The Panopticons of Lancashire

ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Pendle, Wycoller Country Park, Moorland at the Atom Panopticon, with ruinous flagstone wall [Ask for #270.302.]


The Atom panopticon, in the moors above Wycoller Park. [Ask for #270.302.]

The Panopticons perch above East Lancashire’s valley-towns, building-sized sculptures set in the midst of stunning views. Those views are half the point—wide panoramas that incorporate the essential features of one of Britain’s oddest and most intriguing regions. The other half is, of course, the art, for the Panopticons are striking sculptures standing in dramatic landscapes, landmarks to be seen from afar as well as panoramic viewpoints. “They are on the cusp of architecture and art,” says Nick Hunt, Creative Director of Mid Pennine Arts, who midwifed this project to completion. They function in their landscapes as remarkable structures as much as pieces of art, forming a visual focus for redevelopment and a reminder to look toward the future.

ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Burnley Borough, Burnley Moors, The Singing Ringing Tree Panopticon [Ask for #270.283.]


The Singing Ringing Tree Panopticon, on a hilltop in the Burnley Moors. [Ask for #270.283.]
ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Rossendale, Haslingden, Halo Panopticon, Top o' Slate Nature Reserve. Powered by its own wind generator. [Ask for #270.269.]


The Halo panopticon, set in the Top o' Slate Nature Reserve above Haslingden, is powered by its own wind generator. [Ask for #270.269.]

For the views from the Panopticons reveal complex landscapes of industry and nature, and the four Panopticons show off four distinct aspects of East Lancaster’s heritage. Set in the central Pennines northeast of Manchester, much of East Lancs is open moor deeply cut by narrow valleys. This is the rough land between the Peaks District National Park and the Yorkshire Dales National Park—the sort of scenery you’d expect to be an natural draw for British tourists. But they’re not. In the late 18th century these deep, narrow valleys drew industry instead, furnishing a plentiful and easily reached source of water power. Early (and not so early) factories frequently relied on water power rather than steam engines. The engines of the era were expensive as well as primitive, and water power was cheap and well-understood. Why pay more? Factories lined the streams, concentrating wherever there was a fall in water, and gray stone towns grew around the factories and into each other, terracing up the slopes. Nor were the hills above left wild; coal, iron, limestone, slate, and brick clay were all mined on one moor or another, and their abandoned open pits still scar the hillsides. To these relic industrial landscapes the late 20th century has made its own contribution of cell towers and enormous electrical transmission lines, while the 21st century has added wind farms to the mix.

ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, West Yorkshire, Calderdale Borough, Hebden Bridge, Haworth Moors, View over the moors; a farm track runs from hedged farmlands to wild moors, with an isolated Pennine farmstead [Ask for #270.403.]


View over the Haworth Moors; a farm track runs from hedged farmlands to wild moors, with an isolated Pennine farmstead [Ask for #270.403.]
ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Rossendale, Haslingden, The town of Haslingden at dusk, viewed from the Halo Panopticon [Ask for #270.343.]


The town of Haslingden at dusk, viewed from The Halo panopticon. [Ask for #270.343.]

Yet the landscapes surrounding the Panopticons are some of the Pennines’ most evocative, and not in spite of the industrialization but because of it. The abandoned mines provide the crags and cliffs, and follow the underlying geology as carefully as any rain-carved ones. Cell-towers and high-voltage lines dwarf the isolated farmsteads underneath them, accidental sculptures both ugly and weirdly compelling. Wind farms are oddly beautiful, the thirty-story towers standing like giants with flailing arms that dare not get too close to each other. The glory of the moors, however, are the towns, with their stone buildings emerging from the valley sides and disappearing into shadows at the bottom. The Panopticons fit perfectly into these lands, large and compelling enough to compete with the adventitious monumentality of the mines, lines, and towers.

ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Rossendale, Haslingden, Halo Panopticon, Top o' Slate Nature Reserve. View shows power lines, cell tower over a traditional Pennine farm and stone-walled lane [Ask for #270.267.]


