This year’s focus on raising awareness of Tamworth’s Lady of the Mercians, Aethelflaed, has been inspiring artists to represent the legendary Anglo-Saxon warrior and her story in a variety of creative new art forms.
The most noticeable and striking of these is of course the new six-metre tall statue of Aethelflaed which has been hand-sculpted by artist Luke Perry and installed on a roundabout outside Tamworth Railway Station, to point visitors to the town centre.
Other new modern interpretations of Aethelflaed have been created by highly-acclaimed Midlands’ cartoonist Hunt Emerson, Lichfield illustrator Leah Speight and Tamworth artist Sue Verity, among others.
Award-winning cartoon illustrator, Hunt Emerson, has added Aethelflaed to the list of historical characters he has depicted with a quirky drawing of our Anglo-Saxon ruler that he has shared with the people of Tamworth.
Hunt has been drawing cartoons and comic strips since the early 1970s, has published around 30 comic books and albums and illustrates for countless magazines and comics, including The Beano, Fortean Times, Radio Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Lichfield-based artist and illustrator, Leah Speight, worked with Tamworth Borough Council’s Arts & Events team on a new piece of doodle art, which tells Aethelflaed’s story in an interesting and engaging way. It is hoped the doodle art video (coming soon) will help introduce the Lady of the Mercians and the part she played in Tamworth’s history to a wider audience.
Tamworth artist Sue Verity has also been inspired to paint Aethelflaed, with an image based on a stained glass window at Worcester Cathedral. Her painting was displayed at the front of St Editha’s Church during a national service of remembrance last week, marking 1100 years to the day that Aethelflaed took her last breath in Tamworth.
The service was attended by hundreds of civic dignitaries, historians, authors, TV personalities including four cast members of The Last Kingdom, which is based on the story of Aethelflaed and her family, and HRH Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.
The service also included the unveiling of a new stained glass window of Aethelflaed within St Editha’s Church. Although there are windows depicting key events from the town’s Anglo-Saxon history, it is the first window in the church which shows Aethelflaed, yet it was Aethelflaed who rebuilt the ancient monument in 913. The building was dedicated to her niece Editha and Aethelflaed would have worshipped at that site all those years ago.
The new window was gifted to the church by David Biggs and his sister, Susan Biggs, in memory of their parents Norman and Mavis, who were devoted to Tamworth and its church. It was designed by Robert Paddock of Heart of Glass.
Aethelflaed will also feature at the heart of Tamworth’s largest ever piece of community art, which has involved thousands of people from across the town joining together to create a huge Mercian Mosaic, under the guidance of well-known local artist, Maggie Carney. All 1,400 pieces of this mosaic will be brought together for the first time during a huge, live unveiling in the Castle Grounds on Saturday, July 14.
Some of these new images and interpretations of Aethelflaed will now serve as a lasting legacy for future generations to admire, be inspired by and ask questions about this character and the part she played in our town’s history.
Tamworth has been celebrating Aethelflaed for many years and these new creative interpretations are by no means the first.
In 2015, hundreds of Tamworth people worked with industry experts from the nationally-acclaimed, award-winning Motionhouse performance company to put on a huge outdoor spectacle which told the tale of Aethelflaed through an original score, dance and art.
‘Tigress’ was created and directed by Motionhouse artistic director Kevin Finnan MBE, who was also choreographer and movement director for the Paralympic Games
The performance included the unveiling of a huge knitted Mercian flag, worked on by hundreds of Tamworth residents, and a stunning stained glass window design of Aethelflaed on fabric. This was made by volunteers and clients of the Tamworth Wellbeing and Cancer Centre, in another project led by Maggie Carney.
There are also other examples of Aethelflaed symbolism to look out for around the town. These include the Victorian statue of Aethelflaed and her nephew Aethelstan, at the foot of Tamworth Castle. This was erected in 913 to mark 1000 years since Tamworth was fortified by Aethelflaed. Although the castle came later, Aethelflaed’s defences would have helped identify the site where the castle now stands. She is depicted with her nephew because she raised him for a time in Tamworth and he later went on to become the first king of a united England.
You may also have spotted the Aethelflaed stained glass window in Ankerside Shopping Centre, the mosaic adorning the walls of the Activity Centre in Tamworth’s Castle Grounds, or indeed Ethelfleda Road in Wilnecote (Ethelfleda being the Victorian spelling).
Aethelflaed played a pivotal role in English history by building a chain of fortifications against Viking invaders throughout the Kingdom of Mercia. Daughter of King Alfred the Great, Aethelflaed’s accession as a female ruler has been described as one of the most unique events in early medieval history. She died in Tamworth 1100 years ago, on June 12, 918.
Cllr John Chesworth, Tamworth Borough Council’s Cabinet member for Culture and Operational Services, said: “It’s wonderful to see that the story of Aethelflaed continues to inspire art and creativity, even 1,100 years later. She is an important figure in Tamworth’s history and was one of the people who helped shaped not only Tamworth, but also the England, we see today. If you look around the town, you’ll see that Aethelflaed symbolism pops up in a variety of places over the years.
“There is a lot of focus on Aethelflaed this year, as new research and information about this remarkable woman is coming to light all the time. The various events and celebrations we have been planning, together with this rich new artwork, all helps to raise the profile of Aethelflaed, and indeed Tamworth as a place, and we hope it all serves to attract more visitors to our great historical town.”
To find out more about Aethelflaed and the four-day Aethelfest taking place to celebrate her life this summer, visit www.aethelflaed.co.uk. If you are aware of any other Aethelflaed artwork or symbolism throughout the town and would like to share it with us, please email Communications@tamworth.gov.uk.