Weeping Window Wows Carlisle
Thousands of people have admired the iconic Weeping Window sculpture which put on a dramatic display at Carlisle Castle over the last six weeks.
The Weeping Window, on display at the castle from 23 May to 8 July, came to the city as part of in the final year of 14-18 NOW’s UK tour of poppies. Over 6,000 ceramic poppies cascaded from the top of the castle keep, arching over the inner ward wall and into the outer ward of the complex, and visitors and locals turned up in their thousands to experience it for themselves.
Kendra Grahame-Clarke of English Heritage explained how the response has far surpassed the charity’s expectations, she said: “We’ve had people coming from further afield and we’ve had a lot of people from the local community – a lot of whom haven’t been to the Castle for years – which is what we wanted, for the sculpture to reignite that interest.”
That interest has also spanned the generations, Kendra continued: “We’ve had a lot of school groups coming and it has really resonated with them what it means. We’ve got over 6,000 poppies and there were 7,000 men who went through the castle; the children understand that, that each poppy represents a person.”
Since 2015 the two sculptures, ‘Weeping Window’ and ‘Wave’ have been displayed in 16 locations of particular First World War resonance. However, Carlisle was unique in that the arch of the poppies appeared in a fixed structure, with no supporting scaffolding behind it. “For me it really brings home the metaphor of the poppies flowing as blood, into the building,” explained designer Tom Piper, who along with artist Paul Cummins, created the original ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ installation at the Tower of London. “What’s really powerful about the piece is the two metaphors that work together; the individual poppy representing a life… but also the poppies en masse as a sea of blood.”
Taking around seven days to install, the structure was entirely handcrafted, with each poppy individually placed and the stem twisted. Although the principles are the same, each installation is unique in its own way, shaped by the building, the location and the people who visit it. Tom added: “I always get very touched by the reaction of the public. People really relate to it and engage in their own family histories and stories. That is what art should do, allow you to reflect and be moved by the beauty of it, but also the message underneath it of the sacrifice and the terrible human cost of war.”
In another first for the castle, volunteers helped welcome visitors and shared their own stories with them over the six weeks. English Heritage, who enlisted the help of over 100 local people, of varying ages, have been so pleased with the response they hope to make it an ongoing thing at the site. “We’re hoping that we can keep that relationship with the local community going,” said Kendra. “It’s been very nice for English Heritage to have that feedback from people who have lived here all their lives.”
Whether in its resonance as a First World War commemoration, or simply it’s beauty as a sculpture and a work of art, the Weeping Window has had a dramatic impact on the city of Carlisle.
Nigel Hinds, Executive Producer for 14-18 NOW, said the project has been incredibly rewarding, “The images from the Tower of London are something that has become iconic with the centenary, so to be able to take that to different parts of the UK feels very special.”
At the end of the tour, ‘Weeping Window’ and ‘Wave’ will become part of the permanent collections at the Imperial War Museums, in order for these displays to remain in the public domain.
Nigel added: “The centenary period will be over, but the importance of understanding the legacy of the First World War will remain. The partners we work with, such as the Imperial War Museums and English Heritage will carry that through, as well as the memories that people have of the work that we’ve done. We won’t be there, but we hope that the impact of our work will be.”