New Merlin carving divides opinion – and there’s more to come

Proposed King Arthur statue, Tintagel headland
Proposed King Arthur statue, Tintagel headland © English Heritage / Bright3D

Planning documents reveal that English Heritage is also planning an 8ft statue of King Arthur on the Tintagel site.

English Heritage has unveiled the first of the new artworks it has commissioned that seek to reimagine the legends and history associated with Tintagel across the site it operates on the North Cornish coast. And it has caused a lot of fuss as it has done so.

We wrote the story below about the furore at the weekend, but hadn’t posted it as we were somewhat overtaken by events (our own launch and the tragic passing of John Belham-Payne). Since then, it has been overtaken by events in turn.

The first is that the whole affair has gained a lot more attention and the arguments are being amped up, as you can read just from the tenor of the language of the headline in a piece published on the Telegraph website yesterday: English Heritage accused of ‘vandalism’ after Merlin scuplture at Tintagel Castle causes outrage.

The second is that we decided to have a look at the original planning documents.

Planning application PA15/03150 was filed on 2 April 2015 and is available, along with extensive comments and representations from interested bodies on the Cornwall Council website here. Most of it is innocuous and refers to signage for visitors and benches, but three are potentially contentious.

Proposed Sign No. 7 is the life-sized representation of Merlin’s head craved into the site rock. You can read more about that below (though it is interesting that an environmental impact report lumps this into the same category as the rest of the signage and says  is “considered to have no impact on the SAC/SSSI or other habitats/species of conservation interest; being positioned on hard standing or existing structures/plinths”).

Sketch for Arthur's Sword installation
Sketch for Arthur’s Sword installation © English Heritage / Bright3D

Proposed Sign No. 25 is the replacement of an old bit of signage with a representation of Arthur’s sword, as you can see to the left. It’s not enormous, only 1.2 metres, but it is worth quoting from the planning document which, with some understatement, notes: “Fixing of sword will require to be extremely strong given the likelihood of visitors attempting to remove the sword.”

Arthur’s statue

But it is Proposed Sign No. 22 that might raise the temperature of the arguments at Tintagel further. This is not a sign at all but an 8ft high bronze statue of King Arthur situated on an exposed part of Tintagel Island. As you can see from the picture at the top of the story it’s not a solid mass of ugly bronze, but aesthetic arguments are likely to be sidelined as the row over the site intensifies.

There have been concerns expressed with how to manage increased visitor numbers round this part of the headland too. “Increased tourist pressure in this area may lead to further erosion to surrounding Annex 1 Habitats and could lead to the outcrop being devoid of vegetation,” states the Assessment of Interpretational Elements Ecology Report.

The possible creation of set pathways to the sculpture could mitigate that. But, ahead of the unveiling of the rest of the signage and the remaining artistic installations later on this year, it is likely that the debate will continue. This was our original conclusion to the piece about the Merlin sculpture, which still seems relevant:

It’s fair to say that reaction across social media to the new sculpture has been mixed even just amongst Pagans and divides pretty much along the lines you would expect; some aghast at the desecration of what they feel is a sacred space, others enthusiastic at the depiction. Whatever your personal opinion though, it does highlight the sensitivity of many of our shared and ancient public spaces and the importance of creating a dialogue between the Pagan community and those that own and operate them.

Merlin carving divides opinion [original piece]

Merlin carving: Tintagel
Matt Ward with the Merlin carving: Tintagel © Pirate FM

English Heritage has unveiled the first of the new artworks it has commissioned for its Tintagel site: a carving of the sleeping face of Merlin emerging from the rock and awaiting the return of King Arthur situated down by the entrance to Merlin’s Cave on the beach.

As Pirate FM details, the new carving (which is roughly life-sized and nowhere near the Mount Rushmore dimensions that some pictures have tended to suggest) is the work of local craftsman Peter Graham.

Matt Ward is English Heritage’s Property Manager at the site. “It’s quite organic,” he says, speaking to Pirate FM in the video you can see below (which also shows Graham working on the installation). “We didn’t want anything that looked too stylised; this is almost morphing out of the rock.”

More new cultures and installations will be unveiled at the site in the late spring, just before the region’s tourist season kicks into high gear.