The view from The Halo panopticon shows a cell tower dwarfing a traditional Pennine farm and its stone-walled lane [Ask for #270.267.]
ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, West Yorkshire, Calderdale Borough, Halifax, Ovenden Moor, Ovenden Moor Wind Farm [Ask for #270.433.]


Ovenden Moor Wind Farm, in the moors to the immediate east of the panopticons. [Ask for #270.433.]

Haslingden’s Panopticon, The Halo, sits above town at the end of a narrow lane that once serviced Top ‘o Slate, a slate mine. The site is now restored and managed as a nature reserve, its contours returned to natural and covered with grasses and young forests. The Halo occupies the spot where these restored lands reach the moor’s edge, with stunning views. The sculpture itself is a basin-like lattice of aluminum tubing the size of a small house, set high on tripod legs, something like a temple bowl and something like half a flying saucer. At night its circular members are lined with small blue lights, and its resemblance to a flying saucer takes over. Its odd appearance does not conflict with its surroundings, as this is a heavily used landscape, where a cell tower and power lines share a ridgeline with a traditional farm, and the cliffs across the valley have been carved by quarries. Below, the town of Haslingden steps gingerly down the valley sides. It’s a popular spot for locals to picnic, and when the evening sky is clear you can usually find a family or two who’ve come up to watch the sunset.

ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Rossendale, Haslingden, The Halo Panopticon at sunset [Ask for #270.340.]


The Halo panopticon at sunset. [Ask for #270.340.]
ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Rossendale, Haslingden, The Halo Panopticon at sunset, showing the wind turbine that generates its electricity [Ask for #270.338.]


The Halo panopticon at sunset, showing the wind turbine that generates its electricity [Ask for #270.338.]

Factories can be surprisingly ephemeral; descend to Haslingden’s lowest reaches and a separate public art project leads you to and through the ruins of the oldest works. Called the Irwell Sculpture Trail, it follows the River Irwell, once a prominent water power source. Upstream from Haslingden the trail gives a different sort of view from the Panopticons, one that’s up close and intimate, with a dozen sculptures set in a five mile stretch. In the short length around Riverside Park at Stacksteads the new sculptures blend with remnants of abandoned manufactories. Stone walls that once funneled water into mill races now protect the path from erosion; the shell of a water-powered factory sits by a dry-stone sculpture that echos its ruins; a stone roller lays like a downed pillar among a mini-Stonehenge of slabs (some of which form picnic tables).

ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Rossendale, Stacksteads, The Irwell Sculpture Trail; sculpture picnic area on the River Irwell [Ask for #270.358.]


The Irwell Sculpture Trail near Stacksteads leads past this sculpture picnic area on the River Irwell. [Ask for #270.358.]
ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Rossendale, Stacksteads, The Irwell Sculpture Trail, lined by a sculptural wall of standing slabs [Ask for #270.362.]


The Irwell Sculpture Trail near Stacksteads, lined by a sculptural wall of standing slabs. [Ask for #270.362.]

To get an idea of what all this industry might have been like in the glory days of Queen Victoria, go to the Queen Street Mill in nearby Burnley. Worker-owned for nearly a century before its closure in 1982, it retains all of its original steam engines and manufacturing equipment, including hundreds of looms powered from overhead steam-driven shafts, the only intact example of this type of factory in the world. Volunteers fire up its hand-stoked boilers, the complex system of overhead shafts begin to turn, and the full panoply of machines tighten their belts onto the shafts and operate at full clatter—an amazing, and deafening, sound. No modern artist’s installation could provide such a visceral experience.

ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Burnley Borough, Briercliffe, Queen Street Mill, A docent runs a belt-powered loom on a fully functioning factory floor of this steam-powered Victorian textile plant [Ask for #270.393.]


ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Burnley Borough, Briercliffe, The Queen Street Mill in Burnley Borough has a fully functioning factory floor of Victorian era looms, run by steam power. [Ask for #270.393.]
ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Burnley Borough, Briercliffe, Queen Street Mill, Boilers that fire the steam engine which still runs this functioning Victorian textile factory [Ask for #270.391.]


