstappen discussing his Victory at the French Grand Prix whilst I was trying to listen to Red Bulls F1 driver Max Verstappen discussing his Victory at the French Grand Prix whilst I was sat on the sofa with the somewhat easier task of typing all this out during my tea break, before I to manage to get some work done.
On one such occasion thirty years ago, I was working on a life size carving of a badger for a client in Kent whilst at the early stages of the life size badger carving being worked, I noticed the badger walking my way I place the badger wood carving on the floor in my studio just to see what reaction if any the badger might have to the carving. Initially the badger wasn’t too impressed but as the carving progressed over the days and weeks and looked a bit more like the real thing the sow would take a bit more interest in the carving and when it was eventually finished, bleached and stained to make it look more realistic as per the commission and placed on the floor when she entered it wasn’t quite so sure. The sow as soon as it arrived at the studio entrance looked in, stopped, stared at it for a bit and turned around and quietly walked away.
No such problem however when I was commissioned to produce this blue Badger carving placed upon a gilded Tower crest for Windsor Castle for a Knight of the Garter, as this time the badger didn’t take any notice of it.
On another occasion working late as usual and I was just about to pack up for the night and a pregnant badger walked in through the studio door, looked up to me and then lay down on the studio floor right in front of the entrance blocking my way out of the studio and promptly fell asleep. Just for a few minutes fortunately as I didn’t really didn’t want to risk stepping over her and her waking up startling her, but fortunately she soon simply got up and wandered back out again. With our dogs we used to have around, especially when they have been out for a walk you cannot help notice they were around your feet, whereas the fox and badgers are totally silent even when they are right by your feet so you can forget they are there and almost trip over them and nearly have on one or two occasions.
The completed full size badger carving along with white painted badger Crest and the Blue version both destined for St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle and the blue badger shown in position on the Knights helmet in the Chapel.
Just the thought that a wild animal living in a forest trusts you enough, just for a moment to leave their environment to join you in yours and that Badgers, Foxes and Deer can actually tell us humans apart, be it via scent or sight. Something I have proved when different people try to have a real close encounter with one of them over the years, unfortunately without too much success. If they are happy to participate in our little, try and spot the badger closes up vigil that’s great. But if not, that’s fair enough also we all move on. Mind you on one occasion during a late Autumn early morning having woke up and realised I had forgot to do something in the studio I needed to do so I got out of bed up and popped into the studio for a few moments, no doubt looking unkempt, wearing my warm dressing gown when one of the badgers on patrol wandered in right after me. He stopped, took a look at me standing there in my slippers and big brown furry dressing gown and shot straight out again, perhaps I might have looked like a big strange animal to him or maybe it just had other more pressing things to do.
Taking a bit of a break from carving one afternoon in the glorious sunshine we went for a walk through the woods to a large wild meadow surrounded by trees several hundred yards away from the back garden. Which this time of the year consisted of mainly a sea of tall grasses. We sat on the little wooden bench some fare sighted person had placed there for anyone to have a bit of a rest on. It was a still, quite warm, summer afternoon when we both noticed in the distance near the back in the huge field of tall grasses, one small section of the grasses was purposely moving as if something was pushing their way through them towards us and then it stopped moving. It was all rather reminiscent of another of my favourite films, Jurassic Park, when the visitors to the Island were desperately trying to escape from the Velociraptors. When someone in complete panic yelled out “Don’t go into the long grass” and despite the warning shout, for some explicable reason many people did with dire consequences.
The tall grasses in front of us was still slowly and purposefully being parted and something large was still moving towards around 50 feet away when whatever it was stopped moving and as we watched, ready to make a run for it, but to our relief it wasn’t the carnivore but a herbivore, as a lone Deer popped its head up from out of the long grass and just stared at us both now casually standing by the bench, very much unlike we would have done had we been in Jurassic Park rather than a nature reserve. We looked right back at the Deer and then took a quick photo with my phone. From that distance I wasn’t sure whether it was one of our former regulars ‘Bambi’ who I fawn-sat a while back and then watch her grow as I did for previous generations of animals left in my charge. Either way she posed quite happily for the photo and then once again disappeared from view and again the grass started to slowly gently move towards us, when suddenly a dog shot out of the bushes from nowhere and the moment the Deer was gone. The owner quickly called the dog and fortunately it came straight back, but unfortunately the Deer didn’t. I will never know if she recognised us and was just coming over like the deer always did in our garden, I like to think it was, but probably wasn’t.
I found have wildlife around all the time in the garden especially the Deer very therapeutic and calms things down when things are rather hectic, especially having to work on several different sculptures at the same time and there is always one which has to take president which I have sometimes had to do trying to keep to a busy work schedule, often seven days a week. Similarly, with spending much of the day working with either f films or more likely documentaries on the small television I have in the back of the studio playing in the background. I may not have the time to sit down and read many books for decades now but I certainly don’t miss out on such things to expand my mind, especially as I can often just listen and not have to look up from what I am doing.
For Sue the gardener who also loved having them around but to me they for generations I have Fawn-sat many of them, watch them grow and develop, feeding, er yes, best not get into that and then watch the next generation doing exactly the same thing in the never-ending circle of life, all just feet away from where I was working or looking out of the window or sat in the gardened having a break. But it has to be said and Sue has said it on perhaps more than one occasion, several Deer arriving into the garden is almost like having a pretty but nevertheless a plague of locus arriving with the flower and leaf removal service they regally provide with aplomb and endless style and a certain amount of charisma all without charge, I hasten to add, can be total, given the scope for them to make a day of it.
That was all a while back now as the new flower display should hopefully begin next month when we should see all the oh so many hours and plants and even the planting of a small orchard later as a result of her hard work on display, apparently rows and rows of yet to be unmolested chrysanthemums, lilies and many more flowers I have never heard of before were also to be expected to have put the blooms up above the parapets is proving simply amazing. So, what are my thoughts on Deer or no Deer in the garden. Flowers or no Flowers in the garden business, well nice of you to ask, but I obviously have a pretty good idea of what Sue prefers and mine well, please leave that with me, but to be fair pictures says a thousand words a few of which are shown below.
The photos above shows the same view from the same vantage point eight months later which includes a badger on its usual daily walkabout and the next photo a pair of foxes grooming each other beneath the weeping cherry tree now in full leaf but still no cherries, but still remain totally unmolested by any deer both today and in the foreseeable future and with all the flower borders remain in full bloom and just knowing when you draw the curtains in the morning it will remain that way.
Meanwhile a while back I was contacted by a prop’s buyer, a TV company who were looking for a wood carver to produce an accurate wood carving of a full-size Falcon for a script that was due to start filming in a few months’ time. The props buyer explained that the Falcon had to be carved in a certain way as the script was very specific. It had to be almost finished apart from the fine detail in the face and feet which were to be left unfinished, for the actor to be ‘carving whilst he was describing the various aspects of the Falcon to the other actor who would be standing beside him during that particular sequence. As the Falcon was required to be produced very accurately, I had spent a lot of time trying to find a Falcon to observe close up for the detail required in the script, or at least find some very good close-up photographs of a Falcon to complete all the fine detail as per the TV script. I wasn’t aware of or have access to Google images at the time, so I carried on working on the basic outline of the Falcon as best I could, which was just completed and with just a week or so until it had to be completed ready for collecting.
The following morning, we heard a real commotion going on in the garden as crows and rooks were flying around the garden squawking loudly at something in the oak tree at the bottom of the garden. We went out to take a look. A large bird had landed near the top of the tree and had got itself stuck in the branches by what looked like its ‘Jessy’ , the cord falconers use when they are exercising their birds. The Falcon had obviously gone AWOL and its constant flapping around in the branches trying to release itself, appeared to make matters worse. I moved away a bit to see if it could get free, but the bird was too high up and couldn’t reach it with my small ladder and was now stuck firm, motionless, staring down at me as if to say, well go on do something…... So, who do you call?
Yes, your right, but first I thought I would try the local RSPCA to see if anyone had reported a Falcon missing and the nice lady on the other end of the phone, asked me to describe the Falcon, colour etc, obviously not wanting to get the wrong Falcon! and said she would get back to me Whilst I waited for the lady to phone back with my close-up lens on my camera, I managed to get really good close images of the Falcon’s head and feet all that I really required for the sculpture and then the fire brigade arrived, blues and twos blaring at the bottom of my drive. So, to my astonishment the special Falcon, I was desperately looking for described in the script without success, would appear to have found me.
After a few months the life size carved Falcon was completed as per the spec for the filming and was collected along with several other of my wildlife sculptures also hired for background studio shots during filming and after the filming was completed, all the wood carvings were returned to me including the not quite finished Falcon, which I later finished and sold to a private collector, as were the ‘background’ wood carvings over the coming months. We eagerly awaited with anticipation the program to be aired and when it did several months later the scene with the two actors’ discussing my Falcon carving as per the script, was on the TV for almost 15 seconds!..... Well, that’s show business.
A few months ago, we had a new arrival from beyond our fox’s territorial reach in the shape of another Dog fox not from these parts who looked emaciated, half-starved and totally scared of everything that moved and looked rather pitiful through the window. Especially me when I got up from my seat and walked over to it, as it ran out of the garden only moments later to return again looking through the glass at us.
It was early April 2021 when a small adult dog fox newbie arrived into the garden and looked at me through the workshop window with a real sad face and it looked like it had lots of problems. This particular newbie dog fox looked not only starved but unlike my regulars was very timid to put it mildly and he ran off back into the woods wasting what energy it might still have the moment I looked up at it, but it kept coming back and then did exactly the same thing again. I scattered some of the meaty chunks out of the window and quickly stepped out of sight as it gingerly walked over, lowered its head and then put its mouth wide open its lower jaw against the lawn and walked all around the lawn, literally hovering as many of these chunks of meat into its mouth it could, without lifting its head up once and then ran off and minutes later came back again and finished the rest of the quickly replenished meaty chunks using the same feeding technique I have never seen before. It was just like a basking shark feeding on krill.
It was now late afternoon around 5.00 pm when our regular foxes began arriving just like clockwork, all down wind of Sue’s cooking. Then the ‘newbie’ also arrived but was quickly chased off by one of the other foxes. After several attempts by the ‘newbie’ to get close enough to the scattered meaty dog treats I had thrown out for him but one of the other foxes snarled at him which was enough to send the young fox scuttling away without getting anything to eat, this time. On day two each time a newbie appeared and tried to feed or fit in with the others it was immediately turned away and was again being chased right out of the garden by the other foxes who were now ganging up on him. Very reminiscent of my early childhood moving from town to town, country to country, from school to school trying to fit in without much success, so I understood a little of its plight, although I was still being fed and cared for when I got home.
The first problem was keeping these regular foxes distracted for a moment with the scattered dog treats and just as we thought we had all the regulars contained in one corner of the garden, with the newbie watching and waiting just behind the back fence, when a pair of badgers turned up which complicated things somewhat and although ‘newbie’ was terrified of the badgers, the badgers were not interested in the new fox at all. So, Sue and I were now having to go in full distraction mode plus two and try and look after our lone emaciated fox without four residential foxes trying to see him off again and a pair of totally indifferent badgers. To make things worse now in late May the first of the fox cubs arrived to increase the fox numbers and they just wander around in the garden anywhere they like despite what the rest are doing, so we couldn’t herd them up together like we had been doing with the adults much easily.
The resident dog fox, his mate along with their now two young from last year which should have left home have gone their own way by now anyway we're all now protecting their patch from all other foxy visitors especially this latest thin weak hungry fox. Distraction mode should not be too much of a problem with the various soft meaty treats we usually give to the children’s dogs and they can be rather compliant if required as you can see them social distancing from each with the fourth fox just behind so keeping them apart with Sue one end of the garden slowly scattering the dog treats round in the long grass for the foxes to sniff out like an easter eggs hunt. Whilst I dropped a lamb bone to one of the badgers who quickly picked it up and ran out of the garden with it followed by its mate, so that was easy than I thought and two for the price of one, so now the coast was clear to concentrate on the skinny newbie and really try and feed him up with real good nourishing food, some chicken wings and the like, which was originally destined for our dinner soon ended up as the foxes. I am also very much aware of its nature’s way of survival of the fittest and all that and perhaps I shouldn’t interfere. But to us it makes no difference what creature it was or where it came from, it needed help as we all do at some point in our lives and it just happened it arrived in our garden starving and frightened looking for support from anywhere and it kept on coming back. Most people would help anyone or anything in trouble and we are no different, so I thought, Oh what the heck!
After several hours of a hot summer afternoons carving, I took a bit of a break and removed my heavy work boots, just as a friendly dog fox wanders over and starts to take a bit too much interest in my feet for my liking, but then quickly backs away for some reason so no harm done. Several hours later having finished for the day, took a quick shower and then back it was back on the garden chair with a nice cup of tea to catch the dying rays of the sun, in the knowledge it was Sue's turn to cook dinner that evening.
The wildlife dayshift in the form of the birds and squirrels began to scuttle away into the woods to settle down for the night, followed by a pair of Deer also making their way out of the garden back into the woods beyond. Moments later as the sun disappears behind the trees, I then observed the night shift in the form of a pair of badgers, wander in to the garden and once again taking no notice of me as they were far more interested in looking for more leather jackets or worms, still hiding beneath somewhere under the lawn if they were to dig deep enough to find them again, or was it they were down wind of our dinner and now hoping for the best. All such moments are captured on the oh so useful camera phone I always try to keep handy for such moments.
Early June our work is nearly done as far as ‘newbie’ is concerned. He is now part of a large family that takes care of each other and he is no longer frightened of me when I approach, which is rather nice. Mind you one afternoon when I happened to walk past him and his new foxy friends along with a group of badgers all quietly mooching around, sunning themselves in the garden, me dressed up in my Hazmat type suit face mask and goggles, past them on to do a bit of sanding in the workshop. All the animals shot out of the garden at high speed, crashing into the woods in total panic, unsurprising really, I suppose it does look a bit of a sight. All ‘Newbie’ ever needed was the food to give him strength as he has always had the other qualities required to survive and survive, he has. Although nowadays he doesn’t spend much time in the garden or require our emergency food parcels and only arrives once a day around dinner time as do, they all, for a bit of a top up foodwise if any is going. Sometimes once every other day he is learning to survive quite happily on his own now with his mate, which of course has always been the plan, if possible, for all of the animals that visit, as it should be.
What a difference the photos above show, looking through the same window just seven weeks apart. ‘Newbie’ The once half-starved fox is so much more fit and healthier looking with his new mate alongside him although the more dominant dog fox still keeps a bit of an eye on him in the background. He still tends to try and be first in line for any scraps of food lying around but is now quite happy to share it. Meanwhile whilst all the drama is going on with the foxes, the Badgers just get on with it as usual, still scratch at the back door looking for something to eat in and in early June with at the moment just one cub in tow learning the ropes as they congregate down the alleyway between the house and studio although I can hear at least one other badger cub in the woods behind which will no doubt soon follow. Unlike the fox cubs, badger cubs are almost as large as the adults by the time we see them real close up. I suppose a bit like pigeons really as you never see a pigeon chick. Meanwhile the boar badgers’ wanders, around doing their own thing, climbing trees, looking for food, trying to get in the house and studio to have a look around to see where those wonderful food smells are coming from. But still trying to mind its own business although the foxes are still trying to steal its food from right under its nose and mostly getting away with it. But most of the time the badger is just trying to keep out of the foxes' constant domestic problems.
After lockdown three of the grandchildren along with Mum and Dad could finally visit and stay for a few days and once again they could enjoy watching all the wildlife at ‘Badger’ grandad's house as they tend to call it. The grandchildren having just returned from wandering around the Village ‘catching’ new Pokémon on their mobile phones walking in the lounge their 8-year-old brother was amazed to discover “the biggest Pokémon he has ever seen lives in grandad's house” which he then showed us all on his phone. His mum and Dad, like their older children, started watching a pair of woodpeckers and a Jay taking turns on the lard, squashed against the oak tree. Along with a pair of squirrels running up the trees and around the lawn. Later that evening they were all sat on the carpet looking through the window with Mum sending live updates to her friends on Facebook as a pair of badgers and a fox in the garden literally feet away the other side of the window, as we were still apparently just inches away was a huge blue Pokémon just stood there motionless in the lounge with us all. So, it now looks like not only do we have British wildlife visiting both inside and outside our not particularly large house, with occasionally a bat living in the wall cavity and there is often one species of bird or another building a nest in the loft, but now it also appears one particular large blue native species of Japan has also moved into the lounge.
With night drawing in the two eldest boys decided rather than sleep in their bedroom they wanted to put up a pair of camp beds they had brought with them and sleep in the lounge and they can also watch the wildlife picked up on the security lights going about their business along as the badgers and foxes feeding on the remains of our fish and chip supper. Observe the comings and goings of the wildlife at eye level just feet away from where they were going to sleep. Just as we all leave them to it, a Tawny owl starts to go through its paces away in the distance, almost to signal it’s just the end of another day in ‘badger grandad's’ house.
