The Cement Menagerie is one of the delights of Northumberland and deserves to be better known.
It was founded by a retired local master joiner, 'Old John' Fairnington Snr in the garden of his house and built with the help of friends from the village: initially, William Collins, and later, James Beveridge (retired from the family firm). Its purpose was said to be to amuse his handicapped son, Edwin but its development may have continued after his death (in 1971, aged 36). Old John himself died in 1981, aged 98, and the garden was taken over by his nephew, John Farrington Jnr, who was also part of the family business. John Jnr died in 1990 and, in turn, left the garden to his daughter.
The models were based on life-size drawings and sculpted in galvanised wire netting, stuffed with paper, then cemented over and painted. The larger models were made in situ.
The garden is still open most days and free of charge, although donations are essential for its upkeep. Sadly the cafe is now closed.
I have taken the liberty to reproduce the following from the last of three A4 sheets displayed in the garden, which give something of its history and ethos. The garden is jam-pack filled with animals of all sizes and types, including human figures, along with many short poems and inscriptions, but above all, memories. Long may it remain to delight and move the visitor.
The Fountain Garden
Epitaph to an Era, April 1981
by John Fairnington Jnr (1922 - 1990)
The gate closed and the last of the old world has gone, what is left but a memory, a chapter hastened on by the sands of time and a whisper from God - maybe.
The wind blows this year's fallen leaves round every corner and moans a forgotten tune round the windows and chimney tops. The ghosts of the past have taken over and flit their merry way between giraffe and hippo, elephant and buffalo and all the minors from rabbit to mouse still looking on. The moon at night crawls over the lonely sky and shines its eerie light over the somewhat now dejected jungle.
To live and watch the end of an era is like a dream floating past and then gone forever. The jungle and animals remain now doubt but life has passed on, leaving those ghosts, the memories and the wind.
We who remain shall never forget, the old has gone but with a promise the new will carry on.
Alnwick web site: Link
The Beasts of Branxton, The Independent, 21 October 1995 Link
Incredible Hulks, The Telegraph, 29 January 2005 Link