North Devon in 100 Objects: 99. Earth to Earth – Sam Spoons’ Bench

An older man with a grey beard, wearing a black t-shirt, white shorts and bucket hat, sitting on a bench made of bricks, set into the ground.

The bench now installed in the museum garden was originally constructed by Martin Ash in his garden at Fremington.  Made of salvaged bricks, the work represents the rise and demise of the Barnstaple brick industry.

Martin Ash was born in Somerset in 1942 but attended Barnstaple Grammar School before studying at Plymouth and the Royal College of Art.  He became a senior lecturer at Chelsea School of Art,  while also having an illustrious second career.  As “Sam Spoons”, Martin was an unpredictable and resourceful percussionist with the iconic 1960s Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.

The band’s fans included the Beatles, the Monty Python team and younger comedians including Paul Merton and Stephen Fry.  The whole idea of the Bonzos was laughter and Martin was right at the heart:  ‘Mr. Spoons would leap from behind his ancient drums to embark on juggling, ventriloquism and spectacular high-speed electric spoons solos that brought the house down, amid showers of smoke, plaster and harmless rubble.’

Martin loved bricks, and always considered himself a Barnstaple lad. He wanted to give the bench back to Barnstaple as it is part of the town’s heritage, and this was agreed just before his death in 2018.  The rebuilt bench now includes five large spoons embedded in the brickwork – paying homage to Martin’s alter ego.

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