The Woodland Trust has done a wonderful job of creating new woodlands around Langley Vale below Epsom racecourse and turning them into a First World War memorial. A field of 12 standing soldier sculptures by Patrick Walls, called The Regiment of Trees, were installed between 2017 and 2019.
I photographed this artwork in 2020 and was planning to return to the site at a later date to photograph a giant 20-ton wooden sculpture by John Merrill, which was to be installed when COVID-19 allowed.
I had liaised with John for a year or so hoping to get to see the actual arrival, but suddenly realised in late 2021 that the monster sculpture – originally named Copse, but now re-christened Witness – had arrived.
I went round to shoot it and found it surrounded by a temporary fence, sitting in a very muddy and wintery-looking location. Like the soldiers had originally been, the base of the sculpture was left bare and open so you could see concrete and support blocks.
I remembered that when I had photographed the soldiers, Patrick Walls had specifically asked me to fill in the concrete bases on Photoshop as volunteers had been unable to return at that point due to coronavirus. It made sense to me to see them sprouting from the earth and I was sure that Witness would have been intended to look like it was growing naturally.
I resolved to go back when the fences were removed and with Art UK pressing for completion, visited in December 2021. The weather was not great, and the field looked very bare, quite unlike the June day in 2020 when I had photographed the soldiers surrounded by oxeye daisies. I did a few snaps but agreed with John Merrill that they would not go to Art UK.
2nd January 2022 proved to be a lovely crisp day, so I went back to Langley Vale and did the shots, which John loved, but I promised to go back in June and shoot more with the daisies.
The bases around the sculptures have not yet been filled in but I'm tempted to go back one midnight with a shovel and do it myself.
Perhaps, as they are building a car park and permanent paths to the monuments, I will one day find the base filled and a path running through Witness for visitors. I really hope so. The big daisies are now in bud, so I will venture back in a few weeks and see what it all looks like then.
Mike Longhurst, FRPS, Art UK Volunteer Photographer