Mandela Way Tank "Stompie" | Look Up London

Mandela Way: Stompie the Tank to the “Skip House”

On my Bermondsey walk, as we approach Mandela Way along the very pretty Pages Walk, I would often explain to guests that were about to see one of the weirdest things I’ve ever stumbled across in London.

Pages Walk, Bermondsey | Look Up London

Prior to January 2022 you would’ve met Stompie, a full-blown, T-34, Soviet-built tank.

Mandela Way Tank "Stompie" | Look Up London

This bizarre-but-beloved local feature appeared in 1995, bought by Russell Gray.

Gray is confusingly described in various ways online; a businessman, property developer, millionaire and scrap metal dealer.

The truth seems to be that Gray bought the tank from a scrap metal dealer. Another important aspect to the story is that Gray, a local resident, was the founder of the Bermondsey Village Action Group, challenging Southwark Council’s controversial high-rise redevelopment plans around Vinegar Yard. 

It’s not the first time Gray has challenged Southwark Council. For over 20 years he’s been in various disputes which brings us back to the tank.

Gray – who owns the plot of land – requested permission to install a tank. I imagine when Southwark Council granted the request, Stompie wasn’t the type of ‘tank’ they had in mind.

History of the Mandela Way Tank

Stompie, The T-34 tank was produced by the Soviet Union around 1940. Out of context it seems comical but of course, as with all weapons of war and violence, it has a darker story behind it.

After its decommission it went form the streets to silver screen, appearing in the 1995 retelling of Richard III staring Ian Mckellen. 

You can even glimpse Stompie in the trailer! (around 1min 50secs) 

Over the years Stompie has been painted all manner of colours. The first time I saw it in the flesh was during Lockdown when it had taken on an NHS-themed pale blue and rainbow look.

Mandela Way Tank "Stompie" | Look Up London

However as of January 2022 Stompie had gone.

An Empty Stompie Garden

Gray has said it’s for restoration, unclear on the timeline and saying that it could be gone for a few days or two years.

In the meantime we have a brand new and equally interesting resident.

The Skip House

Skip House, Bermondsey | Look Up London

It kinda does what it says on the tin. This is a skip that’s been transformed into a house.

The project is a collaboration between Architect CAUKIN studio and SKIP gallery.

Skip gallery has used the ubiquitous skip as the basis for artworks with the ultimate aim to provoke discussions and change. You can view a gallery of their site-specific works on their website here

Skip House, Bermondsey | Look Up London

Why? Well Harrison says that says a design he believes “creativity can be a powerful tool to break out of life’s rules.” Faced with the escalating costs of living in London and unable to afford to live in Central London he’s finding an alternative.

I had a brief chat with Harrison over Instagram where he very kindly answered some of the questions I had. He even spotted me leading one of my walks and shared it on instagram (very meta!)

Are you really living there 24/7? How do you stay warm? And does it feel safe?

Yes. Been there a few weeks now and will be in it for a year. Not necessarily set to that location though, I can pick it up and move. The structure is insulted, but I haven’t got electricity yet, so it does get cold at night. Lots of blankets. I should have power soon and then I’ll have a heater etc, and can cook. It does feel exposed, but I haven’t had any issues yet. Everyone is super friendly and supportive which makes it feel safer. It also does lock up, and the site does too

Sorry, I have to ask. I read some mention of toilet amenities being an external portaloo. Is that still the case? What about showering?!

Yes I’ll always have the external portaloo for my toilet. And I shower at work and the gym

What do you hope the public take away from this project, when people walk past do you have a reaction in mind?

The project is intended to be something quite lighthearted and surprising, but in response to an issue which is serious and affecting most of the population. It’s obviously not a solution, nor should anyone have to live in a skip, but it’s effective in prompting a more creative conversation around the issue, and hopefully sparking some other ideas that are a little out of the box.

You can keep up with harrison’s story (and see some of the surprisingly cosy interior pictures) on instagram here.


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3 Comments

  • Stephen Kettell

    Reply

    A guy on Brixton Hill used to own and drive a tank in the 70’s & 80’s used to drive down to Lambeth town hall and create traffic chaos – always breaking down somewhere on the hill.

    February 15, 2023 at 11:23 am
  • I remember seeing T34/85 tanks like this one, in third world conflicts in the 1970s; the USSR kept making them for a few years after the end of the war. Quickly and roughly constructed, they are well known for leaking in the rain!

    April 21, 2023 at 10:44 pm

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