No heritage value? How lost (and found) mural on Daubeney Road site could end up being listed
PUBLISHED: 13:50 02 May 2018 | UPDATED: 16:29 03 May 2018
Picture: Polly Hancock
Martin Goodrich tells the Gazette about the mural he helped create in Daubeney Road – which could be given protected status if campaigners get their way.
“We weren’t just a load of old hippies doing something without permission – we had the support of the council to bring the community together,” remembers Martin Goodrich.
In 1982 the group he helped found – Free Form Arts – created four mosaic murals in Hackney with funding from the council. One, in Daubeney Road, is now under threat of demolition.
Over the space of a fortnight Martin and four other artists, 30 kids and their mums and dads from the Clapton Park and Kingsmead estates helped create a stunning depiction of the world’s biggest Victorian glasshouse at Kew Gardens.
Made from a mirror mosaic, it included paintings of tropical birds.
“It was just lovely,” said Martin, now retired, who led the project as Free Form’s artistic director.
“The space was mainly dominated by children and then adults providing us with tea and coffee. People like having something positive to do and like to join in. Very quickly people realise they can achieve things.”
Martin remembers how the derelict garages at the time “were almost the same as they are now”.
“You’ve got to remember Daubeney area was a fairly new council estate and like most estates there was a lack of attention to detail at the edges,” he said. “They didn’t deal with the other bits, and what we were doing was making something positive.
“Our endeavour as an arts group was to find opportunities to work with local people to do new and imaginative things. Sometimes it was festivals or improving the environment and in this case we had some sympathy from Hackney’s planning department, who were interested in the fact there were lots of derelict spaces and nothing was being done, and whether a local community spirit could be raised to take some of these spaces on.”
Martin, whose grandfather Henry Goodrich was Hackney’s first Labour councillor and a Labour MP, added: “The planning department became at that time quite inspirational nationwide, because it was supporting and encouraging community involvement in action on the streets.”
The innovative partnership between Free Form and the council helped spark a civic art revolution that spread across England, inspiring other local authorities to use art as a planning tool.
Set up in the 1960s, Free Form Arts was dedicated to making art and performance accessible to those living on working class estates and deprived communities.
From 1974 to 1989 they organised the annual Hackney Marsh Festival on a small park next to the mural site, attracting up to 15,000 people. Free Form also helped set up Chats Palace around the corner in Brooksby’s Walk which is still going strong nearly 40 years on. The mural fell off the radar, however, as it became hidden by creepers and was rediscovered four years ago by neighbours setting up a community garden.
They’ve now applied to English Heritage to get it listed, as a “valuable work of post-war public art”.
The council hopes to build 11 homes at Daubeney Garages, including five council houses, as part of its plans to put 400 new homes on underused sites. A council spokesman said the mural would be retained provided it is structurally sound.
Martin isn’t too bothered if it stays or goes.
“I’m not really sentimental about these things, because it’s about moving on,” he said. “But I can totally understand the new group’s enthusiasm for it.
“It’s tired. It’s like a secret garden – it was very much covered up by the growth of plants, and they rediscovered it.
“In many ways it’s like all these things that they don’t last forever. There may be some lefties out there saying we could do with some housing – it’s a difficult balance.”
But Ruth Mill from the London Mural Preservation Society thinks differently.
“The mural provides a window into the lost stories of the neighbourhood, into the history of the people who live there,” she said. “The community should have a say on what it would like to see done with it for future generations.”
Campaigners fighting the council development disagree with the council-commissioned “heritage statement” in the planning application, which says the old garage site has “no heritage significance”.
Heritage England is now researching the mural’s suitability for listing, which would give the Daubeney mural legal protection and preserve it for future generations.