The Best Historic London Murals
Not only are London’s murals a welcome burst of colour, but they often provide historic clues to their surroundings. These are – in my opinion – the best historic London murals, but I’d love to hear your favourites too!
The Spirit of Soho
A community project completed in 1991, the Spirit is a riotous burst of energy and action from under the skirt of Saint Anne – whose Parish Church stands in the middle of the area.
Within the network of streets that make up Soho there are landmarks and famous historic residents.
Two close ups below highlights the international community of Soho immigrants, all cooking in a communal pot and the carnival atmosphere of Carnaby Street – the hub of ‘swinging’ London in the ’60s.
Romeo & Juliet, New Inn Yard
Commissioned through Global Street Art, you might question the inclusion of this mural in Shoreditch, with plenty of other fine Street Art to choose from.
However, the depiction of the star-crossed lovers stands above an archeological site discovered by MOLA in 2008; The Theatre, built in 1576 and probably where Romeo and Juliet was first performed!
The History of the Old Kent Road
Created by Adam Kossowski and completed in 1965, this mural was given Grade II listed status by English Heritage in 2017.
The Old Kent Road sits along the Roman Road; Watling Street which leads out to Kent and Dover. The mural depicts scenes over 2,000 years of this major thoroughfare. From Romans, to Royals and even Pearly Kings and Queens!
You can see more photos and read about all the details in the post here.
The Cable Street Mural, Shadwell
A short walk from Shadwell Overground Station, you can find the eye-catching, dynamic Cable Street Mural which has recently been restored.
Completed in 1983, the mural was a complicated project. The original artist commissioned; Dave Binnington was unable to finish the work as it was targeted by vandals, causing a variety of setbacks. So it was eventually finished by artists Paul Butler, Ray Walker and Desmond Rochfort.
The Cable Street mural depicts the ‘battle’ of Cable Street, when in October 1936 East End locals came out to defend their area against a facist march led by Oswald Moseley’s Black Shirts.
You can read more a more details blog about the history here.
The Hackney Peace Mural
This mural outside Dalston Junction Station looks similar to Cable Street. With good reason, it was finished in 1985 by Ray Walker.
The image is inspired by the 1983 Hackney Peace Carnival; brass instruments glinting in the sun and banners waving.
Kensington Church Walk
Walking along Kensington Church Walk from Holland Street, you really do feel like you’ve stumbled down a little village lane.
This mural is a fittingly local affair, commissioned by a resident of the street in the 1960s, the artworks hows his daughter leaning out of a window above the toy shop and their pet cat on the door step of the plant house.
Tapestry of Life, Lavender Hill
Designed by Christine Thomas in 1983 and painted by the Wandsworth Art Resource Project this mural on the corner of Elspeth Road and Lavender Hill is in a pretty bad way.
There’s no plans that I’ve seen to restore it, but you can still make out the details of the spiral white iron staircase from the Kew Gardens greenhouses and two figures – I assume Adam and Eve as the male figure holds an apple at his lower tummy beneath a laden fruit tree.
The Poplar Rates Rebellion Mural
In 1921 the Mayor of Poplar; George Lansbury refused to pay the prescribed rates on behalf of his impoverished residents and led a march with 30 councillors to register their refusal.
The councillors were jailed, Brixton Prison for the men and Holloway for the women, which included his daughter-in-law Minnie Lansbury. Tragically Minnie developed pneumonia while in prison and died shortly after, aged only 33.
It was designed and painted by Mark Francis in 1990.
Mile End Road Mural
Look up on the Mile End Road (above the Trinity Almhouses) and you’ll see the mural by Mychael Barratt, finished in 2012 as part of the London Olympic preparations.
Image from London Remembers who track all of London’s Memorials, big and small. A brilliant source for London’s history if you don’t know about them already!
It depicts scenes from local history, old and new, including the Kray Twins, William Booth (who I always think looks a bit like an impatient parking warden), Lord Nelson and the yellow-fronted Whitechapel Bell Foundry.
A nice detail is HM the Queen admiring Big Ben, the bell for parliament cast at the foundry in the 19th century. She visited the foundry (in a pink suit!) in 2009.
Originally unveiled in 1980 and painted by Mick Jones and Simon Barber, the Fitzrovia Mural was inspired by the business owners, residents and foibles of Fitzrovia.
It’s packed with details but two of my favourites include this scene of a basketball game overlooked by lit windows. It reminded my of West Side Story, but is meant to reflect a lack of open space in the immediate area, perhaps making us thankful of Whitfield Gardens where this mural can be found.
I also enjoyed the ingenuity of incorporating a 3D pipe into the painting, a nice little trick on the eye. To the right the vampire figure represent Horace Cutler, Chairman of the Housing Committee on (and later leader of) the Greater London Council in the 1960s. Cutler was a firm believer in private home ownership and didn’t think local authorities should have a role in housing, he encourage the sales of the GLC housing stock for discounted rates, a forerunner of ‘right to buy’.
The mural was restored in November 2020 but the paint was barely dry before it was vandalised. Unfortunately a council contractor’s efforts to cover the graffiti was neither delicate nor artistic. You can see more pictures and read the full story here.
Paddington Westway Mural
Finally, enhancing a pretty dreary patch of underpass beneath the Westway is this tiled mural by Robert Dawson.
It’s a montage of locally significant people and events including a portrait of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (who designed Paddington Station).
You can also make out the chemical symbol for penicillin, discovered in 1928, by Alexander Fleming in St Mary’s Hospital Paddington. A more recent addition is the decorative repeated Crossrail symbol, which will arrive into Paddington (hopefully) Summer 2021.
There’s plenty more London murals packed with history. Got any other to recommend? Let me know in the comments!
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