THE CHARTIST MURAL
ITS CREATION AND DEMISE
The original mosaic created by Ken Budd in 1978 was in the form of a narrative mural. It lives on in many forms throughout the city and across the world.
It was a large mosaic designed to cover an unsightly concrete underpass from Friars Walk into John Frost Square. Its Dimensions were 35m (115 feet) long and 4m (13 feet) high.
Working from left to right it is the story of the march into Newport on November 4th 1839. The Left panel showing the Merlin was a separate panel and out of sequence from a time perspective as it shows a report of the rising. This was added by the artist much later and was outside of the tunnel to John Frost Square where the main mural was sited. Because of this the panel was affected by weather and became unsafe so was removed.
Inside the underpass the first scene shows a group of Chartists leaving their homes on the march to Newport. The first person turns back to see his distraught family members who watched their relatives march to an uncertain future. A young girl with red hair tries to stop her father from leaving. In the final scenes the marchers approach the Westgate Hotel where the militia (45th of Foot Regiment) ambush the marchers, firing upon them through the windows of the Hotel in clouds of gun-smoke with the bloodied bodies of the dead and injured all around them.
Plans made at the time show that up to 30 soldiers performed a Volley Fire technique with two or three discharging their weapons then moving to the rear to reload. The effect was a sustained and brutal barrage of bullets that killed at least 22 Chartist and injured many more and caused disarray in the untrained marchers. The animated poses of the figures and the expressions on the faces of the men add to the dramatic tension of the scene at the Hotel. (For a more detailed account of the Rising see David J V Jones The Last Rising, and Malcolm Chase, Chartism an New History. )
The mosaic was commissioned by Newport Borough Council in 1977 and was completed in 1978 by eminent mosaic artist Kenneth Budd. It has featured in many documentary films about Welsh history, notably “The Dragon has Two Tongues” and also in many books and articles. It contains an estimated 200,000 separate pieces of broken tile (used for clothes and the background areas) and Venetian smalti (used for finer details such as faces and hands). The mosaic covered an area of approximately 140m2, and 35m long by 4m high.
The artist used the faces of local council officers in the mosaic to create a strong link to Newport’s past when John Frost was Mayor (1836). One of the soldiers is Cefni Barnett (see Paul Flynn's 2013 Blog) who was the museum curator in the 1970s. Ken’s son Oliver who also works as a Mural Artist, posed for the mortally wounded young man to the extreme right of the mural in the arms of his father Ken.
Oliver Budd currently retains the original full-size “cartoons” or working drawings for the mural and it is hoped these will be deposited with Newport Museum to add to their world class Chartist collection. Oliver also has the original gouache preliminary designs and kindly provided the photographs of these reproduced on this site. Photographic records of the original and a digitised reproduction are held by the museum. The artist’s estate allow only reproductions for educational and charitable purposes. Printed copies of both the gouache and the digitised versions can be purchased courtesy of Kelvin Reddicliffe and David Mayer at Arnold's Light Shop in Skinner street. Almost every tile in the original photographs was traced digitally by David Mayer and his daughter, Newport artist Danielle Mayer over 3 a year period to produce the latest scalable digital version shown here and on display in the Westgate Hotel.
The digitised version contains the original design in its entirety, including the two girls and the Merlin Newspaper poster that had been removed many years ago after water incursion had damaged the adhesive. A reproduction of the entire original mural at approximately 1.5 metres high can also be viewed on the outside wall of a classroom at John Frost School in Tredegar Park. A smaller replica by Oliver Budd can also be found in Rogerstone at the roundabout at Cefn Road and Chartist Drive. Various scenes and extracts can also be seen at the Westgate Hotel at various open days, meetings, book launches, poetry and music events and art exhibitions that are held at the hotel. David Daniel has recently installed the entire Mural on the bar in Bar22 at the Westgate. (80cm high)
The story of its demise
As early as 2005 it became clear that the Mural would have to be moved to allow the developers Modus to build the Austin Friars Shopping Centre. The car park had already been condemned due to concrete cancer. Oliver Budd was contacted and his report stated that it could be saved and moved to a new location but . . . “saving the original work would be a major engineering feat and hugely expensive. Also a site would have to be found that could contain a structure of over 140m2 weighing more than 200 tons.” His estimate was about £1500 per square metre. (£210k)
In 2007 as plans for Friars walk developed a Planning meeting was held and three options considered.
1.) to remove and reconstruct the Mural .
2.) to produce a replica of the Mural in a prominent place
3.) to create new public art with a Chartist theme
Officers told the committee that developers, Modus Corovest had agreed £250k to be spent on various artworks in the new development to compensate for the loss of the mural. This was proposed to commence in 2008.
The world wide recession in 2008 however meant that the development did not go ahead as planned and the Conservative/Lib-Dem council (2008 to 2012) removed Modus Corovest and appointed a new Developer- Queensbury and decided on a much reduced scheme for Friars Walk.
Four years later on 21 March 2012 a decision was taken by the Conservative/Lib Dem alliance, to demolish the mural so that the proposed Friars Walk Shopping Centre could proceed. The report notes “The Chartist Mural, at the entrance to John Frost Square, has become a recognised part of the cultural fabric of Newport. As part of the City Centre redevelopment, it is proposed that the mural will be demolished. It is impossible to preserve the original mural so the report looks at alternative options for future interpretations.”
The consultation offered four options but after public consultation option one was adopted. … “for the current Mural to be photographed and replicated onto ceramic tiles and installed within the stairwell of the Central Library.” The cost for this was estimated to be £22.000. The £250k promise for new art works had been reduced by Queensbury to just £50k.
In 2012, the new Labour Leader pressed Queensberry for a start date and commissioned a new report on the Mural from Mann Williams. The report was presented in September 2013. It included a report by Clivedon Conservation on the physical condition of the mural. Mann Williams produced a comprehensive and detailed report on the mural. They concluded that it could be removed but the cost was prohibitive. The report contains a detailed breakdown of costs for removal storage and subsequent rebuilding. The total cost in this report was a staggering £625,981.
In the light of this report, the Labour council, now under the national Tory government’s Austerity programme continued with the Queensberry plans. There was much criticism of the high cost proposed in the report, but officers had no option to accept that the writers of the report were highly skilled and specialised experts in this field. It was clear by the end of 2013 that Queensbury could not raise the capital themselves to start development of the site so the Council took the unusual step to loan them £90million to fund the project from Prudential Borrowing.
Reports and Council minutes
2007 Budd Mural Planning Decision