English Spring Figures


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Own a piece of this epic machine! Each unique character has been hand carved and painted by Paul Spooner. It was made in 2019 as a response to divided opinion and disappointment in England. They are between 16-20cm (6-8″) tall and stand on a wooden disc. They have been individually signed by Paul.

The majority of the 100 figures were claimed as rewards for our crowdfunding campaign to open a Mechanical Making Space in Hastings. These are the final pieces.

Scroll down to read Paul Spooners thoughts about the design and making of The English Spring.

The English Spring

In the years leading up to the British referendum on leaving the European Union, it was not humanly possible to judge what the results of such a disconnection might be. Nevertheless there were plenty of humans who claimed that they knew and they were eager to give their advice.

Flip charts of economic algebra, photos of invading foreign hordes, spite, resentment, complacency, wishful thinking, Utopianism, Dystopianism, alternating truths; all these were paraded before the electorate, pushing their accumulated feelings to a near dead heat. All this complexity had to be boiled down to a binary result and the country settled for the foreseeable future into two camps: the Leavers and the Remainers. In scenes reminiscent of Swift’s Little Enders and Big Enders, angry Leavers and Remainers blamed each other for every ill before and after the vote. Families were divided, opinions ossified and what was a resentful little country has become even more resentful and noticeably littler.

I had a discussion with Keith Newstead at an art exhibition. He told me that he was going to change from making machines in his usual way and do something very big to satisfy an ambition he’d had for a long time. I said I was also on the verge of doing something enormous (for me) that was about Brexit. Keith’s masterwork was up and running in what seemed like the twinkling of an eye, probably a few weeks- mine took much longer, probably a year. The wondrous Gormenghast is currently on show at Falmouth Library; The English Spring is now in several hundred pieces, some of which will shortly be distributed to donors who took part in Cabaret Mechanical Theatre’s recent crowdfunder.

There were always going to be one hundred figures in the English Spring machine. The figures would separate into two blocks, one of 52 the other of 48; the proportions in which the people voted in the referendum. Without counting it’s not clear which is the bigger and which the smaller block. As the blocks separate, each faction turns away from the other in a mass shun. Music plays on a primitive organ and between the separated parties banners stretch out bearing a message attributed by James Ensor to the exceptionally horrible Leopold II of the Belgians: ‘What do you want? Aren’t you happy?’

Deciding to make 100 figures is something one can do in a moment. Then it becomes a feat of time-management and perseverance. I made 100 heads first, usually getting a couple, sometimes more, done in a day. Then I made bodies to fit the heads. I tried to represent different sizes, shapes and ethnicities with limited success. I don’t have a good record in that area; I once made a piece that was meant to represent all of animal creation but clean forgot to include the birds. When I was feeling confident and sportive I elaborated some of the figures by giving them things to hold: a cat, a toy clock, a yellow statuette, a Scotch egg. I mounted them on plywood turntables so that they could shun through 90º. When they were all joined up I painted them, keeping the amount of blue pigment to a minimum. That was to preserve a certain chromatic coherence.

The 20 organ pipes were made from an architects’ drawing table. An airtight chest of solenoid valves controlled by a MIDI program distributed air from a blower to each pipe. I was given a large number of MIDI tunes by a fair organ enthusiast. They are mostly upbeat American Railroad tunes. Matthew Robins wrote a special piece that started off as a traditional Morris Dance tune: ‘Shepherd’s Hey’. It morphed into ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’, which some will remember from the film Cabaret.

The splitting apart of the framework and the turning away of the two groups of people is accomplished by electric motors and relays. They receive signals from the MIDI system to tell them when the music starts and ends.

As the machine was to be coin-operated, I thought it would be fitting to provide two coin boxes- one for Remain, the other for Leave so that another sort of vote could be carried out when the coins were counted. I didn’t get around to that. There was only one box.
Paul Spooner September 2023

An early design:

Our mission is to promote engineering and creativity through workshops, exhibitions and automata kits.

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