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Newport Chartist mural artwork faces demolition

by Nick Dermody

BBC Wales 13 March 2012

Scene from the mural

The mural depicts a fatal confrontation between democracy protesters and troops at Newport's Westgate Hotel in 1839

A 35m (115ft) mural depicting Newport's historic role in democratic reform is to be pulled down to make way for a £100m city centre shopping development.

The artwork, detailing the 1839 Chartist uprising, is a mosaic of 200,000 pieces of tile and glass at entrance to John Frost Square. Completed in 1978, it first faced the axe in 2009 but a scheme planned at that time was scrapped.

A public consultation on four options for its replacement has now closed. Councillors are considering the responses but the local authority is adamant the mural as it stands will have to be demolished as part of the city centre's redevelopment proposals.

The mural celebrates the bloody rebellion led by the Chartist leader John Frost, a magistrate and mayor of Newport who was forced out of office for his radical views. A champion of universal suffrage, he led a march of around 3,000 people in to the town and a confrontation with troops positioned at the Westgate Hotel which left many protesters dead. Frost was convicted of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered but this was commuted to transportation. He survived and later returned to Britain, where he continued to campaign for political reform until his death aged 93.

The mural depicting the uprising's story was created by the artist Kenneth Budd.

Scene from the mural

The artwork, finished in 1978, is to be demolished to make way for a shopping development

Newport council has £50,000 to provide an alternative artwork elsewhere in the city but says recreating the whole thing would cost four times as much and so that is not an option.

The public was asked to comment on four options. The first was to recreate the mural on ceramic tiles in the stairwell of the central library at a cost of £22,000. The second was to commission the artist's son, Oliver Budd, to recreate one section of the original mural up to a value of £50,000. A third option was to create a re-interpretation of the mural at other city centre sites, while the last choice was to create an alternative Chartist-themed artwork, such as a stone feature.

Oliver Budd, who holds the copyright to the mosaic mural, said his father researched the rebellion story for four months before creating his designs.

Kenneth Budd

Kenneth Budd is seen here polishing a bronze dragon, now by Newport castle

He said: "He said that everything had to be exactly right, especially as there were so many experts on this bit of local history. He worked with the museum people to get the story right. There are lots of chartist items of clothing and weaponry you can see in the mural that are actually in the museum."

Mr Budd said his father worked on hundreds of metre-square panels at his Kent workshop, which were then fixed into place on the subway and grouted. He joined his father five years after the mural was completed and then worked with him until his father's death.

Mr Budd added: "I would like to see the image retained in some form or other. It is a great work of art and is also educative and attractive. I also understand that it was development that brought the mural to Newport to start with, and so it will have to change as changes occur."

The city's Cabinet member for leisure and culture, Mike Hamilton, is to make a decision on which option to go for, taking the consultation results in to account.

A council report stated: "It is impossible to preserve the original mural so we have to look at alternative options for future interpretations."


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