Plymouth-made parts of the Tower of London ceramic poppies sculpture will be the last to go

PUBLISHED: 13:15 09 November 2014 | UPDATED: 13:15 09 November 2014

The ceramic poppies at the Tower of London. Photo: Sonia Wilkinson

The ceramic poppies at the Tower of London. Photo: Sonia Wilkinson

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Parts of the ceramic poppies installation at the Tower of London which were created in Plymouth are to stay in place until the end of November

The ceramic poppies at the Tower of London. Photo: Sonia WilkinsonThe ceramic poppies at the Tower of London. Photo: Sonia Wilkinson

They must be glowing with pride at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal production workshops, where some of the vital structures that form the remarkable Tower of London ceramic poppies installation were built.

The workshops at the theatre’s production and learning centre TR2 were responsible for some of the dramatic elements of the artwork which has drawn huge crowds to the Tower.

They include The Wave, a steel construction which engulfs the entrance to the Tower with a cascading wave of poppies and the Weeping Window, a steel construction of poppies cascading from a window on the top floor of the Tower – giving the effect of the window ‘crying’ poppies.

Moving a steel structure into place at the Tower of London. Photo: Brendan CusackMoving a steel structure into place at the Tower of London. Photo: Brendan Cusack

It’s been announced that these will be the last pieces of the artwork to be removed, so people will be able to see them until the end of November.

A third structure called Over The Top, which sees the ceramic poppies flow over the top of the wall of the Tower into the moat, was also created at the TR2 workshops in Plymouth.

The handmade poppies were attached to the steel structures in Plymouth before being driven by lorry to London and craned into the Tower under cover of darkness.

Craning in a steel structure at the Tower Of London. Photo: Brendan CusackCraning in a steel structure at the Tower Of London. Photo: Brendan Cusack

They were assembled in the early hours of the morning in time for the first visitors at the Tower to catch an early glimpse of the installation.

Entitled Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red, the installation is the work of ceramic artist Paul Cummins, from Derbyshire. Each of the 888,246 poppies represents a British and Commonwealth death during WW1.

Seb Soper, project manager at Theatre Royal Plymouth, said: “It’s been a fascinating project to work on.”

Steel construction in the TR2 workshops. Photo: Guy ChanningSteel construction in the TR2 workshops. Photo: Guy Channing

He told Devon Life that it became apparent at an early stage that the sculpture was going to create a huge amount of interest.

He said Theatre Royal chief executive Adrian Vinken had been on holiday climbing a remote Russian mountain and seen a news report about the installation on local television there. That was the point it became clear that the artwork was being recognised globally.

Then a few weeks ago a colleague visiting London decided to go to see the poppies during his lunch hour – but was forced to turn back after a tannoy announcement on his tube train warned of the long queues to get to the Tower.

Poppies in the sun. Photo: Guy ChanningPoppies in the sun. Photo: Guy Channing

He believes the significance of the piece – marking the centenary of the start of the First World War – and the sheer scale of the sculpture have contributed to the extraordinary public response.

Brendan Cusack, workshop manager at Theatre Royal Plymouth said: “This has been an incredibly rewarding project to work on, although putting the structures in place at the Tower of London wasn’t an easy task.

“The Tower of London was built to withstand battles with a moat that is not easily accessible for obvious reasons. Coupled with this, we were faced with adverse weather and had to work around a thunder storm. We may not have been met with arrows from the battlements, but it did feel like we were being met with lightning bolts instead!”

The ceramic poppies at the Tower of London. Photo: Sonia WilkinsonThe ceramic poppies at the Tower of London. Photo: Sonia Wilkinson

So should the sculpture have ended on November 11 as originally planned before public pressure forced an extension?

Seb said: “I think if the work ended now that would be good because it would punctuate the piece. But if it does stay longer that would not be a bad thing either.”

It seems the Theatre Royal workshops are very good at keeping secrets because they were also entrusted with building the set for this summer’s Kate Bush live performances.

The ceramic poppies

The artwork is the creation of ceramic artist Paul Cummins, who was inspired after reading a poem by an unknown soldier called: The Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.

Mr Cummins and a team of 35 artists worked to create the poppies – which vary from 1ft to 2ft in height – in a studio in Derby.

The setting was done by stage designer Tom Piper, who has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

The poppies were on sale from the Tower of London website for £25 and have now sold out. 10 per cent of the price and all net proceeds will go to six service charities: The Royal British Legion; the Confederation of Service Charities (COBSEO); Combat Stress; Coming Home; Help for Heroes; SSAFA (formerly the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association).

Each of the 888,246 poppies represents a British or Commonwealth death during the conflict.

More than 8,000 volunteers worked to plant the poppies in the moat. The final poppy will be planted on 11 November with work to begin dismantling the artwork due to begin the next day.

After the sculpture is removed from the Tower some of the poppies will be taken on a tour of UK cities, it has been announced.

And Seb revealed that after the live shows ended the stage set was not broken up. So where is it? He laughs: “I can’t tell you that, or I might suddenly disappear in the night…”

The two commissions put the workshops in the unusual situation of being very busy at a time when the theatre was dark, but not being able to tell people why.

Now the workshops are busy again, but this time it’s not secret – they are creating the set for the forthcoming production of Elf.

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