'Temporary' Iron Men of Crosby Beach celebrate 18th anniversary

Words and video report by ITV Granada Reports correspondent Ann O'Connor

The famous Iron Men who look out from Crosby Beach on Merseyside have come of age.

They're celebrating 18 years on the sands, even though they were only intended to make a temporary stop off on the North West coast.

It had been planned Sir Anthony Gormley's work, called Another Place, would travel to destinations all over the world.

Just like the Irish and European immigrants they depict, the Iron Men were intending to go somewhere else but stayed on Merseyside.

Sir Anthony Gormley described how the sculptures, cast from his own naked body, were representative of the 12 million people who passed through Liverpool in the 1800s to go west to the United States, or onto parts of Europe and Australia.

"Liverpool was the setting out point for many, many immigrants going to America, and that's the direction they're looking West, looking to the horizon and beyond it," he said.

ITV Granada Reports correspondent Andy Bonner spoke to him when his installation was opened in 2005

At Liverpool's maritime museum they have a particularly evocative exhibition of the exodus from its shores.

I spoke to its head Ian Murphy about the part Liverpool played and how that has shaped its attitude.

"Between the 1850s and the 1920s around 12 milion people emigrated from Liverpool," he says.

"Most go onto the United States and Canada, others would stop in Europe or go on to Australia, but many would stay in the city and make it their home as well."

On modern Merseyside the men are credited with providing a peaceful place to reflect and take time out from stressful lives.

It is an aspect understood by Sam D-Auvin who uses the inspiration of the area in workshops provided by his charity The Jacob Billington Trust.

It was set up after the murder of his friend Jacob Billington, a 23 year old fellow musician from Crosby.

He was murdered in Birmingham by a paranoid schizophrenic in 2020.

Sam spent many happy hours on Crosby beach in the company of the famous statues.

Jacob Billington was stabbed to death in a park in Birmingham in 2020

He told me how the beach and the Iron Men have inspired him in keeping Jacob's memory alive by helping other young artists in Crosby.

"Jacob lived in Crosby and we spent many hours, sometime in night time 'extra curricular activities' on the beach," he said.

"It's comforting to come here, you can't help but reflect and it helps me feel closer to Jacob."

So 18 years on, the Iron Men have become part of the history and the future of the area.

The children of St Nicholas' Primary school nearby use them to learn about the environment, history and in their art classes.

They paid a special trip to the beach to wish their metal mates a Happy Birthday.

The children of St Nicholas' Primary with special Birthday message Credit: ITV News

Their head teacher Becky Woods says the sculptures play a vital role in early education.

The installation needed a little help to stay put in 2021 after it was discovered several had fallen from their perches!

An operation to restore and clean them, and replace the structures that kept them straight in shifting sands, saw Sir Anthony Gormley himself return to his work.

Those repairs will see them stay where they are for another 25 anniversaries.

The children of St Nicholas primary may well be bringing their children to see them.