A skilled craftsman, who has forged a reputation as one of the country’s leading artist blacksmiths, has earned the recognition of a city’s freemen guild body.

Brian Russell, who has recently completed a commission to create a local memorial to commemorate the Platinum Jubilee of her late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, has been sworn-in as a Gentleman Freeman of Durham.

Working at his rural forge in County Durham, Mr Russell has taken several months to design and complete the Platinum Beacon project.

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In early spring he will see his towering steel structure fired-up for a hand over ceremony on its permanent site, on Jubilee Walk, near to County Hall, Durham.

Standing 19 feet tall and weighing half a tonne, it was commissioned and funded by the city’s freemen, with Durham County Council meeting the cost of its installation as part of a wider project to improve footpaths and public access to the site.

Its creator, born in nearby Framwellgate Moor, took a keen interest in art and design while studying at Durham Johnston School.

Following the award of a fine arts degree by Sunderland College of Art, he set his sights on a blacksmith’s apprenticeship, but at the time few forges were operating in the area and none were looking for a trainee.

Determined to learn as much as he could about metalwork, he attended evening classes at local schools, while seeking assistance from the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas.

Finally, in 1974, the small industries council asked him if he would be interested in taking over the 200-year-old old forge at Little Newsham, near Staindrop.

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It was there, over following decades, that Mr Russell forged the skills which have put him at the forefront of his craft.

He has gone on to demonstrate his skills at exhibitions across Europe, the United States and Canada

In 1995 he was one of the few North East craftsmen to be awarded a silver medal for the excellence of his work by London’s Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths.

He is now the only working blacksmith in the country to hold the company’s gold medal.

Mr Russell and his wife Hilda, who hails from Sherburn Hill, have two children.

Son Ivan has worked in the forge alongside his father for the past 20 years, while daughter Amy is a nurse, based in Wigan.

Speaking of his prestige commission, the 70-year-old creative craftsman said: “It is the first time I have been asked to produce a beacon and it’s been a project I have taken great deal of satisfaction from.”

He added: “I still get a thrill when I ride around the county and am reminded of work I carried out 40 years ago, particularly on churches, which I have often forgotten about.”

John Booth, Chairman of the Wardens of Durham Freemen’s eight surviving craft guilds, said the beacon project was originally inspired by the freemen to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

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In the light of her subsequent death, in September, Mr Booth said: “We hope the beacon will be seen by the public as a fitting and lasting tribute to Her Majesty’s reign, the legacy of the freemen and the outstanding skill of a local man.”

He added: “It is also a reflection of the quality and value of many thousands of the city’s craftsmen who have gone before, across the centuries.”

The beacon will be erected in time for its first official lighting up, for the coronation of King Charles III, in early May, with a test run to be staged ahead of the event.