Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

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Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red
United Kingdom
Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red 9 Aug 2014.JPG
For the centenary of the outbreak of World War I
Established 17 July 2014 (2014-07-17)
Unveiled 11 November 2014 (2014-11-11)
Location 51°30′33″N 0°04′31″W / 51.50912°N 0.07528°W / 51.50912; -0.07528Coordinates: 51°30′33″N 0°04′31″W / 51.50912°N 0.07528°W / 51.50912; -0.07528
moat at the Tower of London
Designed by Paul Cummins
Tom Piper
Total commemorated
888,246 by ceramic poppies
Statistics source: Tower of London Remembers[1]

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red was a work of installation art placed in the moat of the Tower of London, England, between July and November 2014, commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. It consisted of 888,246 ceramic red poppies, each intended to represent one British or Colonial serviceman killed in the War. The artist was Paul Cummins, with setting by stage designer Tom Piper.[2] The work's title was taken from the first line of a poem by an unknown World War I soldier.


The work's title, and Cummins' inspiration for the work, came from a poem by an unknown World War I soldier from Derbyshire, who joined up in the early days of the war and died in Flanders. The poem begins: "The blood swept lands and seas of red, / Where angels dare[3] to tread / ... ".[4] The poem was contained in the soldier's unsigned will, found by Cummins among old records in Chesterfield.[5]

The Tower of London moat, in which the work was set, was used in the early days of the war as a training ground for City of London workers who had enlisted to fight – the "Stockbrokers' Battalion".[5]


The work consisted of a sea of ceramic red poppies, which were individually hand-made at Cummins' ceramics works in Derbyshire,[5] and some at Johnson Tiles in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent.[6][7] The poppies were added to the installation progressively by volunteers.[8] The 497,000 kg of the Etruria Marl-based Etruscan red earthenware used, as well as the majority of the manufacturing equipment and materials, were supplied by Potclays Limited in Stoke-on-Trent [9][10] There were eventually 888,246 of the flowers, representing one count[11] of the number of British and Colonial military fatalities in World War I. The sea of flowers was arranged to resemble a pool of blood which appeared to be pouring out of a bastion window (the "Weeping Window").

Volunteer planting poppies

The first poppy was planted on 17 July 2014, and the work was unveiled on 5 August (the centenary of Britain's entry into the war). A team of about 17,500 volunteers put the poppies in place. The last one was planted on 11 November 2014 (Remembrance Day), by a 13-year-old cadet, Harry Hayes, from the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) of Reading Blue Coat School.[12] After that day a team of about 8000 volunteers began removing the flowers.[13] Members of the public had been able to pre-order the ceramic poppies for £25 each, with a share of the proceeds (estimated at more than £15 million[14]) going to six service charities: COBSEO, Combat Stress, Coming Home, Help for Heroes, the Royal British Legion and SSAFA.[2]

At around sunset each day between 1 September and 10 November, the names of 180 World War I service personnel, nominated by members of the public to appear on a Roll of Honour, were read aloud by a Yeoman Warder, followed by the Last Post bugle call.[15]

Official visits and public reaction[edit]

Reading of the Roll of Honour, to be followed by playing of the Last Post

The installation was visited by the Princes William and Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge on the day of its opening,[16] and by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh on 16 October.[17][18] The Queen later spoke about the memorial in her annual Christmas Message, broadcast on 25 December 2014.

In all, an estimated five million people saw the memorial,[19] and the huge visitor demand saw Prime Minister David Cameron and other politicians join calls to try and extend the period for which the installation remained at the Tower so that more visitors would be able to pay their respects.[20] Cummins and Tower officials resisted such calls, stating that the transience of the installation was a key part of the artistic concept,[21] and that the poppies would be removed as planned and distributed to their purchasers. On 8 November it was announced that the Wave segment – a steel construction with poppies around the Tower entrance – would remain in place until the end of the month, and that the Wave and the Weeping Window segments (both made by the Theatre Royal, Plymouth) would be taken on a tour of the UK, organised by 14-18 NOW, lasting until 2018 and would then go on permanent display at the Imperial War Museums in London and Manchester.[22][23] A campaign was launched in December 2014 to bring the sculptural elements to Stoke-on-Trent during the tour itinerary as the majority of materials and much of the piece itself were manufactured in the city.[6] In April 2016, about halfway through the tour, the Weeping Windows segment was installed at St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney, Britain’s most northerly cathedral, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland, the biggest naval engagement of the First World War.[24]

In recognition of the work, Paul Cummins and Tom Piper were both awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2015 New Year Honours.[25]

Critical reaction[edit]

