Ceramic mural of nine panels on Cromwell Highwalk, Barbican

Overview

Heritage Category: Listed Building

Grade: II

List Entry Number: 1437182

Date first listed: 25-Aug-2016

Statutory Address: Cromwell Highwalk, Barbican, City of London, EC2Y 8EN

Map

Ordnance survey map of Ceramic mural of nine panels on Cromwell Highwalk, Barbican
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Location

Statutory Address: Cromwell Highwalk, Barbican, City of London, EC2Y 8EN

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Greater London Authority

District: City and County of the City of London (London Borough)

Parish: Non Civil Parish

National Grid Reference: TQ3246481828

Summary

A ceramic mural of nine panels, c1960, by Dorothy Annan. The mural's mounting and lighting, and the interpretation panel adjacent to it, are not included in the listing.

Reasons for Designation

The ceramic mural of nine panels, c1960 by Dorothy Annan, located on the Barbican's Cromwell Highwalk, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Rarity: these signed and specially-commissioned panels, are unusual survivals from the period when ceramic mural-making was at its zenith; * Artistic quality: each panel has a striking and highly distinctive design which shows the influence of various mid-C20 artists including Ben Nicholson, John Piper and Joan Miró; * Craftsmanship and materials: each panel is a bespoke and beautifully-made object, individually textured, painted and fired by the artist in her studio; * Historic interest: the mural is a testament to the atmosphere of optimism and excitement about the new technology and communications that was transforming Britain in the 1950s and 1960s; * Location: although no longer in its original location, the mural was carefully moved and thoughtfully re-sited (in 2013) in a contemporary landscape of post-war heritage significance.

History

In 1960 the Ministry of Works commissioned artist Dorothy Annan to design a ceramic mural for the Farringdon Street elevation of the new Fleet Building. The Fleet Building was built by the General Post Office and, when it opened in 1961, was London’s largest telephone exchange, known as the Central Telegraph Office. It was designed by WS Frost of the Ministry of Works, under the supervision of Chief Architect Eric Bedford (the architect of the Post Office Tower, built 1961-5, listed Grade II).

The mural was to take the form of a series of panels; Annan was offered £300 per panel, plus the cost of materials and firing. When preparing designs, Annan collected photographs of radio and television aerials, wiring systems, and tele-printer keyboards, and visited GPO buildings for inspiration. The biscuit-ware tiles were manufactured by Hathernware Ltd, and Annan visited the company’s Loughborough studio and hand-scored each wet clay tile to her design. After first firing, the tiles were decorated, glazed and fired by Annan in her studio kiln, before installation at Farringdon Street by Hathernware. The mural is signed and dated ‘DAnnan, 1960’ and was unveiled by the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Bernard N Waley-Cohen, on 11 April 1961.

In recognition of its high artistic quality, craftsmanship, and its testament to a period of social optimism and technological advancement, the mural was listed at Grade II in 2011. In the following years, redevelopment of the Fleet Building and re-siting of the mural was granted consent through the planning system. The mural was moved to Cromwell Highwalk at the Barbican, City of London, in 2013.

Dorothy Annan (1900 – 1983) was active from the 1940s, when her work featured in an Artists International Association (AIA) exhibition in a London air-raid shelter, alongside that of Augustus John. Annan was a prominent member of the AIA, a left-of-centre political organisation which embraced all styles of art both modernist and traditional, and promoted wider access to art through travelling exhibitions and public mural paintings; other members included Ben Nicholson, Frank Auerbach and Eric Ravilious. Annan was a painter (her 'Still Life with Flowers' of 1943 may be seen at The Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent) and, from around 1945, began working with ceramics. Many of her commissions for murals were for schools (including the renowned Hertfordshire County Council schools built in the 1950s), banks (she was commissioned by Lloyds and the Bank of England) and public buildings (such as Durham University’s King’s College in Newcastle). She was married to the artist Trevor Tennant. The murals in the Hertfordshire schools have since been lost. Only three public murals by Annan survive: the mural previously at the Fleet Building, the three-panel work at King’s College in Newcastle, and a panel at Caley Primary School in Limehouse, Tower Hamlets, the latter probably commissioned by the London County Council. Her largest single mural. ‘The Expanding Universe’ at the Bank of England, was demolished in 1997.

Details

The mural is located in a roofed section of Cromwell Highwalk, between the Barbican Centre and Speed House. The panels are mounted on the north wall of the walkway, held in a dark metal frame*. The mural is lit by a strip of down-lighters behind a dark metal pelmet*.

The mural comprises nine panels, each panel formed of forty tiles, these measuring approximately 30cm by 46cm, arranged ten across by four down. The subjects are semi-abstract, some depicting particular items of technological equipment (including television and radio aerials, a cable, a telegraph pole, and a pair of buoys). Others panels are more impressionistic representations of communication technology (the seventh, for example, is inspired by the patterns produced in cathode ray oscillographs). The basic palette of colours is muted in tone, but rich and textured, and includes whites, greens, blues, yellows, browns and greys. The artist's brushwork is visible and the work has a painterly quality. Patterns are created through a combination of applied colour and incisions or texturing to the surface of the tile. Representations of objects - aerials, generators and pylon cables - are picked out in dense black. In their colours and style the murals are resonant of the paintings of Ben Nicholson, who was a member of the AIA with Annan.

The nine panels were titled by Annan as follows (moving from left-right, or west to east): 'Radio Communications and Television', Cables and Communications in Buildings', 'Test Frame for Linking Circuits', 'Cable Chamber with Cables entering from the Street', 'Cross Connection Frame', 'Power and Generators', 'Impressions Derived from the Patterns Produced in Cathode Ray Oscillographs used in Testing', 'Lines over the Countryside' and 'Overseas Communication showing Cable Buoys'.

An information panel* explaining the mural's history is located at the west end.

* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.

Sources

Books and journals
Pevsner, N, Bradley, S, The Buildings of England: London 1: The City of London, (1997), pp 146, 342
Other
A letter dated 12 August 1960 addressed to Dorothy Annan from the Ministry of Works' W S Frost, detailing the financial arrangements of the mural commission
A letter dated 16 May 1960 to Dorothy Annan from London Telecommunications Region General Post Office
A letter dated 24 January 1961 to Dorothy Annan from tile manufacturer Hathernware
Newspaper clipping from The Times, March 1961, showing Dorothy Annan laying out the mural tiles on the floor of her North London studio
Photograph from BT Archives of the London Mayor, Sir Bernard N Waley Cohen, unveiling the mural at the Opening of Fleet Building on 11 April 1961
Plans for the Farringdon Street facade of the Fleet Building, including mural positioning, signed by Senior Ministry of Works Architect W S Frost and dated 22 February 1959

End of official listing