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Welsh government slams brakes on 'insulting' Iron Ring landmark

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George King Architects’ competition-winning Iron Ring artwork has been put on hold following a protest petition which gained more than 10,000 signatures

Yesterday (26 July), less than a week after the winning scheme was unveiled, Wales’s cabinet secretary for economy and infrastructure, Ken Skates confirmed the project would be put on ‘pause’.

He said: ‘We have listened and recognise the strength of feeling around the proposed art installation at Flint Castle and feel it is only right that we now take a pause and review the plans for the sculpture.

‘Working closely with local partners we will continue to work on proposals for developments at Flint, including reviewing new visitor facilities.’

The surprise move came just days after the petition, created by Welsh musician Izzy Evans, called on the Welsh government to shelve the ‘distasteful’ £395,000 landmark, which had been intended to commemorate Welsh legends.

Commenting on Skates’ announcement via Twitter, Evans said the pause was a ‘big first step’ but he would continue campaigning until the landmark was ‘scrapped completely’.

George King Architects was named winner of an international competition for the Welsh government-backed commission last week. The London and Gloucestershire-based studio’s winning structure is earmarked for a plot at Flint Castle, which was built in the late 13th century as part of Edward I’s campaign to conquer Wales.

The Iron Ring is planned as a 7m-high, 30m-wide sculpture symbolising a giant rusted crown. The structure is intended to represent the relationship between the medieval monarchies of Europe and the castles they built.

But the Iron Ring was also the name associated with Edward I’s string of fortifications starting at Flint and spanning Beaumaris, Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech.

So far 7,008 people have signed the online petition since it was launched on Sunday (23 July). The petition text reads: ‘We the undersigned oppose the building of the Iron Ring outside of Flint Castle as we are well aware of the historical significance of Edward I and his so called Iron Ring as a use to subjugate and oppress our people.

‘We find this extremely disrespectful to the people of Wales and our ancestors who have battled oppression, subjugation and injustice for hundreds of years. We ask that you please rethink the decision to build this monument and use the money elsewhere.’

Commenting on local news website Nation Cymru, Evans said: ‘I have a passion for our history and I believe that anything that would be seen to commemorate Edward I’s castles in Wales is utterly disrespectful not only to our nation but to our ancestors who fought tyrannical rule, subjugation, and oppression.

‘The castles are already there to remind us of Wales’s colonisation. Any monuments we build from here on in should stand to increase our pride in our own history and of our ancestors who fought valiantly for freedom.’

Iron Ring by George King Architects

Iron Ring by George King Architects

Iron Ring by George King Architects

The structure is also opposed by Plaid Cymru’s North Wales assembly member Llyr Gruffydd. ‘The London-based architects have specifically referenced the ring of steel in drawing up this design,’ he told Deeside.com.

‘The “ring of steel” is the description given to the chain of castles across Wales that were built to conquer and subjugate Wales. The architects say this is to celebrate the Year of Legends but from a Welsh perspective, this is certainly not something to celebrate.

‘It does not either reflect the many rich Welsh legends that could have been the source of a far more appropriate sculpture. The result of this ‘ring of steel’ and conquest by Edward I was to effectively make Welsh people second-class citizens within their own country.

‘They were excluded from the walled towns that sprung up around the castles. It’s inconceivable that someone on the panel deciding on this matter would not have understood the symbolic significance of a sculpture that “celebrated” our conquest.

We’re getting an inappropriate and frankly insulting piece of artwork

He added: ‘This is a year when we should be celebrating our legends, which have been the inspiration for many books and films including the Game of Thrones. Instead we’re getting this inappropriate and frankly insulting piece of artwork. I’m all for public art, especially work that celebrates and promotes the best of Wales but this sculpture is not doing that – and that’s reflected in the thousands of people who have already signed the petition.’

Iron Ring by George King Architects

Iron Ring by George King Architects

Iron Ring by George King Architects

The installation had been scheduled to open in 2018, engraved with words and proverbs developed in partnership with the local community. Visitors will be able to walk along the sculpture and enjoy elevated views across the estuary and of the castle.

A parallel competition for a separate £400,000 landmark at another heritage site in Wales is still ongoing, with the winner due to be announced later this year.

The two contests, open to artists and designers, aimed to replicate the crowd-drawing success of Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North and Paul Cummins’ Tower of London poppies installation.

The unveiling of the project, backed by the government’s Cadw heritage wing, is set to form the centrepiece of Wales’s 2017 Year of Legends cultural programme, aimed at boosting tourism.

In response to the petition, a Cadw spokesperson said: ‘We recognise that art divides opinions, encourages debate, and can be interpreted in many ways and that combining history, art and place can often lead to powerful emotions and passions.

‘These plans are about investing in Flint, increasing visitor numbers and growing the local economy. The proposed sculpture would also provide a unique opportunity to promote Welsh steel, as well as tell powerful stories that continue to shape our lives today.

‘We will continue to listen to a range of views on this important project as it evolves, and ensure that decisions over issues such as the words inscribed on the sculpture reflect local opinions and the complex and often difficult history of Wales.’ 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Geoff Williams

    If this is considered to be the way of spending money in North Wales, which is urgently required, then the Welsh Government should think again. The obvious neglect of the development of projects in North Wales gives rise to serious debate. The upgrade of the Racecourse sports stadium, at Wrexham, would be an important start. It seems that little attention is given to projects North of Brecon and there is a serious need for this to be challenged in the Welsh Government..

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  • Assuming that Flint Castle is a scheduled ancient monument it should surely be afforded protection from development affecting its setting, and there can't be much doubt about the impact of this large scale 'look at me' intervention on the local ambience, can there?

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