Several months earlier as far as the newbie was concerned was rather difficult to watch during the day and listen to during the cries as the foxes arguing and fighting through the night as the lone starving Fox ‘newbie’ was trying to fit in and survive from day to day, night to night. In early June of that year ‘newbie’ has survived rather well, we had to keep up the separate feeding scheme for the rest of April and most of May, but newbie persevered and so did we and as his strength grew so did his confidence and as his confidence grew so did his ability to defend himself and as a consequence he didn’t always run off when he saw the other foxes arrive in the garden or even me when I leant out of the window to throw him some of the nourishing meaty chunks. In the distance he would often watch the other Foxes including the new cubs approach us in the garden and probably began to realise we meant no harm and that the garden was a safe place and now also joins the others and more to the point, the others eventually let him. Today he is beginning at last to look like a healthy dog fox, has put on weight and even his once, thin worn out 'pipe cleaner’ looking tail has begun to grow hair looking more like a fox’s tail, but more importantly he has finally been accepted into the pack of foxes and it now looks like he has also found a mate. He is still being monitored by the original larger Dog Fox in the background but appears to be behaving himself and no longer hoovers up the food on the lawn like he used to.
During the Spring time for the badgers and Foxes when they are feeding their young it’s no holds barred for both species finding food. Both male and females of both species have different requirements and ways of achieving it. Badgers are stronger than the fox and top of their particular food chain, but foxes are far smarter. The male dog fox will provide what food he can find and take it back and forth to the set to feed the suckling Vixen and also himself. But once the cubs are older and can be left in the set but still being weeded, she will hunt for food to feed them and also herself. We have observed really close at hand the process which hasn’t changed through different parents over the decades. We found that if there is a lot of food left in the garden, say after a barbeque a Fox will eat as much as it can but it's an opportunist and will go back and forth to collect all the food it can possibly carry and will store it away in its ‘larder’ it leaves nothing behind.
From day one the 'Vixen' we call Patience also known as the ‘egg stealer’ as she was the fox that literally will steal fresh eggs, we have left out for them from under a badger’s nose to feed themselves and their young which I featured earlier. During 2021 she produced two cubs and the first cub she would initially carry her into the garden from her set deep beneath the large Rhododendron bush less than a hundred yards away from the back garden fence and literally drop off her first born, right at my feet if I was in the garden first thing in the morning and occasionally during the late evening for a half hour or so for me to cub sit, whether I actually had something to do or not and leave us to it and leave the garden as she obviously had something far more important to do.
The Deer occasionally have a bit of habit of doing with their fawn, but rarely the badger as they tend to keep their young with them at all times, either in the set or just at the bottom of the garden, when they are really young and just started walking, both badgers then run back and forth with food in their mouths to feed the so very noisy and augmentative cubs waiting for them.
When the female badger is sucking the boar goes out looking for food and will eat almost anything, except tomatoes and brings it back to the set for the waiting female, so often during the spring time we tend to eat a lot more roast chicken for dinner, to enable the male to pick the whole carcass still with lots of flesh on it, straight back to the set to feed the waiting female. Although we have been doing this same thing for decades now with many different badgers and they all do exactly the same thing. Watching the male jealously guarding the carcass while he eats any smaller bits of food himself, before he quickly grabs the chicken carcass and runs out of the garden and crashing noisily through the undergrowth at a tremendous speed to his set five hundred yards or so away, without stopping for anything to feed the female badger. It is always a sight to behold as the excited boar with his prized ‘trophy’ held tight in its jaws, head held high, as it charges down the lawn and into the woods behind crashing through anything in its path like a charging rhino.
As for the Deer, well best not mention the Deer, especially when it doesn’t always help its cause as far as Sue the gardener is concerned. It’s the same thing every year when the Deer and all his friends arrive in the garden to eat all of Sue’s prized flowers she has carefully planted and patiently waited all year to watch them bloom. When one of them is quite happy to look up at me and Sue watching her standing there posing for the classic and I feel the very underrated gloating shot, displaying the prized chrysanthemums in her mouth which looked almost like she had a red moustache. Savouring the moment as the deer looked me right in the eye literally just feet away posing for the camera, nice touch eh, before the flower quickly disappeared from view as does the deer moments later and all we are left with was a line of empty plant stems, gently swaying gently in the breeze as way of a reminder of flowers past. Well, you’ve got to laugh eh. Well, no, believe me my friend, if this happens to you with your other half, laughing is definitely NOT the thing to do. Oh, dear me no, I can assure you it really, really isn’t.
The Vixens Patience’ young cub who I regularly cub-sat for much of the spring we affectionately know as ‘P1’ is now fully grown and totally independent but still visits a few times a week for a sunbath or a handful of dog meaty chews before moving off for the day to do its own thing. Most of the time the foxes tend to disappear on and off during the summer months and then return to the garden more regularly during October onwards till late spring when food once again becomes scarcer and they have many mouths to feed.
Life goes on pretty much the same as it has done so in our back garden also with the Deer, Badgers, year after year and has done most of the time we have lived here as most of the wildlife take no real notice of us also doing our thing in the same open space, they allow us to share with them. ‘P1’ in particular tends to just treat me as part of his second family.
‘Patience’ and her fox cub ‘P1’ around seven months apart but still sharing the same safe green space.
My wife Suzanne is one of the strongest willed, determined, patient and kindest people I have ever met and is usually unfazed outwardly anyway, by anything through most off the ups and especially downs during the past four decades, but without her I would not have been able to do what I do for a living and never during the troubling times especially during the first decade or so, with little money coming in especially during my transition period from a cabinet maker to a sculptor, has she ever asked me to get a proper job. She once said living with me during the past forty years has often been like her riding pillion on my motorbike, going at high speed down the road, her not always really knowing where we are going and to be fair often I didn’t either. With her hanging on tightly around my waist through the whole experience, often with her eyes firmly shut, hoping for the best although still fearing the worst, but again that was something we both agreed upon. I also didn’t enjoy riding pillion, at all. I did it once on my mates’ similar powerful motorbike in the 1960’s at high speed down a twisty road as he gave me a lift home as my bike was in the garage. Never ever again, as if anything untoward was going to happen I wanted to try and be in control as best I can.
But we all have our weakness and of all the wide variety of wildlife that just flies around or wanders in the garden right past us and there are many we are having afternoon tea with sleeping foxes around our feet and a badger and deer wandering past and no doubt still trying to get into the house if I was allowed to let them in, but apparently "my little furry friends can spend as long as they like in my studio but they are not allowed inside the house" But if I had to name, the one thing that makes Sue really freak out despite her great inner strengths; Sue’s ‘Kryptonite’ if you like, for some reason is the humble Stag beetle which again lives on the edge of woodland we fortunately as numbers are in decline we have more than our fair share. It’s not just the antler-like mandibles they wear with such pride and aplomb and it has to be said with the larger male maybe just a tad of menace.
On one occasion, in particular one of her nemeses appeared to have fell on her shoulder when she walked under the ivy archway and I was notified of her distress by a squeal only the ladies and also appear many more gentlemen also do to rather well today, as it started to make its way up the back of her hair as she called out. “I know what it is, but don’t tell me what it is, just get it off.” Oh, what fun we had trying to oh so gently ease the just 2 inches long black Stag beetle walking up Sue’s long hair, what with its long claws and really long legs with prickly edges all the way down makes it very difficult to entangle so you do not hurt it, so cling on its does despite everything as soon as I managed to tease off one leg. two quickly took its place, but eventually the beetle let go and I gently cupped it in my hands.
But for just a second as much as I wanted to show her and she really, really didn’t wanting to look at it and despite the child in me, really, really wanting to show her, fortunately my better judgment kicked in as I knew there would be repercussions and she would get her own back, so I quickly moved away towards the woods, open my hands and this gentle docile creature walked onto a leaf on the bush at the bottom of the garden and it eventually flew off completely unmoved by the whole experience, unlike Sue. A small rare but nevertheless important victory for me in the often-ever-present affable power games between man and his other half so I recorded this oh so rare triumph on my phone; for posterity and beyond.
All these images on these pages good and less so, have not been interfered with or adapted or 'photoshopped' whatever that is; in any way, although to be fair one or two photographs could really do with it. Although I am not sure what happened with ‘P1’ the last photo above was taken with my phone just seconds apart. Every image has been taken mostly by myself, others by Sue and the remainder by CCTV. but mostly none of it is planned or set up which is pretty much like my career, but it's all about just having a camera handy at the right time when some species or another just happens to do something you would like to record and they are always around in the garden or house if they get a chance so it’s not that really difficult to do really.
On the wildlife page are just a tiny fraction of what has been captured on photos and video almost a daily basis and what has been going on with the wildlife both on and above the garden during the past five decades and just a small example of a wide variety of British Wildlife both in the sky and on the lawn which continue today and all I have to do is to watch, listen, learn record, film and photograph it all going on in the background, fortunately mostly whilst I am still working in perhaps not quite so typical English Country Garden.
Being painfully shy as a child which had not improved much as a young adult my first attempt at public speaking was at school at the age of seven which was a complete disaster and an experience, I never wanted to relive and I avoided any notions of public speaking at all costs and managed to do so quite happily right up to my late thirties when I was outflanked in the village shop by a retired colonel no less as I had been tasked to get some milk if I wanted a cup of tea in the morning. So, even thirty years later things had not improved as I then found out I wasn’t even able to talk my way out of actually giving a talk, at the next meeting in the village church hall which didn’t bode well, just as all the terrifying flashbacks I had as a shy seven-year-old came flooding back.
The colonel was the ‘Speakers secretary’ who had the unenviable task of booking a speaker, any speaker, for the monthly meetings and as I had appeared in a few times in the local paper at the time, I was deemed to be a legitimate target to now stand up in front of the villagers who cared to turn up to the meeting, to explain myself and was it not his sheer dogged determination for his arduous task where the colonel completely overwhelmed my feeble attempts to wriggle out of it and in a brief moment he was gone with a time and date pencilled in his notepad which he said he was immediately going to have printed out and put on the Village notice board as he marched off into the distance, no doubt whistling ‘Dixie’ or some such tune to himself having now accomplished his mission of my finally agreeing to give such a Talk.
In the past I have successfully managed to side step such a notion of public speaking with a shaking head and a nervous grin as I quickly walked away, as the thought of drawing attention to myself in front of an audience at any age. Be it voluntarily standing up in a classroom as a child, even if I knew the answer to the teacher’s question. However, that moment like many other brief encounters during the past seven decades I had not planned to do, but due to the nature of my new fledgling career at the age of thirty seven then in a totally new career that had presented itself just a few years earlier, it had actually given me something to talk about. Not only in the Church Hall but later with live and recorded interviews to the media to help promote my work for various art exhibitions and the like. All of which in turn opened up a wide variety of opportunities and experiences, meeting a wide variety of famous and interesting people from all over the world. From royalty and prime ministers to astronauts and actors, to speaking in Windsor Castle and on dozens of Ocean-going Liners and even on one such Ship, almost being the warm up act to ‘Jesus of Nazareth’. Or should I say the actor Robert Powel who played him in the famous 70’s television series, along with visiting far flung places all over the world, all just for ‘speaking for my supper’.
Initially the thought of actually standing in front of people, especially if I knew any of them, terrified me right from an early age, especially at the age of seven when I was ‘invited’ by a new teacher in my latest school, in Plymouth, to appear in their Christmas play. I like most children in my class had a small part in the play as I then spent most of the play watching in the wings wearing a brown hessian cloak some poor overworked teacher had kindly prepared for me and my two fellow ‘actors’ in her ‘spare time’ awaiting my entrance on stage in a school hall with a few hundred fidgeting parents, as they waiting for me to say “can you see that bright star”, words I never remembered at the time, but have never forgotten since.
Although it wasn’t a big part and it should have been over in just a moment, the thought of it still frightened the life out of me and although I had the words written on the back of my hand by my mother just in case, I still froze the moment I walked onto the stage and everyone was staring at me waiting for me to get on with it and say something, anything, so their children can then get onstage and do their bit. But no, I stood there hogging the limelight like the proverbial ‘rabbit in the headlights. But in my defence, I did remember to point in the air at the back of the Hall as instructed to do by the teacher, who began prompting me from the side of the stage, trying to remind me of my lines. but still no words came out and all I could hear was the sniggering from my so-called new friends and ‘fellow actors’ alongside me, as a rather louder, ah bless sounds were coming from the adults on front row, the rest was just a bit of a blur and I prefer to keep it that way, if you don’t mind.
My first ever taste of actually saying something in a public speaking mode was in my late thirties in my local Church Hall to several dozen people armed with a projector, a box full of slides and a wing and a prayer. The same slides I had spent many hours painstakingly placing in the right order which to my horror I then managed to drop all over the floor as I tried to open the wrong side of a pair of heavy glass doors at the entrance to the Hall in the pouring rain trying to carry everything I needed for the talk in the Hall in one go. I then had to frantically scramble around in the rain to pick them all before I entered the Hall and try to rearrange them again in front of my waiting audience.
On reflection my being so terribly shy and nervous about this whole public speaking business, this broke the ice somewhat standing there dripping wet in front of a room full of strangers, many twice my age all sat there staring at me and moving about whispering to each other on their squeaky wooden fold up chairs watching me juggling the slides around, in my recently dry-cleaned but now soaking wet suit I had been given by my brother in-law weeks earlier as he had put on a bit of weight. Now standing alongside a large silver tea urn gently going through its paces ready for the break midway, before finally I was ready to start my first talk ever, but unlike a proper speaker without any notes as I was introduced to the audience and just as the lights went down, I was quietly asked to speak out in a load voice so those at the back could hear. This whole concept of it all I had been dreading, both day and night from the moment I very reluctantly ‘agreed’ to give a Talk about my work weeks earlier had not started well thus far. but I didn’t have time to dwell too much on the culture shock, as my first task was to frantically trying and sort the slides out in the right order and way up kind of took my mind off it somewhat, but the audience were kind and patient and despite it all, I was then invited to give a similar ‘Phoenix from the Ashes’ Talks by a member of the audience at the local WI then in many other parts of the county, but now with a small fee attached which was always most welcome and often vital in the early days as I was still trying to survive the ever present financial repercussions of losing my furniture making business in the fire. A few months later despite my dreading the thought of the whole concept of public speaking from the moment I somehow actually gave such a talk in the Church Hall, which considering everything I thought it went surprisingly well although it has to be said, a short time later the church hall was demolished and a brand new hall was built in its place!
Various Talk venues just a Decade apart. My first in the local Church Hall, the next Talks and presentations on board five Cunard Ships to also give a number of talks and presentations in Windsor Castle.
I was first contacted by Cunard in 1992 when I was invited to join the Cunard ship Vistafjord in Genoa in Italy and I then gave two talks as we sailed back to Southampton. My mother Rosemary had always wanted to go on a cruise, so my wife Sue and I decided it would be rather nice for her to come along with me as my guest on this first trip. The first time either of us went on a large ship was when my mother took us as a family on a troopship when I was nine, sailing to our new home in Singapore. In these early days I was still not too confident about public speaking to put it mildly and was rather concerned no one would even turn up to any of my talks. When I voiced my concern to a Cruise director on board at the time, he kindly said “Oh Don’t worry about that, even if just four people turn up, that’s four less for us to worry about”, which was most helpful. As my confidence grew and I practiced and honed my newly discovered public speaking skills on many unsuspecting people, some of which had just turned out to their monthly club meeting for a chat with their friends and then to hear yet another speaker, talking about something in their Village Hall in the middle of nowhere. A few years later standing on stage in a theatre on the QE2 in the middle of the Ocean. So, if I had continued with my total abstinence to this whole public speaking fear which I had managed to successfully avoid for over thirty years, I would have missed out on traveling around the world and meeting so many interesting people in places I would have never visited otherwise if it not for the colonel’s clever opportunist ambush, I would never have given that first talk and hundreds of others over the decades.
But equally as importantly my giving talks not only in the early days it gave us a wonderful holiday we could not afford ordinarily at the time, but I could also meet many interesting people which I rarely did working on my own as I do, so it also actually got me out of the studio out into the light and fresh air as I was now meeting many hundreds of people of all nationalities, simply explaining what I do for a living. These fully illustrated talks particularly on the Ships, I don't tend to make my Talks 'arty' but informative and light-hearted just as if I was talking to a group of friends and are pretty much presented in a very similar fashion as to the way I have tried to write this journal. All of which is not really that difficult to do when you are being asked just to talk about yourself and what you do for a living, along with many of the incidents and accidents that happened on the way, all of which were constantly being updated with new ongoing commissions and stories over the years.
I have been fortunate to be invited by Cunard to participate in their lecture program an average of two a year for around twenty-seven years and the vast majority of these trips were trouble free throughout and have been the holiday of a lifetime although one or two were rather problematic especially one cruise on the Queen Mary 2 in 2016. It was just a short trip so I only had to give one Talk on the first day of the Voyage, then as always, once you have given your Talk you and your guest can simply enjoy all the facilities on board the Ship for the rest of the voyage just like any other passenger. My Talk on this occasion was ‘From the Ashes to Royal commissions’ was in the ‘Illumination’s theatre’. The same but regularly updated Talk I had given many times in various locations over the years, so it is not that difficult to do and then straight afterwards I was due to change and then meet Sue up in the Lido for lunch and then we planned to just have a wander around the magnificent Liner and maybe grab a beer at the bar and just sit on the sundeck watching the sea go by. I was introduced to the audience by the entertainment director who then left the stage as the lights slowly went down in the theatre and a bright spotlight illuminated my podium standing there in front of a large audience and just about to begin my 45-minute talk, when I had a stroke....... Although the timing was rather awkward to put it mildly, fortunately all’s well now and something I will allude to later.
