Friday, 11 September 2009

#6 Beehive yourself

‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness’ is the legend that appears beneath the corporate logo of Lyle’s Syrup and Treacle. It is hard today to think of any advertising agency who would allow the image of a bee colony in the rotting corpse of a dead lion and a turn of phrase that might be considered a bit ‘pulpit’ to be considered as a brand image and survive in post… but times have changed.

There is in fact a long tradition of bees in marketing. Bees are ‘productive’ and ‘well-organised’. They make sweet food out of flowers and they pollinate plants. We call them ‘workers’, ‘soldiers’, ‘drones’ and of course they have a bit of royalty! In naming them we transfer an image of our own society to them along with recognition of our own values, systems and hierarchies as if to say that they are like us and we are like them. One big happy family where everyone knows what they are doing. The image of bees has been a metaphor for productivity in commercial hands to an extent where it is almost a part of the language of corporate communication. It should of course be obvious to anyone that we are nothing like bees.

It is no co-incidence that it was for a long-time the corporate symbol of the Co-operative society. Bees and people bonded together in a virtuous cycle of production and exchange. A symbiotic relationship in which status is exchanged between the parties…Producers and consumers. Obviously I’m a bit unclear on what it is exactly that we as consumers put back into this relationship!

Perhaps bees are also a metaphor for social stability and I wonder if this was behind the choice of a beehive as the corporate logo for Paton and Baldwin former owners and developers of the Lingfield Point site.

The brand is now owned by coates crafts so I’ve called to ask them what its origins were and I’ll add to the blog if and when I hear back.

Paton and Baldwin was created by the merger in 1920 of two companies founded in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries based in Alloa and Halifax. The two brands ‘Paton’s Rose’ and ‘Baldwin’s Beehive’ survived and you can buy Patons knitting products now (They are emblazoned with a beehive). If you don’t believe me look it up!

At Lingfield the legacy of this brand is still felt in the naming of buildings. ‘The Beehive’ is the former theatre building. Now let as offices to among others, the naafi, a mezzanine has been constructed in the former auditorium to provide office space but the proscenium arch is still visible and the glorious plaster cartouche that emblazoned the hall has been restored beautifully. There flanked by the masks of comedy and tragedy the beehive corporate logo of Paton and Baldwin graces what was formerly a theatre venue.
Perhaps too there is something slightly transgressive or at least indulgent about bees and honey. We know when we eat it, that like Winnie the Poo, we are gluttons spoiling ourselves but that our greed could come at a terrible price as the swarm seeks revenge. Am I going too far? Think about this the next time you are asked for your nectar card!

In China, where agricultural practices are different to those relied on in the west, pollination is often done by hand which in view of the colony failures happening now might well become part of our future in agriculture too. The huge road trains that drive bee colonies around the Midwestern states are in commercial trouble. The Bees are dying… This forms part of that group of stories around our changing ecology which is such an important component of our current cultural and media environment. It is clear that when we talk about bees we are quick to find a moral narrative - isn’t that odd?

Bees of course know nothing about all this nonsense! (A.) They can't think and (B.) the only symbiotic relationship they have is with flowers.

People are nothing to them.

John and I first started thinking about bees when an architect called Joshua Bolshover presented a competition entry to Tees Valley Arts and Middlesbrough Council for a treatment of the ruderal verges of the A66 in Middlesbrough around the Cargo Fleet interchange in which he proposed bee keeping as an urban farming project which could feasibly be carried out on a trunk road. We were encouraging this line of thinking which is to say we had written the creative brief in a way that allowed a design response about productive urban landscape, but didn’t dare suggest livestock and hadn’t thought of bees! Bees he suggested would cause no damage to moving vehicles and there would be no need for fences and so on. He devised an elaborate ‘toolkit’ for verge maintenance to include hives as part of a suite of outdoor furnishings together with interpretation and of course wildflower planting. He called his proposal A66 nectar! It was a great idea beautifully expressed, exquisitely designed and although it won him an interview it didn’t get picked because (A.) it wasn’t a thing on a roundabout by an artist and (B.) it would probably have been too much trouble and for some other reasons that (er) I just can’t get into here. Anyway it was a fantastic proposal and he deserves a plug so check him out at

From this point on Beekeeping became a subject of interest. My next door neighbour keeps bees and makes honey and I’ve had a good neb about at them and all the kit that is involved. She charges £4.00 for a jar which is a bit rich considering that it is probably made from our flowers.

We are thinking about letting someone else keep bees in our garden (but what happens if the kids get stung?) and various artists have mentioned it. Olaf Nicolai for example once spoke to me about his commissioned designs for hives from various architects and there is a great project currently going on in Liverpool with artist Kerry Morrison for the New Heartlands area. Bees and bee mythology are clearly ‘on trend!’

When the first Futurescope was going up we were looking at the land in front of the Power House where a significant quantity of subsoil from the construction of the new road was being dumped/stored. (Road traffic engineers never think about what to do with the waste produced by their ‘designs’ and they don’t want to pay £6.50 a ton for landfill if they can avoid it! So with poor fertility and no established sward of grass we suggested that it might form a good growing medium for either wild-flowers or Sunflowers (but we were too late with this idea).
I am suspecting now that Eddie Humphries site manager at Lingfield is possibly not grateful for this suggestion because all did not go well… The scattered seed was immediately eaten by the wretched pigeons that live in the Power House. When it comes to ecosystems it’s a dog eat dog world. However, now that summer is drawing to a close the wildflowers are in bloom and (except for the places where they been eaten) they look beautiful. There is a broad mix of cornflowers, poppies and daisies and plenty of butterflies too.

