Frieze in polychrome relief, 1986 by Andy Frost, and supporting sections of C19 bridge abutment and approach spans.
Reasons for Designation
Derwent Walk Express, of 1986 by Andy Frost, and the supporting sections of C19 bridge abutment and approach spans, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Artistic interest: an engaging work which celebrates the railway heritage and amenities of the Derwent Valley and demonstrates an important community-minded strand in late-C20 public art;
* Historic interest: as an early example of arts-led regeneration in the North East of England, a movement which has led to one of the greatest concentrations of recent public art in England.
The period after 1945 saw a shift from commemorative sculpture and architectural enrichment to the idea of public sculpture as having a primarily aesthetic contribution to the public realm. Sculpture was commissioned for new housing, schools, universities and civic set pieces, with the counties of Hertfordshire, London and Leicestershire and the new towns leading the way in public patronage. Thus public sculpture could be an emblem of civic renewal and social progress. By the late C20, however, patronage was more diverse and included corporate commissions and Arts Council-funded community art. The ideology of enhancing the public realm through art continued, but with divergent means and motivation.
Visual languages ranged from the abstraction of Victor Pasmore and Phillip King to the figurative approach of Elisabeth Frink and Peter Laszlo Peri, via those such as Lynn Chadwick and Barbara Hepworth who bridged the abstract/representational divide. The post-war decades are characterised by the exploitation of new – often industrial – materials and techniques, including new welding and casting techniques, plastics and concrete, while kinetic sculpture and ‘ready mades’ (using found objects) demonstrate an interest in composite forms.
The son of a woodworker, Andy Frost (b 1957) is best known for his outdoor wooden sculpture, although he has also worked in steel, plastic and fibreglass. He studied fine art at Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University; 1976-9) and Reading University (1980-2), obtaining scholarships to the Netherlands (1979-80) and the United States (1983). In 1982-3 he was Henry Moore Foundation Fellow in Sculpture at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts. Frost exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Hayward Gallery, the Whitechapel Gallery and the Welsh Sculpture Trust, and after residencies at the Grizedale Forest Park and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park came to specialise in site-specific commissions. Influenced by David Nash (b 1945), Frost’s work combines carving, layering and painting techniques, often to humorous, ironic or dynamic effect.
The Derwent Walk Country Park was developed in the mid-1980s by Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC) to regenerate a post-industrial landscape. The linear park follows the route of the Derwent Valley Railway, which linked Newcastle and Consett between 1867 and 1962. Most of the viaducts, bridges and cuttings associated with the single-track line were preserved as part of the scheme. A design competition for a feature to mark the park’s Swalwell entrance was held by Gateshead MBC and Tyne & Wear County Council with the support of Northern Arts. The commission was awarded to Andy Frost on the basis of his winning entry, entitled ‘Derwent Walk Express’. The work was assembled and installed on-site with the help of the park’s maintenance team, and was opened by Norman Buchan MP in October 1986. It won a BBC Townscape award in 1988 and was refurbished in 2005. The work has been described by Gateshead Council as ‘probably the only locomotive which tows its own passing landscape behind it’.
Frieze in polychrome relief, installed on a C19 bridge abutment and approach spans; 1986 by Andy Frost.
The frieze is c1.5m high and c33m long. It depicts a steam train and the local landscape in relief, and is composed of layers of marine ply bonded with epoxy resin, painted and lacquered. The work marks the Swalwell entrance to Derwent Walk Country Park. It is mounted on the bridge abutment and approach spans which carried the Derwent Valley Railway across the Hexham road. This is a linear structure of coursed, squared rubble, orientated SW–NE, with five segmental arches and short returns at both ends. The frieze is affixed to the structure by means of a series of steel brackets.
The main elevation fronts the Hexham road and depicts, in a stylised manner, a steam locomotive and carriages in motion. The train is painted red, with details in black, orange and other colours. The eastern return shows the front of the engine and incorporates the arms of County Durham Council, the former Tyne & Wear County Council and Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council. A Nuclear Free Zone symbol was originally included, but is now absent.
A stylised tableaux of animals (such as a beetle, squirrel, butterfly and badger) within a rural landscape obscure the rear of the train and continue around the north-eastern corner. These sections have an undulating outline and are painted in shades of green, brown and blue. The sections of frieze become intermittent with increasing distance from the road, having the visual effect of blending into the landscape of the County Park. One of the panels on the east elevation is missing, as confirmed by exposed brackets. The rear of the bridge abutment and the west elevation of the viaduct feature similar sections of frieze depicting rural and industrial landscapes.
Several signs are affixed to the northern abutment; these were part of Frost’s commission and are executed in marine ply. On the road elevation is a long plaque with raised lettering and clipped corners in a Victorian railway style. It reads ‘DERWENT WALK COUNTRY PARK’. The flanking elevations feature wayfinding signs in a similar style. Set into the east wall are two small stainless steel plaques: ‘DERWENTWALK / EXPRESS / by / ANDREW FROST / Unveiled by / NORMAN BUCHAN MP / 9 OCTOBER 1986 / Funding by Tyne and Wear County Council, / Gateshead MBC, and Northern Arts’; and ‘BBC / TOWNSCAPE / AWARD/ 1988’.
The railway abutment wall and approach spans beneath the sculpture are included in the listing.