Mural in concrete depicting scenes of contemporary life
'Scenes of Contemporary Life' mural by William Mitchell, Park Place underpass, Stevenage © Historic England DP278122 newly listed at Grade II
'Scenes of Contemporary Life' mural by William Mitchell, Park Place underpass, Stevenage © Historic England DP278122 newly listed at Grade II

Public Artworks Protected With New Listings

Public artworks in Stevenage and Birmingham have been listed at Grade II by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the advice of Historic England.

The tiled mural by Gyula Bajó at the former Co-operative House in Stevenage Town Square was installed between 1956 and 1958. It is the earliest of the four major surviving Co-op murals of the 1950s and 1960s.

Scenes of Contemporary Life’, by innovative sculptor William Mitchell, is a two-part sculptural wall mural at Park Place underpass in Stevenage and a fascinating artistic record of local Stevenage life and memorable British events in 1972.

Also by William Mitchell, three mural walls at the Hockley Flyover underpass in Birmingham were designed in a playful way and intended to encourage people to climb upon them.

These three iconic public artworks are seen and enjoyed by thousands of people every day, bringing the arts to everyone. It is fantastic that these works have been listed in recognition of the important contribution they make to their local area and to protect them for the future.

Nigel Huddleston, Heritage Minister

Tiled mural by Gyula Bajó at former Co-operative House, Town Square, Stevenage

Co-operative House (now Primark) was the ‘Stevenage Super Store’ of the Letchworth, Hitchin and District Co-operative Society, and the first major retail premises to open in Stevenage Town Centre (in June 1958).

The former Co-op features the colourful tiled mural by Hungarian-born artist Gyula Bajó (1907-84), who joined the Architects’ Department of the Co-operative Wholesale Company around 1953.

The Stevenage artwork is the earliest of the four major surviving Co-op murals of the 1950s and 1960s, the others are in Ipswich (1963, by Bajó with Endre Hevezi, not listed), Hull (1963 by Alan Boyson, listed at Grade II), and Scunthorpe (1963 by Derek W Brown, not listed).

A Co-operative Wholesale Society pamphlet on ‘Co-operative Architecture’, published in 1960, explains that the Stevenage mural ‘symbolises the spirit and activities of the Co-operative Movement as a whole and in relation to Stevenage’.

The mural depicts the ‘four cornerstones of a balanced economy – Industry, Commerce, Transport and Agriculture…’ with a spinning-wheel and finished products representing Textiles and Consumer Goods, a steelworker representing Heavy Industry, a teaching figure representing Science and Technology, and scenes showing Agriculture and Family Life.

On its unveiling, the mural was praised by the Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times and France’s Revue Moderne.

See the List entry for the tiled mural

These vibrant public works of art are an integral part of Stevenage town centre, seen and enjoyed by local people and visitors every day. They represent the innovative approach to the town centre design and celebrate Stevenage’s heritage. We’d love for local people to Enrich the List with photos and memories of the murals being created or of the town at that time.

Eilise McGuane, Listing Advisor Historic England

We’re proud to be able to call this historic building our Stevenage home, ensuring the Co-Operative House’s legacy as the ‘Stevenage Super Store’ lives on and we are able to continue to serve the local community. As one of the most important landmarks in Stevenage town centre, it’s great to see the mural be recognised through this new listing.

Craig Daniels, Area Manager Hertfordshire, East Anglia and Bedfordshire Primark

‘Scenes of Contemporary Life’ by William Mitchell at Park Place underpass, Stevenage

Park Place underpass was built as part of the dual carriageway redevelopment of St George’s Way in Stevenage in 1972 and is adorned with murals by architectural sculptor William Mitchell (1925-2020). Prolific and innovative, Mitchell worked in various materials, but most notably concrete.

His preparatory drawings, held in the collection of Stevenage Museum, help to explain how the sculpture was constructed.

The mural’s decorative panels depict social, political and cultural events of the day alongside scenes of everyday life in Stevenage; contemporary vehicles and the developing town; political demonstrators, including the Women’s Liberation Movement; a group of figures representing the ‘Flower Power’ movement; and a United States Air Force space rocket and cosmonauts in a Soviet landing capsule.

In correspondence with Stevenage Development Corporation around 2015, Mitchell wrote that sculpture played an important role in giving an area character and making the surroundings 'less severe'. Representations of the football team, buses, cars and people dressed in the fashionable clothes and hairstyles of the day were intended to be 'an instantly recognisable pastiche of time and place... the panels were meant as a time warp for the future and a recognisable landmark for the then present'.

See the List entry for 'Scenes of Contemporary Life'

As Britain’s first post-war new town, and one of the earliest and most influential pedestrian developments of its type in the world, Stevenage has a rich and fascinating history that these Grade II listings are part of. They also highlight what a great modern development the town is, that meets the needs of our communities with innovative urban design and features.

It’s fantastic that the cultural significance of these public artworks has been recognised by Historic England. I hope that in the future, some of the newer subway murals we’ve been creating around the town to make walking and cycling more attractive options might also gain similar recognition, and Stevenage Town Centre continues to evolve to meet the challenge of the 21st century.

Phil Bibby, executive member for highways and transport Hertfordshire County Council

William Mitchell murals in the pedestrian concourse of Hockley Flyover, Hockley Circus, Birmingham

The Birmingham Hockley Flyover was opened in 1968 and featured three banked walls with murals, designed by William Mitchell, to the underpass entrances within the concourse beneath. The mural walls are cast in pigmented concrete. Each mural has a slightly different character, incorporating geometric shapes, abstract patterns, and naturalistic forms, distinctive of Mitchell’s style.

Mitchell expressed that ‘Hockley flyover was one of the greatest things that ever happened in this country because it was the first of its kind and certainly of its scale.’

The Hockley murals have a playful quality to their three-dimensional design, and Mitchell expressed pride that people felt encouraged to climb on them, noting that this allowed them to become a part of society.

The murals are culturally significant in illustrating a movement in the mid-20th century where public art was frequently commissioned by local authorities or private companies to enhance otherwise utilitarian structures, at a time of significant development in road infrastructure.

See the List entry for Hockley murals

The murals at Hockley Circus are among the best examples of William Mitchell's work and showcase his playful and lively style to great effect. They have fulfilled their aim to elevate an otherwise utilitarian structure and encourage interaction with the urban environment. We are delighted that they have been listed at Grade II.

Louise Brennan, Midlands Regional Director Historic England
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