The popular Highbury Grove mural before its destruction
Published: 18 September, 2014
by ANDREW JOHNSON
A POPULAR mural that has been part of the landscape for more than 25 years was torn down today (Thursday) in an act of “municipal vandalism” after a huge cock-up in the Town Hall.
The arts department of the Labour-run council had been working on a proposal to restore the Highbury Grove mural, painted on a gable end by artists and school children in 1986. They had spoken to the original artists and were preparing a bid for the £10,000 cost from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
But “some idiot” in the housing department yesterday authorised its removal giving no warning. It is on the side of a building that is owned by the council and leased to the One Housing Group housing association. It isunderstood that the council’s arts department are “beside themselves” with anger at the blunder.
Former Lib Dem councillor Terry Stacy, who will challenging Emily Thornberry for the Islington South seat at the General Election, said he was “gobsmacked” it had been removed.
“I have been pushing for this to be restored for the last six months,” he said. “We had a site visit with the arts department earlier this year, and the housing department were invited but didn’t show up. This is nothing short of municipal vandalism, caused because people at the Town Hall are not talking to each other. While one department is working up a restoration plan, some idiot in the housing department orders it to be destroyed.
Terry Stacy outside the covered-up building today
“The council should now pledge to put it back. The artists are still alive and all the original plans still exist. I am gobsmacked and horrified that this could have happened.”
Diana Leary, one of the original artists, said that she had been contacted by Islington’s arts department some months ago with a view to restoring it, and had gone on a site visit with them.
The mural had faded substantially because it faces the sun, and parts of it were peeling. “For this to happen now is very surprising,” she said.
Cllr Janet Burgess, in charge of culture at the Town Hall, said the mural was removed because One Housing had complained of damp and an inspection revealed this was getting in from under the rendering.
“Bits were also falling off, which is dangerous,” she added. She was unable to say why the state of the rendering hadn’t been noted during the previous site visits, but added: “We would love to do something there. We could replace it, or perhaps it’s an opportunity to do something new with local schools.”
Green councillor Caroline Russell, who represents Highbury, said she was “livid” that the mural was destroyed without any consultation or discussion.
She pointed out that even if bits were falling off it could have temporarily been made safe and cordoned off while a decision on how to proceed was made.
“I was told nothing about this,” she said. “It is vandalism of the highest order. For an authority to make that decision because they have never maintained it is shocking. It was a cultural icon and has been obliterated without consultation. The council must see that it is restored.”
Cllr Stacy added that temporary damp works on the mural had been done before, and that the application for a grant to restore the mural had been put on hold in order to allow another lottery bid – for the Caledonian Clocktower – to be processed first.
THE Wild Islington mural was painted in 1986. It was designed by artist Dave Bangs and depicted 61 species of plants and wild animals found in the borough. It also included portraits of pupils from Highbury Grove School opposite, who helped paint it.
The mural was one of many painted in the late 1970s and 1980s due to funding from the GLC. These included the Peace March Mural at Dalston Junction, painted in 1984, which has just been restored. Ruth Miller of the London Mural Preservation Society said that murals aren’t protected as it’s difficult to list them without listing the building. “Murals have a lot of appeal because they are very easy to read, and part of the community,” she said. “It provokes a lot of nostalgia in people about the area. I’ve had lots of emails about Highbury Grove, and it’s certainly one of the most popular.”