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Friedrich Engels back home in Salford

A colossal sculpture depicting Marxism co-founder Friedrich Engels will take centre stage outside a new £55m campus in Salford to inspire the next generation of artists, musicians and performers.

Engels’ Beard – a five metre tall sculpture of the social philosopher – will also double up as a climbing wall for visitors when it is unveiled as part of the University of Salford’s futuristic New Adelphi creative arts building.

German radical Engels, who founded Marxism with Karl Marx, lived and worked in Salford in the 19th century, witnessing widespread poverty in the city’s slums.

His experience formed the basis of his famous work The Condition of The Working Class in England.

Engels and Marx, who went on to write The Communist Party Manifesto, were also said to have regularly drunk together in the Crescent Pub in Salford, which is actually an urban myth.

The Red Dragon as the Crescent pub was originally called wasn’t licenced until the 1860’s, Engels and Marx used to meet at Chethams Library and have a drink on Deansgate, Manchester in the 1840’s.

The innovative sculpture shows the social scientist’s head and distinctive large bushy beard – also allowing people to climb to a viewing tower.

New Adelphi, which opens later this month, includes a 350 capacity theatre, two large TV acting studios, six industry standard recording studios, 12 performance studios, 14 instrument tuition rooms, a 100 square metre band practice room and roof terrace.

As well as providing cutting edge facilities for up to 4,000 students, a programme of major public cultural events is also being planned.

Professor Allan Walker, Dean of the University of Salford’s School of Arts and Media, said: “Friedrich Engels was one of the most significant and influential figures to have lived in the city of Salford, and so it’s entirely fitting that a major sculpture in his honour should be here.

“I hope it will serve as a reminder to our students about the important role that this city played in shaping the world while also inspiring them to go on to do great things themselves.

“Our brilliant New Adelphi building also marks another major step for Salford and the University as a genuine centre of excellence for arts and the creative industries.”

The University Art Collection commissioned Salford-based arts production company Engine to produce the work, and the project was led by artist Jai Redman.

The piece, which is made out of fibreglass, was conceived and carved at Engine’s studio in Greengate, Salford.

Engine then teamed up with climbing wall manufactures Entre-Prises, based in Irby near Colne, Lancashire, who fabricated the sculpture.

Children from Clarendon Road Primary School in Eccles were also involved in the project, visiting the studios, taking part in a tour of statues across Salford and Manchester, and designing their own beard sculptures.

The sculpture sits on a specially designed bed of pea gravel, providing a cushioned landing for anyone using the climbing wall, looking over a newly-created amphitheatre.

Engine, part of a growing and ambitious community of artists and makers working in Salford with partners such as the University of Salford, The Lowry, Islington Mill and Salford City Council, teamed up with Entre-Prise to demonstrate that ambitious ideas can be realised in the North West between artists and manufacturing companies.

The production company has recently developed ArtWork, a studio and exhibition space which houses more than 80 artists and makers, in Greengate with support from Renaker Build.

Artist Jai Redman from Engine said: “I’d been intrigued by the idea of setting up a statue of Engels, ever since reading about a proposed plan to bring one over to Manchester from a former Eastern Bloc country in the 1980s.

“That scheme clearly never happened, but ever since hearing about it, I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to realise this idea, but it’s only now been made possible. This was never going to be a traditional statue – we wanted to be as playful as possible while paying homage to Engels’ huge influence.

“That’s why Ian Brownbill, Simon Chislett and myself focused on his impressive beard and – as people inevitably climb on pieces of public art – we chose to also design this as a climbing wall that anyone can enjoy.”

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SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.