There is another intervention as well - for Lingfield Point is branching out into beekeeping for real! The first three hives are installed at a top secret location on site (I have to say this for security reasons) and there are plans to produce and sell the honey. To which end the grounds team (Aka Willy) has kitted himself out with beekeeping gear, gloves, meshes, smokers (which make them drowsy) and has been reading up on it. Watch this space.
There is a magic in the incongruity of beekeeping on an industrial site but it is a fact that the brown-field is a haven for wildlife and part of a productive landscape whose potential for development needs to provide for and respect living things.

Christian Barnes
August/September 2009

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

#5 A walk with John Grindley on the 19 August and some other thoughts.

We have been thinking about the people who work at Lingfield Point for the October/December 2009 Futurescope image. At one point when we were doing the Sunflowers we discussed the idea of working with a group of people who work on the Lingfield site. We had thought about asking them to stand around in a circle and taking a photo looking upwards so that the picture would look very like the sunflower picture. Who works at Lingfield is very interesting. A few of Lingfield’s people have worked there for a very long time.

I described the idea for the image to Marchday’s people and they suggested I ask John Grindley to show me round.

John Grindley’s family has worked at Lingfield Point for three generations. John’s Grandfather was clerk of works on the build after World War Two. His father was the Chief Engineer and John works as part of the Lingfield Security Team.

It’s an understatement to say that he knows the place well. He knows it like the back of his hand and then he knows some more about it.

That concept of long service is something that I really have not got any experience of and it’s a tragic that it’s so hard for people to work this way now sustaining a commitment to a place for such a long time and that’s not to say that John was sentimental.

I described the idea for the picture to John and asked if he could think of good locations to stage it. I drew him a quick sketch of the Beatles ‘Please Please Me’ album cover as a starting point.

He suggested looking at the soap dock lift. The Soap Dock is the first building that faces you as you drive in from the east on the new road. When Paton and Baldwin’s ran the site this is where the fleeces would be delivered, sorted and according to their grade sent to the right floor. Like a lot of the old interiors at Lingfield it is brilliantly painted in blue and yellow which the flash on my camera made more vivid.

We moved on and John showed me the vast network of underground tunnels (miles of them) whose job was to carry services and steam around the site conditioning the atmosphere and giving the right humidity in different places to maintain the right level of moisture in the wool in the factory floors above.

John described in detail the electric vehicles used in the passages and explained the expansion pipes, and fittings. He explained that this control of humidity is what had made the site attractive to Rothmans and that after wool production had ceased tobacco became the new business on site with the steam from the power building and turbine hall being piped around like a giant humidor.

The conversation has changed my understanding of the site. Like anyone who looks at it from the outside it looks like a collection of buildings to me but from the labyrinth below it looks like a machine clad in brick curtain walls.

We stopped at a bay where he pointed out a chalked up inscription ‘END OF THE LINE 1978’. It marks the spot where the last batch of wool was stored before going up to the factory above. He regretted that someone had brushed over it and that a little bit of history had been lost.

As we walked about underground exploring I couldn’t help feeling that the whole place was like the kind of air raid shelter that people had turned the London Underground into during World War Two and it was then that he said something that astonished me. He said that as Clerk of Works his Grandfather had been involved in the specification of the buildings in 1949. The factory site had been constructed to withstand bombing. These tunnels would have been available to workers and nearby residents as bomb shelters in the event of attack and were designed with this secondary purpose in mind and that the whole factory was also designed to be used for the manufacture of munitions and aeroplanes in the event of war. Its proximity to the air base that is now Durham Tees Valley Airport was key to this. He said that during World War Two it had been understood that the impact of bombing on the Axis powers had been to reduce their industrial output to a point where they could no longer maintain their war effort. This had informed the layout of the buildings and open spaces on site. They were placed and engineered to withstand, contain and deflect explosions.

Lingfield Point could have withstood direct aerial bombardment and maintained production.
This was part of the performance specification to which the original designers had worked.
The design of Lingfield Point can be directly linked to the Cold War period, which is obvious but I just hadn’t thought of it that way.

I have always felt that from the outside Lingfield Point looks a little like a cross between an air force base and a holiday camp! But everything about the building has a quality to it. The brick is an engineering grade with an unusual fleck in the surface and hard to break. The finish is high quality but as we had been looking at the unused air conditioning plants and the interiors (We had come out of the underground passage and onto the mezzanine floor of the turbine hall.) something else really struck me - the confidence of the builders and the energy of the 1950’s. The specification of the interior materials is lavish. The mezzanine of the turbine hall for example is laid with terrazzo and the walls are part tiled with an elegant Italian ceramic tile while the paint schemes are pastel blue coloured with strong accent colours in red and ochre.

Nothing here was sorry for itself when it was made!

If it looks like a wartime base on the outside on the inside it is as lavish as a Hillman car with two tone paint job and white walled tyres… I’m even wondering if there are interior designers who specialise in Power Stations!

John said that it was deafening when the turbines were running and he explained the use of now discarded pieces of equipment in supplying the national grid. There is nothing there now other than the odd pigeon and the hum of the still operational substations. It is like standing in a library.

I remember being told how much it cost to supply the coal for the boilers that ran the turbines (Of course now that I’m writing up my blog I can’t remember how much exactly it was but it was either thirty or fifty thousand pounds a day at least it was a lot of money and if anyone wants to put me straight on the exact figure email Lingfield and I’ll update it!)

As John Kennedy and closed the door on the building today after location shooting John said that it felt like we had been in a building that was built as a temple to energy. Energy and particularly sustainability issues are a big theme in our work and have a lot to do with our ideas for Futurescope.

I think a lot of people in Darlington will know this place and perhaps that those that don’t would be interested in what is on the inside. One thing is certain the buildings need showing to people somehow. As well as being about people working at Lingfield and the changes that are afoot we want the next image to show the inside on the outside.

Christian Barnes
9 September 2009