More than 18 months of hard work involving 10,000 participants, 250 litres of paint, 50 litres of PVA glue, 100 rolls of double-sided sticky tape, 5,000 cable ties and 1,400 square-yard tiles, came together with the successful unveiling of Mercian Mosaic at the weekend.
The Lower Lawn of Tamworth Castle Grounds was completely taken over by the 70-yard by 20-yard mosaic in one of the most amazing and stunning pieces of community art the town has ever seen.
Mercian Mosaic formed one element of the four-day Aethelfest celebrations, which was a packed programme of activities, talks, guided tours and an academic conference, all marking the 1,100th anniversary of the death of Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, in Tamworth.
Teams of volunteers came out early on Saturday to take on the tricky logistical task of getting the 1,400 individually-decorated tiles laid out in the correct order to reveal the striking overall image for the first time.
Thousands came to the grounds to enjoy the sunshine, admire the mosaic and join in the family activities on offer as part of a Saxon encampment running alongside the event.
Participants of all ages have worked on the mosaic, including school children, sheltered housing residents, church groups and shoppers passing by the base of operations in Ankerside Shopping Centre. The unveiling was the first opportunity participants had to see how their work fit into the overall picture.
This included pupils from St Leonard’s C of E Primary School and their headteacher, Catherine Young, who said: “It was an absolute pleasure to be involved in the Mercian Mosaic project. The children thoroughly enjoyed taking part and it was lovely to see their creativity as they wanted to make our section unique to St Leonard’s by incorporating photos of all the children and our school logo.
“We felt immensely proud coming to see our little section on display in what was a truly outstanding community project. Many of our families visited the mosaic on Saturday and were absolutely amazed at the scale of the project – what a brilliant experience for the children to be involved in.”
It was also the first time the overall design was viewed by Tamworth artist Maggie Carney, who came up with the intricate design and has lived and breathed the project for the past 18 months. Seeing it all coming together successfully was an overwhelming and emotional moment for the former town school teacher.
“What a wonderful day that was! We were all pretty well wiped out at the end of it but....we did it!” Maggie said. Team Aethel, you are the best! Thanks to all our supporters too. Where would we have been without all the goodwill and encouragement that has cushioned us on our journey? Tamworth public - your interest in our local history is inspiring and your enthusiasm to get involved has been truly moving. Well done.
“Aethelflaed has been in my thoughts for so long now and I hope she would have been pleased with what we have done and know, that here in Tamworth, she is forever in our hearts.”
Mercian Mosaic is an ambitious project by Tamworth Borough Council’s Arts & Events team as part of Arts in Unusual Spaces – an initiative funded by Arts Council England which has aimed to inspire creativity and bring art out into the community.
It saw Maggie being commissioned to come up with a design celebrating Tamworth’s rich Anglo Saxon history, and includes its landmark buildings, rivers and people, as well as details such as Tamworth pigs, dragons, fish, the Staffordshire knot and Mercian flag.
At the centre is Aethelflaed, daughter of King Alfred the Great, who played a pivotal role in English history, building a chain of fortifications against Viking invaders throughout the Kingdom of Mercia, including in Tamworth.
All the hard work definitely paid off, as the resulting mosaic in all its glory was appreciated by the people of Tamworth, who took to social media to share their thoughts.
Teresa Reynolds said: “We had a brilliant day and me and my son are feeling proud as we took part in the making of the Mercian Mosaic.”
Josie Adams said: “This was absolutely brilliant. The community atmosphere was amazing.” Marilyn McNally said: “Fabulous. I so enjoyed the whole day,” while Dawn Hinsley Jones added: “It looked lovely. Well done everyone involved.”
Lee Latham, one of a core group of participants, said: “I’ve been working on this for a year alongside Maggie and it looks great to see it all out.”
Mercian Mosaic and the Saxon-themed family fun day formed part of the four-day programme of Aethelfest activities which were organised by a variety of organisations in partnership with Tamworth Borough Council.
These included a Living History event at Tamworth Castle, the Tamworth and District Civic Society Annual Lecture with TV historian Michael Wood, Tamworth Literary Festival talks with archaeologist, writer and broadcaster Martin Carver and a panel discussion with authors Dr Sara Reid, Annie Whitehead, Marianne Whiting and Dr Jennifer Evans. Author Dr Margaret Jones discussed her new book ‘Founder, Fighter Saxon Queen Aethelflaed’ at Tamworth Library.
There was also a special guided walking tour of Anglo-Saxon Tamworth with the Guild of Town Guides and the launch of a new Aethelflaed Ale, ‘Our Aethel’, brewed by Tamworth Brewing Co in Market Street.
Aethelflaed’s part in history is of also great interest to historians, scholars and academics across the world and was explored in depth during a weekend conference which was hosted at Marmion House as part of the anniversary events.
The conference was co-ordinated by scholars from Keele, Chester and Manchester universities and included a packed programme of lectures on a variety of themes around women and political power in Anglo-Saxon Mercia.
Cllr John Chesworth, Tamworth Borough Council’s Cabinet member for Culture and Operational Services, said: “Aethelfest was a wonderful way to mark the end of our activities to celebrate the life of one of the most influential people in Tamworth’s history.
“Mercian Mosaic was certainly an ambitious project, and the end result was absolutely breath-taking and as a town we can be really proud of what has been achieved. A huge well done to all involved in making it happen; it was a tremendous success.
“Although the event is now over, the legacy will live on. We have the amazing sculpture on a roundabout outside Tamworth Railway Station, and the people who have hopefully been inspired to pursue art and creativity after taking part in the Mercian Mosaic project. We have done our best to raise awareness of Aethelflaed and Tamworth’s significance in her story and these amazing activities have hopefully gone some way to promoting Tamworth as a great place to visit.”
Mark Burbidge, centre manager at Ankerside Shopping Centre – which has provided a base of operation for the project – said: “There has been much anticipation for the unveiling of Mercian Mosaic and the final result is a phenomenal piece of art that has exceeded all expectations.
“The sheer scale of it really highlights the hundreds of hours that have gone into this celebration of the town’s heritage. From Ankerside shoppers taking part in the workshops, to the Team Aethel volunteers painstakingly piecing everything together, and Tamworth Borough Council, plus the countless others behind the scenes – this has been a real community effort.
“Maggie Carney and everyone involved should be very proud of what has been achieved and we are delighted this magnificent project has come to hugely successful fruition.”