South East Wales

Newport Chartist mural: Protest as demolition takes place

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionFootage from one of the protesters as demolition work started

A giant artwork in the centre of Newport is being demolished days after attempts to have it preserved failed.

Campaigners had planned to hold a protest this weekend at the site of the mural, which depicts the 1839 Chartist uprising in the city.

But barely a fortnight after heritage body Cadw declined to list the 1970s mosaic, the diggers have moved in.

Newport council has said moving the mural would cost £600,000 and might not work.

Around 20 people joined a protest after demolition work started at the site of the mural in a city centre subway off John Frost Square on Thursday afternoon.

It followed failed attempts to preserve the 35m (115ft) mosaic, which is being removed as part of a £100m shopping centre development.

Protesters shouted at workers as work started, before barriers were pulled down and some people rushed through.

The mural was created in 1978 by artist Kenneth Budd who used 200,000 pieces of tile and glass.

More than 2,500 signed a petition urging it to be saved.

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

The demolition comes after Wales' heritage body Cadw said the artwork did not meet its "special architectural interest" criteria for listing.

The artwork faced demolition in 2009 under a previous development proposal that was later scrapped.

But current plans for the Friars Walk shopping centre remain on track prompting The Twentieth Century Society, a charity that champions buildings and public art, to call for its preservation.

Henrietta Billings, senior conservation adviser for the society, said: "The Twentieth Century Society is shocked and deeply saddened to see the destruction of the Chartist mural - started by Newport Council today.

"The speed with which the demolition has begun ahead of the public demonstration planned in support of the mural this weekend is startling.

'Real risks'

"Future generations will look back on this day with great regret. It is without doubt one of Wales' best pieces of post war public art."

The council called in consultants who advised that moving the art work would cost at least £600,000.

The report also said there were "real risks that the mural would not survive such a move".

But this is disputed by campaigners.

Image caption Protesters gathered as the demolition of the mural began

Retired history teacher Susan Agland said: "The council only had one quote on how much the work would cost.

"As the work would have needed public money, they should have had more than one quote for it."

"The mural means a lot to a lot of people. Children learn from it. Parents would explain the pictures to them, telling them what happened here 170-odd years ago and how we're supposed to have democracy now because of the Chartists.

"I don't think the council has handled this at all well."

Campaigners had planned a protest at the site this weekend to show their anger the mural's loss.

However, Newport West MP Paul Flynn said that while the demolition of the mural was a "loss", there were Chartist statues in the middle of the city and another mural.

He told BBC Radio Wales' Good Evening Wales that Chartism was about much more than a mural, adding: "It's a whole series of ideas and aspirations, principles that will continue to be commemorated in Newport."

Newport council said it recognised the importance of the city's Chartist history and was working towards a "new commemoration" that would be "in a more accessible location".

"The mural is a modern-day depiction of an historical event that happened in Newport and has served to remind us of Newport's past, but we must now focus on Newport's future," the council said.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites