Michael Sheen pens open letter condemning destruction of Newport's Chartist mural

The actor, who stars in Channel 4's latest US drama Masters of Sex, said the decision to demolish the wall 'brings shame to us all'

Newport has become embroiled in a row with one of its favourite sons after actor Michael Sheen said the council’s decision to bulldoze a much-loved mural to make way for a shopping centre had “shamed” the city.

The Frost/Nixon star took out a full page advert in the South Wales Argus for an angry open letter to the city’s people condemning the destruction of the 115-foot artwork commemorating the Chartist uprising in the 19th century.

The demolition, which had not been announced by the council, was “absurd as well as tragic” he said, adding the failure to save it “brings shame upon us all”.

 “This is about more than the mural itself. It is about standing up for certain values and freedoms and ideals when they come under attack, whether through greed, malice, ignorance or sheer stupidity.”

The mural by Kenneth Budd in John Frost Square, which was made of 200,000 pieces of tile and glass, was completed in 1978.

It marked the uprising led by John Frost in Newport in 1839, where Chartists demanding political reform rebelled against authority, leaving 24 people ddead.

Sheen, who was born in Newport, opened the Chartist exhibition in the Newport Museum and Art Gallery in 2012.

He called the destruction of a mural celebrating the movement as “vicious irony” as it was created “to celebrate those who risked much for the good of all”.

The work had survived demolition plans in 2009 but, despite protests, it was torn down earlier this month to make way for the Friars Walk shopping centre.

A spokeswoman for the council said they had found Sheen’s letter “very interesting” but added the mural’s future had been on public record since March 2012.

“We understand these decisions have been difficult to accept for Newport residents both near and far.”

The council had deemed it “too expensive” at £625,000 to preserve and move it, while calls to list the mural by charity 20th Century Society were rejected by heritage body Cadw as the work did not meet the “special architectural interest criteria”.

Over 4,600 signed the petition to stop the mural’s destruction, and a protester’s queried the figure cited by the council and asked why the artist’s son, Oliver Budd, a mosaic specialist , was not consulted.

The campaign said the chartist movement prompted one of the most important political reforms in the UK and the mural “offers a unique insight to the history of the city as well as celebrating the democracy won by the people of Wales for the whole of Great Britain”.

Sheen said that “the responsibility is ours, if we wish to honour the values of the Chartists – fairness, equality and a political system that truly represents the needs of the people”. He added that “clearly that political system has let us down in this case.”

He called for another monument to the Chartist values but “as much within the ownership of the people as possible” so it is not left vulnerable “to the next time someone wants to build a bigger shopping centre”.

To keep the costs down he proposed art school students working on it using found materials and as much of the original destroyed mural as can be salvaged.

Creative people from the town “could connect the past with the present in a grounded and economical way” adding it “would reflect how the people of Newport feel now about what the Chartists stood for”.

He added: “Forgetting what has been struggled for in the past makes it so much easier for those who would take from us in the present.”

The spokeswoman said Sheen’s letter was “forward thinking and contains some practical suggestions which the council will consider.”

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power