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July 26 2012

Anyone for a night in the Royston Vasey room?

Hotel plans are submitted at last for Bretton Hall in the middle of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. In its rooms, The League of Gentleman was hatched. Would guests ever leave?

It's been a long and sometimes nervous wait, but the hole in the middle of the excellent Yorkshire Sculpture Park looks set to be filled at last.

Never as stark a contrast as its notorious counterpart in central Bradford, the empty space of Bretton Hall has nonetheless detracted from the glories of its park, as visitors stare at the unused 18th century grandeur and mutter about recession.

Now a long-awaited planning application has been submitted to Wakefield council by Rushbond PLC for the large and posh hotel which has been talked about ever since Leeds University's famous extension campus moved out in 2007. The document proposes an initial 77 bedrooms in the grade II* listed Georgian house, with 120 in due course. Alongside it would be 39,000 sq ft of offices, rising to 100,000 if all goes well.

The jigsaw still needs a hotelier or spa operator, or investment company, to make the concept a reality, which will be the acid test of whether economic recovery is sufficient to bring the building back to life. Rushbond's managing director Jonathan Maud is optimistic; the scheme comes fully-detailed and costed by architects, down to the restoration of period features; and the catchment is exceptional: visitor numbers at the Sculpture Park top 350,000 a year and the nearby Hepworth Wakefield has beaten its own first-year target five times, with over 500,000.

Maud reckons that 400 lasting jobs will be created by the business park, looking out over fields dotted with Henry Moores and other sculpture in rolling green countryside less than two miles from the M1. For all the travails since the banking crash, his firm has maintained a track record of delivery over its 25 years, most recently the conversion into shops of restaurants of Leeds' Majestic cinema, famously the home of the longest run of the Sound of Music in history.

Bretton Hall was started by the fabulously wealthy Wentworth family whose palaces Wentworth Castle and Wentworth Woodhouse are behemoth landmarks of South Yorkshire, and completed by the Beaumonts who were also never troubled for cash. But its real glory days came under the legendary reign of Sir Alec Clegg as chief education officer of the West Riding, which turned it into a college. The tradition continued when Leeds University took over in 2001.

Alumni are many and various, with much potential for the naming of suites. All three main protagonists in The League of Gentlemen, Steve Pemberton (1989), Mark Gatiss (1989) and Reece Shearsmith (1990), are among them. A night in the Royston Vazey Room would be unforgettable.


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September 22 2011

The giant of the Dales is best public artwork of the year

You can view it, walk through it, look out of it at either a vast quarry or glorious Nidderdale, and then go have tea in Pateley Bridge

The north maintains its reputation as the home of vast artworks with an accolade for the remarkable Coldstones Cut near Pateley Bridge in Nidderdale.

Part art, part tribute to the quarrying industry which devours the Dales but also employs the Dalesfolk, the mammoth construction by Andrew Sabin has won the PMSA-Marsh Award for the best public sculpture of the year.

The PMSA is the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association and competition for their blessing is usually fierce.

Michael Paraskos, artist, critic and distinguished friend of the Northerner, has this to say about it in a piece for the Epoch Times:

Only by taking to the air is it possible to gain a view of the whole thing, but the point of the sculpture is not to provide a single visual experience. It is to offer a series of ground level encounters that stimulate the senses. Entering the site you are led down a series of stone clad tunnels and corridors, which inevitably bring to mind ancient earthworks and temples, such as Jarlshof in the Shetland Islands or Mycenae in Greece. These open out into ante chambers and ultimately the viewing area over the quarry itself. And like many prehistoric sites, the remoteness of Coldstones Cut adds to its sense of almost sacred mystery.

Despite these obvious associations, one of the refreshing things about Coldstones Cut is the general reluctance to force people to see the work as some kind of tree hugging (or in this case rock hugging) new age experience. It is genuinely pluralistic in its willingness to allow people to take from it what they want. For some it is no more than a stage post on a long distance ramble, while for others it will be an adventure playground for children. And some will undoubtedly see it as an emblem of rebirth and the earth mother as the tunnels take them partially underground and then back into the open air. Whether people see these things or not, for everyone the intention has been to create an aesthetic experience, in the true sense of the word "aesthetic", meaning a sensory experience.

The area up above the Cut, riddled with mineral workings and the odd bleak looking farm, is somewhat spooky. No wonder many who pass that way dive underground into the Stump Cross Caverns labyrith. It never surprised me that the late neo-Nazi Colin Jordan retired there to live in gloomy seclusion.

This year's other PMSA/Marsh winner is Harlow Sculpture Town initiative, in far-away Essex (although I did my eight-week block release journalism training there in 1974, from the Bath Evening Chronicle, and it was very nice).


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