The usual process as a ‘Guest Speaker’ you board the Ship around noon, usually a few hours or so before the passengers embark and you go straight to your cabin to be reunited with your suitcases along with a welcome letter from the cruise director and bottle of sparkling wine placed in the ice bucket on the table. The moment you are invited to give a Talk is so well organised by Cunard which makes things so easy. The letter in the cabin goes on to explain your schedule, if and when they would like you to give make a TV appearance on there Morning program and when to meet up with the Theatre Manager to discuss your requirements for your Talks and in the early days on the Vistafjord and the QE2 to give a quick run through with your slides and years later to enquire whether you require a laptop for your PowerPoint presentation etc. You then also get a chance to meet up with your fellow speakers, although you tend to meet many of them outside your cabin in 'speakers row' where all the fellow 'entertainers on the cruise are bilited which is close to the Theatre and our place of work. It's quite strange really walking up and down the corridor often bumping into the 'Stars of the Shows' on the way to the theatre, the dining room or the sun deck and having a quick chat. Beit fellow speakers, the comedian, illusionist, pop and opera singers, a piano player or solo violinist, many of them you can hear warming up all in holed up their luxurious cabins doing their thing before their Show. All completely surreal and light years away from my normal reality at home. holed up in my studio working with just deer wandering around in the garden eating your flowers and foxes and badgers wandering around my feet as I am carving also just doing our thing.
At the end of the Trip we sometimes get up earlier and go up on deck to watch the ship sail from Southampton water past our house just beyond the trees. Then disembark from the Ship, our home for the past week or two and push a trolley with our suitcases which were one minute outside your cabin and the next in a neat pile in the luggage hall at the dockside which are soon placed in your car parked nearby and within an hour we are back at home again having a cup of tea sorting through the mail. Often around 6:00 pm we wander through the woods at the back of the garden down to the water's edge and watch the same Ship sail past with new 'Entertainers' sitting in the same cabins preparing to do their thing, just as the Ships load whistle is sounded from the bridge as the Ship like all the cruise ships tend to do saying goodbye to Southampton, as excited newly arrived passengers now on holiday are holding a flute of champagne at the back of the Ship at the customary 'sail away' party listen to a the live band playing as the Liner sails past. Sometimes if the wind is in the right direction, for a moment you can hear what they are playing as it sails past your vantage point a several hundred yards away on the waters edge.
When you are initially invited by Cunard to give a Talk and they confirm how many Talks you have been asked to give, usually one Talk on each sea days, all of which are usually clearly set out I emails before you leave home so you can prepare for them before you leave home so no surprises there you would have thought but unfortunately on one occasion which was a particularly long trip with seven sea days, however I misread the original email as we were due to arrive at one port at midday so I was asked if I could do an eighth talk on the particular morning before we tied up and disembark at the dockside. On the first evening of this Mediterranean Cruise, we bumped into a well-known ‘Celebrity’ speaker, a fellow ‘entertainer’ as we were waiting for the lift to take us up to the restaurant. As we chatted, he said he was due to leave half way through the voyage and then fly back again. The lift arrived and we got in and soon got to the part which we were all there for, which was how many Talks have you been tasked to give?. He said he has just two talks to do. The first and only talk he ever does and the only one he has. His next talk was a question-and-answer session hosted by the cruise Director. I then explained I was apparently giving eight totally different Talks and I have only prepared seven so even when some one or two of the Talks include snippets of TV documentaries I have made over the years, seven was still stretching the elastic somewhat, but still doable, but eight! “Oh Dear, he said I would have liked to come to your last talk. Then, as the door to the lift opened and we went our separate ways into the restaurant, he called back, “good luck with number eight” as he walked over to his dining table.
In the end the mystique of honing the absent eight Talk was a lot easier than I thought in the end as his Question-and-answer session gave me the idea. After my talks or if we bump into the passengers during the Cruise the same questions always tend to crop up. The most popular question is always, ‘After working for the royal household for over thirty years, have you ever met the Queen’? which fortunately I have, so I decided to lead with that one, along with an appropriate photograph as my first question and answer session. Then I went through all the other popular questions I have been asked over the years, again in the same way with an appropriate photograph and as I always take hundreds of different power-point images with me for my talks anyway, it turned out the eighth 45-minute talk turned out to be one of the easiest of the talks I have given.
As I arrived that early in the Theatre it was empty and just got up on the Stage, and stood on my own at my own podium, looking blankly at the rows of empty seats wondering if anyone was going to turn up for my Talk anyway, just as I usually do. When from my side in the subdued light on stage a young man dressed entirely in black said good morning, Sir and put a glass of water on my podium for my talk and then walked back from whence he came. I was still wondering as I had been most of the night in the cabin, what my opening line was going to be for my talk as I walked on the stage and how I was then going to fill the next 40 plus minutes talking about my work and the events often surrounding it, without any images to back it all up and still try and make it interesting, also knowing this particular Talk was just one of three Talks I was booked to do on this Trip. When part of the big stage curtain behind me opened and the floor manager appeared, smiled and said as calmly as you like “Morning Ian '' as he walked up to me standing by the empty podium on stage. In his hand was my slides carousel in the other a small laptop. I later found out he had kindly spent most of that night converting all my slides to the PowerPoint format. He then presented me with a memory stick and said “all my slides were now set out on Power Point for me which I could keep afterwards”, but first he plugged it into his laptop and then quickly showed me how to fly his machine just as the audience started to file into the Theatre.
As he showed me what buttons moved the photo’s forward and back as the laptop was connected to the plug on the stage floor and immediately to my great relief, the first slide appeared on the huge cinema screen. He said “all the slides have been placed in the order you had them in the carousel, so they should all be fine”. I don’t like to use a static microphone fixed to the podium as I cannot then move around the stage a bit if the mood takes me, so he then attached to me the ‘singers and dancers’ microphone they use on. which I also prefer to use and I then spoke the customary. ‘Testing one to three’ business and having had a thumbs up from a person hiding away in the dark in a small box at the back of the Theatre, we were good to go, just as the audience started to appear in larger numbers through various other entrances to the Theatre. I quickly moved the first photographs back and forth on the screen just to make sure I could still find the two magic buttons as the floor manager slipped back behind the curtain then quietly said “I will be here all the time so if you did get any problems, hope it goes well” . So, here was another guy dressed head to toe in black who to me, was a real superhero, who just needed a mask and a long flowing cape to complete his outfit.
For over three decades I have also given many Talks and Presentations along with interviews and a bit of free publicity for newspapers and magazines, both live and recorded radio and TV programs. As well as making documentaries and giving live interviews occasionally with a large white van with a satellite disk on the roof, parked on the drive. Giving Talks and Presentations both on land and at sea right up to my late sixties. However, once I stopped exhibiting in art galleries in 1997 as I found it hard keeping up with commissions anyway, so naturally I felt I no longer had the need or desire for publicity to promote things in the naughties onwards so apart from one or two occasions. I stopped giving media interviews entirely. Two decades later due to my ever-increasing workload I also stopped giving Talks on dry land. My last such talk by special request was in the ‘new’ Church Hall, in the village right on the very spot where my public speaking experiences started in 1987. With my final speaking engagement at Sea in June 2019 on onboard the Queen Victoria were our daughter Emma and her husband Alan also joined us on this trip. Ironically enough my first and I thought last taste of speaking in public, was at the age of seven standing on a stage in a school hall somewhere in Plymouth in 1957, so, who would have thought exactly 30 years later I would end up giving Talks and Presentations and displaying my work, from the Queens room aboard the QE2, to Burlington House; Home of the Royal Academy of Arts. St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle to the Dungeons beneath the Castle and have also been invited to join over fifty different cruises giving various talks and presentations on board the Queen Elizabeth 2 and the three latest Cunard Queens. The venues for my talks have also varied from one moment standing on a highly polished wooden floor in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on the Queen Elizabeth 2 with the newly invited ‘guests’ who were no doubt looking forward to spending the next few weeks onboard in abject luxury. To the next standing on a dull medieval stone floor inside the Dungeons in the middle of Windsor Castle in the home of Queen Elizabeth 11 were the newly arrested ‘guests’ were probably not looking forward quite as much spending the near few weeks in somewhat rather less comfort.
Had I been left to my own devices always quietly shielding away from any form of public speaking as I had rather successfully managed to do for over thirty years and had I not been ambushed one sunny afternoon by the charming Colonel, who saw me coming, or indeed if I actually preferred black coffee rather than tea with milk and thus stayed at home that particular day. I most likely would have totally avoided public speaking since that moment of stage fright as a seven-year-old when just my words were a no show, but from 1987 would then go on to give hundreds of public speaking engagements from Town Halls to Windsor Castle and also having travelled the World courtesy of Cunard having been invited to participate as Guest Speaker on their ‘Enrichment’ Program on all five of their Luxurious Ships for almost three decades. So, in my case anyway as far as public speaking is concerned in which none of it was planned. It all completely goes against the old saying ‘Show me the child at seven and I will show you the man’.
‘A day in the life on our first cruise on the QE2 with Cunard as a ‘Guest Speaker’ and the one which very nearly got away.
Since 1992 my wife and I have been fortunate to be invited by Cunard to participate in their lecture program an average of 2.5 times a year along with the children. The vast majority of trips have been the holiday of a lifetime, although one or two trips have been rather problematic even before I arrived onto the ship.
The thought of actually first sailing on the QE2 in 1995 was quite amazing and had never seen the ship before, apart from photographs and on the TV, despite the fact I live close enough from the Solent you could often hear the QE2’s ships whistle, in my studio as she sails down Southampton water close by. Other reasons apart from the wonderful chance of going on the QE2, for us going on this trip apart from our first holiday since I cannot remember and having never been to America as we were still trying to recover from all the financial problems we were having after losing our business in a fire.
So, although we had no money or a credit card that worked, as the Cunard trip from New York was free in return for my just talking about my work as a sculptor particularly to the royal household, it would give us all a much-needed break and anyway would also save us money on food, heating, etc for the six days whilst we were away.
The afternoon before we were due to leave, I started to load up one of the suitcases with as many sculptures as I could possibly cram in, to ‘show’ the passengers and hopefully get some interest in my work. Although it is always a bit of a problem what sculptures to leave but I had a much bigger problem getting them all carefully and safely in the suitcase without breaking any.
Unfortunately, when I was just about to gently close the lid on the suitcase, my wife walked into the room and you wouldn’t believe this. She took all of my sculptures out of the suitcase and then put all her clothes and shoes back in. Now I know some people might think that was really rather selfish of my wife to react like that, but I have to say she is a good kid normally so she probably had her reasons!
Fortunately, I smuggled a few sculptures in my case and also packed the gilded Coronet I had recently created for former British Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher which I had managed to get into my hand luggage so at least that was packed.
The earliest flight to New York from Heathrow we could get was booked at that time by an agent and we arrived at the airport at 6.00 am all raring to go on our first holiday for so many years having never been to the United States before. After moving into the departure lounge, we joined the queue as the flight was shortly to be called. It was just over an hour before the flight was due to take off and there were about twenty people in the queue in front of us when a man from the airline stopped right in front of us and said, Mr Brennan, I said yes, he said “could you please come this way and promptly walked back towards the flight desk”.
I looked at my wife and said I suppose we had better do what he says and started following him. We walked up to the desk acutely aware that everyone in the queue was now staring at us, when the man said, Sir you all have just a one-way ticket to New York but you appear to have a lot of luggage with you.
I must admit it did look a lot of luggage for just a week’s holiday, but on a cruise, we were told you need a lot of different clothes, both smart and formal and our eight-year-old daughter was at the age when she wanted her own suitcase, as was my wife. In mine apart from my cloths I also happened to have as many carvings as I could cram in the suitcase along with former British Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher’s gilded coronet, I had recently made for her in my hand luggage like you do. Ian worked on Baroness Thatcher’s Coronet in the studio.
I said that’s right we are joining the QE2 in New York and sailing back to Southampton and I was a guest speaker on board for the voyage. He asked me what my talks were about and told him I was a sculptor and that for the past decade amongst other things created various sculptures for the Royal Household and that I have been asked by Cunard to give talk about my work.
I explained I have also brought a few examples of my work with me to show the passengers including Baroness Thatcher’s carved and gilded coronet I made for her as she was recently made a Lady of the Garter by the Queen. He said that you have any papers confirming all this, so I showed him a letter from the agent. He said I am afraid that is not enough, do you have boarding tickets for your passage on the QE2.
I said no as I was told to simply hand this letter at Cunard’s information desk at the dockside at the QE2’s berth in New York and we would then be allowed onboard. “I am sorry Sir" he said; I cannot let you board the flight without any real documentation confirming you will actually be joining the ship. I explained that’s all the information I have. I have to say he was most charming but also quite insistent that we would not be allowed to fly without the correct documentation. I said could I possibly use your phone to give the agent who booked me in New York a call to let them know what is going on and that I will not be able to join the ship.
He was most helpful and handed me the phone that was attached to the wall but I could only get the answer phone, I then realised due to the time difference in New York there was no one there at that time in the morning. I left a message on the answer phone telling the agent the problems I was having and that I unfortunately wouldn’t now be able to join the ship. I handed the man the phone back and walked back over to Sue and Emma.
The queue had now disappeared and we could see the sign flashing saying the flight was boarding and I thought that’s it the thought of going on holiday was nice whilst it lasted and we almost had our first trip to the States. I said to Sue it’s still early and as I didn’t have a credit card for a taxi home we had best wait for a bit and see if we can try and scrounge a lift back home from family or friends somehow.
The departure lounge was by now completely empty apart from us three when I saw another man wearing a similar uniform as the previous ‘no fly ‘gentleman I spoke with earlier walking towards us from behind the desk, I whispered to Sue, looks like we are now going to be moved on have you got everything, Sue said, we don’t have our suitcases, where’s our suitcases, I said no doubt we will soon find out.
He walked right up to me and said to me can I speak to you for a moment Sir and then walked away from us, I followed him and he explained I am the supervisor for the airline and have just arrived on duty. I have been told of the problem you are having regarding boarding the flight would you mind explaining to me exactly what you are trying to do. I once again explained I was planning to join the QE2 to give a talk about my work but I don’t appear to have the right documents so apparently, we cannot catch the flight.
He said what my colleague explained to you is quite correct, if you were to arrive at JFK without the proper documents there is a very good chance you will not be able to enter the United States with all the consequences that would mean for all of us, I am afraid.
However, I believe what you are saying and have decided to take the risk and let you board the aircraft, but I still worry what might happen when you get to the immigration desk at JFK they can often be very fierce with those who try to enter the United States without the correct paperwork.
He then said, the aircraft is just about to push off from the ramp and have already instructed your cases to be reloaded on board, but could you please leave right now as we cannot hold the flight up. He raised his arm in the air and one of his colleagues walked quickly towards us; he said could you please follow my colleague as quickly as you can. I thanked the supervisor and we all walked/ran through a large door and down a long corridor, trying to keep up with Emma who was running down the corridor.
I then stopped and said, you all go on I have to go back for a second and speak to that man again I will be as quick as I can, before Sue could say anything I ran back where we came back through the door and just managed to catch the supervisor before he disappeared behind the back of the airline desk.
I said I am so sorry but can I use the phone again as I must phone the agent in New York to tell them what is happening; the last message I left was we wouldn’t be on the flight. Oh yes of course, he said, but please be quick we simply cannot hold the flight up and promptly handed me the phone. It seemed to ring for ages before it went to answer the phone and then seemed like forever before it eventually bleeped for me to leave a message.
I left the agent a quick message saying, we are now able to fly but please can you try and arrange some paperwork for us for immigration when we arrive at JFK or we might not be allowed in. I then quickly rang off and handed the phone back.
Once again, I thanked the supervisor for all his help, he wished me luck and called out to have a good flight, as I ran back to join my family. As soon as I arrived at the end of the corridor at the aircraft a flight attendant was waiting and when I walked through the huge aircraft door it was immediately swung shut behind me and I was quickly shown my seat. Once again, all eyes were on me as I was rather sheepishly escorted by the stewardess to the back of the aircraft to join my family, who looked up at me but didn’t say anything.
The fight itself was very pleasant although it was around eight hours long it seemed to take forever. Emma would appear to have all but forgotten the problems in the departure lounge and enjoyed the flight especially helping herself to my desert when they served the in-flight meal and was really looking forward to going to the States as Sue and I were before the earlier events in the departure lounge had happened.
All we could think of now was what might happen when we arrive; Sue said oh well at least we will have been to the States even if we get sent back, someone will have to lend us the airfare back in mind or we will be stuck there.
We were all seated in a row at the back of the aircraft with Emma having the window seat and the fasten your seat belt sign came on so knew we were about to land, Emma then called out she could see hundreds of tall buildings out of the window, come and see. She was right; it was an amazing sight as the aircraft slowly turned away from the Manhattan skyline what at first glance looked like something from a science fiction movie. When we landed everyone eventually started to leave the aircraft and we began walking after them for us to the now ‘dreaded’ immigration hall.
I whispered to Sue let’s wait and join at the end of the queue. I just don’t fancy being pulled out of the queue right in front of everyone again, so we held back a bit. The immigration hall at JFK airport is massive and at the end of it was a long line of desks stretched like a huge barrier right across the width of the Hall.
People now started to queue up behind each of the desks, but we still held back and slowly made our way to the end of one of the lines. So far so good I whispered to Sue and then in the corner of my eye about a hundred yards away I could see this smartly dressed gentleman wearing a very official looking dark uniform with a peaked hat with gold beading around the front of the rim, looking around the hall.
He then looked our way and immediately started to walk briskly towards us, I nudged Sue and said it looks like he is coming our way, that was quick; I then also spotted following a few paces behind him was a porter trying to catch up with him with what appeared to be our three suitcases piled up in his trolley. Sue said it sure looks like it doesn't, what now.
