Chris Knight’s ‘Embrace’ sculpture at Stonebridge Beck signals the next chapter for heritage site as a contemporary community
A poignant new large-scale public artwork by Chris Knight at Stonebridge Beck in Farnley, Leeds, has been unveiled at an official ribbon cutting ceremony led by Rachel Reeves, Labour MP for Leeds West and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The artwork celebrates the industrial heritage of Stonebridge Beck – home to the Grade II listed Stonebridge Mills which was once a key part of the fabric of the textile industry in the city – and marks a new chapter for the site as a growing residential community.
Standing at almost 6 metres high, the striking sculpture, titled ‘Embrace’, has been created by Yorkshire-based metalwork sculptor Chris Knight, whose previous work includes the spectacular steel ‘Cutting Edge’ sculpture outside Sheffield train station. It was commissioned by Leeds-based property investor Rushbond, which specialises in repurposing heritage buildings and is transforming this this long derelict and much-loved Leeds landmark into a new neighbourhood, breathing new life into existing mill buildings to create 112 new heritage homes and contemporary houses.
The new sculpture sits at the gateway of the 10-acre scheme and features a reclaimed historic pump wheel found in the original mill building, framed by an enormous hand-crafted stainless-steel arch made by specialist steel and special metals fabricator, Steel Line, in Sheffield.
Reflecting on the work, Knight said: “From the start, the Rushbond team and I knew we wanted to use some of the incredible pieces salvaged from the ruins of the mill to create something heartfelt and reflective for the people who live in the area. This includes those who have been part this community for generations and who may have very personal connections to the mill, as well as the new residents putting down roots here. The pump wheel is the perfect emblem of the industrial heritage of this place – recast for a new generation who can enjoy it as a work of art. The stainless-steel arch offers a modern frame for the piece, and combined the elements embrace the past and future of Stonebridge Beck.”
Stonebridge Mills, which dates back to the early 1800s when the water-powered woollen mill, was a focal point of the local community and it continued to be in industrial use for around 150 years before falling into disrepair. Many architectural features of the original buildings including the old wagon boiler, the oversized cobbles from the original entrance and the mill pond, a crucial part of the wool finishing process, have all been carefully incorporated into the new residential community.
Speaking at the celebration event, Rachel Reeves MP said: “It is a pleasure to be here today to be part of the unveiling of the sculpture at this fantastic development. Across my constituency, we see the history of our region and our city’s industrial heritage at sites like Stonebridge Mill. For too long, many of these locations have remained derelict and dilapidated, and it is so refreshing to see the culmination of all the hard work that has been put in on this site. Not only does the development sensitively incorporate the site’s heritage, but also provides good, high-quality homes for its residents.”
The sculpture, and the wider community being created at Stonebridge Beck, embody Rushbond’s considerate approach to placemaking. The company aims to bring spaces to life using art and creativity, and Rushbond has commissioned a number of public artworks at developments across its portfolio. These include the 6-metre tall ‘Steeped Vessel’ sculpture by artist Ian Randall at Brewery Wharf and the eye-catching ‘Where the heart is’ neon artwork by Tim Etchells on the exterior of the Algernon Firth student accommodation building in Leeds.
Georgina Maud, Arts and Creative Lead at Rushbond, said: “We’d like to thank all the partners, stakeholders and members of the local community who came here today to mark this special moment in the story of Stonebridge Mills. We believe that art contributes in so many positive ways to the built environment. It wakes you up. It transports you into another world, or in this case, another time, whilst also helping you to live in the moment whilst engaging with it. Most of all – it can reinforce and celebrate what makes a place feel special – and Chris has created something really beautiful which does just that.
“This development has been a labour of love for Rushbond, a journey over the last 7 years to ensure we were creating a place that was sensitive to its past – but that would also sustain its future. This work perfectly embodies this, and we hope it will be enjoyed by everyone who lives, visits and passes by Stonebridge Beck for many years to come.”
Stonebridge Beck is now an authentic waterside ‘heritage village’ consisting of new homes created within the fabric of the mill itself, as well as complementary heritage style new build cottages situated on the central axis ‘Bobbin Row’ and a number of handsome mews houses, family homes and represented mill workshops.