Although the installation struck a chord with the public, it received negative reactions from some press critics. A. A. Gill of The Sunday Times called it "impressive" but "curiously bland".[26] The Guardian's art critic Jonathan Jones described it as having a "false nobility" and being a "prettified and toothless" memorial. Tom Piper said in response that "... it is a remarkably good thing that it is so accessible. We should not be trying to create something that is difficult to understand."[21]

Detail showing an individual ceramic poppy
Poppies from the display with a certificate in a cabinet at a church

UK tour[edit]

In November 2014, it was announced that Wave and the Weeping Window segments would tour to venues around the UK until 2018. This was organised by 14-18 NOW.[27][23] The scheduled venues were:[28]

Weeping Window[edit]

12 Sept 15 – 1 Nov 15 Woodhorn Museum, Ashington;
7 Nov 15 – 17 Jan 16 St George's Hall, Liverpool
22 April 16 – 12 June 16 St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall
30 June 16 – 25 Sept 16 Black Watch Museum, Perth
12 Oct 16 – 20 Nov 16 Caernarfon Castle
25 March 17 – 14 May 17 Hull Maritime Museum
9 June 17 – 23 July 17 The Silk Mill, Derby
8 Aug 17 – 24 Sept 17 National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff
14 Oct 17 – 3 Dec 17 Ulster Museum, Belfast
14 March 18 – 29 April 18 Hereford Cathedral
23 May 18 – 8 July 2018 Carlisle Castle
2 Aug 18 – 16 Sept 18 Middleport Pottery, Stoke-on-Trent
5 Oct 18 – 18 Nov 18 Imperial War Museum


5 Sept 15 – 10 Jan 16 Yorkshire Sculpture Park
28 May 16 – 4 Sept 16 Lincoln Castle
12 April 17 – 25 June 17 Barge Pier, Shoeburyness
23 Aug 17 – 19 Nov 17 Plymouth Naval Memorial
8 Sept 18 – 25 Nove 18 Imperial War Museum North
13 April 18 – 24 June 18 Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Tower of London Remembers". Historic Royal Palaces. Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "About the installation", Tower of London website. Retrieved 17 October 2014
  3. ^ Some sources give "... fear to tread ..."
  4. ^ "The Will of an unnamed soldier", SSAFA website (contains full text of poem). Retrieved 9 April 2015
  5. ^ a b c "Poppies to fill Tower of London moat in first world war commemoration", The Guardian, 7 May 2014.
  6. ^ a b "Campaign launched to bring the Tower of London poppies to Stoke-on-Trent", The Sentinel, 12 December 2014.
  7. ^ "Johnson Tiles helps poppies bloom at Tower of London", Johnson Tiles website, 5 November 2014.
  8. ^ "The poppies at the Tower of London", BBC News, 7 November 2014.
  9. ^]
  10. ^ "Tower poppies’ debt to the Potteries", The Guardian, 29 December 2014.
  11. ^ Commonwealth War Graves Commission Annual Report 2010–2011 Archived 4 November 2015 at the Wayback Machine.. This includes a table of numbers of war dead (page 45); 888,246 is the figure for identified burials and names listed on memorials, for the UK and colonies (not including dominions).
  12. ^ "Cadet Harry Hayes, 13, plants last of 888,246 poppies in Tower of London moat", The Daily Telegraph, 11 November 2014.
  13. ^ "Tower of London poppies: Volunteers to remove ceramic flowers", BBC News, 12 November 2014.
  14. ^ "Removal of Tower of London poppies 'at halfway point'", BBC News, 19 November 2014.
  15. ^ "Roll of Honour – Submit your nomination". Historic Royal Palaces – Tower of London. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  16. ^ "Kate, William and Harry visit blood red sea of poppies",, 6 August 2014
  17. ^ "Queen visits Tower of London poppy garden", BBC News, 16 October 2014.
  18. ^ "Queen visits Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation", The Guardian, 16 October 2014.
  19. ^ "Tower of London poppies: Final poppy is 'planted'", BBC News, 11 November 2014.
  20. ^ "David Cameron joins plea to extend Tower of London poppies", The Daily Telegraph, 7 November 2014.
  21. ^ a b "Tower of London poppies to be removed as planned on 12 November", The Guardian, 6 November 2014.
  22. ^ "Poppy display segment at Tower of London given extension", BBC News, 8 November 2012.
  23. ^ a b "Tower of London poppies: Thousands to go on tour". BBC News Online. 9 November 2014. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  24. ^ Brown, Mark (22 April 2016). "Tower of London poppies bloom at Britain's most northerly cathedral". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 July 2016. 
  25. ^ "NY Honours for poppy duo, Joan Collins and John Hurt", BBC News, 30 December 2014.
  26. ^ BBC News paper review, 9 November 2014.
  27. ^ "Poppy display segment at Tower of London given extension", BBC News, 8 November 2012.
  28. ^ "Locations – 14-18 NOW". 14-18-Now. Retrieved 11 July 2017. 

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