Queen Street Mill, Boilers that fire the steam engine which still runs Queen Street Mill, a functioning Victorian textile factory. [Ask for #270.391.]

Burnley’s Panopticon sits deep in the moors that separate it from Haslingden. In contrast to Haslingden’s Halo, the site of The Singing Ringing Tree is as remote and wild as East Lancs gets. Named for a very strange East German children’s movie (well known from endless BBC repeats in the early 1960s), it’s a spiral of iron horizontal pipes that slowly expands into a graceful tree-like shape perhaps thirty feet high. The pipes are tuned to hum softly in the wind, no matter which way or how gently the wind blows. The Singing Ringing Tree gives classic Pennine views over rolling hills with isolated farmsteads, with Burnley barely within view at the northern end of the valley draining off the moors. To the east however, are competing sculptural structures—the 24 towers of the Coal Clough Wind Farm, one of Britain’s oldest.

ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Burnley Borough, Burnley Moors, The Singing Ringing Tree Panopticon [Ask for #270.284.]


The Singing Ringing Tree panopticon, above Burnley in the Burnley Moors. [Ask for #270.284.]
ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Burnley Borough, Burnley Moors, The Singing Ringing Tree Panopticon, with the Coal Clough Wind Farm visible in the background. [Ask for #270.281.]


The Singing Ringing Tree panopticon, with the Coal Clough Wind Farm visible in the background. [Ask for #270.281.]
ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Burnley Borough, Burnley Moors, Coal Clough Wind Farm, on the moors above the village of Holme Chapel [Ask for #270.279.]


Coal Clough Wind Farm, on the Burnley Moors above the village of Holme Chapel, as viewed from the Singing Ringing Tree panopticon. [Ask for #270.279.]

If the Singing Ringing Tree represents the wildness of the open moors, and the Halo stands for the worked landscapes of industrialized Lancashire, then the third Panopticon, The Atom, embodies the traditional English countryside. Set on a slope at the upper end of the remarkable Wycoller Country Park, The Atom is the Panopticon for Pendle, where the industrialized moors blend in with Brontë Country. The Atom is meant to fit into a sort of scenery much different from the exploited moors of East Lancs. Here are patchwork fields bordered by stone fences, glades and old forests, isolated villages with old stone bridges (visited by the Brontë sisters in their walks), and a fast running stream never enslaved to a factory wheel. The Atom is a shelter from which to view all this, with the smooth lines and earth colors of the organic. Inside, however, is a brightly shining sphere that brings the views inside to the resting traveler – that is, unless one of the local bright lads has rolled it down the slope. It still manages to dominate its skyline like a good Panopticon should, but without competing with the very English beauties of Wycoller village. On the edge of Wycoller village the locals have erected their own public art project—a string of living sculptures made from entwining live willow branches, done as part of the Halo’s construction.

ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Pendle, Wycoller Country Park, The Atom, Panopticons [Ask for #270.295.]


The Atom panopticon, in Wycoller Park. [Ask for #270.295.]
ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Pendle, Wycoller Country Park, Moorland at the site of the Atom Panopticon, with ruinous flagstone wall [Ask for #270.297.]


The Atom panopticon, in moorland above Wycoller Park. This spot was popular witht the Bronte sisters, and served as a model for the remote valley in Wuthering Heights. [Ask for #270.297.]

Blackburn, East Lancs’s one full-sized city, forms the hub of the region’s economy and public art. Its Panopticon, Colourfields, is an embellished restoration of a 19th century cannon platform (sans cannon) at the uphill head of the town’s venerable Corporation Park. It’s more modest than the others, yet like the others it reveals its landscape—in this case a proud Victorian city, with views stretching down over the wonderfully landscaped park to the city beyond. One of the two cannon bays has steps down to the park, the other a viewing platform shaped like the prow of a ship ready to take Lancashire fabric to the ends of the British Empire. At the base of Colourfields a series of sculptures made from carved, twisted tree trunks doubles as a jungle gym.

ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Blackburn-with-Darwen, Corporation Park, Colourfields Panopticon, a 19th c. battery converted to a public art project; viewed from a related sculpture functioning as a playground [Ask for #270.346.]


The Colourfields panopticon, a 19th Century battery converted to a public art project, viewed from a nearby sculpture functioning as a playground. It is located in Corporation Park, in the town of Blackburn-with-Darwen. [Ask for #270.346.]
ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Blackburn-with-Darwen, City Center, Grandmother and Child (1996), a public sculpture outside the cathedral and by the railway station [Ask for #270.373.]


Grandmother and Child (1996), a public sculpture outside Blackburn Cathedral and by the Blackburn-with-Darwen railway station. [Ask for #270.373.]

In downtown Blackburn you can see public art at the center of a large and successful regeneration project. This small city center is a very walkable place with shops and pubs, trees and benches—and art. Down the center of one pedestrianized avenue is a series of massive bronze pieces showing Industry emerging organically, like so many flowers. Kinda strange, but it fits well with the pleasantly remodeled buildings, bustling with activity. Another bronze piece, smaller and quieter but more remarkable, shows a life-size woman hustling towards the train station with a child in tow, the child straining for a dropped teddy bear. More art is scattered about town center, in the neighborhoods, and even in the roundabouts.

ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Blackburn-with-Darwen, City Center, Transition Sculptures on pedestrianized Church Street, part of the town centre regeneration. [Ask for #270.372.]


Transition Sculptures on pedestrianized Church Street in Blackburn-with-Darwen, part of the town centre regeneration. [Ask for #270.372.]
ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Blackburn-with-Darwen, Blackburn Cathedral, Statue of Queen Victoria outside the cathedral, showing the Lantern Tower, 1999. [Ask for #270.374.]


Statue of Queen Victoria outside Blackburn Cathedral, showing its 1999 Lantern Tower. [Ask for #270.374.]

Within town center is Blackburn’s oldest and largest display of public art: Blackburn Cathedral, like all cathedrals an astonishing collection of masterpieces from many ages. Blackburn, however, is a new city and it has a new cathedral, created as such in 1926 to serve the working classes concentrated in the Lancastrian valley towns. The cathedral was not built from scratch; it’s an exceptionally large parish church “restored” in 1826 from a Tudor original with bits and chunks dating to Norman times. Converting it to a cathedral ( the seat of a bishop) took from 1938 to 1977, and much of its current glory comes from the early decision to hire the prolific and talented John Hayward as an artist-in-resident during the 1960s. The interior throngs with pieces by Hayward and others—unusual for a cathedral only in knowing the name of the artists. Public art in England goes back a long way.

ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Blackburn-with-Darwen, Blackburn Cathedral, Interior, designed by John David Hayward (c. 1960s) and conceived as a single work of art. Baptismal font carving. [Ask for #270.378.]


A baptismal font carving in Blackburn Cathedral, designed by John David Hayward (c. 1960s) and conceived as a single work of art. [Ask for #270.378.]
ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Blackburn-with-Darwen, Blackburn Cathedral, Interior, designed by John David Hayward (c. 1960s) and conceived as a single work of art.  Madonna and Childby Josefina de Vasconcelllos, with candles. [Ask for #270.381.]


Madonna and Child by Josefina de Vasconcelllos, in Blackburn Cathedral. [Ask for #270.381.]
ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Rossendale, Stacksteads, Abandoned water-powered factory along the River Irwell, from the Irwell Sculpture Trail. [Ask for #270.366.]


Abandoned water-powered factory by the Irwell SculptureTrail near Stacksteads. [Ask for #270.366.]
ENG: The Northwest Region, Lancashire, The Pennines, Blackburn-with-Darwen, Corporation Park, Public art at the center of the Whitebirk Roundabout on the A 678 (Burnley Rd). [Ask for #270.354.]


Public art at the center of the Whitebirk Roundabout on the A 678, in Blackburn. [Ask for #270.354.]
Article by Jim Hargan
Originally published in British Heritage, March 2013
Jim's Brit
Travel + History
Contact Jim at:   jim@JimsBrit.com
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