Iconic sculpture for county border

Words by:
Caroline Bingham
Featured in:
February 2019

Caroline Bingham went to see the concrete foundations of a new county landmark being poured and meet Ken Sadler, chairman of the Bomber County Gateway Trust.
It was a bitterly cold day with a stiff south-easterly wind blowing across the site but this did not hinder the first forty-five 30 tonne loads of concrete being poured by a relay of mixer lorries from nearby Breedon Aggregates. The second pour was to be three days later to complete the 1.6 metre deep, steel reinforced, cross-shaped foundation for the life-size sculpture of an Avro Lancaster which will be sited alongside the A46 at Norton Disney.

The site is on land owned by Charlie and Sophie White of Brills Farm and as with many projects the idea was originally mooted over pints in the pub, as the 100th anniversary of the RAF approached. Sophie is the great-great-granddaughter of Vera Hedges-Butler (see side panel) who flew over the site on one of her balloon flights in 1907. Vera, her father Frank and his friend Charles Rolls were founder members of the Aero Club of the United Kingdom in 1901. The landmark’s positioning is also on what was the flight path into RAF Swinderby located just over the rise, north-east of Hill Holt and Thurlby Top Woods. Ken explained why Thurlby Top Woods have their own poignant significance.

“RAF Swinderby was the home of 50 Squadron and a Lancaster VN-N crashed on the approach to landing in the woods in September 1942,” he said. “Records are sketchy but it seems that, of the seven Commonwealth crew, only two survived.”

Ken is one of eight trustees for the charitable Trust and it has been his expertise in construction and securing large amounts of gratis work and materials from the industry which has driven the project forward so far. Ken based the design for the sculpture on the Lancaster VN-N, with Clive Moles producing the early graphics, necessary to illustrate the project and for the planning application to North Kesteven District Council.

The application was approved first time which quickly brought into focus the challenges of raising the support and funds for the three phases of the project. The target cost for the build is £250,000 although, at market rates, the cost would be in excess of £500,000. Cash donations of £80,000 have been raised to date but Ken’s enthusiasm has been contagious, securing volunteered work and materials to the value of £250,000 from leading construction and materials businesses for phases I and II including G S Hughes Ltd, Acast Industrial Flooring, Oakfield Surveys, Breedon Aggregates, Midland Reinforced Concrete, MCB Brothers and Jessops Construction.

Paul Waldeck is the founder of Waldeck Consulting and a Trustee of BCGT. He said: “As one of the UK’s leading engineering consultancies, which was founded in Lincolnshire over 20 years ago, Waldeck Consulting are extremely proud to support this prestigious and exciting legacy project at the gateway to the county.”

Setting out of the site was completed by James Turner, senior engineer with Oakfield Surveys. He said: “Opportunities to work on projects like this are few and far between and one that I jumped at to be involved with. My role in this project was to provide site engineering services ranging from positioning the structure through to setting the bolts that will hold the Lancaster firmly in place.

“The sculpture will surely provide an iconic landmark for the region, like the Kelpies and the Angel of the North are to Falkirk and Gateshead respectively. Unlike the other sculptures, the sight of the Lancaster bomber sat proudly on the top of the hill heading back home to Swinderby will allow the thousands of motorists that see it each day the opportunity to discuss, educate, and have their own thoughts on the sacrifice made by the crews.

“I personally have not stopped talking about the project and even spent many hours reading up on this famous aeroplane. This sculpture will act as a lasting tribute for the region that will span the generations and one that I am proud to play my part in.”

John Barker of G S Hughes explained why they have supported the Trust: “As a local, independent aggregate company we are proud of and support local heritage on each of our thirty lorries with the Lancaster bomber, Spitfire and Ruston tank to name but a few painted on the side of the cabs.

“We are thrilled to be associated with this magnificent landmark by donating the subbase stone for the works, which is only a short distance down the A46 from our new Lincoln Headquarters.”

Acast Industrial Flooring have a long working relationship with Jessops Construction and worked with them as they constructed the memorial base, pouring 540m³ of concrete over two days.

“Acast were honoured to be approached to be involved in this iconic landmark project of a full-sized Lancaster bomber sculpture on the A46,” said managing director John Newton. “Acast have completed innumerable unique and individual projects since we were established over twenty years ago but we have never been involved with anything as awe-inspiring as this fitting tribute to all who served in Bomber Command, which it has been suggested will be compared to the Angel of the North.

“Due to the memorial’s location, there were logistical challenges in delivering materials in the required time. However, we have a reputation for being resourceful, proactive and able to respond to any client requirement which was certainly a huge benefit here and I believe one of the key reasons we were awarded the contract.”

With the base now in place, Phase II requires the erection of a steel podium structure around 15 metres high, which will support the aircraft replica. One of Britain’s largest structural steelwork firms, William Hare Ltd, were approached and immediately offered their expertise. Collaboration between them and steel producer TATA resulted in an offer to the Trust which took everyone by surprise: the supply, fabrication, delivery and erection of the podium structure entirely free of charge.

