Tucked away in a corner of Battersea and located on what was once the Haberdashers Arms on Dagnell Street, is the wonderful ‘Battersea in Perspective’ mural created by Brian Barnes. Back in 1988, Brian contacted Taylor Walker, the brewery owning the pub, and Battersea County School (as it was known then), and consulted local residents to develop a design that incorporated the community's ideas.
The design shows an aerial view southwards over the Battersea area, with Battersea Park and its Peace Pagoda central to the design, framed on either side by the Chelsea and Albert Bridges. Along the bottom of the mural are a number of portraits of famous locals.
Five of the area's former politicians are portrayed: John Archer, Mayor of Battersea in 1914 and Britain's first elected politician of African descent; John Burns, trade unionist, socialist and Liberal MP for Battersea from 1892 to 1918, arrested, tried and acquitted in 1896 after a demonstration against unemployment ended in a riot during which the windows of the Carlton Club were broken; Shapurji Saklatvala born in Mumbai, but elected as Communist MP for Battersea North in 1922 and jailed for two months in 1926 for making a speech supporting striking miners; Baron Douglas Jay, elected Labour MP for Battersea North after winning a 1946 by-election, who went on to retain the seat for an astonishing 37 years until 1983, and who unveiled the mural on 10th August 1988; Alf Dubs, originally of Jewish Czech descent, who arrived in Britain on the Kindertransport and went on to be a local MP in 1979, first in Battersea South, then in the combined post-1983 Battersea constituency which he held until 1987.
Also featured are suffragette and Sinn Féin activist Charlotte Despard; Britain's first female pilot Hilda Hewlett, born in nearby Vauxhall; Pre-Raphaelite artist Evelyn de Morgan, whose painting 'Evening Star Over The Sea' is reproduced at the top of the mural.
Battersea's industrial heritage is not neglected: one portrait depicts Alliott Verdon Roe, the first Englishman to make a powered flight, and founder in 1910 of the AV Roe & Co. aircraft manufacturer (better known as Avro), who built his 'Bulls Eye' duplex triplane (pictured in the mural) in an arch beneath the nearby railway; similarly airborne in 'Battersea in Perspective' is one of the gas balloons built sometime around 1908 by Eustace and Oswald Short, founders of aircraft manufacturers Short Brothers, who like Avro, started business in a Battersea railway arch.
The mural also features local landmarks - the bridges across the Thames, local housing estates, the Park, and, of course, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's four-chimneyed Battersea Power Station - and the Battersea Shield, a decorative ceremonial Iron Age shield found in 1857 in the River Thames nearby, and now in the British Museum.
As the buildings subside into the distance, they become less well defined until represented by nothing more than cubes. And the careful observer will note a delightful touch: murals within a mural. One of the houses depicted has a sunflower painted on its end wall which did actually exist on the building in question, but is no longer there. Look really carefully and the Haberdashers Arms can be picked out amongst the tower blocks, and painted on the wall of the pub is the 'Battersea in Perspective' mural! (And if you look really, really carefully at the mural painted on the pub in the mural maybe you can see....?)
Brian Barnes worked with local artist Neil Torbett between 23rd February and 21st July 1988 to create the mural using Keim Silicate, a paint manufactured in Germany to create long lasting murals. The mural was opened on 10th August 1988 by Lord and Lady Jay and Alf Dubs, with much coverage from local press.
Today the mural is in excellent condition considering it is well over 20 years since it was painted, demonstrating the longevity of Keim paints. There has been some damage to the lower part of the mural; this was restored in 1999, although paint peel can be seen in the lower left hand corner. Overall it has also remained largely free of graffiti; there are only a few tags across the bottom.
Even with its strong design, both visually and in choice of materials, the mural has been under threat. In 1990, Wandsworth council planned to sell off the playground next to the mural which would have resulted in the construction of houses against the mural. At the time, the original artist Brian Barnes expressed his frustrations at these proposals as the mural was only eighteen months old and he had had discussions with the planning department about the future of the site before developing the project.
These plans were dropped however in 2010, the mural was again at risk. The building was no longer a pub and plans were in place to convert it into flats including the construction of a roof extension. The planning application said that the mural was not to be touched but reworking on this scale left the mural open to damage. The work was undertaken in 2011 and any damage to the mural such as specks of cement is minimal.
With the huge changes happening along the Battersea riverside, this mural serves as a reminder of what was there in the late 1980s and what has come along since. Long may the mural stay to serve as a snapshot of times gone.