The official in a stern face walked up to me and said Mr. Brennan please follow me and promptly turned around and walked back the way he came without another word. I looked round at Sue and said, he obviously knows all about us, that can’t be good. I went up to the suitcases to get them and the official said, rather abruptly, no leave them; he will take care of them.
Once again everyone started to stare as we quickly walked past all the various lines of queuing passengers following the official with our porter trying to play catch up. So far none of the passengers had got past immigration yet, so we once again had a captive audience who rather embarrassingly was now watching our every move. He stopped at the first desk with an immigration official sitting there and we all joined him, albeit reluctantly.
With a stern face looking at the man at the desk and in a loud voice he literally said, “Sam, this is the sculptor to the Queen of England let him through” ... Wow I thought to myself someone must have shall we say, embellished the truth somewhat, but it appeared to be working beautifully so I said nothing.
Sue looked just as amazed as I was, he then asked for our passports and handed them to the seated official who was looking straight at Emma who was just a few feet away from him and said, should we let you father in, Emma looked up at him and said, yes please. All three passports were then scanned and quickly stamped before being promptly handed back to me.
The official with the gold braid around his hat then turned to us and said Sir, welcome to the United States of America; I hope you all have an enjoyable stay. The next second the barrier lifted and after saying, thank you so much Sue, I and Emma, along with the porter still pushing our cases walked through.
We were all completely dumbfounded and total relieved at what to appear to be us actually getting through immigration. As we arrived near the exit to the airport the porter handed us the trolley with our cases on, we thanked him and he then returned back the way he came. Sue said, thank goodness you managed to get through to the agent on the phone in New York. Cunard as someone must have said something to immigration, let’s hope we can now get a taxi to the Ship.
We literally only had a few hours left to join the ship so we quickly headed for the exit and tried to find a taxi. We were aware normally when passengers are joining the ship they stay overnight in a hotel in New York apparently it’s the Waldorf Astoria and we were advised by Cunard to do so, which we would have done so if we could have afforded it unfortunately although our flights and accommodation on the ship was all provided in those days air fare for the guest speakers wasn’t and as we just had $100 dollars for the cab fare which we hoped would be enough so we thought we would have to risk it by getting the earliest flight out. I know it was all a bit risky and probably wouldn’t take such a risk today mind but it was such a great opportunity we took the risk and hoped for the best.
As we walked/trotted through the exit area, we could see a long line of people lined up waiting for a taxi and were both acutely aware of the time and not knowing how long the journey is from the airport to the ship knowing and time and tide waits for no man and had less than two hours to get on the ship, even I the eternal optimist began to wonder if this was a good idea.
Just inside the exit door there was a lot of people holding up signs with people’s names on it and right at the front was a man dressed in a smart uniform holding a sign with Mr. Brennan on it. This is getting stranger and stranger, I said to Sue. I walked up to him and said, I am Mr. Brennan with my family, are we the Brennan’s you are after, feeling a little silly as I said it.
Ah yes Sir Good afternoon he said I have been tasked to collect you and your luggage and take you to join the QE2. We followed the man outside and he stopped alongside a huge black limousine which was parked right outside the entrance.
He opened the back door of the huge car and invited Sue and Emma to sit in the back. He then walked around the other side of the car and invited me to do the same. The cases were then quickly placed into the boot of the car and we started to move off. As we drove through the centre of New York the driver remarked how unusually light the traffic was and how normally this time of the day it can take two hours to get to the QE2 terminal.
We eventually arrived at the dockside outside the Cunard departure lounge and alongside the entrance there were huge glass screens which we all looked through and made out for the first time ever the distinctive shape of the QE2 moored alongside.
The driver then unloaded the suitcases and placed them onto the pavement and said please stay here and I will find a trolley, before he did, I asked him about the fare, he said very politely not to worry about that Sir, it has all been taken care of as he got back into his car and disappeared into the distance.
We had made it and with just an hour to spare before the ship were due to set sail. When we walked into the now empty departure hall a well-dressed lady walked up to us and introduced herself, she told me she was the agent who had booked me to a few months ago who I had been leaving messages on her answer phone. She apologised profusely for the problems and said she hopped everything went smoothly upon our arrival at the airport, which I assured her it had.
I said we had been treated like Royalty the moment we landed and thank her for all her help. She said that’s good it’s very nice to see you all here. Your cabin has also now been upgraded so I hope you have a wonderful voyage. She then went on to say I hear the traffic in the city was very light this afternoon, which is lucky as I have to say normally it would have taken twice as long to get here and if you hadn’t managed to get straight through immigration and had to queue up like everyone else, I am afraid to say, you most certainly would have been too late to join the QE2 as the ship would have sailed!
As we walked up to Canard's boarding desk all the other passengers had already boarded so once again yet another departure lounge like the airport in the UK we had just left, was empty. A gentleman in a smart Cunard uniform walked up to Emma and pointing to the walls said, do you like our display of balloons. Emma said that she did, oh good, let’s go see if we can get some shall and they both promptly walked to a huge bunch of red, white and blue balloons which were floating close to the ceiling, but the strings were still close enough to reach. Emma was then handed a beautiful display of different coloured balloons at the same time as we were handed our boarding passes.
We had arrived just and as Emma walked in front of us proudly displaying her floating balloons entering the magnificent ship, Sue looked over to me and quietly said’ “We will never fly and join a Ship like this again eh” “You bet I replied and two decades and fifty odd such cruises later, we never have.
Before we left home, we had given our family a contact phone number for the ship but just in case of emergencies, but added hopefully nothing terrible will happen, but if anything does, we will be in mid Atlantic so obviously we wouldn’t be able to do anything about it, so unless it is really serious don’t phone us until we are nearer to England.
I was only required to give one 45minute presentation on the five-day voyage back to Southampton; which was held on the first sea day out and fortunately was well attended and went really well. I went straight back to the cabin and fell onto the bed exhausted, but really pleased the talk went well and I had earned my keep and could now enjoy the remaining three-day trip home enjoying the luxury surroundings on the QE2, when then the telephone in the cabin rang.
Sue said, can you get that, I would rather not. I rather hesitantly picked up the phone and a well-spoken lady said, “Hello I am Rosemarie, the Captain's wife, we would like to invite you and your family to our quarters for afternoon tea and would be delighted if you could join us at some point during the voyage”. The following day at 2.00 pm we were led to the Captains quarters when we were greeted by Rosemarie and invited to sit down on the white leather settee in the stateroom.
As the Captains stateroom aboard the QE2 is directly under the bridge and it appeared to be as wide as the ship, with a magnificent view directly in front of you and to one side. A smartly dressed waiter then appeared with a large silver tray festooned with delicious sandwiches, scones, jam and cream, closely followed by an ornate decorated silver tea and coffee pot.
After a few moments Rosemarie looked up and said oh, her comes John now and in walked the Captain in his splendid uniform, who greeted us all very warmly. We then spent an enjoyable hour or so in the delightful company of just the Captain of the QE2 and his charming wife, along with the most dutifully attention of the waiter who was always discretely stood in the background waiting to be of service and took this photo.
That was in 1995, the last time we flew anywhere to join a ship. Since then we only go on voyages with Cunard on round trips joining at Southampton and leaving Southampton so the next time, we went to New York a couple of years later it was just for a day trip. Five days sailing the Atlantic, a day in New York and then sail back to Southampton. I would then give the same talks on the way to New York and the same ones on the way back home to a new set of passengers.
That worked well for us and it also worked well with Cunard as it saved booking another speaker and also saved them the cost of the air flights. Fortunately for us all for just talking about my work, none of which to be fair, none of the voyages I would have been able to afford normally.
Being able to also take Emma on the QE2 from the age of eight to eighteen, with her dining in a five-star restaurant, going to the theatre most evenings to see a ‘west end’ show, along with attending plush cocktail parties in her fine dresses, was just like her attending a finishing school. Years later when Emma was in her thirties, she once again joined us on a Cruise, but this time on the Queen Victoria, along with her husband Alan.
Going anywhere on a Cruise on the QE2 used to be much quicker and you could go much further places on a ten- or fourteen-day cruise as the QE2 could sail faster backwards than any passenger ships today can sail forwards.
From 1992 to 2019 we were fortunately asked by Cunard to participate in their ‘Enrichments Program’ over fifty times, on five different Cruise ships, providing it was on a return trip basis and we traveled to many different places.
From the USA to Russia, from Rome to the Canaries, Iceland to the Greek Isles and were great fun and all went completely without a hitch…... er possibly except when we were on a coach in France and running late getting back to join the ship before it departed, stuck behind a column of American Army trucks and Sherman Tanks, in a narrow country lane, on the 60th anniversary and re-enactment of the D-day landings in Normandy.
Or, being on the upper decks as we watched the gleaming brand-new ship Queen Victoria on her first Mediterranean cruise, docking in Valetta Harbour, were as a nine-year-old I left exactly at the same spot on a troop ship bound for Singapore, when we heard a crash and stopped with a jolt, as the Ship had just reversed into Malta.
Or, oh yes nearly forgot, there was also the time in November 2016, when I was in the theatre on the Queen Mary 2, live on stage in front of a large audience and was just about to start my talk…. when I had a stroke.
Modern Cruise ships are often found to be one of the nicest and safest ways to have a holiday and with their superb stable designs, no matter what the sea will throw at you for the most part you would never really notice you are at sea. I appreciate I am not a good sailor but neither was Lord Nelson and he managed all right, so knowing this particular ship unlike HMS Victory had stabilisers, so it is always worth risking if we had a good, calm sea. This particular day we really didn’t and I was just about to give a talk.
Waking up on the day of my first talk on the Queen Mary 2, just before dawn feeling so ill and often had to get out of bed in a real hurry and then spent the next oh so many hours staring into the now lined waste paper bucket, just wishing oh so very much, I was back on dry land again.
At 9.00 am after a dreadfully night without hardly any sleep, I felt no better. The ship normally is very stable but this time she was still moving about all over the place, as was my stomach. I can honestly say I had never felt so ill; my wife, who was fine, was doing her best for me as usual but to no avail. My talk was due to start in the theatre in an hour at 10.00 am prompt and as it was well advertised on the ships program, I felt I just simply had to be there, although I admit I had heard the talk before, so if it was up to me, I would have quite easily have giving it a miss.
I realised even in the state I was in I would think I just have to at least turn up as obviously in these terrible conditions I would imagine no one else would or could. My wife got me ready or I assumed she had as I could barely remember what day it was so I was dreading having to shortly try and stand on a moving stage and give a talk for 45 minutes. It was times like this that I wished I had my talks all written down like proper lecturers do, so at least I didn’t have to think about anything else except reading my well-crafted and rehearsed lines and hang onto something immovable, but I knew I just had to be there; I mean my public needs me!
It was now 9.45 am this was it; I just had to leave the security of my cabin and finally have to let go of my special bucket. I had a quick sip of water and managed to carefully and very slowly get up out of the chair. Keep focused looking straight ahead, no sudden moments, I was always told in such a situation as this. I said to Sue you had better put my socks and shoes on. If I try and bend down now, I will be finished, she said I already have.
On all the trips I had done with Cunard I have never had a no show before so it wasn’t going to be on this one, hopefully. I had my PowerPoint presentation memory stick containing all my photographs and my laser pointer safely in my top pocket and as I hadn’t needed my oh so special bucket for almost ten minutes now, I felt I might be ready to go for it.
The show must go on, I kept on telling myself rather unconvincingly, just like a true thespian. Sue said right let me look at you and then said sorry but I have to say it “you actually do look green; you often hear people say they went green but I didn’t know you actually can. Are you sure you will be up to this, look perhaps I best come with you this time”? I don’t like Sue coming to my talks as I feel if I make a complete hash of it, at least she won’t have to sit through it. Anyway, she not only has heard it all before, but has lived it as well.
I said no thanks it is so rough out there and the ships moving around a lot and as you know it takes five minutes to get to the theatre and I will then have a quick look in to hopefully find it empty as everyone felt the same as me and will have sensibly stayed in the cabin. I will then turn straight around and in ten minutes time, I hope to be safely back in here, just me you and my bucket. So, I would rather you stay here and sort things out if that’s OK.
The certain knowledge that there would be no one in the theatre and I could then run straight back was the only thing that willed me on to stumble through the cabin door and with several paper sick bags stuffed in every pocket, I was ready to go. The ‘entertainer’s cabins are always located close to the theatres on the cruise ships, so I knew it should be a short walk/trot back again.
Sue opened the door and attempted to prize my new best friend from my grasp. By now the deep affection I felt cuddling my beloved bucket was palpable, this was not some sort of holiday romance you often hear about, this was the real thing. I didn’t give the bucket a name or anything as that would be silly, but in an unguarded moment it was brutally snatched from my grasp and a split second later before I could protest, the cabin door was opened and as the ship then lurched in the right direction, I was pushed through the open door, which quickly closed behind, me blocking my inevitable retreat.
I had no option to walk/stumble down the two flights of stairs close by; better not risk the lift I thought and a quick shuffle along the corridor and I would then be at the entrance to the theatre on the ship. It was actually quite a strange feeling trying to walk down the stairs as the ship was moving about so much. When you put your foot down to the step below, it seemed at the same time the step come back up to meet you.
The next moment the step I was just about to stand on, completely disappeared. It all felt a little like being drunk but without the rather more pleasant initial stage. I eventually reached the bottom of the stairs more or less intact and then after a short walk and occasional run as the ship pitched forward yet again, I found my way to the theatre doors.
Pushing open the swinging doors I quickly started in and to my abject horror, the theatre was packed full of passengers. I was stunned, what is up with people, haven’t they got homes to go to.
I rather reluctantly walked down the aisles towards the stage when I saw the full theatre and was warmly greeted by the cruise director, waiting for me at the bottom of the stage. He smiled and said Hello Ian, glad you could make it look like we have a great house, considering the sea state. You can see we even have the whole cast of Rada sitting along the whole of the back row.
The house lights were still fully lit up at that point so I could clearly make out some of the faces of the ‘Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts’ troop, as I had watched a wonderful performance of a Shakespeare play the previous evening.
The Cruise director took a good look at me and obviously noticed my convincing green incredible hulk impression, without the muscles I must add and said, “Do you feel alright are you sure you’re up to this”, I said I have felt better but I think I should be fine once I get going, but I have got a few of these just in case partially pulling out of my pocket one of the sick bags, he said great well just do the best you can.
He then said I know you don’t usually use podiums for your talks, but we thought you are going to need something to hold onto for this talk, also a bit of advice, don’t look at the curtains, which of course is exactly what I then did and watched the huge heavy curtains swaying from side to side, side to side, side to side.
My microphone was quickly attached to my collar by the stage assistant and after a sound check he said, if you are ready. We both then walked up onto the stage to face the audience, who with the house lights still on I could see were all grimily hanging onto their seats, in what was turning out to be a real white-knuckle ride.
Surprisingly I didn’t feel too bad at this point; perhaps it was shock, maybe it was adrenaline or perhaps just the excitement of giving a talk to a full house, something I was not used to. Perhaps it was just lack of sleep, maybe all of them all fused together just like my stomach, I didn’t care. I just had to get this over with and then get back into bed.
I then thought to myself I just might be able to get through this and with my left hand firmly locked onto the edge of the podium with a vice like grip, the other hand groping around trying to find the right button on the remote control as it rolled back and forth on the podium, a quick lunge and I fortunately managed to grab the remote control first time, although the cylindrical laser light pointer which I had rather silly placed upon the top of the podium, was now rolling back and forth, back and forth with the motion of the ship and had to give up trying to catch it.
With a quick click the correct photograph miraculously appeared on to the huge cinema screen behind me and I began my talk and with the last comforting words my wife said to me as she shoved me out of the cabin still ringing in my ears, if you have to rush of stage to be sick, make sure you switch your microphone off.
A few days later I bumped into one of the actors in the lido and I said how nice it was to see they had made the effort to come to my talk especially in such sea conditions and that it was very much appreciated. He graciously said not at all we always like to support a fellow artist.
That was the first time I ever thought of myself that way which was really nice and coming from a distinguished actor from RADA, speaking to a self-taught sculptor, who gives his unrehearsed talks all without a script, rather flattering.
Apart from seeing the world and meeting Royalty, Prime Ministers and many famous people, especially fellow guest speakers on the fifty or so cruises I was invited to participate in for 25 years with Cunard, make them rather different and interesting.
Such as on one cruise alone, we had an opera singer often practicing one side of cabin and the ‘Beatles’ in the other side on the ‘entertainers’ row’ of cabins they have onboard and shared many a cup of tea in the lido with both ‘John Lennon’ and ‘Paul McCartney.’
Well, the Beatles tribute band anyway, but they looked and sounded exactly the same on stage. To my following Jesus of Nazareth’s ‘Talk on the Stage’. Well, the actor Robert Powel anyway.
To then working for the royal household for over thirty years and meeting many members of the royal family. None of which would have happened without my having a forced change in career in my mid-thirties, in a direction at the time, I knew what where.
Although I never planned my career as a sculpture, when given the opportunity and chances presented itself, I like many people on many other projects have worked really hard to try and make the most of such opportunities and still do.
Trials and tribulations creating a life size Eagle from within a large tree.
In 1990 I received a phone call from the clerk of a local Parish Council who explained that they had unfortunately lost a number of 100 plus year old Lime trees in their country park, that had blown down in the high winds and that they were due to be taken away to be pulped, but if I would like to try carving anything from any of them, I was welcome to take them away.
