Thornaby residents will recognise the sculpture with many names. Known officially as “Thornaby”, sometimes as “Always Advancing” (the council motto) but most popularly as “The Spider”, this piece is the work of London-born sculptor Brian Wall.
Photographs by Sylvia Brown. Shared with permission from Brian Wall. 1968.
Now in its new position (a roundabout), this one was originally sited in the town centre in 1968; a signifier of a town that was receiving a lot of investment and undergoing many changes, including a new pavilion in its centre.
The sculpture is made up of two angled beams with a central disc (claims that this was added after a local art student’s suggestion, something which the sculptor called “utter rubbish” in an email exchange we had in 2020). The two “A” shapes represent Thornaby’s “Always Advancing” motto, with the smaller one symbolising the town’s past and the larger its bright, shiny, modernist future. It was fabricated at the local Head Wrightson works.
Photographs by Joel Perlman. Shared with permission from Brian Wall. 1968.
Just before the sculpture’s planned unveiling on March 25th, 1968 (by Head Wrightson Chairman, John Wrightson), the covers blew off, revealing the artwork to the large crowd a little early. At the same ceremony, Councillor John Scott told the gathered audience, “I myself see it as symbolic of the renaissance of Thornaby,” before adding (with the fence-sitting typical of a seasoned politician) that there “may be conflicting views of course.”1
A 1968 photo showing the sculptor (second from the left) with steel workers at Head Wrightson in Thornaby, where the artwork was made. Photographs by Joel Perlman. Shared with permission from Brian Wall.
One of the legs is worn smooth from local children sliding down it; a perfect example of a repurposed sculpture. Unfortunately, in its new home on a roundabout, this alternate use has been largely ended.
A cutting from the Thornaby Tribune dated March 1968 about the sculpture reads:
“The metal sculpture, named simply “Thornaby,” which will stand outside Wrightson House in the new town centre is believed to be the largest piece of metal sculpture in Great Britain.
Symbolic rather than representative, it is intended to suggest the re-birth of a town and it is most apt that it should be unveiled by Sir John Wrightson, chairman of Thornaby’s largest firm, Head Wrightson Ltd., and grandson of Sir Thomas Wrightson, J.P., the donor of the town’s original public library.
The sculpture, by Brian Wall (see inset above) a leading young London sculptor, has been fabricated in mild steel at Head Wrightson’s Teesdale Works.
The total cost of the sculpture is £5,000, approximately three-quarters of which will be met by grants from such organisations as the Arts Council who have already contributed £1,500.
Originator of the idea during his mayorality, Councillor John Scott, commented: “Thornaby has for many years suffered from its position and has environmentally been losing respect. Now we have a vigorous and close-knit community and it is this feeling of respect regained that the sculpture most emphatically captures.”
Written by Daniel Cochran, 2022.
- Evening Gazette, March 25th, 1968.
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