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Play Sculpture

A Grade II Listed Building in Acocks Green, Birmingham

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Latitude: 52.4408 / 52°26'26"N

Longitude: -1.8349 / 1°50'5"W

OS Eastings: 411322

OS Northings: 282549

OS Grid: SP113825

Mapcode National: GBR 6GQ.SX

Mapcode Global: VH9Z4.4XV8

Entry Name: Play Sculpture

Listing Date: 9 February 2015

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1423375

Location: Birmingham, B27

County: Birmingham

Electoral Ward/Division: Acocks Green

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Birmingham

Traditional County: Worcestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): West Midlands

Church of England Parish: Hall Green The Church of the Ascension

Church of England Diocese: Birmingham

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An abstract children’s play sculpture of c1960 by the sculptor John Bridgman (1916-2004).


An abstract children’s play sculpture of c1960 by the sculptor John Bridgeman (1916-2004).

MATERIALS: constructed of a metal wire frame covered and shaped in concrete, and finished with lightly coloured metallic paint (now mostly peeled off).

The sculpture is set on a tubular shaped concrete base and stands in a large rectangular shaped concrete slab surrounded by grass. It resembles a fish with a tail, with a hole to the centre to encourage children to climb through. The tip of the tail has broken off (2014).

SETTING: the sculpture is situated in a Scandinavian style landscape and playground for three blocks of flats dating from c1959-60 designed and planted by the landscape architect Mary Frances Mitchell (1923-1988) for Birmingham City Council.


John Bridgeman (1916-2004) trained at Colchester School of Art and after completing his studies was accepted at the Royal College of Art in London in 1939. However, due to the outbreak of the Second World War the start of the academic year had been postponed and staff and students were eventually evacuated to Ambleside in the Lake District where they remained until 1945. However, Bridgeman returned to London in 1941 to volunteer in the Heavy Rescue section of Civil Defence in Fulham. After the War he was mainly undertaking unskilled work, but on receipt of the Sigismund Goetze Grant for Painting, he was given the opportunity to establish himself as an artist. In 1947 he returned to the RCA with a scholarship and graduated in 1949, having studied under Frank Dobson and John Skeaping. In 1950 he was appointed as Acting Head of Sculpture at Carlisle School of Art. Subsequently he was Head of the Department of Sculpture at Birmingham College of Arts and Crafts from 1955 until his retirement in 1981. Bridgeman made many bronze and cement sculptures, including a relatively large number of public commissions, which range from the figurative and intimate, to more disturbing mutant heads and playful works. One of his best known works is the Madonna for Coventry Cathedral. An obituary published in The Independent in 2005, states that Bridgeman was one of the first sculptors in Britain to work in fibreglass, plastics, concrete and cement fondue, and was a pioneer in new forms, who gained his reputation entirely outside the ‘conventional circuit of London-based commercial galleries, which he deliberately eschewed’. Recently his work has been catalogued and extensively researched as part of the exhibition ‘Landscape to Sculpture: John Bridgeman’ held at Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum (2013).

The play sculpture in Curtis Gardens, was one of a number of abstract and semi-abstract play sculptures for a number of post-war housing estates in Birmingham, commissioned between 1959 until the mid-1960s by the landscape architect and pioneering children’s playground designer Mary Frances Mitchell (1923-1988) on behalf of Birmingham City Council. Bridgeman and Mitchell were inspired by playground design and play sculptures developed in Denmark and Sweden in the 1950s.

In 1961, in a small article for the Journal of the Institute of Landscape Architects, John Bridgeman states: ‘Sculpture, with a capital S, has until now seemed – from the child’s point of view at least, a remote, “arty” grown-up aberration associated with vast, resounding, slippery-floored museums, usually roped off from young, meddling fingers, or at best intimidatingly labelled “Do not Touch”.

At that time Bridgeman worked in his studio and garden in Ufton. For his play sculptures he created a welded frame upon which cement was built to create the shape, or he made a clay sculpture from which a plaster mould was taken which was then filled with concrete, or a combination of the two. Most were then finished in metallic paint. Like the play sculpture in Curtis Gardens, Bridgeman mainly used abstract animal shapes, such as birds and fishes, aiming to encourage children to explore form and movement through their own interaction with the pieces. Although the play sculptures were widely appreciated, there was divided opinion amongst adults: the bird sculpture at the Millpool Hall Estate (now no longer there) was nicknamed the Squawker, referring to the squalling of the children as they climbed and argue who shall stand on it next. Bridgeman’s other play sculptures, at Kents Moat Estate (Sheldon), Hawkesley Farm Moat (Longbridge), the Lyndhurst Estate (Erdingtron), the Firs Estate (Castle Bromwhich, Solihull), the Wimpey Flats (Oldbury), Nechells Green (B’ham 7) and the Bangham Pit Estate (B’ham 31), have all been lost, and the one at Curtis Gardens is believed to be the only one surviving.

Reasons for Listing

The children’s play sculpture of c1960 by the sculptor John Bridgman (1916-2004) situated in Curtis Gardens, Fox Hollies Road, Acocks Green, Birmingham is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Rarity & date: it is a rare example of a 1960s play sculpture that has survived in its original location;
* Aesthetic merit and artistic interest: it is an unusual and good quality abstract play sculpture;
* Historic association: it is the only surviving play sculpture by John Bridgeman, a nationally renowned sculptor, produced for Birmingham City Council, working closely with the landscape architect and playground designer Mary Mitchell;
* Historic interest: it is an interesting example of a 1960s children's play sculpture reflecting pioneering ideas on post-war playground design in England;
* Contribution to public realm: it makes a positive contribution to the contemporary housing landscape for which it was designed.

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