Panopticons is an arts project developed by Mid Pennine Arts, East Lancashire Environmental Arts Network, the Lancashire Economic Partnership, the East Lancashire Regional Park Development Programme and the Northwest Regional Development Agency. The project has also been contributed to by local people and schoolchildren where they had the opportunity to be directly involved via workshops.
The Panopticons are sculptures that serve as symbols of the renaissance of the area and they were designed and constructed over a six year period for Blackburn, Pendle, Burnley and Rossendale, all located in Lancashire. From the orginal plans of erecting five sculptures four were realised, proposals for a fifth one in Accrington were rejected by local councillors.
“People are enjoying the quirk originality of the Panopticons and at the same time discovering the beautiful countryside around them. They are taking pride in showing them off to visitors. I see the Panopticons as being a relaunch of the ‘can do’ creativity of this wonderful part of the world.”Wayne Hemingway, project champion
The Singing Ringing Tree, Burnley
I quite often like visiting the Singing Ringing Tree Panopticon at Crown Point as I live close-by to it.
This Panopticon is an artistic sculpture by Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu and is made from pipes of galvanised steel. The sculpture is in the shape of a tree and because of the winds on the moors, the pipes can make sound when the wind blows through or around them – no doubt where the name Singing Ringing Tree comes from.
The designers specifically used different length pipes and added slits in some pipes for varied sounds to be produced. Mid Pennine Arts describes the sound produced from the tree as “simultaneously discordant and melancholy, and intensely beautiful”.
There has been several acclaims for this sculpture, including winning the National Award of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2007, and readers of the Independent classed it as one of the great British 21 landmarks that define our landscape.
The Singing Ringing Tree has also been the interest of several local musicians. The East Lancashire Clarion Choir climbed up to Crown Point and sang a sea shanty type song under the sculpture and there has been a project called Songs from the Singing Ringing Tree which involved bringing more music education to schoolchildren in local schools over the course of a year.
“All projects of this sort give a cohort of children access to musical experiences beyond those normally available in the setting; musical exposure and engagement that without the project they would not have had.”Zoe Greenhalgh, music leader for Songs from the Singing Ringing Tree
Also award winning composer John C S Keston performed several duets with the sculpture, and incorporated the sounds it made into his work with a synthesiser.
I like visiting this area often as it is very peaceful and allows a fantastic view over Burnley and the moors, and this place is very quiet too, even with several local visitors. I struggle to imagine what it must have looked like when the site used to be a re-diffusion transmission station.
Colourfields is unlike the other Panopticons in the sense that it doesn’t look like an artistic sculpture like the other three – it looks more like remnants of an old building. Colourfields is different in that it incorporates the use of former cannon batteries as part of its structure.
The former cannons had been in the park since 1857 and were captured from Russia during the Crimean War. Since then, the cannons were damaged over time and the base has been used for Colourfields with added look-out points and colourful tiles.
This Panopticon was designed by Jo Rippon and Sophie Smallhorn and is based in Blackburn Corporation Park. Another difference between this and the other Panopticons as all of the other structures are located in their own spaces, typically with beautiful views of the moors, whereas Colourfields is in a park which is often busy.
The plus side is that there are several other things to do at the park including tennis, playgrounds for children, cycling, as well as a discovery trail.
The Atom, Colne
This Panopticon is located above Wycoller village and was designed by Peter Meacock, Andrew Edmunds and Katarina Novomestska. This is my favourite sculpture of the four because you can actually go inside it and experience the breathtaking views while being sheltered at the same time.
When I visited, part of the Panopticon was missing – it used to have a steel ball inside but this was removed due to vandalism, and inside the sculpture several people have vandalised the walls with graffiti.
The Atom Panopticon also starts the Wycoller Panopticon Walk, which takes you on a journey through other historic parts of Wycoller Country Park. This walk includes bridges, farms, waterfalls and willow sculptures. These living sculptures were developed by the local community as part of workshops led by artists Jeff and Heather Allen, and depict people, a horse, a bird hide, a tunnel and bower. Some of the willow sculptures can even be seen from the motorway on the drive to the Atom.
The Halo, Rossendale
The site of the Halo Panopticon used to be a former landfill, now it is a beautiful look-out point with benches to overlook Haslingden town below. The Halo was the final piece made for the Panopticons project and was designed by John Kennedy.
To me it almost looks like a UFO! It is very interesting to look at and had a circle of water around the bottom at the time of my visit. I’m not sure if this water was meant to be there, but it certainly added to the beauty of the Halo.
The Halo also has a secret… it glows at night! I was unable to stay long enough to take pictures of this feature due to the very strong winds on the day I was visiting, but the sculpture is able to glow blue because of a wind turbine and low energy LEDs. This is the only Panopticon to light up and it was done to make it look like the sculpture is hovering above the town.
To get to the Halo it is best to use the parking provided at the bottom of the hill, and then walk the remaining way up. The roads leading directly to the sculpture are very steep and therefore it is tricky to drive especially if visiting at night to see the glow. I definitely think this Panopticon is worth the steep roads to visit, next to the Atom the Halo is my second favourite of the lot and boasts of beautiful surrounding views of Rossendale Valley.
The four panopticons of Lancashire
What I love about the Panopticons is that all four are different and unique in their own way.
What’s also fantastic about them is that for each area, the landscape was improved and made more accessible to the public to encourage locals and tourists to visit. This was done as a partner project to the Panopticons, called Land where the nature surrounding the Panopticons was improved by planting trees and bulbs, and the local community was also encouraged to take part in activities that celebrated the local landscapes and traditions.
“We liked the way that many of the Land projects were built around the Panopticon sites, so that strategic links were made between objects, between different parts of Pennine Lancashire and between local communities and the natural landscape environment.”Janet Barton, director of economic regeneration for Lancashire Economic Partnership
I highly recommend checking out any of these local sites and the panoramic views are amazing for each Panopticon.
Jamie Robinson is a professional photographer for Robinson Photography based in Lancashire. You can visit his website.
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