November 2020.

A playground in Hounslow is scattered with some very strange debris. Children run around finding arrows, pomegranates, fragments of a medieval map and a horseshoe or two. What on earth happened here? The children buzz with ideas. Back in the classroom a painting is slowly revealed piece by piece on the whiteboard.

This was the introduction the children of Beavers Community Primary School had to The Battle of San Romano, painted by Paulo Uccello around 1438. Every year The National Gallery runs their Take One Picture competition for schools, and in this covid year, a picture depicting a fight between two forces seemed particularly apt.

In Year 3 the children were fascinated by the armour the soldiers wore, noting that the pleated metal looked, ‘a bit like an armadillo’ and ‘a woodlouse’. We looked at animals who have their own inbuilt armour; exoskeletons, and pretended to be thorny devils. The children examined a replica medieval helmet and a breastplate. We showed the children pictures of weird and wonderful depictions of beasts from misericords and medieval texts.

All this looking, collecting and thinking led to The Armoured Beasts, a fiendish collection of flying and creeping creatures made from medical gloves stuffed with newspaper. Armed with glue guns, the children trawled through piles of junk metal, cogs and plastic spoons to find tails, eyes and teeth. Corrugated cardboard made great protection. Yoghurt pots gave them gaping mouths. Some beasts sprouted their own battlements, some grew wings, while others gained huge contact lens case eyes. Silver paint followed and a good dry brush with black acrylic to make them a little battle worn.

We sent our submission off to The National Gallery and crossed our fingers, toes and claws. To our great delight the Armoured Beasts were accepted and are now on display with work from schools all over Britain.  The children said, ‘I’m a bit nervous but excited too!’ and ‘I can’t believe my beast will be there!’  We hope to take the children to see the new habitat of their creatures very soon.

Lise Bentley, Art Lead
Beavers Community Primary School
Arundel Road, Hounslow TW4 6HR
Beavers Community Primary School