Guiding Lubetkin

This blog was kindly written for us by Jiff Bayliss. Jiff is our qualified Clerkenwell and Islington Guiding Association Guide who took up the mantel of creating a community walk with the residents of Bevin Court.

When, in in the summer of 2014, Islington Museum secured Heritage Lottery funding to undertake the restoration of Peter Yates’ 1954 mural in the lobby of Bevin Court, one of the exciting ideas included in the project was to take a lead from the community and have a series of community initiatives.

As well as establishing a website, restoring the bust of Ernest Bevin and engaging with the wider community, a walk to put the mural into local and historical context was planned and I put in a proposal to the Heritage Team as to how we might approach this.

The initial brief was to produce a walk which told the story of:
• Berthold Lubetkin, the architect of Bevin Court, and his associates
• the local landmarks associated with Lubetkin, and
• the history of the area’s development.

The intention was to make this a community led initiative and a steering group of Bevin Court residents was formed to oversee the walk’s development with the aid of some professional support. Alex, the project co-ordinator, convene and chaired the meetings with myself as the Clerkenwell and Islington Guide, who would be leading the walks.
The Gang
Some of the Gang: Paula, Julia, Sue, Jiff and Alex. We also had huge help from Carol, Tom, Haidee and David.

One of the first things to sort out was how long we would like the walk to be. I advised that for an hour walk the total number of stops should be between 7 and 10.  We then started with a brainstorm of possible stops within a mile and a half of Bevin Court, “The Gang” identified 18 stops which was then whittled down to 12 then 10.

We then went through all the information and stories and discussed what it was that we wanted to impart to people on the walk. One of the challenges was to think about how this information could be related to the stops so we had to make sure the stops were:

  • safe to stop at
  • interesting and informative in their own right
  • make sense of how they are related to the wider theme of the walk

To work through how the walk would flow I  summarised all of our stops and ideas in  a matrix.

Bevin Court Walk Matrix

Once we had all our thoughts agreed I was sent away to do the initial research. After much discussion,  we finalised our tour to 10 stops. Due to the time restraints and what the group wanted to focus on, Spa Green Estate and the New River Company headquarters were dropped and it was agreed that the final 5 stops would all be inside Bevin Court. Now to try it out…

Three “Dry Runs” were undertaken with residents and Islington Museum staff, some more successful than others…!
Dry run walk
The walk was finalised with an extra 11th stop at Wilmington Square.

Bevin Court Walk Route

This is the route was followed with its first walkers on 18 July 2015. It has been repeated 8 times since  winning compliments from participants and recommendations from the Royal Academy and the London Architectural Diary.

Well done, Gang!! Another 8 walks are planned taking the programme into summer 2016. A broader Historypin tour showing and mapping all of Lubetkin’s work in the UK (and Paris) will be available in the new year.

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Day an Night: Grafitti

As we delve deeper into the history of the Peter Yates mural Day and Night,Winged Bulls  we are finding some of the likely reasons why the mural was overpainted. Graffiti uncovered by Tom and his team gives us a much greater understanding of the life of the mural. Although none of the residents remember the mural being in such a bad state or repair, it clearly has had some significant vandalism. This gives us a motive for the overpaint that took place sometime before the 1980s.

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Another surprising aspect of the mural’s past is uncovered in this image. The top line of the bull’s wing has been drawn 3 times. This means there are three phases to this mural i.e. it has been overpainted twice! You can see on the below images that the conservation team have labeled the three phases 1, 2 and 3. 

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Tom and his team have found that the first phase of the mural was completely whitewashed out although there is no evidence for the illusive missing wing on the bull. The second phase of the mural was abraded before the third was painted. This could support the theory that Peter Yates could have painted the first phase of the mural with a two winged bull, painted the second phase of the mural with a one winged bull and then after a period of significant damage and vandalism, the mural was copied, abraded and then completely overpainted with the third phase some time before the 1980s.

More graffiti was uncovered as the restoration process continued and the reasons for the overpainting of the scheme became more and more evident.  You can listen to Tom Organ’s talk to find out how the team dealt with all this damage to the original mural.

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Breaking news: a Bull with two wings!

The Yates family have had a dig through their Archive of Peter Yates’ works and have uncovered some remarkable colour glass sides of the mural taken by Peter Yates. They are thought to be from before the building was officially opened in 1954. Indeed one of the photos is taken through the aperture where the bust of Ernest Bevin was placed for the opening in 1954. These amazing colour slides lead the project to two realisations.

1) the mural that we have today has been completely overpainted at some point before 1989

2) when Peter Yates first painted this scheme, he gave the bull two wings!

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So far, the best photo that we had of the mural in the past was the photo that one of the original residents, Carol, gave us. She took the photo on 20 January 1989 and it shows the mural we know today in a good state of repair and not vandalised. The Yates’ Family Archive photos clearly show that there has been a wholesale over paint of Winged Bull Day and Night at some point between the opening of the building and the 1980s.

The team have done some digging at RIBA archive too and found some photos of the mural taken by John McCann in 1954, the year that the mural opened. These photos are in black and white, but they clearly show that the same differences in the finish of the mural as shown in the Yates Family Archive slides.

Copyright Ribapix McCann

Copyright Ribapix McCann

The main points of difference are in the detail of the Well, the Bull and a loss of detail in the buildings and the dolphins. Although surprisingly, the bull only has one wing as today – a mystery indeed!

At this point in the project we had to discuss what route we could take with the restoration of the mural as we were clearly working with a later rendition of the work. Tom and his team walked us through the different options open to us, the residents and the family. In unison our team decided to try and restore as much detail of the original as we could.

To this end the Yates family, very kindly, had the colour slides they hold professional scanned to retrieve as much detail from them as possible. RIBA too provided us with high resolution images of the images of the mural they hold. Tom and his team started studying the photos, cross sectioning the images to create a map of the original. They started to take some of the over painted top layers off the mural and we found some amazing evidence of the past life of the mural.

The Yates family also scoured their achieve for studies and sketches of the mural and we compared these to the scheme. In many of his sketches for this theme, he uses a bull with one wing, but sometimes, the bull has two!

The John MaCann photos of the mural are dated to 1954 at the time of the buildings opening. In these images the bull only has one wing. Therefore we can hypotifsise that Peter Yates may have painted the bull with two wings, photographed the mural and then changed his mind and painted the second wing out before the opening of the building.
You can find out more about the process of restoring this mural by listening to Tom Organ’s talk on Restoring Yates.