On a wander around the Berwick street area of Soho, many people are surprised to find a large mural on the gable of a Georgian house. The mural depicts a large tree with a person sitting to one side, reading a book. The tree has split in half. Upon reading the painted plague underneath the main panel, the reference in the painting start to make sense.
The mural is called ’Ode to the west Wind’; this refers to the poem written by Percey Bysshe Shelley in 1819. Shelley lived for a while in Soho, around the corner from the mural in no. 15 Poland Street. The mural was painted by London Wall Mural group in 1989 led by artist Louise Vines. The piece is to be seen as ‘reflective and optimistic’. In the picture, a person sits with a book, perhaps thinking about the poem. They wear colours referenced in the ode; “yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red”. The broken tree illustrates’ “O wild west wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being.... Destroyer and preserver ; hear oh hear” and also alludes to the Great Storm of 1987, a hurricane which crossed the South of England with winds up to 120 mph, it killed 18 people and downed an estimated 15 million trees.
This mural started life in 1986 when the Soho Jazz Festival approached London Wall Mural group with an idea of a painting to act as a lasting reminder of the festival and a contribution to the 40th Anniversary celebrations in Westminster. However insufficient funds were available and it wasn’t until the Soho Society took up the idea that things moved forward. The leaseholder, occupants and freeholder of the building all had to approve the mural before anything could happen.
Work began in 1989 using co-seal paint from Scotland to create the mural. The colours have lasted well and it continues to add something different to the Soho area.