Charles Hadcock - the internationally-renowned sculptor from Samlesbury
PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 October 2015
An old Lancashire paper mill is home to one of Britain’s most exciting sculptors, writes Olivia Assheton. Main photography by Kirsty Thompson
Charles Hadcock’s laid back style and laconic sense of humour belies a powerhouse of hard work, originality and craftsmanship. It’s a drive every bit as forceful as the River Darwen that thunders over the weir beside the old paper mill that forms his base in Samlesbury.
This internationally-renowned sculptor has no fewer than 12 major works dotted around London - truly monumental pieces reflecting his keen interest in geology, engineering and mathematics. They are enriched by references to music and poetry.
One of his most well-known structures – Torsion II – described as a ‘stairway to the stars’ and cast by Coupes Foundry in Higher Walton, near Preston, is on permanent display at Canary Wharf tube station while the iconic Passacaglia, a giant iron edifice, delights visitors to Brighton beach.
After studying fine art in London, Charles moved to Preston in 1999 with his Lancashire-born wife and family but he certainly doesn’t confine himself to sculpture. He is a winner of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion, he sits on the council of the Royal Society of British Sculptors and was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire in 2014. Charles has also created an environment to help nurture new creative talent.
It’s a mark of his ability that he has exhibited alongside some of the country’s leading artists and sculptors including Anthony Gormley, Damien Hirst, Sir Anthony Caro, Philip King, Bill Woodrow, Nigel Hall and Lynn Chadwick and sells to many well-known international institutions, names and celebrities.
He uses only the best materials for his sculptures in iron, aluminium, bronze and a special nickel bronze alloy that he has created himself that can be patinated and polished. He is constantly improving his techniques in collaboration with his suppliers.
There is often a cross fertilisation between the artist and the engineering world creating a celebration of the ordinary process, craft and manufacturing skill. ‘A company called Centurion in Leyland can do powder coating with a lovely pearlescence – it’s very expensive but worth it,’ he said. ‘The cast aluminium I use is hard anodised in Darwen to withstand conditions on North Sea oil rigs so, like bronze, it will last 1,000 years and not rot away. I like to think of that as a legacy.’
His reputation is such that he no longer accept commissions. ‘I only create works that I want to do. There are too many artistic provisos in modern art commissioning but I continue to collaborate with specific clients who are advised properly by an art consultant or a professional curator.’
Charles creates these wonderful organic, abstract works from start to finish with the help of ‘fantastic’ local craftspeople including GM Technical who make many of his moulds and Summit which does his welding. ‘Why would anyone look anywhere else for technical support when there are such amazing skills and innovation right on the doorstep?’ he asks. Charles will only use Lancashire-based companies for all his back-up including 3 Man Factory in Preston, which is run by UCLAN graduates, for his social media and marketing.
His support for small and specialist local businesses led to him purchasing, in 2001, a run-down Preston building to create ‘The Watermark’ on Ribbleton Lane. An innovative mix of office space and artists’ studios, it was designed as a creative hub and community to incubate a mix of up-and-coming and established designers in the city and was soon followed by ‘The Benchmark’ next door as a base for Lancashire’s creative industries.
Just after moving north, Charles and his wife Camilla re-established Roach Bridge Tissues by the River Darwen at Samlesbury (Camilla’s family owned the mill until the 1980s) and they now print luxury tissue wrapping paper for high street shops plus an impressive customer list including Disney, Fortnum and Mason, Fenwicks and many more. Buy anything small and expensive in this country and the chances are it will be wrapped in Roach Bridge tissue paper.
This is now the only remaining working mill on the River Darwen and the couple have set their sights on developing it further, taking advantage of the infrastructure already in place.
The adjacent weir, which is believed to have been created in the 1770s with Sir Richard Arkwright as its consulting engineer, has been restored as a hydro electricity generation plant which supplies power to the whole complex and allows everything produced on site to have truly green credentials.
Charles, who was born in Derby 50 years ago, has a long-term development plan for the historic mill which includes a multi-occupancy office building and further workshops and industrial units. The most exciting recent creation, though, is the new exhibition space I am talking to Charles in which has been carved out of one level of the old mill building. As well as providing a fantastic showcase for his work, he intends it to be a new facility for Creative Lancashire, including round table discussions described as ‘Conversations in Creativity’ and special events which will include a fashion shoot for UCLAN students.
Hadcock is a passionate national and international ambassador for Lancashire, pointing out that many of the creative Industries are unable to afford London rents now and the big dealers there are struggling.
‘We are only two hours and ten minutes from London and I want people to know that you can have an international art career in Lancashire and be proud of it.’
With over 21,000 people in Lancashire directly employed in the creative industries, and probably the same again associated with them, Creative Lancashire, which is funded by Lancashire County Council, wants to draw attention to the importance of this as an economic driver for the county, bringing together often very small companies to share experiences and benefit from networking. The Board and Council are keen to highlight their sustainability and encourage the business acumen of Creative Industries, making sure they are promoted and rewarded properly for what they do so well.
With Charles Hadcock at the helm, there is a every chance they’ll do just that.