Soul II is installed at Arnos Vale

Soul II was installed and officially unveiled at Arnos Vale last week as part of their 175 Years’ Anniversary celebrations. It was a lovely sunny day, and lots of people turned out to support Arnos Vale – by the end of the day the donation box, which is an integral part of the sculpture, was nearly full.

Soul One on display Blaine WAWhen I first began working on Soul I, it was a stand-alone piece, simply called the Soul of Youth, inspired by my son. There was only a vague inkling in the back of my mind that there might be more “souls” in the future. Now here I am, with Soul II sited in Arnos Vale Cemetery, in a prime position just by the café.
And this is how it happened…
I’ve been volunteering at Arnos Vale for about 2 years, helping with keeping the vegetation under control and repairing some of the headstones. I was approached by Juliette who asked me to put some suggestions together for designs for an outside donation box to be sited by the Café Whisk. I put forward several ideas and was delighted when the Trust chose Soul II. It’s really great when someone wants you to realise a design that has such a strong personal meaning.


Cutting first profileThe sculpture, which represents a soul in full flight, has been likened to a whale’s tail or a butterfly in shape. It was carved at my home and was one of the largest pieces I have sculpted in my workshop to date.
I have limited lifting equipment at home and so I had to build the banker (the workbench) under the stone itself. We had to jack up one end of the stone, put blocks under the other end, then move to the other end and repeat the process until the block was high enough to work on in comfort.

Soul II carved waiting surface finishWorking the under sideTemplates of the end design were applied to the stone. This helps me to work the shape efficiently by quickly removing most of the excess stone. Once I’d got the basic shape I could start carving. As I get close to finishing I took the stone outside as it always looks different in sunlight. The natural light highlights the areas that need more attention.




Block being collected from Bath Stone Group mineJust off the sawThe design for the base to Soul II was trickier than the sculpture itself. Initially I didn’t have a clear idea of the base or how it would relate to the sculpture. The form gradually evolved over time; dependant on the aesthetic shape best suited to the wing shaped form and also the practical element of leaving enough stone to support the sculpture without compromising its ability to withstand the winter weather.

The stone for the Cairn plinth was collected by Andy, Bruce and myself from friends at Bath Stone Group. Nigel helped roughing out the raw block, which we did using a large saw called a frig bob. This is a beast which is not for the faint hearted, and entailed a lot of effort and considerable amounts of sweat. We drilled holes into each end of the plinth for fixing and lifting.

Developing the basic shapeNigel Bryant lending a helping handThe plinth was worked to look like a Cairn, a pile of stones used as a marker for a boundary or for a grave in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. The work on the plinth took a full week, including carving out and fitting the donation box, fitting 2 plaques and wrapping it up securely for transporting to Arnos Vale. Pelleted and wrapped for transport


carved to represent a CairnPlynth wirh donation box and plaques being fittedWrapped and ready for transport and instalation


Bruce & Nick unloading the vanThe van that Arnos Vale had very kindly hired to transport the plinth arrived on a sunny Wednesday morning and the transporting and unloading went well. We laid down boards to protect the laid slabs and carefully manoeuvred the pallet and plinth up the gentle slope to the site at the front of the café.

Prepping the liftPrior to installation there had been a site survey, which had revealed an interesting vault underneath the patio of the café. After some investigations of Arnos Vale’s collection of plans and drawings, this was found to be part of the original Victorian cremation operation. It has since been closed off as it now has bats in residence and these have to be protected. A structural engineer was consulted about the permitted loading on the site and luckily a steel beam was found conveniently placed underneath the proposed site of Soul II. The proposed site was safe; it looked good to us, and Arnos Vale confirmed it looked good to them too.

The fixing hole was drilled between slabs, as per our prior agreement with Arnos Vale, to ensure the sculpture could be moved with minimum damage to the York stone patio slabs.

Plinth in placeI laid carpet all around the work area to protect the site and keep the tools and materials tidy. It may look a bit surreal, but it keeps mess and tidying up to a minimum.

DSCF0950The trickiest bit of the fixing process was to get the plinth off the pallet and into its final position. We used a 2 tonne engine crane at full reach with a Lewis pin on top of the stone. We slid the stone to the edge of the pallet to get the crane in the best position for lifting, and hauled the stone up a few inches, enough to get the pallet out. This is a really nerve-wracking moment, when the finished work is left dangling. We then laid down the mortar, positioned the stainless steel bar and Bruce lowered the stone. Thank goodness it was in a good position and I guided the stone into place. After the stone had landed we were able to tidy up the joint and breathe again…

A few finishing touchesAt this point I took a break to talk to BBC Radio Bristol, and if you listen (via the link below) you can hear how nervous I was. I still can’t bring myself to listen to the interview.
The next part of the installation was put on hold as there was a funeral scheduled. Bruce and I used this time to grab some lunch and pick up Soul II from home.
When we got back we fixed Soul II in position with internal stainless steel bars and mortar. The only thing left to do was to clean up (I like to leave a place as tidy or tidier than when I arrived) and to admire our work. The sun was out, Soul II was in place and I was really happy with the day’s work and how well the sculpture sits in its surroundings.


Mary Prior unveiling Soul II at the Garden Party 27th July 2014 Testing the donation box, needs lots of testing if you are ever passingAgain we were treated to a lovely sunny day; speeches were made, cake was eaten and we celebrated the 175th anniversary of the first burial at Arnos Vale. The lovely Mary Prior unveiled Soul II and lots of kind words were said about it. The sculpture and the collecting box will hopefully have a long-lasting effect, as a way of raising money to secure the future of the site. The days events raised £5000.

Finished sculpture installed

Thank you’s

Its difficult to know where to start because I had lots of help from lots of lovely friends, so here goes….

  • Bruce, husband and technician, designer of stainless steel, plaques and general dogs body.
  • Arnos Vale for this unique opportunity to place work in this amazing and ever developing space, thanks Nick for your driving skills and the team for you kindness.
  • Bath Stone Group, Elaine and team for stone and always supporting me.
  • Man with a large van that collected stone from mine, thank you Andy from light weight tool hire.
  • Nigel for tools, expertise and donation of time to help me finish the plinth on time.
  • Bath College and colleagues for supporting me especially Daisy for attending the unveiling.
  • And finally my son Daniel who is a constant inspiration to me.


BBC Radio Bristol Interview
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