Birmingham & Black Country

Smethwick mural: Alice's Adventures in the West Midlands

Francis Gomila with his Alice in Smerick mural Image copyright Express & Star
Image caption Francis Gomila's mural was called Alice in Smerick as a nod to the local pronunciation of the town's name.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a story that lasts - captivating generations since 1865. In 1989, an artist painted a new perspective on the tale across a drab wall in the West Midlands. The mural has long since faded but the memory of the scenes remains vivid for some.

Martin Woolley remembers well the fantasy played out in pastel across the railway wall, stretching from the Toll House along High Street in Smethwick. He used Your Questions to ask whether there were any photographs of it.

"It always cheered me up when I passed it on the bus. The story of Alice In Wonderland is a classic and to display it in picture form in Smethwick, I think was a wonderful idea.

It always cheered me up when I passed it on the bus...I do wish that I had photographed it at the time, but I guess that I always thought it would be there.

Martin Woolley
Martin Woolley

"I do wish that I had photographed it at the time, but I guess that I always thought it would be there.

"I'm guessing that it deteriorated and was lost, which is sad. There is a mural of a stylised skyline there now, but that too is badly deteriorated."

Image copyright Google
Image caption The Alice mural once stretched from Toll House along High Street but today shows a tired skyline scene

Mr Woolley is in luck, there are photographs - from the Express & Star archive - and they show artist Francis Gomila with his work which was created across 16 plywood panels, each measuring 15ft wide and four feet high.

In 1986, Gibraltar-born Gomila was appointed by Sandwell Council as a community artist with a remit to bring colour that would give a lift to borough streets.

He said his work was entitled 'Alice in Smerick' as a nod to local pronunciation, with the titular character modelled on local artist Louise Gabriel who was depicted falling through the town's past, present and future.

Image copyright Express & Star
Image caption Louise Gabriel, front, was the muse for Francis Gomila's Alice. She and work experience artist Kiran Johal, 16, middle, helped paint the mural.

Mary Bodfish, chairman of Smethwick Local History Society, said she had a "distinct recollection" of the paintings.

"I can only describe them as fantastical," she said.

"They were a take on Alice in Wonderland, had it been depicted in Smethwick.

"They were certainly very colourful and a point of real interest on a very plain, dark blue, brick wall.

"It was simply to brighten the place up. Eventually they faded and have been replaced with different pieces."

Image copyright Express & Star
Image caption Frances Gomila's sculpture Waiting for Halley's Comet hides a time capsule underneath

The mural was part of wider work to regenerate the town.

At the other end of High Street, Gomila created a sculpture of seven dancing figures called 'Waiting for Halley's Comet'.

He told the Express & Star then that they celebrated the renewal of Smethwick and the future aspirations of the community, as well as the passing of the celestial body.

The figures, each seven foot high, stood on a six-and-a-half ton concrete base and a time capsule was buried underneath.

Image copyright Julie Armstrong
Image caption Sandwell Council employed artist Francis Gomila to transform the shop fronts of the town

Julie Armstrong's company Four Images Ltd was commissioned to paint Gomila's designs on to shop fronts.

She said: "The artwork represented what each shop was. It was aimed at creating a colourful representation of what was going on in the street.

"Some of the community weren't overly impressed but generally it was a real success. I loved it and really enjoyed doing it."

Mr Woolley said: "The Alice mural will always have a special place in my memory and it is fantastic to see it again after all these years."

Image copyright Julie Armstrong
Image caption Some residents were 'not overly impressed' with Francis Gomila's work, said Julie Anderson who transferred them on to the buildings.
Image copyright Julie Armstrong
Image caption Colourful designs above shops in Smethwick were designed to give the area a new lease of life

Do you have any photographs or memories of the community art in Smethwick? Email them to england@bbc.co.uk


Martin Woolley used Your Questions to ask: "Do you have any information about 'Alice in Smethwick', the mural that was painted on the wall in the High Street by the Toll House? A picture perhaps?"

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