BLACKSMITH FORGES FREEMEN’S GIFT TO THE CITY
Working in his forge in the Durham Dales, 70-year-old Brian Russell has taken several months to design and complete the project. In the early spring he will see his towering steel “Platinum Beacon” fired-up for a hand over ceremony on its permanent site on Jubilee Walk, adjacent to Durham County Hall.
Standing 19 feet-high and weighing in at half a tonne, the structure has been commissioned and funded by the city’s freemen, with the county council meeting the cost of its installation as part of a wider project to improve footpaths and public access to the lofty site.
Brian, born in Framwellgate Moor, attended a local primary school before going on to the Durham Johnston School where he took a keen interest in art and design. After the award of a fine arts degree by Sunderland College of Art he set his sights on an apprenticeship as a blacksmith but at the time few forges were operating in the area and none were looking for an apprentice.
In his single-minded determination to learn as much as he could about metalwork he attended evening classes at both the Johnston and St Leonard’s schools, at the same time urging the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas to help.
Finally, in 1974, the small industries council asked him if he would be interested in taking over the 200-year-old old forge at Little Newsham near Staindrop and it was there, over the following decades, Brian developed the talent which has put him at the forefront of his craft. He has demonstrated his skills at exhibitions across Europe, the United States and Canada
In 1995 he was one of the few blacksmiths in the north east to be awarded a silver medal for the excellence of his work by London’s Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths and is currently the only working blacksmith in the country who holds their gold medal.
Brian and his wife Hilda, who hails from Sherburn Hill, have two children – Ivan who has worked in the forge alongside his dad for the past 20 years - and daughter Amy, a nurse based in Wigan.
“It is the first time I have been asked to produce a beacon and it’s been a project I have taken a great deal of satisfaction from. I still get a thrill when I ride around the county and am reminded of work I carried out 40 years ago, particularly on churches, which I have often forgotten about,” he said.
John Booth, Chairman of the Wardens of Durham Freemen’s eight surviving craft guilds said the project had been originally inspired by the Freemen to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
“We hope the beacon will be seen by the public as a fitting and lasting tribute to Her Majesty’s reign, the legacy of the Freemen, the outstanding skill of a local man and a reflection of the quality and value of many thousands of the city’s craftsmen who have gone before across the centuries,” he added.