One of William Hare’s project managers, Ady Longmate, is also a Trustee and long-time RAF enthusiast so he will become project leader for this phase and personally oversee the work. Ady is buzzing at the prospect. “I’ve worked on hundreds of important steel-framed buildings over the years but this will be the thing I’ll forever be most proud of,” he said.

“My firm is fabricating the sections already but I have to wait until spring so we can get on site again and start building upwards. I joined the Trust because I have deep friendships with former Bomber Command veterans but I never dreamed that I could show them how deeply I respect what they did for us by forging something so prominent and fitting with my own hands.”

But the Trust still has to raise more funds to set the site up again in the spring and prepare haul-roads on the site to get the steel deliveries in place and the 200 tonne mobile crane safely in place to allow that work to take place. Ken Sadler said that the crane is promised, yet again gratis, from Lincolnshire firm Abba Plant Hire but the foundation is 300m from the road and a stable trackway and platform must be constructed beforehand.

Phase III is then the full-scale Lancaster sculpture itself. This will be in Cor-Ten steel which will develop a rusted patina in time, which requires minimal maintenance. This is the most complicated part of the project and requires a structural steel spaceframe which the team call the “cruciform”. This then has to be ‘fleshed out’ to the finished profile of the aircraft and clad in the skin using a clever combination of construction and aircraft manufacturing techniques.

“This is an exciting challenge – bringing both of these quite different industries together. Success depends on a great deal of CAD work to help fabricators realise the design we created and the engineered solutions produced by BSP in Nottingham,” Ken continued.

“This is where we really need additional expertise and funds. The sculpture will weigh more than 90 tonnes and is a huge engineering challenge. The Angel of the North is 20 metres high, whereas this will be 30 metres high and at a 45 degree angle. Wind loading will be more than the dead-weight with the sculpture acting like a sail.

“We also have the challenge of making it in sections because we simply can’t transport or lift something like that in one piece. The connections required to make it strong in-situ are huge but we only have the internal space within the skin of a Lancaster bomber to do it.”

The Trust would particularly like to hear from any business or individuals who might be able to help with this work or make a donation to help solve these challenges.

The Bomber County Gateway sculpture, to be known as ‘On Freedom’s Wings’ will certainly be an impressive sight on the Lincolnshire/Nottingham border, clearly visible from the A46, tilted on its approach to the runway, returning ‘home’ to RAF Swinderby. The sculpture is not a memorial or a visitor attraction but will have a designated viewpoint with a pull in and information board away from the dual carriageway on Newark Road.

Ken also explained: “Our neighbours from the Hill Holt Wood environmental project are going to help us plant a ‘runway’ of wild flowers and poppies behind the sculpture and install insect hotels as part of their Growing Up Green Scheme.”

Steve Donagain, CEO of Hill Holt Wood, said: “Hill Holt Wood is delighted to be the conservation partner of the Bomber County Gateway project. We feel that it mirrors our ethos of not forgetting the past but also looks to the future with a wildlife and wildflower area created by young people who will learn from what has gone before and who will also benefit the environment from their longer-term vision.”

Meanwhile, fundraising support is coming from more local companies. Fraser Brown Solicitors with offices in Nottinghamshire and Lincoln are organising a fundraising auction as part of a dinner at Hemswell Court on 28th March. Lots will include an original watercolour painting of the two remaining airworthy Lancasters, ‘Vera’ and ‘City of Lincoln’, airborne together and a unique hand-painted sheepskin flying jacket signed by Dambuster, Johnny Johnson. The painting will also be signed by Johnny Johnson. 

If you would like to make a donation to Bomber County Gateway Trust you can do so through their Just Giving page or send a cheque to the Trust at Hill Holt Farm, Norton Disney LN6 9JP. More information is available on their website: bombergatewaytrust.co.uk

No story of motoring or flying history could ignore the achievements of Vera Hedges-Butler.

Her father Frank was a wine merchant who shared his passion for hot air ballooning and later flying with his adventurous daughter. In an era of growing female emancipation, intrepid Vera had already taken her place in the records in 1900 as the first woman to pass a driving test. She travelled to Paris to achieve this, as tests had yet to be introduced in the UK.

While ballooning together with her father and Charles Rolls in 1901, Vera suggested the formation of an Aero Club, similar to one recently established in France for British ‘balloons, dirigibles, and aeroplanes’. The Aero Club of the United Kingdom was created in September 1908 which later became the Royal Aero Club in 1910.

It hasn’t escaped the notice of Sophie White and Ken Sadler that the VN-N serial coding assigned to Avro Lancasters has a marked similarity to Miss Hedges-Butler’s name and indeed the Lancaster of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum is nicknamed ‘Vera’.

The Bomber County Gateway Trust would like to acknowledge the valued support they have received so far from the following companies:
• Jessops Construction: project management and construction
• GS Hughes Ltd: aggregates
• Acast Industrial Flooring: concrete foundation
• Breedon Aggregates: concrete
• Oakfield Surveys: setting out of the site
• MCB Brothers: excavation
• Flying Hire: floodlighting
• William Hare: structural fabrication
• TATA Steel: steel
• Abba Plant Hire: lifting gear
• Midland Reinforced Concrete Ltd: steel fixings

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