Both branches rising from the trunk were perfectly symmetrical and apart from a small side shoot growing off one of the branches, the potential wings would appear to be knot free and as we got closer, I thought could it actually be my Bald Eagle in kit form?
Well to say the wood was green was an obvious understatement, I have carved unseasoned timber in the past and had learnt the hard way how to avoid some of the splits and shakes that often occur on drying out, but to try something on this scale especially when I have never attempted anything like it before, would I fear require a lot more thought and I would have to once again with wood carving at the time, be learning on the job.
It’s not too difficult to carve a large Bald Eagle in flight, from one piece I thought, all you have to do is simply carve away everything that is not an eagle and almost the moment, I discovered I could carve I wanted to try and carve in one piece an eagle coming into land with its feet and powerful claws outstretched.
The proposed sculpture was to be large, much larger than I had ever attempted before perhaps around ten feet high including its base, with its wings straight and fully outstretched at least five feet apart. As with the majority of my work, I also wanted this sculpture to be carved from a single piece of timber. so, I thought it would therefore require a tree of a least six feet wide and the potential eagle and base were to be carved in one piece, over ten feet in length.
Well, this sort of massive timbers doesn’t grow on trees you know, well not in this country anyway. So, it would require a rather special tree, a tree I couldn’t find and if I did I would not be able to afford , well they say everything comes to those who wait, well I waited and waited and then the Storm came in January 1990.
Although like most people I was shocked by the destruction caused by the powerful winds that hit the south of England especially to the millions of trees uprooted and prefer to see trees in their natural state, growing tall and strong, but it looked like my patience was about to be rewarded.
Because the tree was far too heavy to move to my studio around ten miles away, I decided to spend the next week at the park and work on it from dawn to dusk where it fell, which was about half a mile down from the park gates.
I was initial told that the park was officially open from 8.30 am to 4.00 pm in the winter and then the gates to the park would be locked overnight and basically as the downed tree was half a mile down the narrow twisty track, the gate keeper wouldn’t be able to tell if anyone was there or not and if the gate was locked, both me and the car would be locked in for the night and without a mobile phone which no one had in those days, to let anyone know it kind of focused the mind somewhat.
As it was January, so as closing time would be around 4.00 pm, it would most likely be getting too dark to work safely anyway, especially with a chainsaw. So realistically I would have a maximum of a seven-hour window each day to work on the eagle.
The plan was to first cut the largest part of the trunk into a ten feet long section and leave it for a few weeks to expose the largest end of the trunk to the elements, to see where the first signs of the potential shakes (splits) which naturally occur when large pieces of wood dry out.
As soon as the splits on the end of the log appear, you then work out where the eagle is hiding away inside to avoid any of these splits. I then planned to spend a week trying to reduce the massive weight of the tree as far as possible and then friends were going to help me collect the eagle sculpture in a pickup truck and take it to my studio to finish the carving off at my leisure.
Although basically I would be making this up as I went along, decided the first cut would be to remove the two heavy branches at the top of the trunk and then it was just a question of waiting for a few weeks, to observe the first signs of where the shakes were going to happen in this cut off end and then work out what pose the eventual Eagle could take, so I simply started to cut away the branches; First mistake.
The first of the two large top branches were quickly cut through with the chainsaw and fell away. Just a case of now cutting away the other branch and getting home to try and warm myself up a bit. I hate the cold especially working outside in it during the winter, especially last time I did so when I was a teenager working as a flat roofer in Kent, I caught pneumonia working long hours in winter laying a new roof and was in bed for weeks.
This was in the days when your doctor, a name check here as he deserves it, ‘Doctor Faithful’ from Kent, actually had the time and inclination to visit me early in the morning before his surgery opened and in the evening just after his surgery closed for weeks on end, to ‘keep an eye’ on me.
Finally, when I was able to actually crawl out of bed and return to work, as apart from everything else, I really needed the money. Upon my return I got sacked for taking too much time off.
I wanted to get this first really cold and wet early stage over quickly.
As I was standing on top of the trunk near the top to cut the remaining branch
off, the tree suddenly came to life. I know trees are living things but this
tree had blown down over a week ago and assumed it had expired, so I wasn’t
quite expecting this one to come back to life with me standing on it and it was
The massive tree with a huge groan followed by loud cracking sounds it started to move, slowly at first, but then it moved faster and faster as it was attempting to stand up again, with me desperately trying to hang onto it now on the top of a real freaky fairground ride.
for ten long seconds, maybe more, I was the ultimate tree hugger. It took
roughly 15 seconds, but it felt longer for the tree to get to roughly a
45-degree angle with me still desperately hanging on to it.
Gravity had started to take over so I had partially slid down from the very top and managed to jam a foot into the fork of the tree with my left arm around the branch, my right hand still hanging on to the chainsaw, which was still running.
I remember thinking as the tree started to stand up, this shouldn’t be happening, I have always been sharp like that. I then had to make a decision, perhaps the sort of decision we all have to make at some point in our lives, do you hang onto something, or do you just let it go.
The options however this time were quite simple. The tree was at this point 30 feet into the air and still slowly rising onwards and upwards, so do I either hang onto the tree and then like an idiot have to hang around stuck in the middle of the countryside in mid-winter awaiting rescue, or with the chainsaw still bussing away in my hand, try to drop the chainsaw one way and then maybe half slide/fall whatever gravity decides to do, down the other side of the tree, hopefully without us meeting at the bottom. Which would have been kind of messy.
As this was 9.00 am on a bitterly cold January morning with not a soul around, I instinctively decided on the latter, if for no other reason the option of being stuck 50 feet up a tree in a rather deserted part of the woodland in mid-winter, possibly not to be found until months later in the spring, possibly by ramblers or more likely a dog walker, it usually always a dog walker, who would then wonder how a skeleton got stuck up a tree.
So, with a partially controlled downward assent, I felt it was the best way forward, or down as the case may be, so I kind of dropped the now ticking over, chainsaw one side of the tree and just managed to slide/fall down the other side.
The chainsaw fortunately shut itself-off during its downward flight and quietly lay there safely on its side undamaged, at precisely the same moment as I did and with me also undamaged, but being many times the chainsaw’s weight, prove conclusively Newton’s theory of gravity and with the tree now just standing there appearing to be defiantly, giving me a rather appropriate two fingered gesture.
The Bald eagle on day one and when completed several months later
On the first day I really began to wonder then what I was actually doing here. I have never tried carving something on this scale before, it was freezing cold and I hate the cold and even if I managed to actually carve a roughed out Bald eagle shape without cutting anything away I shouldn’t, using a chainsaw I hired that morning with just a few minutes training under my belt on how to use a chainsaw, well how to start it anyway.
Could the roughed-out log then be able to be lifted and put onto a truck and moved and if I did manage to get it home and eventually after goodness know how long, actually finish it and it actually looked like an eagle in flight, when I should really should be working on something that actually pays the bills and to make matters worse and even if I manage to finish it, I didn’t have a buyer for it, so you may well ask, well one or two people close to me just might have done so, on more than one occasion, including me. But I just wanted to see if I could do it.
Trying to carve a huge eagle like this was all new to me and now the technical stuff; I didn’t then, but now do realise that when the tree blew down in the storm the massive weight of the roots and the huge bowl of earth, was less than the weight of the two huge branches and as these branches were so heavy, they prevented the tree from returning to its upright position that it proudly had held without trouble for 100 plus years, until now totally unfazed by other storms and survived two world wars.
Now arborists or more especially tree surgeons, would know this, it might even be on page one of the tree surgeons’ handbooks on what not to do. It might even be in the first paragraph, but I didn’t possess such a handbook, maybe I should get one, but always being the sort of person that believes ‘if all else fails read the instruction’ it would be wasted on me anyway. I do know such things now, anyway hindsight is something your average rookie woodcarver, well this one anyway, does not possess, but I’m working on it.
No doubt your average, novice, first day in the job tree surgeon removing the top branches from a tree that has blown down without first removing the attached massive root and earth bowl, would think that is just plain dumb, as dumb as cutting away a high branch whilst you’re still sitting on it. Something you might be surprised to hear, I haven’t done yet, but hey give me time, I am new at this game.
On Monday morning, the first day of carving as soon as the massive trunk was separated from its massive root system, the massive earth bowl simply fell neatly back into the hole from whence it came. Just as well I didn’t have my sandwiches and flask in the hole as they would have been buried. Not that it would have mattered anyway as I dropped the flask getting out of the car first thing, but hey enough of my troubles.
Incidentally twenty years later I went back to the park to the same spot from where I created the large bald eagle and was presently surprised to see one large and several other smaller healthy trees, now growing directly from the original roots of the forked where the Bald eagle originated from and took this photograph.
Makes you wonder if these ‘clever’ experienced tree surgeons had actually followed my example and cut off some of the heavy branches from all these blown down trees, they might still be growing today, but will they listen, would you, no, me neither but I digress.
If you are still with me, well when I plan any sculpture, I spend a lot of time researching the subject, I not only use live studies whenever possible but also videos and books until I have built up in my mind a complete picture of what the finished sculpture should look like. It is then simply a case of cutting everything away that doesn't look like in this case, a Bald Eagle.
I tend to work along the lines, of oh I don't know I think I will move the leg over here a bit. Er no perhaps it might look right over there and then make the no going back cut. I rarely try and draw the desired shape of the sculpture onto the log with chalk, as such drawings quickly disappear with a chainsaw so I tend to keep the image of the completed sculpture in mind as I slice through the log, although obviously the overall design of the carving is totally restricted within the parameters of the shakes and width of the log.
Once I see the subject of a potential sculpture, I want to work on it. I can hold the image in my mind, almost like a photograph so it’s a bit of a party trick really and the only one I have, but actually not much fun or use at a party.
That’s why I don’t teach woodcarving I suppose, especially as I don’t really know how I do it myself. but it is a really useful trick in my line of work.
Another ‘golden’ rule on creating a sculpture and I don’t do it is to make a detailed sketch of the proposed sculpture beforehand. As I try to adjust the particular pose the sculpture should take as I go along not only to try and give the sculpture a more flowing movement and not to keep too rigidly to any one particular pose too early on, which enables me to make changes in the design as I go along.
Especially if the timber was later found to have some faults hidden away inside the log. A nail or wire from an old washing line if it was a tree from someone’s garden, when usually the first clue you get from such an obstruction was the pretty sparks that would suddenly appear as the nail is busily removing the teeth of your chainsaw blade.
As I said before I have never tried to do something on this scale before but how difficult can it be, well during that week in the cold and sleet I was to find out.
I soon found that my standing on top of the log looking down into the trunk I could keep the eagle and my feet in mind a lot easier standing on it and cutting into it with a chainsaw and then every few moments jump of the log and spend a bit of time just staring at the trunk from all angles until I have worked out exactly where the sculpture is hiding inside the tree.
It’s a little bit like some of those magazines you used to get. which had a page with a lot of different coloured dots on and when you stared at these dots long enough after a while an image slowly appeared. That is what happens when I am carving, the image just kind of appears.
I suppose to anyone passing by noticing some strange guy in jeans and a hard hat, just staring motionlessly for ages, at a huge fallen tree laying on the ground might look a bit odd, well they would be right, so I try not don’t do it when anyone’s around.
At this stage certainly on the outside of the tree any away, faults such as rotten wood and wire from some old long forgotten fence can soon be spotted and if the potential sculpture cannot be juggled around within the log to avoid such obstructions, it can then be abandoned before any more time and energy has been wasted on it.
So, on a cold early morning, the chainsaw was filled up, flashed up and the real adventure, trying to create a ten feet high Bald Eagle sculpture in one piece really began. I knew the Eagle was trapped inside the tree which was now lying lifeless on its side, I just had to simply set it free, I have never done anything like this before, but how hard can it really be?
Although I cannot do really useful things like fixing my car, or finding my way around on the roads, I can actually find my way around a log and see exactly where the sculpture is hiding. I did have the odd occasion when things weren't going to well that I thought perhaps this was a 1itt1e to ambitious, I mean what do I know about doing anything like this, I only found out I could carve a few years ago but with a chisel and mallet not a huge chainsaw with a long line of sharp teeth that just might bite back.
I am self-taught so I have got a lot of mistakes to learn by yet. so why not learn something lighter and easier to work on, something indoors in the warm, something that is not going to take me five months of full-time work before I find out whether I can do it or not.
I was now in the middle of no-where, with no mobile or warm food, trying to maneuver a massive tree log, which literally weighed a ton, on my own, during mid-winter, freezing cold and I still hate the cold and I was starting to rain sleet snow and the wind that had blown the tree down in the first place was now back.
I was feeling hungry and very tired and pushed for time with a hired chainsaw that I had no actual lessons on how to use it properly and was concentrating on nothing, but making sure I didn’t cut anything off I shouldn’t! ……so what could possibly go wrong.
Er, apart from that is, amongst oh so many other things into the carve when four days later as the basic roughed out ‘eagle’ was finished and with just two days to go before it would be light enough for me and my mates to lift and put onto their truck as planned, when I got to the sculpture at the crack of dawn as it started to get light, I discovered it had been moved slightly.
I didn’t bother me too much as people had been collecting my off cuts for fire wood, but it was not until I got close, I realised someone had tried to set fire to it. I had been chain sawing from dawn to dust for four days solid and as we know the irritating noise of a chainsaw carries a mighty long way, so I wasn’t too surprised it might have annoyed one or three of the neighbours. It was only the tree being so wet with sleet and rain, along with the tree's wet sap as it was actually growing just weeks earlier, prevented it from catching fire, that time!
I realised I just had to take it home that night, or risk losing it, so I spent the whole day, nonstop trying to reduce as much of the excess timber and weight as possible, so I could try and squeeze it in the back of my car.
All six feet wide and ten feet long of it, and when the back seats were fully down, it left a loading space of just over four feet wide by just under six feet long, so it was going to be a bit of a squeeze, but it will fit in somehow, I just had to.
once again set the camera for delayed photos of me chainsaw in hand pretending to work on it. Just in case I had to leave it where it was and I was never to see it again, in one piece anyway and with less than an hour or so to go before the gates were due to be locked, I somehow mustered superhuman strength that came from nowhere and managed to roll, drag, coax, the ten feet long ‘eagle’ and its base which at last was starting to actual look like one, down the bank towards the back of the car.
But it was still far too heavy to lift high enough on my own, to get it into the back of the car and now with 20 minutes to go before I was about to be locked in the park and still with no one in sight and no mobile to phone for assistance. It was just me, Ian no mates and my old estate car, with both of us getting on a bit and having seen better days and still not a cavalry bugle sound to be heard, even in the distance.
It was now ten to four in the afternoon and getting dark so I put the chainsaw, petrol and all my tools in the back of the car and then dragged the eagle back to the edge of the track and left it there to its fate, hoping it would still be there in the morning, undamaged and forgiving.
Knowing the chance of my getting such a massive tree like this, wide enough with two similar looking branches in the right place and wide enough for the potential wings was not going to happen and thirty plus years on I have never had. But my immediate problem was now quickly driving down the track, just hoping the gate keeper hadn’t locked up early.
It had been a rather long, grueling, wet, bitterly cold past four days, oh did I mention I hate the cold, were everything that could go wrong, believe me did go wrong, which I may come back to later, working outside on your own trying to move a tree that literally weighed a ton, attempting to work with a chainsaw that often had a life of its own, trying to free an eagle from within a massive log when many times I felt it just wanted to stay there and there was plenty more times when I wanted to let it.
But now when it was finally successfully delivered from where it had slowly grown and matured for over a century. I have to say it wasn’t an easy birth out into this big wide world of ours and now it just needed some gentle care and loving attention to detail to enable it to develop into what it was meant to become. Like we all do. The eagle was always in the tree, it just took someone to help release it.
It was now left in a ditch at the side of a now dark, country lane in the middle of nowhere, on its own to await the pleasure of the cruel mystery phantom burner, to finish off the job. Who to be fair properly had issues of his own, maybe going back to his childhood, maybe he just needed love and understanding and it was all just a cry for help, or maybe he simply ran out of matches, who knows? er if I am going on a bit here please forgive me, I think I may be having flashbacks.
I’m no quitter, but I began to know what one felt like, as the car started for the first time. Wow that was a good sign anyway, hand break off, a quick look back over my shoulder through the now partially shrouded mist that was slowly drifting down the narrow twisty track towards my now forsaken dream, lying motionless, loved but still left abandoned and helpless in the cold and damp on the ground awaiting its inevitable fate.
But wait, in the mist can I see something, or are my oh so very tired eyes playing tricks on me, or is there actually someone or something, coming my way …….
It was a couple of lads in the distance walking down the track with a dog. I ran up to them and asked if they could give me a hand to lift the carving into the back of the car. Sure, no problem they said and they tied the dog to the front bumper of my car and I quickly opened up the tail gate and cleared everything away again. I took the base of the ‘sculpture’ and the lads took a wing each. We took a deep breath and together we lifted the ‘sculpture’ and then moved forward and let it down in and immediately the rear of the car went down and down and to my dismay, didn’t come up again.
