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  • Writer's pictureLondon On The Ground

Angel Wings sculpture: not just for Christmas

Angel Islington has a year-round 'Christmas decoration' on an epic scale, a play on the area's name and its link to the Nativity story.

Angel Wings sculpture by Wolfgang Buttress and Fiona Heron

Angel Wings is a stainless steel sculpture in the Angel's principal shopping centre. It was created by Wolfgang Buttress and installed by Buttress and Fiona Heron in 2003. It is 15 metres high and 18 metres wide and weighs 12 tonnes (the same as a double decker bus).

Angel Wings and Angel Central's Christmas tree

The artist's website describes the detail of the work:

"Hand-rolled stainless steel tubes are cut at an angle suggesting quills of a feather. Satin, dull, matt and sandblasted finishes capture light in an ethereal array of reflections."

Hand-rolled stainless steel tubes suggest quills of a feather

The sculpture dominates the Liverpool Road entrance to the shopping centre, Angel Central, which is one of the area's busiest locations in the build up to Christmas.

Situated between Upper Street and Liverpool Road, the centre contains several shops and restaurants, a cinema, a nightclub and a crazy golf venue. At its Upper Street entrance, there is a steel sculpted halo, also by Buttress and Heron.

The Halo at the Upper Street entrance to Angel Central

After opening as the N1 Centre in 2002, it changed its name to Angel Central in 2015. This acknowledges its location in Islington's most renowned region - its defining district - the area known as Angel.

Celebrated for its shops, restaurants, theatres, cinemas, pubs and cafes, Angel is a great venue for an outing, especially at this time of year.

Indeed, the festive spirit is steeped into the very name of this quarter of Islington, which is an indirect reference to the angel that heralds Christmas in the Bible.

The origin of the area's name goes back to the sixteenth century, when there was an inn standing in fields at the southern end of Islington High Street, called the 'Sheepcote' (which means an enclosure for sheep).

The sign hanging outside this rural inn depicted the Angel of the Annunciation, the archangel Gabriel telling Mary that she will give birth to the baby Jesus. This scene is the opening chapter of Christmas, as every child that has appeared in a Nativity Play knows.

Because of its sign, the inn was known as the Angel by the 17th century and eventually the wider area took on the name too. It was an important coaching inn on the Great North Road connecting London to Edinburgh, which was also the main cattle droving route to Smithfield Market.

William Hogarth's 'The Stagecoach', thought to depict the Angel Inn in the 18th century. Source: Wikipedia, public domain

The Angel provided accommodation to travellers on their way to and from the City of London a mile to the south. For a long time it was considered too dangerous to travel across the fields into the City after dark without an armed escort, a concern which boosted demand for Islington's many inns.

The construction of the New Road (now Marylebone Road, Euston Road and Pentonville Road) and the City Road in the mid 18th century increased the traffic coming into the area and stimulated the process of urbanisation.

By the early 19th century, Angel was more urban than rural. In his 1838 novel Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens described it as "the place London begins in earnest".

The Angel Inn underwent a number of reincarnations in its long history, most recently in 1903, when brewery Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co rebuilt it as a hotel. That six storey terracotta building still stands opposite Angel tube station, but now contains offices and a branch of the Cooperative Bank.

The former Angel Hotel, now the Cooperative Bank

In 2018, there was a proposal to remove and replace Angel Wings to allow a new footbridge to be built where the sculpture stood.

A 10 year old campaigner, Olivia Gordon Clark, organised a petition and addressed Islington Council's planning committee. Thanks to her intervention, the sculpture was saved by raising it 3.5 metres above the new walkway.

Angel Wings spread high above the walkway

As a result, the sculpture continues to take the shopping centre under its wings. They provide a particularly appropriate backdrop for Angel Central's Christmas tree, lights and market.

Nevertheless, Angel Wings and Angel, Islington, are not just for Christmas.

Angel Wings, one evening in December

I will be leading a new seasonally-themed walking tour of the Angel area, called 'Angel at Christmas', on Saturday 9 December, starting at 2.30pm, which will include Angel Wings and many other local sights and sites. For details and to book a place, please click here.


A second London On The Ground tour for the festive season, A Christmas Carol in the City of London, will take place on Thursday 28 December at 2.30pm. Mainly following the trail of Charles Dickens' character, Scrooge, this walk will also cover other Yuletide themes and include one or two seasonal surprises. For details and to book a place on this walk, please click here.


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