I received a text message just as my last lecture ended, which prompted me to log into twitter. There I was confronted by an image of the Chartist mural, gouged through the middle, cubes scattered across the underpass floor...
They actually did it.
One of my earliest memories of the mural was being walked through the images with my parents. My father attempted to explain the significance of the story, but as a child I was probably more scared by the images than anything else. Since then, the mural has always been with me. Every time when passing through Newport, it was there. When I worked with Newport Museum, twice daily I would wander past the mural, and always, always find some new feature tucked away.
Everything about the loss of the mural leaves a particularly foul taste in the mouth. For all the positioning and commissioning of reports, most of us never really doubted that Newport City Council only ever had one intention, and that was to demolish. To do it in such an underhand manner as this though was really the last insult of a series of affronts. Random numbers of £600,000 were cited for the removal of the murals – many asked ‘based on what’? We were told the mural could not be removed due to it being fused with the wall behind – as the JCB did its work, that was quickly revealed to be either wrong, or a simple lie. Health and safety was cited as to why the mural had to be torn down – yet if the building was so tremendously dangerous, why rumble around with JCBs beneath said unstable structure, smashing into the walls? If you were to take everything the council came out with on face value, you could only be confused by their course of action. Yet, deeply cynical and hurt views are the ones that remain, and trust for the body responsible will not be readily forthcoming anytime soon.
But for all the accusations and recriminations (of which there must be, at the ballot box if nowhere else), first and foremost this is a very, very sad day. A part of the cultural landscape of Newport is no more. With the best will in the world, there was not a great deal of that cultural landscape left to preserve in the first place. The Chartist mural now joins either end of the Newport ship, the beautiful Lyceum Theatre (along with most of Newport’s late 18th and early 19th century architecture) and the bulk of Newport Castle, as one more lost legacy, one more part of Newport heritage to be chipped away and sent to oblivion.
Angry, yes; shocked, certainly; saddened, above all things.