The bonnet of my trusty, but rusty Peugeot 504 estate immediately lifted and with one massive push, all five feet of the sculpture was safely inside the car as far as it would go. All except for the wings, head and most of the body was not so safe, hanging out the back. I thanked the lads for their help and quickly put all the tools and petrol can in the front seat and quickly roped the tailgate down best I could. Got into the driving seat and started the engine and soon discovered I now had ‘power’ steering, which I didn’t have when I drove to the park earlier that morning. The car still drove really well considering it had a huge tree hanging out of the back. So, I just had to hope that no one would notice me driving the ten miles home, in rush hour traffic at twenty miles an hour with a ten-foot-long ‘tree’, both inside and mostly hanging outside the car. Fortunately, it would appear no one did.
After what seemed like an eternity I finally pulled up outside my house. Now it was just a question of unloading the sculpture and carrying it down the side of my house into the back garden. My neighbour John was outside and he walking over and asked if I needed a hand with it and we eventually negotiated the narrow entrance down the side of my house, it was just fifty feet struggle, where we lifted then dragged the ‘sculpture’ to be down to the bottom of the garden and then.
I worked furiously over the weekend whilst I still had the chainsaw but as a chainsaw was not in my usual carving tool kit, I had to hire one from a local tool hire company and knew early on Monday morning, it had to go back. Unfortunately, I soon realised, having not tried to carve such a large one-piece woodcarving before, it was going to take me a lot longer than I thought to rough out an eagle shape and the cost of hiring the chainsaw for even a few days longer, was something I could not afford at the time.
First thing Monday morning, I drove towards the hire company at the industrial estate in Hampshire where I hired the chainsaw and as I approached, I could see thick black smoke rising in the direction of the tool hire company. When I got closer, the road was cordoned off by the police and could see fire crews damping down a building in the industrial estate. It was the tool hire company which had caught fire. I parked the car, grabbed the chainsaw and walked towards the remains of the hire company and was stopped by a policeman at the cordoned off area.
I explained I was returning the chainsaw and he told me the workshop part of the tool hire company where all the equipment, tools etc was stored was completely gutted however the office alongside was relatively undamaged and the owner was in the office, so he lifted the tape for me to pass through so I could go and leave the chainsaw with him.
I spoke with the owner and he said "As you can see, we have got a bit of a problem here. Would you mind hanging onto the chainsaw for a bit, as we obviously haven’t got anywhere to put it right now, it would be a real help. We will still have all your details in the office and I will phone you when you can return it, would you mind."
Well, what can you do, the poor guy was in trouble so you just have to try and help out! So, with the chainsaw back home again, work began straight away and a few days later the Bald Eagle sculpture now fully roughed out to its basic outline shape.
I had just been invited by the Museum service to exhibit my wood sculptures in different Museums in Southern England, so I now thought the Bald Eagle to be would make a centerpiece for the upcoming exhibitions and as I also had a chainsaw at my disposal along with a huge supply of different species of ‘free’ trees that had also blown down in the Storm winds. Decided to spend a couple of days rough out a few more different but still life size wildlife sculptures, for the upcoming exhibitions. Something I would have been able to do without the extra few days with the chainsaw and the many massive ‘free’ trees that nature had made available. The chainsaw was then stored away and forgotten about as I once again got on with working on my commissions that actually paid the bills.
All this large collection of roughed out wildlife sculptures including the Bald Eagle were placed at the bottom of the garden and covered over and left to dry out slowly for the next few weeks and months. I then had a phone call from a tool hire company. I returned his newly cleaned chainsaw with a full tank of petrol to the owner in his brand-new workshop, with lines and lines of gleaming brand-new tools for hire.
Back home I now had to try and stand the sculpture up on its base for the first time. It was an anxious moment as I would at last find out whether I had managed to achieve the correct perspective first time, or how much adjustment would have to be made which is often the case for large sculptures when you step back and look at it, also more to the point whether it would actually stand up on its own. Les, a good friend of mine who was a retired builder, was well used to supporting unstable structures so was just the man for the job.
Between the two of us we soon got it on its feet, or more correctly on its base. Remarkably it stood there quite happily on its own and it didn't look too bad and more to the point was perfectly stable without too many adjustments. I realised there was still many months work ahead of me yet, but at least I had satisfied myself at this point it was still worth proceeding with.
Up until now I had carved the eagle from memory, it was now time to study the detailed information I had now collected to make sure it was going to be an accurate reflection of what a Bald Eagle should look 1ike. Now the rather repetitive and very time consuming, rather tedious feather count ' began.
Once completed five months or so later the Bald Eagle was then featured in the local and national newspapers, along with the Country Life magazine which generated a lot of interest, including from a TV company who filmed the Bald Eagle sculpture being worked on. I was also contacted by a Company owner in the Midlands who wanted to purchase it, so it had now found a good home. The new owner asked if it was possible to colour the sculpture to look just like a Bald Eagle so it was also bleached and stained to give it the Bald eagle look. The new owner then allowed me to keep it for a while it was then widely exhibited in Galleries and Museums throughout Southern England where it was often photographed alongside famous landmarks such as Lord Nelson’s Flagship HMS Victory at Portsmouth.
It was also the centre piece for an exhibition I was giving at the International Centre for Wildlife Art in Gloucester where a number of occasions was the artist in residence, where it was once again transported around the countryside first in the back of a trailer and then in the back of my estate car. This time however as the half the wood surrounding the eagle had been removed the width and weight of the eagle had been reduced quite considerably and although I still couldn’t close the back door of the estate car. At least this time the weight didn’t try to drag the back of the car down.
The Bald Eagle also made several appearances on both ITV and BBC Television' and the Governments ‘Central Office of Information’ sent photographs and details of the Bald Eagle sculpture to British Embassies Worldwide. Finally, the time had come and the Eagle was delivered to the new owner’s office in the Midlands for a five-figure sum, which was a real pleasant surprise as for me it was really originally just a carving exercise. It also kind of disproves the saying ‘money doesn’t grow on trees.’ The Eagle had finally landed all the struggling and problems of the weeks and months creating it, were by now just a fading memory and I had started to miss it already.
Two decades later I was once again contacted by the owner of the Bald Eagle who was downsizing from their large country house where the Eagle had been residing since the owner retired and I was asked if I would like to buy the eagle sculpture back. Knowing as I do that being in my sixties and I like all of us not getting any younger and the trees are not getting any lighter, this Bald Eagle sculpture ended up to be the largest wood carving I had ever carved from a single piece of wood and would most likely be the largest wood carving I will ever carve as rolling massive trees that literally weigh a ton around working on it, is really a younger man’s job.
As I had the opportunity to re-purchase the Bald Eagle so I was pleased to be able to do so, knowing during the past almost four decades of wood carving I have not once had the opportunity to own such a tree to enable me create such an Eagle again in one piece, even if I wanted to, which I don’t as there is no point as I have carved this one before, mostly outside during the long winter months in the cold and although I rarely mentioned it but I do hate working outside in the cold.
A few years later, due to commissions preventing me from preparing such exhibition pieces and no longer planning further exhibitions where it might once again make an appearance although for a century the Eagle was hidden away from view deep within the Tree trunk; in the dark. The Eagle is now still hidden away from view this time in storage; in the dark, until it goes back on exhibition or it finds a new home, as at the end of the day when I first started the Eagle, I had been carving for just a few years at the time and just wanted to see is if I could do it, like you do.
‘Somewhat more unusual Commissions
For the past thirty-two years, just over half of the sculpture commissions I received during this period were created in wood and bronze both in three dimensions and high bas-relief exclusively for the British Royal Household for private and public display. They are created in many different sizes, styles and materials and take an average of five months each year, every year to complete.
The remainder of each year is spent on private sculpture commissions which left little time to build up a collection of my own sculptures to exhibit in galleries, so in 1997 I stopped exhibiting in art galleries with my last exhibition of realistic wood and bronze sculptures at the ‘Mall galleries’ in London. These wide variety of commissions over the decades have varied from realistic sculptures of eight feet high ‘Mute Swan protecting her Cygnets’ in bronze placed on display in Lakeland Florida. To various sculptures of the Human form. Sculptures of Stags, to Hawks and Horses. An eight feet wide Bald Eagle in flight for an American Corporation, to a life size statue of the Risen Christ for a local Church. To produce a wood sculpture of a 30 inches high gilded rear molar for a Dentist, to create Coronets and Crowns for Lords, Princes, Princesses and Kings and Queens throughout Europe, like you do.
Since 1984 most of my private commissions were realistic wildlife wood carvings commissions and from 1989 onwards, over one hundred and thirty sculpture commissions for the Royal Household which consists of sculptures depicting almost everything from traditional heraldry, to realistic wildlife and the human form. To bejewelled gilded Crowns. Many of the ‘public’ displayed commissions are created in a variety of subjects and materials, some of which to be depicted here.
These wide variety of commissions created from both traditional and less traditional materials have varied from realistic sculptures to somewhat less realistic in both style and design and have endeavoured to briefly outline a small number of the perhaps less conventional here. Such as creating a pair of large bas-relief gilded sculptures for the Grand Lobby of Cunard’s Queen Victoria, to produce a large bas-relief wood carving of the Entrance Port onto the Middle Gun deck of HMS Victory. Carving a large realistic golden rear molar outside a Dentist Surgery, to a less than realistic Lion Ship's Figurehead for a Museum.
In 2007 I was contacted by an Art Coordinator commissioned by Cunard to provide the artwork for the new Cunard Liner Queen Victoria being built in Italy at the time. The commission was to create in fine detail the new Victorian logo from the sketch they provided which would then fit along the wall of the new Ships Grand Lobby. The sculpture was to be made in high bas-relief and be slightly curved so it would actually fit around the curved wall of the Grand Lobby.
It also had to be produced from a strong resilient material which due to the latest maritime fire regulations couldn’t be made from anything inflammable, particularly wood. So, I made the carving from finely crushed Italian white marble, bonded together with clear resin, which I had used before on similar projects.
I was informed the new Ship was due to leave the Ship builders in Italy and sail on to Southampton in the UK to be officially launched by The Prince of Wales wife Camilla in five months’ time. I was sent copies of the ship builders’ inferior plans of the massive Cruise ship, to work out the angle of the curve and within three months it was complete, well in time for the ships launch. Photographs of the newly completed gilded Victorian Crest were sent for approval and I was quickly commissioned to also produce a large bas-relief carving of the ‘Cunard logo’ to match the Victorian Crest, again to be slightly curved to fit on the opposite side curved wall in the Grand Lobby.
When the commission came in from Cunard to produce the other relief carving, a large version of the Cunard Logo but I was already booked to give a series of talks on the QE2 on a 27-day Mediterranean cruise, so I packed a couple of the smaller plaster relief carvings in my suitcase to work on whilst onboard. Most of the shore days if we didn’t go ashore, I would find myself a secluded life boat on the boat deck so I could work beneath, in the shade.
One particular afternoon after returning from a duty-free run in Gibraltar. I spent a few hours beneath my favourite life boat carving a plaster lion ‘master copy’ for the middle section of the Cunard logo for the Grand Lobby. It was rather nice cruising the Mediterranean, whilst you are working, with sea views from your new ‘workshop’ constantly changing.
I regularly sent progress reports to the client and within just a week or so just before the ship was due to sail for its launching ceremony. I was gently reminded that the ship was going to sail shortly and was asked “how are the carvings going, as we now have a £300,000,000 luxury liner which is completed and due to sail to Southampton in two days’ time. All we are now just waiting for is your two large bas-relief carvings to arrive before we sail; no pressure”.
Jokingly I think, however I informed the Lady, that both carvings were finished and was then making a huge crate to put them both in and all arrangements were made for both sculptures to be collected first thing in the morning. At 9.00 pm that evening I was still working on my drive in the dark with only my car headlights to work from as the two marble relief carvings were packed into the seven feet x six feet wooden crate, along with a tin of the special gilt varnish I used to finish them, just in case! The crate weighed a ton; almost literally so I was so please I wasn’t paying the airfreight costs to Italy.
At 8.00 am the largest articulated lorry I have ever seen, stopped at the bottom of my drive and somehow, the driver with great skill then reversed the huge lorry all the way up my drive, in one gentle sweeping motion. The driver got out opened up the back of the lorry, said Hi and then took out of the back a forklift trolley and without any fuss loaded both the crate and trolley back into the massive Lorry, closed the back up and all were on the way to Gatwick airport, in the space of fifteen minutes.
Later that evening I was informed the wooden crate had arrived safely on the Ship and both relief sculptures were found to be undamaged and fitted perfectly against the curved wall in the magnificent Grand Lobby of Queen Victoria, which was a great relief to us all. Cunard's new Liner was now finished and set sail the following morning for the launching ceremony in Southampton. The following day I received a rather nice thank you email from the client and within four days my invoice to create both the gilded relief carvings for Cunard latest Ship had been paid in full.
A few weeks later when the Queen Victoria arrived in Southampton, we eagerly went down to the water’s edge close to our home, to watch the brand-new Ship sail down Southampton water for the first time out into the English Channel on its maiden voyage. I photographed it or something looked a bit like it sailing silently towards us and then like Ships that pass in the night, apart from the occasional fog horn breaking the eerie silence, the Ship slowly disappeared into the sea mist and out of sight.
Well, that was until the following year when we saw Queen Victoria when I was invited to give a Talk onboard and noticed both carvings in position in the magnificent Grand Lobby. Sue commented “The last time I saw them was flat on your bench in the studio being gilded and now they are fitted in position on the Ship, it looks like someone else had made them” and I knew exactly what she meant!
Various restoration projects:
In the early days it was never my intention getting involved with restoration. I had only been woodcarving for a few years mostly wildlife wood sculptures, when I was contacted by a company that specialises in restoring antique furniture, picture frames and ornate plaster mouldings etc. They wanted me to repair and replace missing carvings and mouldings from various damaged wooden carved panels, along with my replicate various ornate carved sections of an intricately carved antique picture frame, working from an old photograph. This would enable him to make moulds from the carvings to re-produce plaster or resin castings. Although at the time I was really busy working on a collection of wildlife sculptures for a forthcoming exhibition in a rather prestigious craft show which I really needed to complete at the time, I needed to earn money so much more.
I soon found out then it’s one thing to carve a subject you have a real interest in. quite another to try and carve, repair, or replicate someone else’s work. Especially when it was created centuries ago, let alone working on a subject perhaps you weren’t quite so enthused about at the time. But I soon realised that is what being a carver for hire is what it's often about and soon realised that once I started working on something no matter what the subject might be, I rather enjoyed the challenge of making sure I got right, which quickly outweighed any other considerations.
Working on commissions on subjects you were not particularly familiar with, sometimes using just a faded old photograph to go by was a totally new discipline. Especially getting close and personal repairing or replicating wood carvings and sculptures that were originally created by an artist way back in the past who really knew what they were doing, was really interesting. Having to then study closely the style and execution of the piece I was commissioned to replicate or repair, in fine detail over the weeks and months I felt it was an art form in its own right and certainly helped me up my game somewhat as I learnt various techniques as I went along, comparing and replicating both large and small sculptures, in one style or another, on one commission or another.
My first restoration commission was somewhat less demanding which was to repair and replace missing high base relief wood carvings from a number of old carved panels. Along with a number of three dimensional rather more ornate carvings, using a hard close-grained timber. These separate carvings would then be used as the ‘master copy’ to be moulded and then replicated in part or whole from hard plaster or resin. These castings could then be rearranged in a wide variety of different patterns for ceiling mouldings, ornate picture frames etc, prior to being painted or gilded.
As you often had to carve and attach in position a small section at a time and then allow it to dry, often overnight you would then start working on something completely different and perhaps a few hours later do exactly the same thing again, so in the end you would end up working on several totally different carvings, often in different workshops all being worked on at the same time was a rather efficient way of doing things. Something I tend to do nowadays with my own sculptures.
The new carving skills I slowly developed working on the ‘restorer’s’ wide variety of different often complex carving projects he brought along, along with his knowledge and helpful tips involved with the restoration process, gained over the coming weeks and months, would prove invaluable years later with a wide variety of other different projects and clients. Although I am self-taught in most aspects of my work, I am always happy to listen and learn from those who know what they are doing and willing to share their knowledge and experiences.
The restorer explained. although he specialised in all the various aspects of the restoration process, his partner who had just retired, took care of the carving side of the business. Although he said could carve flat relief carvings quite well, he found he just didn’t have the natural ability to see objects in full perspective and in three- dimensions, especially just working from a one-dimensional photograph. The difficulty he found was although he could clearly see the outline of and the front image of the sculptures he was trying to create from the photograph, basically he found it difficult trying to then work out what was going on the other side of the proposed sculpture and how deep to go into the block of timber to get the right perspective, so he found he wasn’t able to accurately replicate a woodcarving in the round, first time, any time really, especially to the size and spec required.
Up to then I had not given it a thought, having always assumed creating three-dimensional wood carvings was something anyone could do if they had the inclination and wanted to give it a go. But as he was a highly skilled craftsman in his own right and could carve in relief, so it came as a bit of a surprise to realise perhaps you also require some extra natural ability to create three-dimensional sculptures accurately, which fortunately it would appear I was born with and have been able to do for a living for almost forty years…....
That was until November 2016 when I was standing live on a stage, on the Queen Mary 2, mid ocean, in front of a large audience, having been booked by Cunard to give a 45-minute talk about my work as a profession sculptor and woodcarver, when I had a stroke and lost not only my peripheral and 3D vision, but couldn’t even see the hand in front of my face……. but that’s another story!
A variety of different restoration projects over the years;
Although I was involved in many different restoration projects including working especially with the Museum service and English Heritage, along with being involved in a project after the ‘Great fire’ at Windsor Castle. I don't class myself as an expert restorer or that I know too much about the often highly skilled process involved. So, if I do work on such projects, it's mainly just as a woodcarver and also on occasions replicating old sculptures in bronze. My main role is to be able to repair or replicate old carvings or sculptures from the past to preserve them for the future and help in my own small way keeping a bit of our history alive.
