Insurrection brewing in Wales over Chartist mural’s destruction as Newport City Council plans £100m shopping centre

Council says £600,000 cost of moving artwork ‘too big a price to pay’

Campaigners in Newport will this weekend lead an uprising worthy of the Chartists whose depiction on a city centre mural they are trying to preserve. They are dismayed that the public artwork is facing destruction to make way for a £100m shopping centre.

Despite a high-profile campaign to save the local landmark, Wales’s heritage body, Cadw, decided not to award the 1970s work listed status, which would have prevented its destruction. Newport City Council said re-locating would cost £600,000 and so it “may not survive the move”.

The 35m (115ft) mural, a mosaic of 200,000 pieces of tile and glass, was created in a walkway off John Frost Square by artist Kenneth Budd in 1978.

An online petition set up last month, combined with coordinated social media campaigns, has attracted thousands of signatures. In a letter to the council urging it to intervene and save the mural, the campaigners said: “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.

“Its demolition in the name of development is a denial of the historical facts that it so clearly portrays. It is indicative and representative of the poor town planning and decision making that has been one of the major factors in Newport’s decline over the last 10 years or more.”

Peter Rawcliffe, of the Save the Mural campaign, called Saturday’s march an “insurrection day”. He said: “It’s not just about a few people, we’re expecting a lot. Nearly 4,000 have signed the online petition. We want the council to see that it’s not all right to destroy the one piece of pride Newport has.

“There are lots of questions Newport council need to answer. Why will it cost £600,000 when previously they said £200,000? Why haven’t they contacted the artist’s son, Oliver Budd, who is willing to remove it?”

The mural depicts a fatal confrontation between democracy protesters and troops at Newport’s Westgate Hotel in 1839, resulting in the group retreating with dozens of people killed and many more wounded. The “Newport Rising” was a disaster for the Chartists and their six-point plan to extend democratic rights.

Christopher Coppock, from Cardiff, said: “Newport can draw back from this act of vandalism. The opportunity remains to have the best of both worlds – a timeless mural depicting a seminal moment in Newport’s struggle for workers’ rights sitting cheek by jowl in a new emporium of shopping and commerce.”

A spokesman for Newport City Council said the decision not to list was down to Cadw. He said: “We regard Chartism as an extremely important part of history. While it will not be possible to preserve the mural in its current state, we have made a commitment to commission a Chartist memorial in the city.

“We are aware that the mural does mean a lot to some people but the council has had to consider the wider picture. Unfortunately, it may have proved a fruitless effort to save the mural and too big a price to pay, both financially and for the overall good of the city and its residents.”

A spokesperson for Cadw said: "The Chartist Mural in Newport has not been awarded listing status principally because it fell short of the criteria to be listed at the national level on grounds of its special architectural interest.  The quality of building to which the mosaic is attached is poor and the underpass itself has no intrinsic design merits. It was also felt that there was no specific association between the location of the mural and the Chartist uprising.”

Cultural claims: Newport's gems

TJ’s

Local music haunt TJ’s went down in rock lore as the venue where Kurt Cobain proposed to Courtney Love in 1991. Love’s band Hole was playing in December and Cobain, on a UK tour at the time, came to visit.

TJ's venue became a nightclub in 1973 with the Manic Street Preachers, Joe Strummer, Oasis, Green Day, Catatonia and Primal Scream going on to play gigs at the venue.

The Nirvana legend couldn’t save the club though, which closed down in 2010.

Goldie Lookin Chain

Satirical rap music collective GLC fill most of their songs with nods to their Newport hang-outs. Its members, including Eggsy, 2Hats, Mike Balls and Maggot, are best known for their 2004 hit ‘Guns Don’t Kill People, Rappers Do’, which reached number three in the charts.

Invited by the Football Association of Wales in 2005 to perform before the World Cup qualifying match against England at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, the band dedicated ‘Your Missus Is a Nutter’ to David Beckham, who was present at the match. The FAW had to apologise to the Beckhams.

Stone Roses

On their cover to Love Spreads, the first single on much anticipated debut album follow-up, Second Coming, guitarist John Squire choose one of the four stone cherubs on the Newport Bridge to design the sleeve. The cherubs on the bridge are modelled after Newport’s coat of arms, which contains a cherub with winged sea lions. The cherub design was subsequently used on many pieces of Second Coming merchandise. Some of the bridge’s cherubs were subsequently ripped from their mounts, allegedly taken as souvenirs by fans of the band.

Newport state of mind

Newport (Ymerodraeth State of Mind) was a 2010 music video parody, directed by the London-based filmmaker M-J Delaney, of Jay Z and Alicia Keys with their global hit Empire State of Mind, ymerodraeth meaning empire in Welsh.

Not to be outdone, Goldie Lookin Chain released a ‘parody of a parody’ video in response called ‘You’re Not From Newport’, alleging that their rivals lacked local knowledge.

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