Monday 19 November 2018

The Bobby Moore Bridge tile murals – what do you think?

Guest post from Philip Grant

Last month, I wrote about a presentation to Wembley History Society on Quintain’s proposals for the future of the tile murals in the Bobby Moore Bridge subway. LINK  I am writing this follow-up article so that “Wembley Matters” readers are aware of what is being proposed, and the suggested options.
Wembley History Society’s committee was due to decide on its response, to Quintain and Brent Council, about the proposals last Friday evening. Any views which I express here are my own, and not those of the Society. But I would like to know what you think, so please add your views as comments below. If you wish to comment anonymously, please at least give a brief description of yourself (for example: local resident, councillor, Quintain or Brent employee). (Editor's note: If you find using the comment facility difficult you can email me with your comment at and I will post it for you.)
Last April, the history society wrote to Brent Council and Quintain, asking that the tile murals, which have been covered up with vinyl sheet adverts for the past five years, should be put back on public display LINK . At the presentation on 19th October, we were shown a “collaged” photograph of the tile murals along the east wall of the subway:

Quintain’s proposals for improvements to the subway (some of it funded out of the £17.8m Community Infrastructure Levy money which Brent’s Cabinet agreed to give them last year?) include better lighting in the subway. Some of this would be provided by strips of LED lights across the ceiling, but some by covering the whole of the walls of the subway with light boxes (illuminated panels). Their lead architect on the project said that these would be similar to those used in a subway at Kings Cross underground station, illustrated here

                                Light boxes in a subway at Kings Cross

The fixings for the light boxes would be positioned over joints between the tiles of the murals, so that the tile murals would not be damaged. The lighting could be left white, or could be used to display advertisements:
The light boxes at Kings Cross,
being used for advertising
Julian Tollast, Quintain’s Head of Masterplanning and Design, set out four options for the future of the tile murals, which could be included in their plans for the subway:
1.    The murals could be moved to a new location – although his view, and the general feeling at the meeting, was that this risked damaging or destroying the tile murals. It would also take them from their “spiritual home”.
2.   A facsimile of the murals could be created in a different location – His suggestion was that under the new Olympic Steps (replacing the pedway) might be a suitable location, but the downsides were that they would not be the originals, and not in their “spiritual home”.
3.   Preserve the murals in situ, with part on permanent display – It became clear in discussion that his suggestion was that all of the subway walls would still be covered by light boxes, but that the lights could be turned off in front of the section of the mural showing the old stadium and footballers (Bryan Robson and John Barnes?):

He said that this would not be ideal, as it would reduce the light levels in the subway, and there would be reflected light from the ceiling, off of the glazed light boxes, so that the view of the mural would be impaired.

4.   Preserve the murals in situ, with periodic display – Periodic display of the murals in the subway did not seem probable, because of the difficulty of removing the light boxes. He suggested that it would be possible to display the mural sections to the south of the subway (American football / Rugby League / Ice hockey on the east side, and a rock music drummer on the west) for short periods when the “Spiritflex” vinyl adverts were being changed.

One option which was not suggested by Quintain (but which was suggested from the floor of the meeting) was not to install the light boxes at all, but provide the better lighting instead just from redesigned lighting from the ceiling. The following slide was shown to justify Quintain’s right to install light boxes over the tile murals:

I have followed up on this planning process, and this is what I have found:-

·      15/5550 was a massive “Masterplan” outline application.
·      Although there is a brief mention of some improvements to the section of Olympic Way between Fulton Road and the foot of the Wembley Park Station steps, I have found no reference to ‘light boxes or adverts under Bobby Moore Bridge’ in that application.
·      There is no mention of these items in the 94 page Officers’ Report to Planning Committee (11 May 2016), or the December 2016 decision letter.
·      In amongst the wide-ranging detailed (reserved matters) application 17/3840, there is no mention of lighting in the subway in the planning submission.
·      There was a plan showing “illuminated panels”, which would cover all of the walls of the Bobby Moore Bridge subway. This is an extract from the relevant plan, which does not show the existing features on that wall, or that the lighting would cover tile murals:

·      Application 17/3840 was decided by planning officers, not Brent’s Planning Committee. In the “Delegated Report” there was no reference at all to the lighting proposals anywhere in the detailed considerations. On the basis of that report, the application was approved on 31 January 2018. 

Planning permission for the light boxes on the walls of the subway, which if installed will permanently conceal the tile murals, was therefore given by default, without the effect on the murals, and the loss of this asset to public view, ever being considered.
As shown by the meeting on 19th October, and the options put forward at it, Quintain are willing to engage over ideas which could mitigate the damage to, and loss to public view of, the tile murals. However, as things stand, there is nothing to stop them from installing light boxes on the walls of the subway, which would permanently hide the main sections of the murals, if they decide to “just do it”.

Brent Council own the Bobby Moore Bridge and its subway. They are responsible for the murals, a major piece of public art illustrating a range of past famous events at the Stadium and Arena, which were installed in 1993 to be part of the Wembley atmosphere for the millions of people coming here.
Isn’t it time that Brent Council accepted that they have failed to give any proper consideration to what is happening to the tile murals, and intervene to broker a solution to the lighting in the subway, which not only preserves the murals, but paves the way for them to be returned to public view?