My particular skill as far as restoration is concerned is rather limited and as such, I am not one of those clever people you sometimes see in their studio restoring an old oil painting, or high up on a scaffold in Sistine chapel with a small paint brush and a pallet, with infinite skill restoring a great masters work. My talent if you can call it that, is for the most part an ability to replicate in wood or bronze an exact replica of an object from a bygone age that was either missing, badly damaged or is in an advanced stage of decay. Often using similar or in a number of occasions the same hand tools my counterpart would have used many centuries ago, often blending my new replacement carvings into their originals without seeing the join.
If it’s appropriate, practical and given the option, particularly on old historic wood sculptures and the carvings were in a very poor rotten or worm damaged condition, I would first stabilise and treat the timber with modern wood preserving methods, then rather than just replace all the damaged timber with new timber and re-carve it. I attempt to retain as much of the original timber as possible, as the original timber was actually there at the time when its history was being made.
One such example was the solid oak Royal Crest which once was part of the Royal Arms displayed outside in the elements for many decades. It had weathered so badly; bits of the carving were missing and the rest of the oak especially the Crown could be easily peeled away with your fingers and most of the carving had the texture of a soft sponge. I first added a specialist wood hardening chemical which you can buy from any good DIY store. Allowed it to soak deep into the carving, which also kills any traces of woodworm and when it has set rock hard. A hard resin filler mixture was added and re-carved to suit, before being re painted and gilding the whole carving, just as it would most likely have looked a century ago.
The Royal Crest is now stronger than the wooden original and will not rot again and more importantly most of the original Victorian carving has been retained underneath the paint and gilding. I could have simply replaced all the rotten carving with new timber and re-carved it and have done so on many occasions, but I prefer if practicable to retain as much of the original material as possible, otherwise I feel it’s not so much a restoration project but a replacement carving. I then produced an exact bronze replica of this original Royal Crest which was then placed upon the Royal Arms as bronze being more durable outside.
The original Victorian and restored oak Royal Crest -- King Edward V11 Royal Crest from Windsor Castle
Early restoration projects mainly consisted of replacing often small sections of centuries old carvings and mouldings on panels and picture frames and then as my expertise improved, so did the rarity and significance of the restoration projects I got involved with, which all required various degrees of restoration. Ranged from restoring the Prince of Wales Crest in Henry V11 Chapel in Westminster Abbey. A small centuries old wooden figure of Christ for St George’s Chapel in Windsor castle. Restoring King Edward V11 Royal Crest, to then restoring large carvings created last century for Lord Kitchener and Sir Winston Churchill, along with the Crowns for various European Kings and Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, many of which then went on to be display in various places including Stately homes, Castles and Museums thought England.
The now fully restored Crests and Crowns for Horatio. Earl Kitchener - Frederick 1X, King of Denmark - Gastaf VI Adolf, King of Sweden - Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia - Sir Winston Churchill.
Although for the past decade I have not been getting involved too much with any restoration projects due to other commitments. Such restoration commissions over the decades have also included replacing or restoring antique, ornate plaster mouldings, wood carvings and bronze sculptures for Government buildings, Museums, Churches, Southwick House, the College of Arms in London, Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle.
Along with carving a replica of an 18th century Warships Lion figure-head for a Museum. Sometimes rather than a complete restoration the client might prefer I completely replace the whole damaged carvings rather than restoring the original. I replaced most of the intricately carved entrance port on Lord Nelson’s historic Flagship HMS Victory with an exact replica carved from solid Mahogany which was my last large restoration project, which occurred in the early 1990’s.
HMS Victory’s Starboard side Entrance port
Since then, apart from one or two smaller historic restoration projects, I now just concentrate on creating my own original sculptures which on occasions are being created from old and historic objects and materials to create a totally unique set of sculptures for my new ‘Spirit of Britons’ collection. Some of which have been created using old historic objects and materials, again preserving old historic objects from the past that had all seen better days, into a unique collection of sculptures for the future.
If I had to try and work out were my interest and possible obsession with trying to retain or restore historical objects from probably comes from when I was a teenager in the mid 60’s being around and occasionally working in the building trade helping to renovate or remove interiors of old buildings and found so much old interesting, sometimes ornate plaster or old finely carved pieces of timbers with a real history about them were often being removed from these old buildings and usually ended up in a skip or in an oil drum simply warming our hands, so a small part of British Heritage was once again being lost forever. Although you obviously cannot live in the past, it’s kind of important to acknowledge its existence and although I appreciate hindsight is a wonderful thing, I felt much of it was being destroyed in the name of progress and profit.
So, for the past three plus decades, somehow finding the time; I spent many weeks of each year creating the totally unique ‘Spirit of Britain’s’ ‘Touch a piece of History’ set of sculptures. This Collection consists of over thirty sculptures using old once discarded materials from historic and original iconic British objects and materials from a bygone age, which are then transformed into sculpture form but still all relative to its original source. Often using materials rescued in one form or another from one place or another and one period in time or another. This near completed ‘Spirit of Britons’ - ‘Touch a piece of History’ collection; incorporates often centuries old objects and materials, rich in Britain’s history, heritage and traditions.
'With everything on line in a
‘The original function for this material has long gone, but its history remains’.
Victory oak - Windsor oak - Windsor shield - Spitfire armoured windscreen - Victory Oak from Orlop Deck
This Collection includes; Victory Sculpture’ - The potential centre piece of this ‘Spirit of Britons-Touch a Piece of History’ collection is by far the most complex, time-consuming wood sculpture I have and will create is the totally unique ‘Victory Sculpture’. The 47 inches long, fully rigged scale sculpture of Lord Nelson’s Flagship HMS Victory sails, ropes and all was carved entirely from the Warship’s centuries old oak timbers and nothing else.
+18 years =
The Victory Sculpture in ‘kit’ form
'England and Saint George’ A carving of St George slaying a Dragon carved from within an original roof beam removed from St George’s Hall from Windsor Castle. This part of a mediaeval oak beams, once at the very heart of the fire which in 1992 raged through the Royal apartments in Windsor Castle. ‘Fire in the Hall’ An original wooden shield for a 17th century Knight of the Garter was removed from St George’s Hall after the Great Fire at Windsor Castle in 1992.
‘One of Few’ was created from combining original material from two of the most iconic British Weapons of War. Nelson’s Flagship HMS Victory and a Supermarine Spitfire. An armoured laminated glass windscreen from a damaged 1940’s Spitfire has been set in a frame made from original Victory oak. ‘Nelson’s Pillow’ This ‘life mask’ has been set upon a small section of original oak from Victory’s orlop deck where Lord Nelson was taken having been shot by a musket ball from a sniper high up in the rigging on the French ship Redoubtable during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Along with an original French period musket ball similar to the calibre shot that felled Nelson. etc etc
Shortly after I completed working on HMS Victory, I was approached by the Museum service to produce a replica Lion wood carving to be placed outside a Museum due to open in Portsmouth. The only information available to work from to replicate the Lion and the size required was an old photograph, as a guide. This old stylised Lion carving was to be placed above an old hardware store, which was to be a new Museum in Portsmouth.
It’s always rather strange being commissioned to recreate a sculpture from an image you have been given to work from when you know it doesn’t quite look as you might expect. As in this particular commission of an almost life size Lion Ships Figurehead said to be from an 18th century British warship. The Lion-like was not quite like the more realistic Lions I am often commissioned to create. Everything about the Lion, its face, its body shape and tail bore a fleeting resemblance to the real thing, but as it was originally designed as a Ships Figurehead, it no doubt would have looked great high up on the bow of the old British Warship.
After several months of work the large Lion wood carving was carved and painted from solid hardwood in the same colour as the original photograph and once placed into position I was told “it looked as if the Lion had never been away”. After almost 100 years the Lion proudly stood, high up on its platform above the entrance to the Museum and after almost 100 days and nights, the lion was stolen.
The Lion Figurehead – before and after
The only clue of the Lion’s disappearance that reminded, was large flecks of white paint left on the pavement below its now empty platform, where the rather heavy sculpture and gravity working closely together, had probably played a major part in its removal.
The private walled garden in Kensington Palace
In 2000 I was asked to restore the oak garden bench that belonged to The Prince and Princes of Wales which was kept in the private garden in Kensington Palace. Ironically the first item of furniture I made and sold in 1976 was a garden bench and as it turned out the first item of furniture I was commissioned to restore was also a garden bench. This particular bench which had been well made from solid oak but had like most garden furniture been left outside in all weathers for many years.
The idea in restoring the garden bench was to try and retain as much of the original bench as possible, particularly the relief carving in the back which I had managed to do. The condition of the oak underneath the oak arms and seat was in good condition, but on top of the seat after many years of general wear and tear on what was obviously a favourite place to sit in the garden at Kensington palace, had taken its toll.
The worn top of the original oak seat and the sound oak underneath. (50 inches long)
The only major sections of the bench which required replacing was the well-worn 2 inches’ thick seat and the arms so as always, not wishing to waste any discarded timbers as the underside of the oak seat was in good enough condition, I retained it and try and reuse it in some way decided to try and paint in oils a simple outline image of Princess Diana I found in a magazine upon the remaining piece of oak.
The oak bench before and after restoration before being delved back to the client
During Medieval times in Britain, as most people couldn’t read, shopkeepers used to display outside their shops, their wares. The local dentist decided to do likewise and the gold tooth was placed high up on the outside of his surgery. The tooth was outside the dentist's surgery for several months when one morning the dentist was shocked to discover that during the night, someone perhaps not necessarily as medically highly qualified as himself, had extracted his tooth.
The only thing that gave a clue to the removal of the Tooth, was a note that had been left in the letter box. The golden tooth had stood high above the entrance to the Dentists Surgery for almost 100 days and nights, the Tooth was stolen.
The Golden Tooth – before and after
It would appear there was a bit of a pattern emerging here with many of my sculptures during that period. If they were not stolen during the night from within the walls of various galleries, they were being stolen during the night from outside the walls of various buildings. However, unlike the culprits that stole the Lion who had disappeared into the night with their ill-gotten gains and left no clue to its disappearance other than large flecks of white paint on the pavement. The culprits who had also rather brazenly stolen the Gold Tooth, had left a somewhat larger clue in the form of a colourful note poked through the letter box.
Some of these large stolen sculptures I had spent many months creating, were the subject of an insurance claim, were once again recovered by the police and returned, this time to the insurance company. Who in turn graciously allowed me to buy back these now well-travelled sculptures from them. However, the culprits that stole the Lion and some of my other sculptures around the same time, were alas never to be seen again, but the culprits who had rather brazenly stolen the Golden Tooth, had posted a ransom note.
The ransom note demanding money for the safe return of the tooth was from no other, but the tooth fairies. The militant wing of the tooth fairies to be precise, demanding money for the safe return of the golden tooth…. So basically, pay up or the tooth gets it.
To be continued:
Another rather interesting restoration project was to work in Southwick House at HMS Dryad, which was General Eisenhower's Allied Headquarters in Southern England for 'Operation Overlord ' during WWII, where D Day, the invasion by the Allies of occupied Europe was planned.
In 1944 the toy manufacturer Chad Valley company was commissioned to make a large plywood wall map. These large pieces covered the European coastline from Norway to France. Which can still be seen today in Southwick House arrived in various sections. The two carpenters who erected the painted plywood wall map then had to remain in Southwick to maintain secrecy until the invasion was underway. Admiral Ramsey moved into the house on the 26th of April and by the following month General Eisenhower, General Montgomery and their staff set up camp under the cover of the trees in the surrounding woodlands near to the house. General Montgomery stayed in nearby Broomfield House during May from where he was frequently visited by the Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and King George.
The most senior command meeting took place on the 1st June in the Library at Southwick House to decide the earliest dates that could combine satisfactory the best moon and tides required by the various services - a late rising moon for the airborne assault and bombing missions and a low tide shortly after dawn for the proposed seaborne landings, all this was centred on the 5, 6 and 7 June. On the 6th June, the greatest armada in history took place almost 7000 vessels were either being made ready for sea or were already underway at pre-arranged times from ports all over the United Kingdom from Belfast, the Clyde in the North and fishing ports in the south west and north east.
During the restoration of this historic building, I was commissioned to repair and replace the missing and damaged finely carved mouldings and wood carvings, on a huge antique mirror on the wall in this magnificent century’s old mansion. Although I did much of the replicating and restoring various parts of the mirror in my workshop. I then spent much of my time on site in this magnificent century’s old mansion. It took several weeks to restore the ornately carved mirror frame and shortly afterwards Southwick House was due to be released from the contractors back to HMS Dryad.
As I was often working in other rooms near to the historic map room, we often used to sit inside the map room on one the many tables in the room and have my break, although most of the furnishings inside were covered over to protect them. The original D Day Map now hidden behind glass could clearly still be seen just feet away, with the map left exactly as it was on that memento’s day exactly 50 years ago.
The restored picture frame and stairway just outside the ‘Map Room’
Before I left Southwick House, I was given a fascinating guided tour around this historic building and was fully informed of its amazing history and events that took place within these ornate rooms particularly during 1944. I was one of the last sub-contractors to leave Southwick House just as the hoardings and fences were being removed from the site in preparation for the ceremonial re-opening attended by many VIP’s. A week later I was once again contacted by the Contractors to be told a large painting had fallen off the wall and the ornately carved antique wooden frame had shattered when it hit the floor and rolled down the stairs. The original wooden carved framework was so old and dry it had almost disintegrated in places and would obviously require some very careful restoration. I was reminded that next month was the 50th anniversary of D Day and they would really appreciate it if it could be completed by then so it could put it back in position for the celebrations taking place on the 6th June.
We quickly opened the large glass doors which led onto the beautifully manicured lawn, just in time to see the Battle of Britain flight flying low over the trees right in front of us that exactly fifty years ago would have hidden Montgomery’s caravan were he preferred to work from and in all to brief moment the three aircraft of the Battle of Britain flight, the Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster bomber, whose combined loud engine noise rattled the windows as it flew low right over Southwick House. On their way to fly, over the embarkation beaches in the Portsmouth and Southampton area and then over the Channel and the Normandy landing beaches in France.
It would have been around ten minutes later who, according to my wife who was in the garden at the time, saw the three WW2 aircraft fly low right over our house in Warsash. Warsash is the village on the Hamble where many of the Landing craft 50 years ago to that very day left for the Normandy beaches. Apparently, the large piece of open land which in the 1940’s was just an open field alongside a large woodland on, which our house and adjoining properties were built during the 1970’s, was where many of the soldiers involved with the Normandy invasion were camped. Also, just a ten minute or so march to their landing crafts for the Commandos of 1st and 4th Special Service (Commando) Brigades. The 1st Brigade was commanded by Lord Lovat and included his famous bagpiper Bill Millin.
On D-Day, the two brigades landed on the British and Canadian beaches of Sword and Juno and the commandos were given special tasks that involved marching from the beaches to reinforcing the airborne troops led by Major Howard at Pegasus Bridge, and the capture of particular strongpoints nearer the Normandy landing beaches.
Restoration projects - to be continued:
One of the other somewhat more unusual commissions I received during the 1990’s was for the BAT Company in Southampton. The company was removing from its factory site a massive Sequoia tree and I was contacted to see whether anything could be carved from the large trunk that remained. A competition was held between all the Staff of the company to design a sculpture from this wide five-foot-long trunk which would then be placed in the reception area of the Company in Southampton. The winning design by one of the factory staff depicted the Globe placed upon three 5’s, which was the symbol one of the brand of cigarettes the company produced at the time in the Southampton factory.
What remained of the once massive tree was loaded onto a lorry and once it arrived at my house was carefully rolled down scaffold boards of the back of the open back truck onto my drive. With the assistance of a ‘press ganged’ a neighbour who kindly helped me push, nay dragged and roll the massive log through the doors of my workshop. At this particular stage in my career. I was almost exclusively carving life size realistic wildlife sculptures, of Eagles, Swans, Otters and the like however so when this commission came along, so it was going to be a rather different project to work on.
The difficulties with carving anything from massive logs like this are always the same, trees are obviously really heavy and trying to turn an almost oval redwood tree of this size into a perfect circle without the use of a lathe, would obviously take a bit of effort. No doubt out there is someone with a large wood turning lathe who could probably turn something this size into a perfect circle quite easily, but I didn’t know such a person or indeed the inclination to try and find one.
Like all of the wood sculptures I produce, if I am supplied with a particular special piece of timber to work with, even if it has some faults with, I still have to try and use it and get it right first. Anyone who has ever used a woodturning lathe will know, unless you manage to make the block of wood you are about to turn, as close to circular as possible, it tends to get very ‘interesting’ as the block of wood begins to revolve in the chuck and tries to escape. In my opinion woodcarvers don’t make the best woodturners and I am no exception, as the natural way of working to remove the excess wood with chisels are entirely different for both species of woodworkers.
Just as I was cut into the trunk of the massive log with a chainsaw to try and get as close as possible to the maximums size required, a massive line of sparks appeared. I had hit a metal object deep within the trunk as the chainsaw blade and found it was a long-tapered, seven-inch iron spike with a flattened end and a large hit was probably one of the old metal fixings that was driven into some tree all those years ago to tie-up one of the many Barrage Balloons. These massive Balloons were used in the 1939 – early 1940’s in that area, as this particular Sequoia tree was growing right on the bombing path of the German Luftwaffe to the Supermarine Spitfire Factory which was less than a mile away from where the tree had grown.
