December 01, 2008

John Fairnington, The cement menagerie


 picture by Andrew Curtis 
licensed under Creative Commons
Branxton is a village in the north of England, not far from the border with Scotland. It had one of the few sculpture gardens by non-professionals in the U.K. 

Life and works

This art environment was created by John Fairnington (1883-1981), a master-joiner who had his company in Branxton. During most of his working life he apparently was not creatively active at all. However, in 1961, when he was almost 80, he began making sculptures for his garden. 

The story is that he did this just for the amusement of his son, who -because of a fall from a staircase-  had a cerebral disorder and who was not cared for in an institution, but stayed with his parents.

Fairnington probably has been inspired to start this creative project when someday, on a trip out of town, he visited a garden with sculptures and thought that he could make sculptures as well.

With the help of a former colleague, James Beveridge, about 300 sculptures have been realized by applying cement over wire-netting, which would give the garden it's name Cement Menagerie.

The sculptures depict all kinds of animals, famous personalities, and so on, probably just the items and scenes Fairnington thought his son would appreciate. 

After John Fairnington died in 1981 at age 98, the garden was inherited by a number of charities and bought back by a nephew and a niece, who loved the site and continued the care of the garden.

Currently the garden is cared for by the next generation: Samantha Fairnington Brattisani and Joseph Brattisani, who in 2020 were interviewed by David Clegg in the context of the (new) website The Keepers Project. They told David that they were no longer able to take care of the site due to health problems.

In 2021 the sculptures were auctioned and acquired by Ayton Castle, in Scotland. 

Located in Scotland not far from Branxton, this castle is a popular site for weddings and other parties and already has facilities to amuse visitors (such as a narrow gauge railway). The owners of the castle are pleased with the purchase, as the second generation after John Fairnington is pleased that there is a new home for the now 60-year-old ensemble of sculptures

Documentation, more pictures
* article in newspaper The Independent, October 1995
* article in newspaper The Telegraph, January 2005
* article (September 2010) on website Gardeners Corner, with documents and pictures
* article in weblog Way through with you, October 2012, with pictures
* article (2015) on SPACES website

Video
* Video by Rayko1uk, can't be embedded here, but can be seen on YouTube, (11"14', August 2018)

first published December 2008, last revised April 2022

John Fairnington
The cement menagerie
Branxton, Northumberland, North East England,  UK
open daily from Eastern until the end of October

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