History of the Old Kent Road | Details of the Stunning Tiled Mural

If you can ignore the traffic and noise along the Old Kent Road, this wonderful tiled mural will transport you through London’s history.

Old Kent Road Mural | Look Up London

Completed in 1965 by Adam Kossowski, “The History of the Old Kent Road” is a mammoth 1,000 square foot mural.

Officially a mosaic, it’s made from 2,000 individually cast, irregular shaped tiles. Each are brightly glazed and made in high relief, giving them a lovely texture.

Old Kent Road Mural | Look Up London

It was commissioned for the building, formerly the Peckham Civic Centre and today occupied by the Everlasting Arms Ministry Pentecostal church.

The actual building’s days are numbered, with redevelopment plans underway. However, you’ll be no doubt happy to know that the mural was listed in 2017. Currently they are looking for an appropriate place for its relocation.

But let’s have a closer look at the details and where better to start than the beginning…

OLD KENT ROAD MURAL

We start around the corner, on Peckham Park Road, with the foundation of London by the Romans.

Old Kent Road Mural | Look Up London

I like how the toga-clad group talk business while through an elongated Roman arch a smaller child waves ‘hello’.

Old Kent Road Mural | Look Up London

Old Kent Road is one of the oldest road in the country and a major route between London and the Kent Coast. Originally an ancient track, it was paved by the Romans and renamed Watling Street by the Anglo-Saxons.

On the corner we break from chronology to admire some beautiful butterflies, looking almost alive in their three-dimensionality. They’re not any butterfly, but the Camberwell Beauty, a species first recorded in 1748 on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton.

Best Historic London Murals - Old Kent Road

Native to Scandinavia and mainland Europe, on occasion – the latest was 2006 – they’ve been spotted in larger numbers here. But according to UK Butterflies they can’t sustain a breeding population.

Around the corner with enter Medieval London, specifically a scene from Chaucer’s pilgrimage to Canterbury.

Old Kent Road Mural | Look Up London

In the green square, a translated passage from Chaucer reads;

AND OFF WE RODE AT SLIGH / TLY FASTER PACE THAN / WALKING TO ST THOMAS’ / WATERING-PLACE; AND / THERE OUR HOST DREW / UP, BEGAN TO EASE HIS / HORSE, AND SAID ’NOW / LISTEN IF YOU PLEASE’.

The ‘watering place’ mentioned and where the horse stoops to drink is a real location, now a lake in Burgess Park beside the Old Kent Road.

Old Kent Road Mural | Look Up London

Rather appropriately it was close to a pub called the Thomas a Becket. Becket was the Archbishop of Canterbury murdered at his Cathedral in 1170, supposedly on the orders of King Henry II. Later he was made a Saint the business of pilgrimages to the site flourished. Today the pub is a Vietnamese restaurant.

We next see another King; Henry V – who returned in triumph along the Old Kent Road having defeated the French at Agincourt in 1415.

Old Kent Road Mural | Look Up London

But in the next scene trouble is brewing with the Jack Cade Rebellion – when 20,000 rebels from Kent arrived on Blackheath in 1450. They later stormed the City of London but the rebellion itself proved unsuccessful.

Old Kent Road Mural | Look Up London

Then we’re back to Royals, specifically King Charles II who I’ve managed to cut in half in the photos – sorry your grace!

Old Kent Road Mural | Look Up London

Again, Old Kent Road formed the backdrop of a regal celebration, this time with Charles reclaiming the throne and restoring the monarchy in 1660.

RECENT HISTORY OF THE OLD KENT ROAD

Old Kent Road Mural | Look Up London

After King Charles II, we then skip forward quite a bit, with a modern day bobby on the beat and the industry of South London. I love the detail of the horse-drawn Thomas Tilling Ltd omnibus – first seen along the Old Kent Road in the mid 1800s.

Old Kent Road Mural | Look Up London

There’s also a lovely scene of a family of pearly Kings and Queens. The founder of this fashion was Henry Croft, a 19thc century street sweeper, who would tidy the street crossings for pedestrians and decorated his suit with white buttons. Today out family walk across a modern pedestrian crossing.

Old Kent Road Mural | Look Up London

Meanwhile planes fly overheard amidst smoking factories and high-rise buildings of modern London.

Old Kent Road Mural | Look Up London

About the Artist

Adam Kossowski was originally from Poland but was arrested by the Nazis and spent five years in the notorious Gulag. While there he swore if he ever made it out he’d devote himself to God, which is exactly what he did when he came to London in 1946.

This is one of the few secular works, other religious commissions can be found in the The Friars Aylesford in Kent and the Chapel of St Aloysius Roman Catholic Church in Camden.

What are your favourite details? Let me know in the comments!

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10 Comments

  • Judith Barnett

    Reply

    Thank you. So interesting. I love having murals explained.

    January 20, 2021 at 12:14 pm
  • Jenny Hall

    Reply

    I do wish you would put all your posts into books, just as they are would do. So interesting & informative. I’m sure you wold sell a lot to those that read your blogs.
    I was going to London a lot before the pandemic & would love to retrace my steps with your information.
    Jenny

    January 20, 2021 at 3:14 pm
  • Kash Chouhan

    Reply

    Thank you for the wonderful history….As children from Camelot School we would walk up to use the library inside..on our way we would pick up cigarette stubs..when the teachers were not looking we’d place the stubs in the nuns, women’s and horses mouths….!🤣🤣 we found it hilarious!!!

    January 23, 2021 at 5:47 pm
  • Thank you for this summary. I have walked past the mural 100s of times and now I will really appreciate the detail. It celebrates the history and importance of Old Kent Road in a way that nowhere else seems to. I am part of Christ Church, the Anglican church opposite KFC – another part of the OKR landscape 🙂

    January 25, 2021 at 11:04 am
  • Penny Coulthard

    Reply

    I absolutely loved reading this. There were so many details that I would not have understood or possibly even noticed, without the explanation. So interesting, thank you very much!

    January 25, 2021 at 6:12 pm
  • absolutely stunning to retrace our Her-itage and in-Her-itances this way…thAnkhs Katie for the excellent work

    January 26, 2021 at 8:04 pm
  • Lola Purdie

    Reply

    Loved reading about this! I used to walk past this mural all the time when I lived just off Old Kent Road, great to finally know the history of it. Love your blogs, I came from tiktok. Look forward to reading more!

    February 1, 2021 at 12:37 am

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