When it was completed as I used every available part of the Sequoya log, the finished sculpture had a rather distinctive red heart wood colour and the lighter sap wood colouring, some might say and a few have it looked a bit like a giant roly-poly pudding. Once a perfect circle was carved fortunately without reducing the required size. The next thing was to carve in high base-relief, every Continent, Island, Lake and Mountain range. all accurately reproduced to scale. After all the years I have lived on this planet once I started to carve all these features, I suddenly discovered islands and mountain ranges both large and small I didn’t know existed before. The globe sculpture was then placed as per the original design upon the 5’s again carved from the Tree upon a slice of the original log which still retained the trees’ bark, exactly as the globe would have been within the tree itself and placed in the factory’s reception area.
Still on the globe theme, a bit like buses really, I go twenty years without being commissioned to carve the planet and then two come along at once. A television company was making a feature about a local school and I was subsequently commissioned to carve another sculpture of the Globe, this time to fit on top of a carved pencil. All carved from a tree that had been recently felled in the nearby woods. The whole five feet high sculpture was initially carved from within the single Scotts pine tree that had blown down in the woods behind my house. To make the sculpture somewhat stronger at the tip of the pencil, I removed the globe and placed a long galvanised steel bolt which went deep through both the globe and into the pencil, which was then firmly glued into position with a two part industrial resin, so the globe would not be able to move or indeed be removed.
It was almost three days of being in the infants school playground, before the ‘globe’ was happily spinning around on the tip of the pencil point, which I suppose in the end is what some of the best globes are inclined to do.
When I first started working in bronze as well as woodcarving in the early 70’s which started with molding my original wildlife wood carvings. The first commission in bronze was for a small elephant and calf. The next commission was to produce eight exact replicas of bronze water spouts to replace all those lost on this 19th century' Rose Fountain' in Southampton, again using an old photograph as a guide. The next commission was to produce the Falklands rededication bronze plaque to be unveiled by former Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher in Gosport, Hampshire on 15th June 1997.
Fifteen years earlier my wife and I travelled early one morning to Gosport in Hampshire to join the huge crowd of people who had also arrived to welcome back all the servicemen from the Falklands conflict. We then watched in awe as the leading aircraft carrier HMS Hermes followed by HMS Invincible dramatically arrived to a huge cheer from us all through the mist into the narrow entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.
Fifteen years later we were invited to a service of rededication at Gosport this time with many of the former servicemen along with various dignitaries to watch Baroness Margaret Thatcher carefully unveil the bronze plaque that was placed in position just a week or so earlier. After the unveiling ceremony, a lone RAF harrier jump jet slowly arrived at low level with a tremendous roar through the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.
The Harrier jet slowly flew towards us all assembled at the water’s edge at the Falkland Gardens in Gosport and then stopped in mid-air right in front of us. The Harrier Jet then did exactly what Harriers do best, remaining perfectly still and then slowly bowed to everyone watching below. It then slowly turned around on its axis, lifted its nose up and slowly at first and then gently gathering speed flew straight up and disappeared in a deafening roar skyward and out of sight.
A rather magic moment for us all, the unique Harrier Jump Jet is a classic example of British design and ingenuity at its best, it can take off and land anywhere, a high-speed fighter jet which during air combat can fly backwards or even if required sidewise at speed... unfortunately taken out of service and no longer required to do so today.
Yet another classic example of ingenuity this time a joint British and French collaboration; Concord, the fastest airliner ever built, it could travel to New York and back to the UK in the time it takes a modern passenger Jet to fly one way; it flew higher and faster than most modern jet fighters could ever hope to achieve ...unfortunately taken out of service and no longer required to do so today.
The Space Shuttle is a superb American reusable launch system. The space vehicle was launched vertically like a conventional rocket and was then capable of returning safely back to Earth with a massive payload and then landing like an airplane and when required could be refueled and once more be able to go back into space and orbit the planet.....unfortunately taken out of service and no longer required to do so today. Ah such is progress
To be continued: -
The vast majority of my commissions in which over 95% are bespoke and have been created in a wide variety of materials, from wood and marble, resin, to solid silver and bronze. Mostly are unique, one-off sculptures commissioned to speck and to budget and as such effectively you must be able to carve and cast pretty much any subject the client requests, although to be fair I wouldn't take on any commission unless I felt I could do it justice, which has kept me very busy over the decades, so much so during 2018-2020, there was a two-year waiting period for these ‘private’ sculpture commissions.
Unlike many artists over the centuries, I choose not to have an assistant working with me creating my sculptures, along with no doubt potential helpful advice on the way. Although I will be the first to admit such an assistant may well have been rather useful on one project or another, but I feel if anyone is kind and generous enough to commission a sculpture with my name carved into it, the very least I could do was for the most part anyway, was to actually create the sculpture myself.
This way of working has for almost four decades has worked out rather well particularly on my wood carving commissions, in which I often start the process with a chainsaw and then a chisel and mallet, finishing off with a surgeon’s scalpel. Although to be fair this total hands-on approach does not quite work so well with bronze or silver sculptures. As once you have created the original ‘master copy’ of the proposed sculpture which are mostly created from clay, plaster, wax or wood. Basically my contribution is then virtually done.
The art foundries and their highly skilled team usually take over and do most of the real complex work in transforming these original ‘artist copies’, into the finished bronze sculpture. In the example of large bronze sculptures, the completed full-size wax copies once completed by the artist, are then often cut into smaller sections, with each section cast in bronze separately. These various individual bronze sections are then reassembled and welded together, chased and the completed sculpture rather cleverly finished off by the art foundry, often with only the original artist ‘Marquette to go by.
Or, in the case of one particular sculpture; an eight feet high bronze Swan I was commissioned to create for Lakeland in Florida. In the end my only real contribution to this whole project was to create the original twenty-seven inch high, detailed ‘master copy’ of the Swan. The art foundry again then rather cleverly enlarged this quarter size original carving up to the eight feet high exact bronze replica. My real only impute to the whole process, apart from creating the smaller Swan woodcarving, was making the sturdy wooden crate to put it in and then sending it off to the art foundry in the USA. Once again a highly skilled team at the art foundry did all the real work in transforming my smaller Swan ‘master copy’ into the eight feet high bronze sculpture currently on display in Florida.
The original Swan woodcarving and the 4x bronze enlargement
It might be said the trouble with my creating for the most part creating bespoke sculptures, is that all the knowledge you may well gain creating sculptures on a subject you may well specialise in; say a highly detailed sculpture of a full-size Eagle in flight, is of no real practical value when you’re working on you next commission of a bedewed and gilded Crown for a Queen, or indeed a bronze or silver sculpture of a Knight in full armour on Horseback.
Whereas if I had specialised in creating nothing but say ‘widgets’, day in day out, one widget after another for the past thirty-five plus years. With all that experience gained creating each widget, I may well have ended up being one of the best widget makers around, although no doubt, board witless. But no, I much prefer the challenge of not knowing what subject and material the next commission might well be and then endeavouring to create it as per commission, first time, every time.
Of these several hundred sculptures I have been commissioned to create during the past almost four decades, all for the most part have fortunately gone according to plan, however on one occasion a few decades ago, regrettably a large bronze sculpture didn’t work out for one reason or another to expectations first time which was a great disappointment all round, but worthy of mention here.
To be continued: -
Working on HMS Victory
Although I tend to specialise in creating original one-off sculptures produced in a variety of materials I have also been involved in a number of rather interesting restoration projects, restoring and replacing old carvings in Southwick House, were D Day was planned in 1944, replacing and restoring old carvings for Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle but none more so than when in 1990 I had a phone call from a Portsmouth Dockyard who asked me whether I be would be interested in helping them with some restoration work on Lord Nelson’s Flagship HMS Victory.
The next morning, I drove to the Royal Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth to discuss the project and shortly afterwards was commissioned to carve in solid mahogany an exact replica of the Starboard Side Entrance Port on HMS Victory as the original oak entrance port was rotten and required replacing.
Admiral Lord Nelson's Flagship HMS Victory is the oldest commissioned warship in the world and is still manned by Officers and Ratings of the Royal Navy. At the time of her launching on the 7th May in 1765 it cost £63,176 approximately £50,000,000 today.
The construction of the Victory took approximately 6000 mature trees which equates to 100 acres of woodland. About 90% of this timber was oak from the Weald forest of Kent and Sussex. Her Majesty’s Ship Victory represents the skill of mid-18th century naval dockyard ship designers and craftsmanship and outlines the industrial ability of Britain during this period.
The Victory is also a classic example of warship construction techniques used by all maritime powers during that period, although the Victory is the only surviving example. Admiral Lord Nelson’s famous Flagship a 104-gun First Rate Ship of the Line built mostly from solid English oak.
Although it has to be said one or two of the French rather unsurprisingly see Lord Nelson on HMS Victory, somewhat differently than the most of the Brits. I was once told by one of the guides showing the visitors around the ship, he had a large school party of French children he was showing around the Victory. He said they were all very well behaved but had a rather different take on the part of the ship we always stop at; the spot on the quarter deck marked by a small brass plaque put down where Nelson fell mortally wounded during the Battle of Trafalgar. I once heard one of the French children say as we all looked down at the very spot where with a certain amount of perhaps understandable national pride and verve, “this is where we shot Nelson”.
When I was initially contacted by Portsmouth Dockyard in 1990 to see if I would be interested in working on HMS Victory to assist with the historic ship’s restoration, which I was delighted to be able to. As part of HMS Victory’s ongoing restoration process during 1991/1992 I was commissioned by The Royal Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth to carve from mahogany an exact replica of the original starboard side entrance port which can now be found in position on HMS Victory.
At the time, I had been creating all my wood sculptures entirely from my workshop at home for a decade. However, after a quick telephone conversation with the people at the dockyard in Portsmouth, it soon became quite apparent that surprisingly enough, there was very little chance they would actually lower HMS Victory into my back garden for me to work, so it looked like I would now have to now make the 20-mile journey each day to the Dockyard and back, to work on the Victory, yeh I know.
I told my Son Scott who was twelve at the time that I will now be working on HMS Victory, he then said to me, “what does it feels like for Dad to have a job after all these years”. I suddenly realised my son, seeing me as he has over the years spending all my time in the ‘garden shed’ thought, unlike all his friends' Dads who had jobs, I didn’t do anything.
The original carved painted and gilded oak entrance port I was to replicate which was badly decayed in many places and was consequently deemed beyond restoration and required replacing. It is said that around 10% of HMS Victory you now see in Portsmouth historic naval dockyard is said to contain original timbers used during the ships construction in 1765 which can mostly be found on the lower gun deck area and below.
The centuries had taken their toll on many of the oak timbers on the ship particularly those original beams from the lower gun deck area many of which were found to be so badly rotten and worm damaged were now being removed and replaced using new beams made from teak and iroko.
When I was first given the commission, I was told once you study the original entrance port originally carved centuries ago, “If you notice the ships carver on the day, had a bad day we want you to replicate that bad day, we want it to look exactly how it would have looked in Nelson’s day”. On closer inspection, the original ship's carver in Lord Nelson’s time didn’t have a bad day as the original 18th century oak entrance port had been carved really well.
The original carved oak starboard side entrance port on the Victory I was tasked to replicate, was originally part of the middle gun-deck and was badly decayed in many places. In fact, it was only the thick layers of original old paint that was keeping much of it together.
On my first day I was shown where I was to work in number 4 boat house which is a large building a short distance away from HMS Victory where most of the beams used to restore the Victory including the mahogany entrance port, I was carving at the time were being worked on by a team of highly skilled carpenters, joiners and shipwrights.
Initially I started working on the floor area of the boathouse alongside the shipwrights who were cutting and shaping Victories replacement timbers from teak and iroko and I was surrounded by the original oak entrance port for me to replicate and several of the Victory’s large guns historic 32 pounder guns used by Victory at Trafalgar, having their gun carriages replaced, which at the time the heavy gun barrel was now being used as a seat to have a cup of tea and resting my lunch on.
The shock of such a broadside caused by one of these 32 pounder guns caused such great strain on all the ship's timbers so the guns were very rarely fired all at once. A shot from one of these 32 pounder guns could penetrate 2 feet thick oak from around 1 mile away.
At the time of Trafalgar, most British warships could fire a broadside every ninety seconds, which was often twice as fast as their French and Spanish opponents. These fast and deadly hail storms of concentrated fire gave the British an all-important advantage in any battle.
I like many people no doubt has called the guns on board such warships as cannons, when I was working onboard the Victory and discussed such matters over a quick half pint during lunch in the ships mess, I was quickly reminded by one of the ship’s Naval crew, “His majesty King George ship Victory has guns, pirate ships have cannons”, which I suppose is a fair point, but you never hear anything about British warships firing gun balls do you.
That part of the historic boat house was for a period my new workshop and canteen, that was until one evening all my tools and timber were relocated high up on the balcony in the boat house 50 feet away and out from under everyone’s feet, which suited me fine as from my new high vantage point now looking down into the boat house now and able to Lord it over all I survey!
My first task was to take the large mahogany slab of mahogany was cut to the exact outline shape of the original and over the next few days I carefully transferred the original layout of the carving onto the blank block of mahogany in pencil on all three sides. It was then just a question of carving away the timber not required and once all sides were carved, I then moved onto the middle section mahogany block which again provided for me to carve which now completed will be the first thing you bang your head on when you enter the Victory.
During my time working onboard the ship one of the regular more detailed surveys of the warship both inside and outside the hull was due to start, so now being accepted as being part of the team tasked to preserve Lord Nelson’ Historic Flagship to her former glory, I was invited along to join them and was kindly shown around the Victory by the survey team which was quite an experience to be able to see so much of HMS Victory which was usually out of bounds to visitors.
The guided ‘tour’, for me anyway; with the inspection team began after we all boarding the ship on the port side entrance port and wearing our hard hats on climbing up the various stairs within the ship up through the various gun decks and started the inspection on the poop deck which is on the upper deck at the rear of the ship and the team carefully examining the ships structure as they went walking from the stern right through the upper deck on the port side down to the ‘heads’ the crews toilets situated outside at the bow of the ship.
We then returned via the starboard side towards the stern area and I was shown the small brass plate placed to mark the spot where Nelson’ fell mortally wounded at Trafalgar. The tour then continued down the wooden stairwell nearby onto the middle gun deck where work was also being undertaken by the shipwright, into Nelson’s day and Grand cabin.
The survey team carefully inspecting everything as we went and then over the coming few hours, we all continued down through all the various gun decks and eventual into the orlop deck and cockpit area, which to many is probably one of the most evocative parts of the ship and part of it was also undergoing restoration.
The cockpit on the orlop deck is where in battle the injured and wounded crew along with Nelson himself, were taken where rather rudimentarily treatment was administered by the ship’s surgeon and team as best they could under the circumstances all in in the most appalling conditions. All the injured were placed on the orlops decking on the what would have been the hot and airless deck to receive basic but often lifesaving treatment, including amputations of shattered limbs without anaesthetics, it must have been totally horrendous for all.
Once again after careful inspection of the ship's structure and recent restoration work, we continued our journey and I was shown the monument to those killed and injured at Trafalgar and was amazed to notice amongst them, named on the monument was a ‘Marine John Brennan’ who apparently was one of my distant ancestors.
I ended up working in the dockyard for almost a year carving the replacement entrance port high up on my balcony. Then one morning arriving early at my workbench I noticed an old half painted piece of oak had been left on my bench. An hour or so later the person who left the timber turned up and basically asked me if I would possibly carve something for him from the piece of original Victory oak in my ‘spare time’.
The oak was originally removed from HMS Victory during the ongoing restoration program and being so old and rock hard and so much harder to work than the timbers I had been working with. I thought it would be a bit of a challenge and happy to give it a try. That first oak carving from pieces of this century’s old timber which was deemed unrestorable and not required to be returned on the warship, was the first such Victory oak carving both large and small.
As my skills improved attempting to carve this rock hard, often worm damaged sometimes rotten old oak beams for these ‘freebies’ improved, so did the size of the oak beams being donated for me to ‘practice’ on. Not only now for these freebies but later also various projects of my own carved from these donated pieces of old unrestorable blocks of oak.
Normally with most of the wide variety of wood carving projects I have worked on over the years it's quite a simple process, decide on the subject to be carved, select the most suitable piece of quality timber, size it up, work out in your mind exactly where the subject of your sculpture is hiding within it, grab the appropriate wood carving gouge and away you go, a few weeks or several months later it just appears finished, no big deal you would have thought.
Well, I can assure you trying to carve original old Victory oak is a whole new ball game; it’s a real feisty bit of rock-hard timber it’s been there, done that and has more often than not has literally got the scars to prove it. You are having to carve the subject often avoiding rotten, worm damage oak with nails and bolts hidden inside which have on many occasions been hiding away under thick layers of old paint to be either avoided or if not possible incorporated into the finished carving.
Meanwhile as the Victory relief carvings were being carved in my own time at home, I had continued throughout this process working away up on the balcony in the boat house, with my main commission carving the Victory’s entrance port in the dockyard carved from the much easier to work mahogany until it was complete and almost a year later it was painted and placed on the ships middle gun deck where it can be seen today, looking just as if was carved in the 18th century by the ship’s carver.
It took 7 years to build HMS Victory when she was launched in 1765 and has taken over 250 to restore.
To be continued;