The birth of the concrete cows

Memories of helping to make MK's famous icons

One day, many moons ago, I heard that the Development Corporation had appointed a new community arts worker. Coming from West coast , US of A, Liz Leyh came up with inspirational ideas to work with community groups and schools. As the green space of North Bucks was to have a whole new city built upon it, Liz wanted something to remind the inhabitants that farm animals had once grazed where concrete and bricks now stood. Eventually she hit upon the idea of building Concrete Cows.

Making the cows

She built the cows with the help of various Primary Schools. She let people know that she would appreciate some adult help when the children were painting the cows, so on a couple of days I went along – and helped to paint the cows in a field beside the railway bridge at Stacey Bushes.

First public reaction

In the weeks following the building of the cows, during visits to Stacey Bushes as part of a Young Arrivals Service, I heard people in the street talking about the Development Corporation. “See what they’re doing now! Spending a quarter of a million pounds on building concrete cows.” There was much criticism, as you would expect, of the plans of this unelected body and much rumour of their activities. My memory is that Liz spent about £35 on materials – scrounging a lot more – one of the essential skills of a Community Arts Worker. The Development Corporation at the time was spending a great deal of money on advertising the New City.

Publicity value

The Concrete Cows quickly became known all over the country and subsequently all over the world .Their publicity value was probably the £250,000 which street talk on Stacey Bushes considered the original cost. In the years that followed, many antics would be stimulated by the cows; cowpats made out of paper mache, milking parties etc. Sometimes the cows lost bits and much was replaced and many repairs occured. A new set were built in the National Hockey Stadium when the MK Dons took over as a football league team. The stadium stand took on the name of the Cowshed and this name has transferred to the south stand of the new Stadium:mk.

The original of this contribution was created as part of the My Webpage website – a collection of stories and memories written by a group of learners on a Living Archive creative IT course

Comments about this page

  • I used to visit Liz Leyh every Monday after school, as she used to teach me art. I remeber seeing the cows, starting as a welded metal frame for the legs and chicken wire construct for the body. My big claim to fame is that I helped stuff the animals with newspaper and also mixed up some of the cement. Originally the cows were coloured with concrete dye and each one sported a heart somewhere on the cowprint hide.

    I also spent a fun summer holiday with Liz and co while she worked on the Owl and the Pussycat.

    Although I never went on to be a great artist etc. I did keep up with art, inspired by those years, and have learnt to throw pots, which I occasionally sell. I now try and inspire my children with the same love of art. So the cows and Liz had a big impact on me.

    Alex

    By Alex Smith (06/10/2015)
  • My claim to fame was that whilst working for AGB builders merchants I delivered the bags of cement for the making of the concrete cows, I saw the wire frame work of the cows and asked what were they, when told I didnt realise that one day they would be a world wide icon of our great city of Milton Keynes

    By Paul Kennedy (03/06/2013)
  • I have been catching up on my life and part of my life was the concrete cows. I left school in Wolverton when I was 16. I lived at Stacey Bushes and found a summer job at Stacey Bushes farm. I worked with Liz Leyh we did giant cabbages, a play ground, painted an underpass did a school play bus and I did quite alot of work on the concrete cows. I didnt help put them up though as the six weeks finished for me and I started college. Looking at the history of the cows was very interesting!! Keep up the good work. Linda

    By Linda Moore (17/10/2012)

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