William Mitchell’s Lee Valley Water Company Mural gets Grade II Listing
What with one thing and another, I haven’t written about my friend William Mitchell for a while, so as I’ve recently learnt that one of his larger works, the fantastic cast concrete mural at the former headquarters of the Lee Valley Water Company in Hatfield, has recently been granted Grade II Listed Status, I thought I’d pen a few more lines to my favourite craftsman.
Bill is without doubt one of this countries most overlooked and under appreciated artists, a man whose highly idiosyncratic murals and sculptures reached a creative highpoint during the 1960’s and 70’s, gracing public spaces, civic buildings, subways and town centres right across the country.
This magnificent structure is one such example and it was created in a similar way to the Three Tuns Mural in Coventry, whereby Bill carved negative moulds out of polystyrene blocks (there is a similarly complex pattern on both sides of the wall) which were then contained within a timber formwork and concrete poured into the gap between.
The whole mural forms an intrinsic part of the building’s structure, effectively a freestanding feature wall holding up one side of the roof. Bill tells me it was the largest freestanding cast concrete structure of its kind in Europe when it was completed in 1965.
Being commissioned by a water company, Bill also ensured that water played a part in the murals design, and from what I can gather, it trickled down through the heavily moulded surface, ending up in a reflecting pool outside the main entrance. I’ve never seen this mural, but it sounds wonderful…
So, fantastic news for Bill. I think this is the ninth or maybe even the tenth of his works to be Listed and I’m very pleased that his work is finally getting the recognition it so rightly deserves…
I’ll leave you with another image of the Lee Valley mural from the Winter 1964 cover of The Concrete Quarterly Magazine, that’s Bill bottom right, looking up at his creation… (NB. the photo above was actually taken by Bill himself whilst the wall was being constructed, and he’s very kindly allowed me to use it, for which I thank him).
As an aside, for lovers of Mid Century design like myself, the Archives of CQ are a phenomenal treasure trove of images, information and idealism.
Go and have a look if you don’t believe me, you won’t be disappointed…