Sheffield wire mill fighting cheap European imports commissions Winston Churchill sculpture

A SHEFFIELD wire mill has a new “man of steel” outside - a bigger than life size sculpture of Sir Winston Churchill.

Sculpture of Sir Winston Churchill by Mark Irwin
Sculpture of Sir Winston Churchill by Mark Irwin

The sculpture featuring the great man, cigar in his mouth and raising his hat in welcome, is the work of Pocklington sculptor Mark Irwin, who was commissioned by Peter and Matt Robinson, the owners of DR Baling Wire at Oxspring, which supplies his wire.

Lately a subject of controversy - Churchill’s statue was defaced during London’s BLM protests - Mark, who served 36 years in the Royal Navy, says it wasn’t a political move. “I’m not a political person. But he saw us through the war - what other person would have been able to do that? Like him or not, many of his speeches are as inspirational today as they were then.”

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Peter Robinson says he is a “great admirer” of Churchill’s fighting spirit explaining that his firm, which makes baling wire , is now one of the last in the country.

Sculptor Mark Irwin who makes sculptures out of wire pictured at his workshop at Pocklington Picture: Simon Hulme

He said: “Most of the English wire industry has collapsed through cheap imports. I feel we are connected in a way - he was fighting a European invasion and we’re fighting hugely subsidised imports out of Europe. We are trying to adopt Churchill’s principles of never giving up.”

Mark’s second career sculpting began after he left the Royal Navy and was looking for something different to do. He tried his hand at a one day course making an owl out of chicken wire and knew instantly it was for him. Using his background in engineering and metal working, he quickly made progress, switching to steel and stainless steel wire and taking on more complex projects.

Fortune smiled when his first customer at the RHS Harlow Carr show in 2019 was Alan Titchmarsh who brought one of his display pieces, a peacock standing on a gate. Since then he has been doing commissions, mainly of animal and birds. The sculpture of Churchill has been his most challenging yet - unlike most of his subjects which fit in the back of the car, Mark had to bring in a removal firm to move him around.

Churchill stood around 5ft 6ins, but Mark used his own slimmer 6ft 3ins frame for reference and spent around 300 hours on the piece mainly using 2mm mild steel wire from the Robinsons’ mill. His head and hands are made from stainless steel wire from wire mill of Ben Turner, Wint Wire, which is located in the same valley.

A bull's head made by Mark Picture: Simon Hulme

Mark’s work means he spends hours on his own, going “from initial enthusiasm through frustration and onward to elation and relief” when the client is happy with the work. He said: “I get totally engrossed in work – once you are in the groove time just evaporates. Work is relaxing and tiring all in one.”

It involves research, sketches and a scale drawing in chalk, used as a template to make a steel framework for larger pieces. When finished, Winston was carefully lowered into a bath of molten zinc at Humber Galvanising in Hull. Danny Egan of DSE Paint Works did the paint finish.

The Winston sculpture outside the offices of DR Baling Wire at Oxspring Picture courtesy Mark Irwin
His commissions mainly involve animals and birds Picture Simon Hulme
His first customer at the RHS Harlow Carr show in 2019 was Alan Titchmarsh Picture: Simon Hulme