Philip Grant
(with thanks to Julian Tollast for all of the illustrations, from his presentation, used above)


Jaine Lunn said...

I agree 100% with Philip Grant, I want these murals to remain in situ and for everyone who visits to be able to see them. By all means install better lighting on the ceiling. As Brent won the London Borough of Culture in 2020, surely these should be displayed in all their glory as part of our cultural heritage, as a major piece of public art that we as residents are proud of. Quintain have done nothing but obliterate Wembley Park from our history, Brent Council's planning need to man up and put a stop to this at once.

Anonymous said...

As a local resident I have to say that I don't find the murals particularly attractive and, given they were installed in the 1990s, they are hardly of such historical significance that should prevent them being moved to a different location.

I do think we are starved for visual indications of history and culture in Wembley, despite the area's famous past but I'm not sure these murals fit the bill for that. If they are attempting to install the Olympic Tablets in the space created by the new steps (as I believe some of the planned docs mentioned) perhaps the murals would be more suited there if they can be retained.

Anonymous said...

If it moves, monetise it. If it doesn't move, monetise it.

Any public space has a duty to be covered in advertisements, going forward. It appals me that the hallowed Wembley turf is still a dreary green colour when it cries out to be covered in gaudy corporate advertising as the RFU have pioneered at Twickenham.

Murals, spurals. What sort of footfall and TripAdvisor star-rating would the Vatican city's iconic Sistine Chapel have ever achieved if Michelangelo hadn't come up with the genius idea of a bit of Christian product-placement on the ceiling? Get with the programme, Wembley!

Mike Hine

Philip Grant said...

Good to have your thoughts, Mike. I hope they are "tongue in cheek"!

Anonymous said...

Can anyone inform me who designed these murals, and whether they had done anything else of note?. Whoever it was it is good to hear that the tiles are not being drilled in to, also that they will be protected by the stuff in front. In my experience tiled underpasses get used all too often as toilets or get vandalised so the bright lights can't be all that bad? And if they are found to be 'historic' they would fare better in a more benign environment

C Wentworth

Philip Grant said...

Dear C. Wentworth,

Thank you for your comment.

I don't know who designed the tile murals, but I have forwarded your query to Brent Archives, who hold the document records of Brent Council and its predecessors. If they can supply an answer, I will add it as a further reply below.

I have recently seen two smaller tile murals, in the same style, on the parapet walls of the Bakerloo Line railway bridge at Harlesden Station, flanking the pavements on either side of Acton Lane. One of them shows a narrow boat on the nearby Grand Junction Canal.

The only major "vandalism" damage that I am aware of to the Bobby Moore Bridge tile murals occurred around 2006, when a new stairway was constructed (by Brent?) down from the bus stop on Bridge Road to Olympic Way. One section of the tile murals (including images of Freddie Mercury and Tina Turner) was destroyed. The new tiles used to "make good" the remaining edge of the original mural (a rock drummer from the stadium concert scene) were of a different shape, and poorer quality.

Philip Bromberg said...

Now that winter is here I will soon, once again, have a view of the very lovely giant green EE advertisement from my bedroom window. So no, I am not thrilled by the prospect of yet more advertising around the stadium. But I am struggling to get worked up about the loss of these murals. You describe them, Philip, as "a major piece of public art". Do you think so? Really? Maybe Quintain could use some of the seventeen million quid to commission something more interesting.

Philip Bromberg

Philip Grant said...

Dear Philip B.,

Do I think that the tile murals are "a major piece of public art"? Yes, I do.

I am not claiming that they are of the same standard as, say, a Barbara Hepworth sculpture; but they are a good example of work in ceramic tiles that depicts scenes from the heritage of the place they are located, in a clear and colourful way.

Someone looking at the narrow top picture in the blog above, who does not know the location, might not realise that the section of the mural shown is actually more than 30 metres long by up to 4 metres high. The "Angel of the North" may be bigger, but the murals are still quite 'major' in size.

The whole point of putting the murals there, in this "gateway" between Wembley Park Station and the walk up Olympic Way, was to provide a vibrant "sense of place" for the thousands of people passing through on their way to the Stadium and Arena.

Picking up on the "historical significance" point raised by Anonymous (19 November at 17:48) above, it is not the fact that they were installed in the 1990's which makes the murals "historical". It is the varied range of major sporting and entertainment events, depicted in the murals, which had happened at the Stadium and Arena over the previous 70 years, making Wembley the world famous venue it still is.

Would you rather see these murals, in the subway they were designed to decorate, or adverts (when we are already surrounded by so many)?

Philip G.

Philip Grant said...

A volunteer at Brent Archives has searched through their records, but unfortunately has not been able to find any details of who designed these tile murals.

Anonymous said...

I see these murals as typical of the countless other tiled underpasses around London/ UK cities - post-war highway-dominated redevelopment that put cars before people. The best that can be said of the lightboxes is that they could be programmed to show anything. Why not get the developer to put on wonderful changing displays of public art (including projections of the murals, if you consider them great works)?