Derbyshire artist’s poppies to fill moat

IMG_8206%20-%20mid%20ressmallerThe moat of the Tower of London will soon be filled with the amazing sight of almost 900,000 ceramic poppies to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War.

It will be turned into a sea of red, with one poppy for each of the 888,246 British and Colonial soldiers killed during the war – and all of them will have been hand-made in Derbyshire.

The installation, called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, is the inspiration of Chesterfield artist Paul Cummins.

Paul says he took the title from a will made in the trenches by an unnamed soldier from Derby.

“I read through an archive of wills and came across one written by a man who said everyone he knew had been killed,” he said.

“He wrote of ‘blood-swept lands and seas of red, where angels dare to tread’. It read like a poem and it just seemed to fit.”

The logistics behind the massive project were obviously complicated but Paul, an art graduate from the University of Derby, likes to do things on a grand scale and is not afraid of a challenge.

His floral ceramics were part of the London 2012 celebrations and also used as a tribute to Princess Diana at her final resting place on the Althorp estate in Northamptonshire.

Having secured funding from the Derby Enterprise Growth Fund, Paul took over an empty warehouse on an industrial estate in the city, installed huge kilns, ordered tons and tons of clay and recruited a team of 50 or so potters.

Each poppy has been individually designed and is unique as Paul and his helpers, many of whom are local artists themselves, are using only techniques available to potters during the First World War.

Getting the poppy-red glaze perfect was challenging, but Paul’s expertise is glazing and he has made it his raison d’etre to get it right.

Each flower will be attached to a rod that will be pushed into the ground.

Olivier Award-winning theatre designer Tom Piper and 150 volunteers will install it in two weeks ready for the opening on August 5.

There will be 50 poppies per square metre, across 16 acres of moat and Paul says the site of the installation is particularly fitting because it was where young men went to sign up for the frontline at the start of The Great War.

A mound will also be created in the moat from which the Last Post will be sounded at dusk every day, preceded by the reading of a selection of names of those who died.

Relatives will be able to request that the name of their ancestor is read out on a particular day so they can be there to pay their respects.

Each of the poppies will be available to buy for £25 once they have been taken down in November. If all of them are sold it will raise £15 million to be distributed between six armed forces charities including Help For Heroes and the Royal British Legion.

Details of how to buy poppies can be found at http://www.hrp.org.uk.